It’s one of the first questions on our minds when someone dares to walk through the front doors of our church for the first time. It’s one of the questions I’ve had the opportunity to ask newcomers after they’ve returned a time or two to St. Brigids, the new Sunday evening Eucharist at Vancouver’s Christ Church Cathedral where I serve.
The answers are always different. I know that people cross the threshold into our parishes for a variety of reasons. Some are reconnecting with the faith of their childhood. Others are working through life’s big questions, and hope that a faith community might provide some of the answers. Others still find themselves inexplicably drawn to Jesus, though they’ve grown up never knowing him by name.
And yet, lately, I’ve noticed the re-emergence of a sentiment Robert Webber wrote about in his 1989 book, Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail. Recent years have seen prominent evangelicals like Brian McLaren and Rachel Held Evans take the journey from their native evangelicalism toward a home in the Anglican Communion. I find myself wondering if their movement isn’t symbolic of some of the subtle shifts happening all around us.
When asked what brings them to St. Brigids, many of the evangelicals I meet respond similarly. Beauty, mystery and deeply rooted tradition are at the top of the list. A place to wrestle and struggle with deep questions is next. Whether they’re asking questions about the relationship between science and religion, the role of LGBTQ folks within the church or how the atonement actually works, they appreciate a tradition that is willing to engage with big questions.
Held Evans, who is a popular evangelical blogger and author, recently released her third book, Searching for Sunday. Organized around the seven sacraments, the book details her journey as an evangelical into The Episcopal Church. In one striking passage, she writes: “It’s funny how, after all those years attending youth events with light shows and bands…all I wanted from the church when I was ready to give it up was a quiet sanctuary and some candles.”
Isn’t it funny that when we find ourselves jealous of churches with flashy youth programming, there are growing numbers who find themselves deeply drawn to the beauty, mystery and rootedness of our own traditions? We don’t need to sell church as something flashy or cool. We don’t need to sell it at all! As we encounter evangelicals on the Canterbury road, my experience tells me it may be enough to offer them sanctuary. As Held Evans puts it, what she needed was “a safe place to be.” We know a thing or two about hospitality. As we extend Christ’s welcome, we should feel free to invite them deeply into this Anglican way of being Christian they’re already seeking. ?
Andrew Stephens-Rennie is assistant to the rector for evangelism and Christian formation at Christ Church Cathedral, Vancouver.