This column first appeared in the June issue of the Anglican Journal.
The other day, as I sat in the barber’s chair, I couldn’t help thinking how wonderfully strange it was. There I was, sitting in this shop surrounded by machismo and boasting, listening to testosterone-fuelled music, and all the while engaged in a deep conversation with my barber about Jesus.
I still can’t remember how the subject first came up between us. Probably it had something to do with where I work or what I do for a living. But two years later, our conversations about faith and work continue to challenge and refresh me.
As someone vocationally called to serve Christ’s church, I can’t think of anything more refreshing than having conversations with people who wrestle with what it means to follow Jesus out into the world. Lest I leave you with the impression that this type of conversation should be left to clergy, it may be pertinent to point out that I am not ordained. Rather, this sense of vocation is rooted in my understanding of and desire to live into our baptismal covenant.
Exploring the intersection between faith and life with folks outside of the church is the place where my faith and my faithfulness to Christ are challenged. In the midst of these encounters, I find myself reminded that an authentic Christian faith ripples forth from the waters of baptism and into the world.
Opening myself to these conversations-with all manner of people-I notice common threads. I notice a desire to engage in conversation about ultimate meaning. I notice an inclination to live life well. I attend to the desire to make sense of those moments of chaos that plague lives seeking beauty and truth. Through it all, I find myself increasingly aware of our common human struggle to make meaning from the disparate threads of our lives.
In recent days, I’ve been rereading a book by Kenda Creasy Dean and Andrew Root entitled The Theological Turn in Youth Ministry. At times a dense and cumbersome read, I’ve found it to be incredibly helpful, both personally and professionally.
One of Root’s observations continues to affect me deeply. In discussing the ways in which Christian theology might bear on conversations with youth, he suggests that “ultimately, theology starts with a crisis.” That is to say, the ways in which we understand the relationship between God and God’s good creation and humanity provide us with the tools to both articulate and cope with the challenges of life-whether large or small. Taking it a step further, we could say this understanding can also provide us with the tools to accompany others in their own challenges, and even crises.
To accompany another requires relationship, a willingness to listen and our own sense of what God is doing in our lives.
Many parishes across this country are equipping parishioners to pay attention to God’s work in the lives of individuals and communities and throughout the world. And that’s what we need- Anglican Christians ready and willing to respond to their neighbours, strangers on the street (and even their barbers!) in conversations about ultimate meaning.
My own faith journey has been nurtured by several communities: Wine Before Breakfast at the University of Toronto, Ottawa’s parish of St. Michael and All Angels, and more recently the emerging St. Brigid’s community in downtown Vancouver. These communities have taken seriously the connection between faith and daily life, and have provided members with safe places to wrestle with life’s questions, together. What I’m most grateful for is the way in which they’ve also equipped me to accompany and journey with those I meet along the way, sharing my story and the story of the God who continually transforms and renews my life.
Andrew Stephens-Rennie is a member of the national youth initiatives team of the Anglican Church of Canada.