A different kind of truth

College student falls in love with Anglicanism
April 21, 2008

I first met Steve White in the doorway of a pantry, in a big shambly church in Trenton. I was there for Community Action, working with the Crisis Ministry, and he was there for our Professors' Night, to discuss Tracy Kidder's Mountains Beyond Mountains about Dr. Paul Farmer's work in Haiti.

During the discussion, we had been mulling over Farmer's exhortation to help the world in what way you can. I brought up the passage from the New Testament where Paul speaks about the church as a body, saying of course the eye cannot take the place of the hand and so forth, and in this same way, how we act out our social responsibility is not heterogeneous, but we must find our place in the whole world working towards social justice.

After our dinner, I was sneaking away to grab a glass of water, and at the doorway to the pantry I almost ran into Steve, who was dressed formally, in black with a white collar, with his clean rimless glasses and neatly cut hair. I don't remember exactly what he said, but I do remember my first impression was something like, "Oh gosh, not a priest! I've got enough guilt already!"

He thanked me for my comments and introduced himself as the Episcopal chaplain. At the time my knowledge was such that this brought up in my mind a small notecard which read only, "1: The American version of the Anglican Church; 2: Like the Roman Catholics, but without the pope."

Steve asked about my religious background; I told him that my family was evangelical but that I hadn't been going to church for a while -- two years in fact, and not because I was uninterested, but because I didn't find our evangelical services easygoing for me.

I would leave on Sunday mornings feeling conflicted, angry and guilty -- knowing very certainly my own unworthiness but without knowing how to make things right.

Of course, I didn't actually say all of this to Steve, but I think he could tell.

That semester they had a seminarian leading a Bible study every week, and she had in fact been raised evangelical -- would I like to join? He wrote down my name and said he'd put me on the email list.

I was intrigued. I joined the Bible study and met the second person who would change my life. Jill Young is an intelligent, thoughtful and profoundly spiritual woman. With her guidance, I found a way to escape the world of black-and-white pseudo-intellectualism in which I had trapped myself. Through her intellectual integrity and sensitive heart, I began to discover in myself a similar inclination towards an intuitive truth that is believed and understood rather than "known" and towards a greater appreciation for uncertainty and grayness -- which is, of course, a defining characteristic of Anglicanism as a whole.

I began the Bible study joking with my parents, "Don't worry, I'm not going to become Episcopalian or something!"

In December, I took part in my first service (Lessons and Carols), and the Sunday before Ash Wednesday I started attending regularly. I asked Steve at least one question every time I saw him: Why do we pray for the dead? Do you believe in purgatory? Where does the Book of Common Prayer come from? Why do priests have to wear fancy clothes?

Our discussions always went further than the question, branching into bigger ideas: How should we read the Bible? How should we interpret it? How should Christians act in the world? I was shocked -- and relieved -- to find a place where people believed it acceptable to disagree with Paul's thoughts on women, where silence and stillness were valued and where poets were cited as theologians.

I joined the confirmation class, not as a prospective confirmand, but just because I had so many questions. But I kept learning, and I started to fall in love.

I cannot even express what it was like to learn that perhaps all my questions were not signs of sinfulness or fault. I can't begin to explain the overwhelming and startling joy at encountering a God who did not look at me only to see where I had failed, but who
accepted me and called me to higher places. On Easter morning, I was baptized.

Four weeks later, on Good Shepherd Sunday, I was confirmed and officially, happily, enthusiastically joined the Anglican Communion.

I have found in the Anglican Church a long sweep of tradition and a wide spectrum of beliefs and doctrines, all centered on a message of love and redemption. I have found an intellectual engagement with Scripture and theology that is balanced precariously but perpetually with a sincere spiritual yearning for holiness.

To be fair, not all of my interest and passion for "religion" (i.e., God) arose solely from having joined the Anglican Church; rather, it is in this particular expression of Christianity that I have found my home, the place where I have found the safety and acceptance enough to explore myself and the world and to continue the journey towards knowing God.