I GREW up in church and from a very young age was sent to church and Sunday school. I was that kid who sat wide-eyed and fascinated by the stories being taught such as Moses and the Red Sea, Daniel in the lion’s den, David and Goliath, and so on.
I remember being told that I was an awful sinner and if I didn’t accept Jesus ‘into my heart’ (they call it getting ‘saved’) then I was heading for hell.  

Looking back, I believe my faith journey was birthed from a place of fear. Simply put, I didn’t want to go to hell, and so as a child I was willing to pray any prayer to avoid it. It was as if the church handed me a complimentary faith box and said, “Welcome to the faith – here are the things you can do, and here are the things you can’t do – and don’t dare think outside this box.”
I lived my faith journey with a fear that God was constantly watching me, waiting to pounce the minute I mess up.

As I got older I realised my reality was not matching my theology. I started to question the teachings of my childhood, and so my journey of unlearning began.
I studied theology and had some amazing theologians help me through what I call my ‘wilderness years’. In a sense, I began to deconstruct from what I was taught. There is no doubt that my wilderness years were extremely difficult, and someday I hope to write a book about my journey, but I never lost my faith. I wasn’t disillusioned with Jesus, but I was certainly disillusioned with the church and their toxic theology.
As a minister, I quickly realised that I was called to minister outside the church walls. Don’t get me wrong, I love the church, but I have always been drawn to people who feel they ‘don’t fit’ in church. A Life and Times survey revealed that 80 per cent of people in the North of Ireland say they are spiritual, but yet less than 30 per cent go to church.

I think there are many deeply spiritual people who, like Zacchaeus, want to see Jesus, but the crowd (or the church) are in the way (Luke 19). Just because you feel you don’t fit in church doesn’t mean you are any less spiritual than those who do. I’ve been there. It was part of my journey of unlearning a lot of toxic theology.
To all the spiritual refugees out there – don’t lose hope. Keep pushing forward ,even when you feel your faith is falling apart. Hold on to to Jesus. He is with you and for you. Yes, we are always learning, but let’s embrace the rhythm of unlearning – I believe this is where our faith journey moves from fear to freedom.