After having lived in Washington for 22 years, I recently got a letter from the current pastor of my former church in Montana. I don't keep in touch with anyone from those days, and I don't know this guy at all, so they must have stalked me on the internet. The letter was a plea for information and a request to transfer my membership to the church in the town I now live in. I ignored the first letter, but now they are sending me these chummy little handwritten notes every couple of weeks like we're long-lost friends. I didn't know my old church still had me listed as a member. Do you have to go through some formal disfellowshipping crap before they take your name off the books? I also got the impression that this was some sort of effort to guilt me into tithing, because they sent this stuff about "supporting the Lord's work". Anyway, I don't want to acknowledge this guy but it really bugs me that they don't just let it go. Has anyone else had this problem after leaving the church?
Well, to be candid, I have never been a Seventh-Day Adventist (I'm not really sure what distinguishes them from the rest of christianity), but in this case, when you're dealing with an unsolicited and unwelcome letter, the temptation for me would be to take the kid gloves off. Instead of that, you might try the following:
I appreciate your note. However, in the time since I left your church, I have come to recognize not only that I no longer subscribe to the beliefs of your church, but also not to any other. I am proud to call myself an atheist, and as such, I no longer attend any form of church, nor do I have any interest in attending in the future.
That being the case, I would appreciate your removing my name from your records and abstaining from any further contact. I respect your right to believe; I would appreciate your respecting my right NOT TO.
Just a thought.
Thanks - I might just use your letter! It gets the message across without being rude. Frankly, I thought it was rude of them to send me a letter in the first place - if I wanted to go to church, I would have transferred my membership without their request! But then, Christians just don't seem to realize how intrusive their supposedly friendly and loving efforts are.
Seventh Day Adventists aren't all that different from any other fundamentalist, evangelical church. The only thing that sets them apart from other protestant denominations is that they believe that Saturday (the "seventh day") is the biblical day of worship set aside by god. And they don't believe in hell, just eternal death for sinners. And some dietary wierdness. Their founding prophet was Ellen G. White, a truly certifiable nutjob who claimed to have had religious visions after getting hit in the head by a rock. She was the child of other nutjobs who were part of the Millerite movement of the 1840s. You may have heard of them. If not, you owe it to yourself to look it up - it's good for an incredulous laugh or two, plus a few facepalms. I can't believe I swallowed that stuff even for a moment as a child.
I dropped out of the seminary and SDA church in July 2007 even though I had to resign from the seminary and several positions on campus and with the local church I was helping out, I did my best to quietly slip out the back door. It was May 2009 that I finally decided that I was tired of throwing away all the various church publications that were still being sent to me and that had followed me in my move back to Grants Pass, OR, then to Tacoma, WA and then up to Lynnwood, WA. The most annoying was the Quiet Hour's magazine that they were continuing to address it to Pastor Dustin Williams.
So I sent a short email to the church secretary officially resigning my membership and asking them to stop sending me church publications. The message was forwarded to the clerk and my membership was removed at the next church business meeting. The pastor sent me a letter shortly after that informing me that my request had been honored and my membership removed.
Membership in the Adventist church is held solely at the local congregation level and membership actions can only take place after a vote of the church in a business meeting. However, if they give you any resistance you can always give them a list of reasons they must remove your membership. I had a list of 7 of the 12 things requiring the removal of my membership ready for them.
If you do identify yourself as an atheist in the letter then you will be admitting to apostasy which does require removal of membership, however a simple resignation would probably suffice.
It really creeped me out that they should pop out of the woodwork after nearly a quarter of a century and send a letter to my home. Why the urgent urgency now? Did they just audit their books and notice that I hadn't been showing up or paying tithe for 22 years? Weird. When I left Montana, I hadn't attended church for months and had pretty much told everyone that I no longer believed the church doctrines and had no interest in wasting any more Saturdays. Maybe they thought I would eventually return, or maybe they just needed it in writing. I guess that's what I'll have to do.
My mom is an SDA member in Nevada and insists on sending me the Gleaner and Adventist Review or whatever it's called now, but she's never been in contact with the Montana church to my knowledge, so I doubt she ratted me out. Her efforts to win me back to the church are mostly in the form of magazines, books, and prayers.
Thanks for the information on the process of resigning membership. I don't want to be nasty to these people but I do want to get my point across.
Adventist churches are notorious for not cleaning out the books with it not being uncommon for less than 50% of members still being active. They have no motivation to do so since pastoral assignments are based on membership and tithe more often than actual average attendance. However, over the last decade Montana has moved away from the traditional district sizes (200 - 350 members per pastor) to having each pastor cover 10 - 20 churches, so there is no longer any benefit for them having you on their books hence why they're offering to transfer your membership to Washington.
So, in other words, they used to pad their membership figures by keeping non-attendees on the books indefinitely but now there's no profit in it so out I go? Figures. Not that my heart's breaking or anything. I guess I'll just have to grit my teeth and tell them in writing to leave me alone, or put up with their junk mail forever. You'd think even that would get too expensive after a while! Thanks for the info, I appreciate it - and I feel a lot less creeped-out now.
I was never stalked when I left the church. Persecuted emotionally by friends and family, yes. But not stalked.
Not until many years after leaving the church did anyone contact me, and that was to ask if I still wanted my name on the books. I said no. But then I started getting the occassional handwriten letter asking me to officially write the church requesting that my name be removed, if I wasn't a member. Being lazy at times, especially about things that really don't affect me, I ignored the letters.
Finally, I believe it was last year, a new pastor called and asked if I wanted my name removed and I said, "Yes please." That was all. Not really a big deal.
It wouldn't have bothered me too much if I had still been living in Montana, and keeping in touch with that community. It was more the fact that they had to do some serious research to find me, since I've married and changed my name since then, not to mention moving out of state. Not a word for 22 years, and then a bunch of personal letters, notes, tithe envelopes, and literature. Plus, I'd made it clear at the time I stopped going to church why I was doing so. Maybe I'm overreacting, but it just bothered me. I mean, if I was running some organization and a member vanished for that long, I'd assume they no longer wanted to be a part of it, especially if they had told me so the last time I saw them. This is a pastor who wasn't there when I left, so maybe he didn't get the memo.