Organic

It happened again. Someone (this time a priest) looked at me and said "Tell me about your journey to Anglicanism."

Seeing as my father's a Southern Baptist minister and I'm Anglo-Catholic, there should be a good story here.But I just rambled along for a couple minutes talking about books and people until finally just saying "It was kind of an organic process."

I had to look up organic when I got home to see if it was the right word (though, being a carbon-based life form, everything I do is organic). I was right.

So how did this relatively complex, natural growth process come about?

My parents were evangelical missionaries in Peru. The Roman Catholic church in South America in the 90s was a mess (I'm sure in general it still is, but haven't personally experienced this). It's entangled with government and the wealthy highest crust of society. In order to make the transition smoother, the Roman Catholic saints were superimposed over ancient Inca deities when the Spanish took over the continent. Evangelicals of all flavors (personally, I recall Pentecostal, Anglican, Presbyterian and Baptist) find themselves working together to present a faith that is centered on Christ, not history and superstition. Therefore, comparatively, I've always had a very weak sense of denominational boundaries.

We came back to the US when I was in middle school and did quite a bit of moving around. Eventually, as I started high school, my family settled into a small town in rural southeast Tennessee. About a year later, a new priest arrived at the county's Episcopal church. Her daughter and I recognized each other as kindred spirits, and this priest is a friend and mentor still, despite the 1600 miles that separate us.

The summer after I graduated high school, I worked at 4-H camp, and attended a Baptist church in the area. Over the course of that summer, the pastor attended the Southern Baptist Convention, which included a session by Josh McDowell which presented studies showing that high school/college students in Baptist churches were uncertain of what they believed and didn't know why they believed anything. The pastor returned shocked and worried about the state of Baptist youth. This solidified my determination to be an excellent Christian apologist- to know and understand why I believed in Christ and the Baptist church.

My small Christian liberal arts college had a worldview class that helped me explore why I bought into Christianity. Meanwhile, the priest's daughter and I embarked on a brief exploration of some local churches (because we badly needed a break from being clergy kids). For the first time, I attended Episcopalian, Lutheran, and Roman Catholic churches. I noticed that the liturgies were beautiful, that there was a much stronger sense of the sacred than I had previously encountered in church.

The next semester, I read Mere Christianity and it was incredibly clear that C.S. Lewis wasn't a Baptist, and yet so much of what he said made sense to me. He made me think about baptism and Communion in a different light- as being necessary for salvation (mainly because they are signs of obedience to Christ) rather than mere symbols.

The next summer (2004)....I saw the ugly side of congregational church government. The Baptist church my family had sacrificed so much for decided it was tired of us, and those who comforted my family often included "This isn't how it's supposed to be. Church should not be a democracy" in their words of kindness. I read Becoming Friends: Worship, Justice and the Practice of Christian Friendship, and it completely rocked how I thought about church. This book also (along with a biography of Luther) pushed me over into accepting the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Which left me in an odd place- Angry at the church, fed up with congregational churches, and a Consubstantiationist. All I really knew was that I still loved God but I certainly no longer fit in a Baptist church.

I moved on campus in January of 2005, an hour and a half drive from my family. Suddenly for the first time in my life, I was responsible for finding my own church. I wasn't particularly thrilled about church in general, but was finally willing to hear the advice of friends and teachers and ended up at an amazing PCA church. It's a solid place- great teaching, a committed group of Christians who genuinely care for each other. Here, I lost my last reservations towards infant baptism while I absorbed the Calvinist dogma unavoidable at both church and school. While still in college it dawned on me that the authors whose work influenced my thoughts, inspired and comforted me most (T.S. Eliot, Madeleine L'Engle, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and Francis Thompson) were ALL Roman Catholic or members of the Church of England. My conclusion (significantly shaped by A Circle of Quiet and The Irrational Season) was that living in a cycle of liturgical seasons and the history of Christ and the church emphasized the "story" nature of life itself, encouraging connection and creativity.

Life happened, and formulaic Presbyterianism didn't hold up in the real world. I graduated and moved almost 600 miles away. There was a nearby PCA church with ties both to my church and school in TN, and I made a good faith effort to fit into it. My attempt was met with chilly confusion, and once the pastor discovered my father had once pastored a Baptist church a few towns north he told me I should visit Baptist churches in the area as I'd be "more theologically comfortable" there.

If I knew anything, it was that I wasn't Baptist, and I wasn't going back to that church, no matter who said what good things about it. So I started scampering to various stripes of churches (PCUSA, LCMS, ELCA, ECUSA, and United Methodist, if I remember correctly) nearby. It was a frustrating and painful experience, and a friend's encouragement finally pushed me to visit St. Alban's. Their advertising was a lot worse those days, and I was expecting a bitter host of Anglo-Catholic fundamentalists. What I found was joy and a congregation ready to invest in my life and take me in. Fr. Ray and Cheryl turned up at my apartment one evening (after asking my permission) and spent some time learning about me and my background and welcoming me to the church. Fr. Ray pulled out the new member form, and that was the moment I became aware that St. Alban's practices an old custom of the Church of England- in order to receive Communion (regularly, anyway) one must either be confirmed by a bishop, or "ready and willing" for Confirmation. My split second decision here was that Eucharistic worship is incredibly important to me, and while I wasn't so sure about this Anglican thing, this was the church I needed to be in for this season, and I wasn't about to miss Communion.

During the course of my church hunting days and the months that followed I read Orthodoxy. It was a tough read- the sort of book that makes your head ache from thinking. But Chesterton's account of his journey from skepticism to the Roman church was a process quite similar to what was going on in my own mind and life. The amnesia of my protestant childhood was being replaced by a sense of connection to the ancient church. I loved the freedom and responsibility of being both Protestant and Catholic and the unique history of the Church of England. Her symbolism and language meshed with my thoughts and perceptions. No longer a leaf blown by the wind, I became a kite on a string- grounded and protected by the solid teaching and tradition of the Church. Still able to fly but no longer crushed by collisions.

I am ontologically Anglo-Catholic. Lots of books, lots of thought, lots of life made that obvious. It's not exciting, but it's real.

(Note that for the sake of simplicity I have separated my journey to Anglo-Catholicism from the agonizing decision to remain a Christian)

Comments

Anneli M. said…
Thanks for sharing your story! I never got to hear this full version, so I am glad to read it now. I think you have a powerful testimony. And it is organic and living, I really like that you used the word organic because it shows how alive your faith has been.

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