On “Going Episcopal”


by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free

As you may have noticed, I’ve watched with some consternation as headlines about the (not-so-revelatory) disclosure that I attend an Episcopal church declare that I’ve “left evangelicals for Episcopalians,” “dropped evangelical pretense for mainline Christianity,” and “departed evangelicalism to embrace a couch potato, cafeteria-style Christianity.”  

It’s been disheartening to see what I consider to be a very pro-church, pro-ecumenical book get spun as a battle of denominations, complete with winners and losers based on membership numbers. 

"Oh yeah?!" the critics say. "Well your precious Episcopal church is full of old people and is DYING so don't get too comfortable!"* 

...All in Christian love, of course. 

I’ve no right to complain. As one straight-shooting reader put it: “You can’t pitch the media ideas and then write their headlines for them. Coverage is coverage. Toughen up.” 

Indeed, the headline “Author Describes Journey In and Out of Church Through the Imagery of Seven Sacraments” is far less interesting than “Author Gives the Middle Finger to Evangelicalism For the High of Smells and Bells.” 

…So I guess I can just deal with the fact that I'm an artist who is super misunderstood and stuff. 

But the response reveals something of the way we tend to think about our faith traditions—as systems to either accept or reject rather than little cultures that (for better or worse… or, more likely, a bit of both) indelibly shape how we think, who we know, what we fear and long for and love. For me, faith has never been a matter of conversion; it’s been a matter of evolution, of gradual change over time.  I carry traits from every season, every age. 

As Searching for Sunday makes clear, I am profoundly grateful to evangelicalism and the first people to introduce me to Jesus. They taught me to love and learn Scripture, to share my personal testimony, and to deliver a flawless lip synch performance to Newsboys’ “Shine” which I am certain will come in handy one day. And I haven’t exactly “converted” to the Anglican tradition. (I’ve not even been confirmed yet!) I just happen to worship with a community of Jesus-followers at an Episcopal church, where I’ve reconnected with the power of communion and the sacraments, and where I’ve been loved mightily for just showing up, even with my doubts in tow. 

My experience is not unique, and while I’d stop short of calling it a trend, I know many evangelicals who have recently found a home somewhere in the Anglican Communion. (Last I checked the two terms are NOT mutually exclusive.) So here I’ve collected a series of blog posts about the from some of my favorite writers about their experiences on the Canterbury Trail: 

Jonathan Martin with “On Going to (an Episcopal) Church” 

“I believe this is the great hope for the unity of the Church: that though we may hold almost nothing else in common we, like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, know that somehow Christ is revealed to us around the table, and have burning hearts afterward to prove it. The experience of God in and through this meal gives us the resources to transcend the temporal boundaries that might otherwise divide us.”

Amy Peterson with “Woman, why are you weeping? [when your kid becomes Episcopalian]”

“[Going to an Episcopal church] doesn’t mean that I’ve rejected the authority of Scripture. This is how we used to say it, growing up: ‘That church has female preachers- clearly, they don't believe the Bible!"’While it's true that I've changed my mind about the place of women in church ministry, that hasn't happened because I chose cultural relevance over Scripture.  That change came slowly, and it came through careful study of Scripture. You may have heard that the Episcopal church's position on gay marriage or evolution or Iraq or any number of things shows that we don't respect the Bible.  But don't believe that until you talk to us about it. We read aloud from the Old Testament, the Psalms, the New Testament, and a Gospel every Sunday.  I'm guessing that's more Scripture than is listened to in most non-denominational churches on most Sunday mornings. We have a high view of Scripture.” 

Ben Irwin with “11 Things I Love About the Episcopal Church” 

“Anglicanism has long been known as the via media, the “middle way” between two traditions. The Episcopal Church has also helped me navigate the middle way between unbelief and dogmatism. Ours is a faith handed down from the apostles, but not one so fragile that it cannot cope with science, with new findings about the origins of the universe, ourselves, or whatever else we might discover.” 

Lindsey Harts with “Why I’ve Been Going to an Episcopal Church” 

“I think that's why I can't manage to pull myself away from the Episcopal church right now. Everything is centered around this one moment where people of all ages, gender identities, races, ethnicities, sexual orientations, political beliefs, and backgrounds are welcome to come to the table and receive the elements. Whether or not the bread and wine are a symbol or whether you believe that they are the literal body and the blood are up to you. I believe they have enormous power to change hearts, attitudes, lives, tear down prejudices, bridge gaps, and bring peace. I believe that in most cases, the elements speak louder than any sermon or hymn or prayer. Something mysterious and unfathomably beautiful happens at the table. It's a place where any person, no matter what belief system or background they come from can come and receive the God of peace.”


Fred Clark with “Episcopalian and evangelical are not mutually exclusive categories” and “24 Warning Signs That Your Evangelical Friend Might Be About to ‘Depart’ for the Episcopal Church” 

“#13. They think Jesus turned water into wine, not into Welch’s Concord Grape Juice.”

Scot McKnight with “My Anglican Journey” 

Are there others? 

Now, granted, all of these stories come from white, middle-class people, most with higher education. I’m not saying that these posts represent some wider trend, nor am I saying my experience ought to be everyone else’s. But if you too have found the Episcopal church of late, I hope they will be an encouragement that you’re not alone…and the Episcopal church welcomes you! 

***

*By the way, this notion that we judge the health of a church based on numbers drives me crazy. We judge the health of a church community based on the fruit of the spirit it produces. And, not that it matters, but the Episcopal church of which I am a part is incredibly diverse in terms of age groups represented. I take communion with seniors, young professionals, college students, little kids, married couples, hipsters, gay couples, folks my parents age and folks my age. And there are three services each Sunday. 

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