With extreme joy, Sean and I were confirmed into the Reformed Episcopal (Anglican) church on Sunday. On this side of the timeline, I can see the Lord’s hand in so many specific moments that led us both to this point. Had you asked me five years ago if I could ever imagine we would become Anglican apologist my answer would have likely been “no.” For no other reason than that the ethos of Anglican tradition seemed far off, oozing with “high church” flare, much too Catholic for my comfort, might possibly be consorting with a more progressive view of church doctrine, and not “evangelistic” enough.
What I have come to learn is that I was completely wrong on all of those accounts. Dead wrong. The exposing of my misconceptions and the unearthing of the actual reality of Anglicanism has been an eye-opening experience. It has shown me how I, someone who would have previously assumed she was rather knowledgable about church history, has much to learn. I discovered that I suffered from a common ailment of the modern Christian West:
Historical amnesia (I’ll explain further below….)
When we began attending last October, it was on the recommendation of some of our dearest friends. Seeing as they lived in the UK for several years, and he is a historian that specializes in church/world history, it made sense. We knew they were reformed (as we ourselves have been trending in the last few years) so we trusted their recommendation whole-heartedly. But still….kneeling pillows? Recitation of creeds coupled with robes on the rector? And….gasp…..crossing oneself occasionally? These might be bridges too far for us. It’s a far cry from the California-casual, non-denominational services that we were most well-acquainted with. Even still, we decided to try something foreign to us (but as we came to learn, Anglicanism is not at all foreign to the long history of Christendom.)
Covid upended just about everything in 2020, and while we were perfectly willing to give up services at our large mega-church for the beginning months of the pandemic, after 6 months of watching church at the kitchen table, we concluded this wasn’t workable for our family anymore. It wasn’t just “not workable”, it was completely undesirable. We had no connection with people at our church at that time, being rather new and also being a family of five in a sea of thousands. Aside from that, while we understood the risks involved with attending in-person functions, we also keenly understood the risks involved in not fellowshipping with a church family on a regular basis, being held accountable by fellow believers, or receiving the Word of God and communion regularly. About six months into the pandemic, I started seeing the toll that a lack of church attendance was having on people – whether they acknowledged it or not. We couldn’t watch church on a small computer screen any longer. We weren’t made to do that. We had to go. When we heard that this tiny church was holding in-person services, we put on actual clothing and made the trek through the winding roads, flanked with “canopy trees” (as my six year old refers to them.) We pulled up to a small church building that sat on the same property as an even smaller cottage, and the rectory. It looked like something directly out of a Jan Karon “Mitford” novel. I was sold on the aesthetics alone.
I’ll save you the many pages that I could easily write about our first experiences there, but suffice it to say, after the 3rd week of visiting, we knew we would be staying. The Lord met both Sean and I there. After almost 19 years of married life and countless experiences (both good and bad) at a variety of different churches, we can be a bit hesitant with some aspects of church life. We aren’t skeptical necessarily and we know full well that problems in the church are due to sinners just like us….but we are always in an “eyes wide open” posture. Both of us have essentially been life-long Evangelicals, or at least since we became man and wife. We have been through church splits, I’ve served on a church staff, we’ve had family who were pastors and served on elder boards. We’ve watched schisms, betrayal, resentment that lasts decades, and pain unresolved. We’ve also experienced joy, recovery, untold amounts of kindness, pure evangelism, and true gospel relationships.
That is the way it is with the church. That is the way it is with life. We can hope for the best from church life and a church family, but to expect an experience free from heartache would be foolishness, seeing as we are all depraved and sinful. It would also be selfish. We do not merely exist to experience a salad-bar approach to worship.
Seven months in, I can honestly state that finding our new church home has been one of the most momentous life changes our family has ever experienced. It has both shown me the gracious parts of growing up (as I did) in an Evangelical church and it has also shown me the parts of the kingdom experience that I was yearning greatly for. Things I could never pinpoint exactly, but that I felt uneasy about in so many chuches nationwide: Essential doctrines that were slowly (or quickly) diminishing or changing. A lack-luster foundational understanding of church history that I knew would fill in the blanks about the big questions of Christianity. A seeping in of unbiblical and modern day progressive interpretations of scripture. A co-opting of faith to pursue other purposes.
This isn’t a condemnation of the evangelical church on a whole, nor is it exclusive to it. If someone is selling you that narrative, run. The Evangelical church isn’t unique in the ways it has faltered recently – it’s simply the latest victim in a long line of groups that have allowed in feelings over doctrine. Ideals over scripture. Interpretation over inerrancy.
Once we began our journey, we were thrown into the deep end as it pertains to our study of church history – from the prophets before Jesus’ birth to those who came after his ascension. We had to study simply to keep up with Sunday school lessons and homilies. This was a very good thing. I came to realize that historical amnesia has dug its claws into much of the American Church, with people believing that they really need only be familiar with the current century’s information, if at all. Of course, Reformed friends will go back as far as Luther, but I would say you are hard-pressed to hear many Sunday school lessons on St. Athanasius, Theophilus, Augustine, Tatian, Arius, Origen, or Aquinas. Why is that? I’m not entirely sure, but I assume that many people have adopted the mindset that I previously had which is, “There’s so much to learn and it feels rather intangible and outdated – how might their words and admonishing be relevant to me today?”
Of course, this is an extremely limited and self-serving viewpoint. Especially coming from someone who spends a great deal of time reading about the history of Western Civilization and telling my children, “If you want to understand today, you really must understand the past!” How much more essential is this when it comes to the most important part of us – our belief in the Lord? How can we shy away from learning all that we can about the Holy Scriptures, the life and death of Jesus, the idea of the Godhead, and how His church is to be established and maintained here on earth?! I’m convinced (at least for me personally) that since it didn’t become a habit to learn about and study the church fathers, church history, and the birth of Christianity in my youth, it wasn’t built into my natural inclination. I could tell you almost anything you needed to know about American church history since our country was born (and the basics about the Reformation and Christian life in the Middle Ages) but aside from that…..I was a blank slate.
What I have come to understand is that the basis of my Christian life is built on one important thing – my unwavering belief in the triune God who offers free salvation through the crucifixion of Jesus and that true belief assures my salvation. What I have also come to understand is that my belief is so much more brightly illuminated, explained, examined, and dear when I can look back and watch how the Lord has uniquely and perfectly formed our world, His church, and Christianity. The story, when closely regarded, makes the wondrous grace of God that much more rich, layered, and deep. It’s a perfect tapestry that He has woven, and there are answers to all the questions that have plagued me – simply by looking backward.
The Anglican church, through its firmly held historic traditions, and binding commitment to Biblical orthodoxy, provides such an atmosphere for flourishing and deep conviction. Our particular parish has introduced us to some of the most lovely people we have had the pleasure to know. The liturgy has drawn us closer into our understanding of the tenants of our Christian faith. The creeds have gifted us foundational stepping stones that clarify lingering questions. A foundation built first by the promises found in the Holy words of our God – truths that will stand firm in this age of confusion.
I still have much to learn. I still know that other denominations can offer the same peace, truthful doctrines, and community that the Anglican church has offered us. I still am grateful that I grew up Evangelical (and still identify as such, because Anglicanism and evangelism are not mutually exclusive.) I still have 35 year old questions about my faith. I still get frustrated at what sinners have made of the church.
But, I am finally home.