By Julia Powers
For some reason, when I was fourteen, the cool youth pastor at my basically Pentecostal church took us on a service trip that was put together by an Episcopal missions organization. Each evening, we would sit around a big dinner table and pray something called compline. I thought nothing of it but would keep the pamphlet of prayers, which had a Celtic cross on the cover, tucked inside my Bible for the next ten years.
When the trip was over, we climbed into two vans, fastened our Bible belts, and popped in a Passion Worship CD.
Religion, I learned, was defined by passion – specifically, passion that expressed itself through dramatic displays of affection for God such as singing Him love songs and praying wonderfully wordy prayers that kept telling God “if He would just bless just this one thing, we would just be so thankful.”
And that was just fine, really – when we were passionate.
“Millennials, considered as a group, are not particularly known for rigorous adherence to particular traditions. Nor are they known for their ‘traditional’ ways of doing things. That said, a number of commentators have noted a rising tide of interest in tradition in the spiritual lives of young people in this country….[O]ften, it takes the form of a turn to traditional elements of liturgy.” – Travis Pickell, “Choosing My Tradition,” The Other Journal, May 2014.
“Jesus answered, ‘I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.’” – John 6:26
It was the Sunday before Thanksgiving, and the youth group was selling pies. Pleased with my pumpkin pie and brand new driver’s license, I pulled into the parking lot praising God already. Therefore let us keep the feast, right?
Not this time.
The cool youth pastor was on the phone in a corner. The not-as-cool senior pastor stood before the group and told us that the Holy Spirit was guiding us in a new direction – one that did not involve our youth pastor. Parents put down their pies and pressed for answers. So, he mumbled something about massive debt that maybe he should have mentioned sooner and budget cuts and being joyful anyways.
The sermon that day was about trusting God. But how could I trust someone, I wondered, who seemed so deeply different from week to week? One week passion; the next, pandemonium in the pie room.
Confession and the peace.
For the duration of adolescence, confusion simmered in my mind until, admittedly, it boiled up into anger at the Christians who had caused said confusion. One day, when I watched the 2006 documentary Jesus Camp and had incidentally forgotten to take my meds (not an advisable combination), I tried hard to yank the silver cross necklace off from around my neck. Not just unlatch and remove it like a normal person; no, grip it with both hands and snap. But, I couldn’t even do that. (Jesus just wouldn’t go away.)
Kind people tried to proffer peace. They would speak of hard truths like the perfection of Christ and the imperfection of his followers. They would share soothing videos of Rob Bell saying things like “May you…experience shalom among God’s people.”
Two mentors in particular, in the most gentle, forgettable ways, suggested that I try an Episcopal church. First, there was the campus minister who mentioned off-handedly, when we met for coffee on a Monday and I sighed about another unsettling Sunday, that I might try the new Episcopal church plant in town. Then, there was the English professor who mused, in the midst of office hours, that “Anglicanism is the most poetic of faiths” and had I ever given it a chance.
Sometimes the best thing we can give God is a chance – a chance to show up in a new way. So I gave Him just that.
My first clueless contact with a local Episcopal church was an email to the young adults minister, which read something like this: “Dear Pastor Smith, I am not Episcopalian, but some people think I should be. So I might like to visit your church. Could you tell me about your young adults ministry?”
No matter that I called him “Pastor” instead of the more denominationally appropriate “Father.” No matter that this was one of the stranger emails I’d sent or he’d received. No, he gladly described to this strange stranger a group of young Christians who, from the sound of it, really liked Jesus and deep discussions and beer.
When I wanted a taste of this…come to the table, they said. So I did. Pastor Father Smith stood before the group and said with calm confidence: “The Lord be with you.” I expected him to promptly launch into praying or preaching or both. But, first, the twenty or so twentysomethings seated around me said in unison: “And with thy spirit.” There was a part for all of us in this script, it seemed.
When I wanted to find my part in the script…come to the table, they said. So, before long, I was savoring the sweet stability of liturgy. Going to church, for me, suddenly came with a sense of wonder at God’s constancy rather than wonder at what on earth the worship service was going to be like this week.
You should try the confirmation class, a lay leader suggested. So I did. A few months passed. You could get confirmed if you like what you’re learning here, a confirmation teacher suggested. So I did.
Ultimately, the blessing isn’t so much being accidentally Anglican as it is being accidentally at peace. Because that’s what we’re all after anyways, isn’t it? It’s as if we’re all stumbling after our own trail of crumbs that leads, slowly but surely, to who we are – who God made us to be.
So may you keep after your trail of crumbs – until you hear come to the table. And you come.
Thanks be to God!