Things I’m Loving About Being Anglican-ish

Since moving to South Carolina, Jonathan and I have been attending a small Anglican church. We are new to Anglicanism – the rhythms of the liturgy, the symbolism of the vestments, the movements and motions of the Eucharist. While I grew up with a working knowledge of the Catholic Mass, neither of us has ever consistently attended a liturgical church. Over the past few years we have both, for our own reasons, become more and more curious about it.

Jonathan and I come from wildly different church backgrounds – he was raised in a modest-sized, traditional Presbyterian church with a highly educated congregation. I was raised in a large, non-denominational charismatic church that drew people in with exciting music and impressive multimedia presentations. I would have characterized his church as dry and stodgy. He would have characterized mine as hyper-emotional and showy. In the first few years we were first married, we tried to find compromise in what we were looking for in a church – this became more and more complicated as time went on and both of us experienced significant changes in our beliefs. Being in a tradition that is new to both of us feels like a fresh start.

In Korea we visited a very small Anglican church with an English service. While I felt indifferent towards the service itself, I found myself very turned off by the attitude of some of the congregation members. Several of them were former evangelicals who felt they had found something far superior in the Anglican Church. They spoke of their former churches (or even the evangelical church as a whole) with scorn. I’m no champion of evangelical Christianity and I have a whole host of problems with the evangelical subculture, but I’m also deeply sensitive to the arrogance of people who dismiss other denominations’ sincere beliefs simply because they disagree. Just because I have been hurt or disappointed or disenchanted with evangelical Christianity doesn’t mean that God is not at work in those churches or that people who attend those churches aren’t able to have authentic, meaningful faith experiences. In the same way that I have always pushed back against evangelical criticism of Catholicism or of Protestant liturgical traditions, I reject the idea that the only right or good faith tradition is the one I’ve chosen.

Our foray into Anglicanism isn’t about rebelling against the way we were raised, bashing evangelicalism, or trying something new and trendy. It is our way of genuinely seeking to experience God in a new way and to understand our faith differently. I’ve been surprised by the things I’m coming to love about our Anglican church.

Participation is Required: One of the biggest differences in a liturgical service versus a typical evangelical service is that the congregation is required to participate. In an evangelical service you typically sing together for 20 minutes, then sit for 40 minutes and listen to a sermon, sing another song, and leave. In a liturgical service the congregation is required to respond at various intervals, to rise, to sit, to kneel, to speak. I understand that this could become very routine and lose its meaning over time, but for someone new to the tradition, it’s engaging in a way that my previous church experiences were not.

Words Carry Weight: Because the liturgy is scripted, the words have been weighed and measured and written just so. Not one is out of place and not one is without meaning. These are words that have been handed down for generations and they carry with them the weight of centuries of church history.

We are Connected to a Larger Body: Along with this sense of tradition comes a sense of rootedness, and of belonging in the larger body of the church in the world today as well as throughout history. We are not an individual congregation of people doing our own things. We are fundamentally connected to a group of people who are all reading the same passages and speaking the same words on the same day all across the world. There is something powerful about that.

The Eucharist is Central: Unlike most churches I’ve attended where the Eucharist (“Communion”) is a tangential part of the service and is added onto the end once a month or so, the Anglican service revolves around the Eucharist. I’m used to churches where sermons take up the bulk of the service – usually 30 or 40 minutes. In the Anglican Church (and other liturgical churches) the homily is quite short – 10 or 15 minutes – because the real service is building towards the Eucharist. Celebrating the Eucharist starts with corporate prayers of confession and moves into a holy celebration of grace.

Posture Matters: I didn’t grow up kneeling in church. To be honest, kneeling was something we associated with mass, which was (I’m sorry to say) something we frowned upon. But now I find it meaningful to engage my body. For faith to be something I do in the flesh and not just something I say with my mouth or feel in my heart. As my friend Steph writes, “Sometimes to learn a truth so deep in your soul that it changes the way you think, you have to actually do something with your body first.”

The most common question we’ve been asked from friends and relatives is, “Isn’t the liturgy boring? Don’t you feel disengaged when you repeat the same things over and over?” And my answer is simply, “No.”

It’s just as easy for me to disengage while listening to a 3-point sermon or singing a song with a repetitive chorus as it is while saying the Lord’s Prayer. I get out of it what I’m willing to put into it. Perhaps some day I won’t need to hear words like these every week:

“Holy and gracious Father: In your infinite love you made us for yourself, and, when we had fallen into sin and become subject to evil and death, you, in your mercy, sent Jesus Christ, your only and eternal Son, to share our human nature, to live and die as one of us, to reconcile us to you, the God and Father of all.”

But for now, those words are wearing grooves on my heart. Every week they cut a little deeper and sink down a little further into my soul.








Friday Book Chats: Searching for Sunday Book Review

searching for sundayI had been eagerly waiting for Rachel Held Evans’ new book Searching for Sunday to hit the shelves ever since I heard that it was in the works. While I’m only an occasional reader of her blog, which is more issue-focused and, frankly, sometimes too abrasive for me read consistently, I was deeply impacted by her first book Faith Unraveled, which told the story of her transition from an utterly confident (sometimes judgmental) completely sure-of-her-own-rightness Christian to one who wanted to wrestle with hard questions rather than write them off. So many of her stories and experiences and reflections were uncannily similar to my own and that book was like water in the desert to my soul.

When I learned that her new book would be specifically about her loving, leaving, and finding church again, I couldn’t wait to read it. All I can say is that it was even better than I was expecting it to be. Once again, I felt like I was reading my own diary at so many moments. To the point that if someone wanted to know where I’m at with the church, I would probably just hand them this book and say, “She says it better than I could.”

For the past few years I’ve struggled with church. And even as I’ve tried to remind myself that church isn’t primarily about what I can get out of it and that not all churches are the same, I’ve felt an increased disinterest in participating in the church. This has become more of a concern recently as we prepare to move back to the US, a move which will necessitate our finding a new church. I’ve found myself reluctant to even try. By the time I finished this book, I felt understood, even validated. But I also felt hope.

In the introduction, Evans’ pinpoints the reasons for the dissatisfaction that so many of our generation are feeling with the church:

“We don’t want to choose between science and religion or between our intellectual integrity and our faith. Instead, we long for our churches to be safe places to doubt, to ask questions, and to tell the truth, even when it’s uncomfortable. We want to talk about the tough stuff – biblical interpretation, religious pluralism, sexuality, racial reconciliation, and social justice – but without predetermined conclusions or simplistic answers. We want to bring our whole selves through the church doors, without leaving our hearts and minds behind, without wearing a mask….

We can’t be won back with hipper worship bands, fancy coffee shops, or pastors who wear skinny jeans. We Millennials have been advertised to our entire lives, so we can smell b.s. from a mile away. The church is the last place we want to be sold another product, the last place we want to be entertained.

Millenials aren’t looking for a hipper Christianity. We are looking for a truer Christianity, a more authentic Christianity. Like every generation before ours and every generation after, we’re looking for Jesus –the same Jesus who can be found in the strange places he’s always been found: in bread, in wine, in baptism, in the Word, in suffering, in community, and among the least of these.”

The rest of the book is structured around the seven sacraments – Baptism, Confession, Holy Orders, Communion, Confirmation, Anointing of the Sick, and Marriage – but if that sounds dull and dry, don’t be fooled. This isn’t a book of theology. This is a very vulnerable and personal story masterfully woven together with the story of the church and with some breathtaking theological truths. Take for example this profound reminder that

“…what makes the gospel offensive isn’t who it keeps out, but who it lets in….

Grace got out of hand the moment the God of the universe hung on a Roman cross with outstretched hands looked out upon those who had hung him there and declared ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’

Grace has been out of hand for more than two thousand years now. We best get used to it.”

Evans writes about stepping away from the church for a while as she wrestled with questions that no one seemed to want to discuss and becoming critical and cynical about the body as a whole. I saw myself in this, the way I began to feel when I went to my parents’ church or my in-laws’, or visited a new church with my husband.

“I expected the worst and smirked when I found it. So many of our sins begin with fear—fear of disappointment, fear of rejection, fear of failure, fear of death, fear of obscurity. Cynicism may seem a mild transgression, but it is a patient predator that suffocates hope…”

For years I found myself growing more and more cynical about the church to the point that it was sometimes a struggle for me to admit that it could ever do any good at all, and this cynicism made it very difficult for me to accept that God is still using the church today. That, as Evans’ says,

“Church is a moment in tie when the kingdom of God draws near, when a meal, a story, a song , an apology, and even a failure is made holy by the presence of Jesus among us and within us.”

I can’t claim that I agreed 100% with every single word and idea in this book, but that really doesn’t matter to me because I agreed wholeheartedly with the spirit of this book which was like an empathetic companion in my grief, an understanding friend, and sustenance for my sometimes starving faith.

To me, the most beautiful thing about this book is that while it fully acknowledges the many problems with the church, particularly the evangelical church, it also leaves the reader with hope that maybe church can still be worth it. Maybe there is still value in this broken body. Maybe there is something so essential about the church that it’s worth investing in, in spite of all her failures.

Evans concludes, “God surprises us by showing up in ordinary things: in bread, in wine, in water, in words, in sickness, in healing, in death, in a manger of hay, in a mother’s womb, in an empty tomb. Church isn’t some community you join or some place you arrive. Church is what happens when someone taps you on the shoulder and whispers in your ear, Pay attention, this is holy ground; God is here. Even here, in the dark, God is busy making all things new.” 

Once after attending a service at my in-laws (genuinely lovely) church I turned to my husband and said, “I just can’t do it. If that’s what it has to look like for me to be a Christian, then I don’t want to be one. I don’t fit with the floral clad church ladies making small talk, I’m not moved by the choir, and I refuse to laugh at jokes that aren’t funny just because the pastor said them. I’m sorry, but I can’t ever do church like this.”

But this church that Evans writes about, this is a church I just might want to be a part of.

“This World is Not My Home” and Other T-shirts I Can’t Wear Anymore

In Jr. High I had a lime green t-shirt emblazoned with the words, “This world is not my home.” It was a billboard advertising my holy longing for heaven. My pastors would say things like, “When we suffer, we find hope in knowing that this world is not our home, our true home is in heaven and one day we will join God there and everything will be perfect.” And all God’s people said, “Amen.”

I wore my t-shirt proudly, secretly hoping that carrying the words on my body would make them true. Because, try as I might, I could never seem to muster up enough hatred for the world to really feel like I was a stranger wandering in a foreign land. I knew I was supposed to pray for Christ’s swift return, but secretly I sometimes prayed that he would wait just long enough for me to go to Jessie’s pool party, or to learn to drive, or to go to college, or to fall in love. I felt an urgency to see and experience everything I could before God took it all away.

Even as a child, I saw this desperation as a moral failing. It was undeniable proof that no matter how hard I tried to convince myself otherwise, I loved the world too much and loved God too little. “Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life,” the pastor said and I shuddered in fear.* I worried that my hunger for life meant I wasn’t really saved. I asked Jesus into my heart again and again, hoping it would stick eventually.

As the church I grew up in grew and expanded, the focus shifted from evangelistic, fundamentalist values to more seeker-friendly messages of what God can do for you (another problem for another time), but those early impressions had taken root in my heart.

My church and school weren’t alone in these beliefs. In fact, there is a whole sector of Christian merchandise that capitalizes on the concept that this world is just a temporary annoyance that we endure without investing in until we can shake the dust from our feet and move on to the place we truly belong. (The song, “This world is not my home, I’m just passin’ through,” anyone?)


not my homeLike all good Christian kids, I memorized John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life,” but the Christianity I grew up in only seemed to care about the second part of that, the part where we needed to believe in Jesus. How could they miss what this most foundational of evangelical Scriptures spells out?

“For God so LOVED THE WORLD,” it says. God SO loved, not just individual people, you and me, but the world itself and everything in it.

But we didn’t treat the world like something God loved, much less like something we should love too. We treated the world like a place we feared, a place we wanted to separate ourselves from, or a place we wanted to escape from, bringing as many people along with us as possible.

A few weeks ago I listened to this sermon by Australian professor Ben Myers during our house church meeting. It’s part of a guest sermon series he preached on the Apostle’s Creed, specifically the phrase, “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth.”  Myers points out that to treat the world as a place we need to escape from, a place where we are just biding our time as we wait to be delivered, is denying God as a good creator. He points to the Scriptures’ depiction of the end of time when there will be bodily resurrection and where Christ will bring his kingdom to earth and reign. “Salvation will never be an escape from this world, but God’s loving restoration of a good creation.”

St. Francis of Assissi (patron saint of hippies and vegetarians) understood this so well that he wrote about the natural world as if it were part of his family – Brother Sun and Sister Moon. He doesn’t say this in a pantheistic, God-is-in-everything way, but in a way that acknowledges himself as a part of this wildly beautiful and good creation that he is at home in for as long as he is on Earth. His mission isn’t to escape the world. It’s to bring redemption and healing and reconciliation, working to restore creation to the perfectly good thing it was created to be.

This really struck me because I’ve lived most of my life believing that I wasn’t really meant to love this world as much as I do. I’ve never longed for heaven as a relief from this world, even in moments of suffering. The world is far from perfect and it certainly isn’t divine. There are broken bits that make my heart ache. But I still believe that it can be redeemed. I believe this world can be restored. And I want to be part of that work.

Jesus didn’t just come into the world and head straight to the cross. He came and he lived. He healed the sick, he raised the dead, he showed compassion, he taught another way. If his purpose was only to rescue us from a world that is beyond hope, why waste his time with these acts of redemption?

I believe we have a responsibility to work for justice and restoration in the world precisely because this world IS our home and because the Creator has given it value. God said he is making all things new, NOT all new things.**


* John 12:25

** I didn’t come up with that pithy phrase – my friend Laura actually reminded me of it, but I can’t remember where it came from.

When We Were On Fire, A Synchroblog : Reflections on Evangelical Christianity and How I Lost the Fire

I’ve gotten saved at least a hundred times.  The first time I remember “asking Jesus into my heart” was when I was three or four years old. Sitting in a church pew with my grandmother at her Assemblies of God church where the average member was 65 years old, fascinated by the woman in the front row who always wore an elaborate hat and whose husband wore outfits that matched hers exactly, and by the woman who left her seat during each worship song to dance in the aisle. When the pastor gave the altar call at the end of his sermon, my grandmother asked me if I wanted to ask Jesus into my heart.  I must have said, yes, though I don’t really remember. Next thing I knew I was down on my knees facing my pew, my grandmother beside me asking me to repeat after her. I was wearing white tights but I could feel the prickly carpet through them, pressing into my knees. I got up halfway through the prayer and sat back down in my seat.

I figured that prayer probably didn’t count, so a few years later when I was six or seven I prayed again, on my own, solemnly and seriously. By that point I knew it was important to have a “moment” you could identify as the time you got saved. I wanted mine to be good, so I waited until we were on a family vacation in Arkansas. We rented a boat and took it out on the lake and I breathed in the clean mountain air and prayed that Jesus would wash my sins away.

Later I would describe my conversion experience saying, “I first prayed the prayer when I was four, but then I recommitted my life to God when I was six and could understand everything better.”  This is obviously an absurd thing to say, and yet, I often think that 6-year-old me probably “understood everything” better than I ever have since.

When I was 11 my family started attending a charismatic non-denominational church that was just starting in our area. The pastor gave an altar call after nearly every service. Often he would ask everyone to pray the prayer aloud together, I assume to make those who were praying for the first time feel more comfortable. I didn’t mind. I figured this was insurance, in case I hadn’t prayed it sincerely enough the time on the boat. Better safe than sorry.

I attended the same small Christian school from Kindergarten through high school. Everyone in this school was a “Christian,” at least nominally. We even had mandatory Bible class as part of our core curriculum and mandatory chapel once a week or so. In elementary school we were all the same. We memorized Bible verses together and went to Vacation Bible School in the summer and participated in Psalty musicals. But even in elementary school there were ways to distinguish yourself. At home I practiced turning the pages of my Bible at lightning speed so that I would be the fastest at Sword drills, I won the end-of-the-year Bible scholar award more than once, and one year I even won the role of Harmony the singing psalm-book and got to wear a huge book costume and paint my face pink. It was the high point of my musical theater career.

Entering high school was a milestone for me. I had always seemed older than my age, or at least, different from everyone else. Whether from any actual maturity or simply from the fact that I wrapped myself in books, living in imaginary worlds that left me completely out of touch with the realities of my peers, I don’t know.  All I knew was that I was finally old enough for Youth Group. I believed with conviction that Youth Group would change everything. This would be the place where I belonged. Upon entering high school at my little Christian school, it became essential to me to separate myself from those who were only nominal Christians. I was more than just a Christian. I was “on fire.” I was the kind of Christian who jumped up and down and stretched my hands into the air in worship. I led the school’s mission team on overseas mission trips and worked myself up into a tearful frenzy at prayer meetings. I didn’t secretly smoke or drink or go to parties like some of my peers. I genuinely believed that my church and youth group were the only ones worth being a part of. There were many other churches, but only mine with its loud music and emotionally overwrought teenagers and jumping worshippers, was full of life. Full of the Spirit. I used the language of my fellow “on fire” believers and signed my letters with phrases like, “Because He Lives,”  or “Washed in the blood.” People in my church were known to answer a causal “How are you?” with something like, “I’m blessed and highly favored.”

But my years in Youth Group were tumultuous at best. During my time in this magical group we went through 6 different youth pastors. Every time I would start to connect with someone, they would leave. The head pastor of my church stressed from the pulpit the importance of discipleship. Asking an older or more mature Christian to mentor you was clear evidence that you were “on fire” and mature. So I asked. I asked four different women if they would disciple me, pour into me, pass this magic fire on to me. The first was deemed an inappropriate choice by church leaders further up in the hierarchy. The second and third both said yes, but never made any effort to be available, even when I called them or tried to set up times to meet. They were always too busy for me. The fourth was an absolute delight of a woman, but unbeknownst to me she was going through her painful journey with the burden of being on-fire and she only had so much to give.

I gradually gave up on the idea of anyone really knowing me or caring about me personally.  I came to understand that my value to the youth group was closely connected to how frequently and obviously I “served” the church. I actually remember scrubbing the toilets in the building that the youth group used with great vigor, convinced that others would see my servant’s heart and be moved by how spiritually mature I was. There was a spiritual hierarchy in the youth group and you were either a leader or a target to be prayed into salvation.  If you fell somewhere in between, you were irrelevant. So I became a leader.

By 16, I was on a team with high school seniors and college students, leading the high school youth group. I was the youngest person on the team and I was proud of it.  Being part of the team I could cover up the pain of nobody knowing me, of nobody caring to know me, with a sense of belonging. I could lay hands on people and pray in my prayer language and advise people to “ask the Lord to reveal himself in this situation” as an answer to any problem they might pose.  I worked as a counselor at church camp and once we’d all sung ourselves hoarse and cried all our tears, I prayed into the ears of my emotionally exhausted peers that they would, “never lose their fire.”

I wasn’t allowed to date in high school, but that was mostly OK with me. After all, I could always cover the fact that no one had ever asked me out with a proud declaration that I had “kissed dating goodbye.” I remember oh-so-solemnly signing a commitment not only to stay abstinent, but not to kiss anyone other than my husband. I can’t remember now whether the commitment was no kissing until marriage or just until engagement (either way, it was a moot point because it was a commitment I didn’t keep). I vividly remember being appalled when hearing about other girls who had boyfriends…some who even kissed their boyfriends. Clearly these girls were not serious about purity.

At some point, I started to see these ways that I was different from my peer as a points of pride, badges of honor. In some unspoken way, I understood that even if no one really knew me, if no one cared about me, I could still belong if I could make this my identity.  I would be pure. I would be spiritual. I would be the godliest, humblest servant of them all. I might not have tons of friends, but people would know that I was a serious and committed Christian. Someday a godly man would be attracted to the beauty of my purity and would sweep me off my feet. (Jonathan has since informed me that my purity ring was shockingly not the thing that attracted him to me).

At 18, I packed my bags and headed off to Wheaton College, alma mater of such spiritual giants as Billy Graham and Jim and Elisabeth Eliot. I wasn’t naïve though. After attending Christian school all of my life I knew there would be people at Wheaton who weren’t “really” Christians. Or even if they were, I would certainly find people who weren’t on fire like I was. I would have to take a stand, refuse to compromise, and show them what it meant to really love Jesus.

At Wheaton I found people from all kinds of backgrounds – some similar to mine, some even more extreme, more “on fire” than I was, and then those “others” I had prepared myself for: the Presbyterians, the Methodists, the Lutherans, the Baptists, the ANGLICANS, and a whole slew of denominations I never knew existed – Evangelical Free and Christian and Missionary Alliance. I was right about Wheaton in some ways. I didn’t find a lot of people who thought true worship meant jumping up and down with your hands in the air in a dark room while the electric guitar screamed at a deafening decibel. But what I did find was grace.

I met people, many people who enveloped me in grace. Who didn’t care what I had done or what I could contribute. Who weren’t judging my actions to rank me on their relative holiness scale. They simply loved me. Wanted to know me. Challenged me to use my mind when it came to my faith. Helped me realize that “on fire” as I understood it was just a construct of a sub-culture that had little to do with Jesus and whom I no longer wanted to be a part of.

If 15-year-old me could see 25-year-old me she would judge the hell out of her. After all, 25-year-old me wears spaghetti strap tops, generally dislikes CCM (contemporary Christian music), didn’t kiss dating good-bye, doesn’t speak in tongues, and occasionally drinks margaritas. Twenty-five year old me is married to a Presbyterian! (AKA: barely Christian, possible completely spiritually dead), “believes” in evolution, and has voted Democrat once or twice.  If 15-year-old me saw 25-year-old me she would rank her pretty low on the holiness scale. Probably below “real” Christian. But I don’t care. Because 15-year-old me isn’t someone whose opinion I care about. And the people whose opinions I do care about aren’t interested in how many “Acquire the fire” rallies I’ve been to, whether or not I listen to secular music, or how fast I can find I Thessalonians. These people are interested in knowing me, and more than knowing me, loving me.

When I was on fire, I measured my worth against the depth of my commitment which was indicated by the visible extent of my witness and by how essential a place I held in the hierarchy of the church. Now I am not on fire. But now I love and know that I am loved. Now I find extraordinary grace in ordinary things. I may have lost the fire, but it is now that I am most real and true and alive.


This blog post is part of a synchroblog project started by Addie Zierman who recently published her first memoir, When We Were on Fire. I did not find out about the synchroblog project in time to officially contribute, but Addie’s words have resonated with me and I wanted to participate. I was also inspired to participate when I read my friend and fellow blogger Briana Meade’s contribution to the synchroblog. For those who read this and relate in a big way or small, I encourage you to check out Addie’s book, her blog, and the other blogs you will find linked on her page. Also, your comments are always appreciated!