Help with how to handle facing members of a church I left

Hello Beautiful Brooke,
A few months ago I decided to no longer attend Mass at my church or continue volunteering for its fundraising activities. I had been a parishioner there for about 5 years. It was not because of anything the church or its people did or did not do; I enjoyed my time there and understood that it was me making the commitments to the work I volunteered for, not the church “making” me commit. But I have undergone a lot of spiritual change, and I want to channel my spirituality in another direction. Because I want to 🙂 I left with no drama and no announcements but I knew (because we are a small parish) my absence would be noted, that I would still be called on to volunteer, etc. When that happened, I graciously said no, thank you without offering any excuses or justifications. It was hard not to make an excuse or explain myself but I’d decided ahead of time that I would not and I stuck by that decision.

What I’ve been experiencing a lot of is awkwardness because it seems no matter where I go in my community, someone from my parish is coming up to me and saying they miss me and that they hope I come back, or that I am welcome to come back “whenever I’m ready.” I also knew this would happen and I knew I could do awkwardness but what I didn’t do is properly prepare myself for how to respond or the thoughts I’d have in my head about it all. When it happens, I have so many thoughts:
Oh no! Hide!
They want me to come back and I’m not coming back
They are trying to make me feel guilty for leaving with no explanation
I shouldn’t have to explain
I don’t owe them any justification or explanation
I might say something now to hurt their feelings or give them the wrong idea.

So yeah, I’m having these thoughts about them and about me that are making me feel guilty and embarrassed and wrong and defiant. I try to be chill and thank them for their sentiments but even that feels terrible and they just stare at me as if I should offer more (more thoughts I know). And then I get away as quickly as I can.

Every time this happens, I feel negatively about them, about myself, about life in general. I’ve done thought downloads and tried to get succinct models but I’m struggling with that, too. Here’s an example:

C: Ex co-parishioners say they miss me and that they want me to return to church
T: I wish they wouldn’t approach me, I don’t know what to say to them
F: Guilty (I could also put in irritated, annoyed, defensive)
A: Stutter and stumble trying to be gracious without offering any defense or reason, think annoyed thoughts, get away as fast as possible
R: Feel terrible and wish it would just stop happening.

Even my model confuses me. I know I can’t stop them from approaching me. Unless I moved out of the area, I can never avoid them. I don’t know how to face them with integrity to my desire to not have to explain anything without seeming rude and evasive. There are some folks I am not concerned with about how they interpret my reactions but others I do care about and like and that makes things a bit more tricky for me. Help?