Long road to Jerusalem

Although I have been a Christian for some twenty years, I have not always been a churchgoer at the same time.  I’m not quite sure how that happened, exactly.  I guess I just tried to find a denomination/church whose doctrine matched my own understanding and, not having found any, eventually gave up altogether.

Which is not to say that I gave up on God.  When one has a personal sort of revelation you can’t very well deny that which is engraved in your memory.  But having attended various Protestant denominations over two decades, I did despair of finding a community of believers whose doctrine I could agree with in minute, microscopic detail.

I had a conversation with mom a month ago, though, that put it all in a different light.  She quite rightly pointed out that I am never going to find perfect agreement and alignment with the doctrine of any human church, and that the life of solitary believer who rarely interacts with his brethren rather misses the point.  A member of the body of Christ, separated from that body and having no communication with the other parts, can neither exercise its God-given gifts nor be blessed through others using theirs.

So I’m struggling back into regular church attendance.

Here is one of the tunes from today’s service, “I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say”, written by Scottish pastor and author Horatius Bonar, set to the tune Kingsfold by Ralph Vaughan Williams.

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6 Responses
  1. Nathan B. says:

    As a former Christian raised on C.S. Lewis (a favorite of yours, I know), and as a good friend of a fine man who is exactly in your position, I have a good deal of sympathy for you. My friend has been attending an Anglican church in Seoul for evening prayer; often, he was the only attendee at the English-language service in his cathedral.

    I wish you the best as you seek to find a spiritual home. I’d also say that you’ll never find a perfect denomination. That said, from your taste in sacred music, Canadian history, and C.S.L., I’d say the Anglican denomination is not a bad choice. Many people, mostly evangelical Protestants, like to make fun of the Anglican church, usually for its lack of a coherent stance on homosexuality. I think, though, that it’s a wonderful church, and the same thing that others mock as weakness is a sign of a certain kind of vitality. In the Anglican church even today, there are liturgy buffs, social justice volunteers, learned evangelical preachers, and a lot of beautiful architecture on large and small scales.

    One of the other things I like about the Anglicans, as well as (usually) the Presbyterians, and even certain kinds of Catholics, is their respect for others. So many evangelical Protestants in the Baptist, Nazarene, Evangelical Free churches, etc. are simply incapable of listening to others because of their zest for conversions. I won’t start about the Vineyard types and the Pentecostals.

    As a former deacon in a Baptist church, a graduate of an evangelical university, a former resident in an Anglican seminary building, a one-time missions-to-Mexico visitor, and a former RCIA-converter to Catholicism, I’ve seen a lot of Christianity. Although I no longer believe in it, I also think that if it meets some kind of need, it can be helpful. My main caution arising out of this experience would be to be careful about “getting involved”; this seems innocent at first, but too often in churches–especially, it seems to me, the evangelical denominations–there is a deadly mix of personal fiefdoms and emotional manipulation that takes place. People, especially those in leadership roles, may behave without any semblance of professionalism or charity. My good friend mentioned above, whom I met while dorming at Wycliffe College in UofT, hasn’t reported too much of this in his experience as an Anglican, so that’s probably another point in favor of that church.

    Regardless of where you find your spiritual home, I do wish you the best, and I hope you’ll keep blogging about it. It’s refreshing to read honest, contemplative blog posts like this one.

    • Chris Taylor says:

      I’ve been all over the map, really. Went to my grandparents’ United church as a child, Christian & Missionary Alliance in my mid-teens, United and Anglican churches as a late teen into my twenties, People’s Church (yep, the one on TV) off and on through early 30s, and now seem to have settled on the Anglicans again.

      Any denomination varies widely depending on the pastoral staff and the congregation. I have tried many of my local Anglican churches and sadly could not find a good fit, but I have always liked one of the cathedrals downtown (which is quite a distance from home). So I am checking it out for now, and maybe several months on down the line will look into getting involved with some events. I know what you mean about fiefdoms; it will take a long time before I start getting involved and donating blood, sweat and tears.

      Reading about the Reformation really opened my eyes as to the length and breadth and depth of Christian denominations. While I will always remain grateful to the C&MA for first bringing me to Christ, once you know some Reformation history the narrowness of their theological vision becomes apparent.

      The United Church bugs me because of their General Council’s incessant drumbeat about Israel and how to best punish it for transgressions in its dealings with the Palestinians. Aren’t there other countries out there doing far more nefarious things that are also worthy of opprobrium?

      The Anglicans bug me because so many of their senior churchmen, including Rowan Cantuar, forget that they are an established state church, and the whole project has gotten watered down to the point of suggesting that it is inevitable that Britain will adopt sharia.

      Is it really appropriate for senior clergy of a state church to suggest importing some other religion into the laws of the land? Isn’t the whole point of having a state church to, you know, protect and preserve the prerogatives of the “official” religion, the one sanctioned by the law and the sovereign, etc etc. You want to import some other religion’s doctrines into the law of the land? Disestablish yourself as the state church first. Or resign your post. We all know what would happen in the reverse, if the Grand Mufti of “Saudi” Arabia said, on the record, that it was inevitable that the kingdom should eventually adopt Christian common law. The amount of time it would take for that Grand Mufti to be replaced would be measured in seconds.

      At any rate, as you say, I am not going to agree with any denomination 100 percent of the time, so the best I can do is pick the least bad option. What doesn’t appear to be a good option is simply sitting at home and pouting.

  2. Nathan B. says:

    Rowan Williams seems to me an unusually weak leader, and I very much agree with you about sharia law and about the undesirability of an anti-Israel drumbeat in church denominations.

    As for Toronto churches, my friend used to attend St. Paul’s, and that is where I imagine you might be at. Other acquaintances went to St. James. When I was in Toronto I visited more Catholic churches than Anglican, and so I never saw either St. Paul’s or St. James on the inside. That’s a regret I hope to mend at some point.

    In terms of Anglican churches, I’ve always liked “Smoky Tom’s” (St. Thomas’s on Huron St. by UofT’s Robarts library, but it’s not a cathedral), and a charming little church–again, not a cathedral–whose name escapes me at the moment; it’s very close to the Catholic church on McCaul Street, but it’s not actually on McCaul. It has a courtyard, a garden, and a lovely old bell tower that remains of a fire many years ago. The present church sanctuary was not the original sanctuary, but it’s a beautiful example of intimate sacred space.

    I still miss the interior of the Catholic St. Michael’s Cathedral, especially the stained glass. It’s really quite marvelous.

    In any case, cheers & good luck,

    • Chris Taylor says:

      I guess I am going to have to make an effort to visit all of those churches you have mentioned. I picked St. James because it was around the corner from a former workplace, and I had been there several times in the past for events (and the occasional service when I had to do weekend server upgrades on Sunday mornings).

      The thing that I liked about wasn’t so much that it was a cathedral but that it still had tons of regimental banners and memorial sprinkled throughout the sanctuary. So many churches (modern ones especially) have eschewed major displays of remembrance of those who have served, and I liked the fact that St. James (and St. Paul’s) still maintain a connection to local military units and are still “garrison churches” of a sort.

      So that plus tolerable sermons, stellar music, and a generally welcoming attitude have all given me a good impression of St. James. But I will make a point of touring around a bit and seeing the other churches. “Smoky Tom’s” in particular sounds intriguing.

      I haven’t been inside St. Michael’s but one of these days (maybe for Doors Open) I will get there. I imagine (but haven’t checked) that they are like St James; open pretty well every day of the week, you can wander in there and somebody will give you a bit of a tour or explain the place.

  3. Nathan B. says:

    “Smoky Tom’s” is an ultra-high Anglican church, though it didn’t seem to have any holy water when I was there. I am a catholic incense-lover, and I very much appreciated the incense being used there. It’s a smaller congregation and building, but the music is wonderful, particularly the organ, and I remember hearing Latin motets there one Sunday. I like the darker colours of the place, also.

    There’s also St. Mary Magdalene’s. That’s a high Anglican church that’s the opposite of Smoky Tom’s: no incense that I can remember, with white walls and a higher ceiling, if I recall correctly. I prefer “Smoky Tom’s” to “St. Mary Mag’s’.”

    I suspect that you will like St. James and St. Paul’s more to your liking, though, and you’ve made me very curious to visit them!

    As for St. Michael’s, when I was a student in Toronto, it was open everyday. The church ceiling needed some maintenance when I was there, but the view of the beautiful stained glass windows at the far end of the nave was something I really enjoyed.

    By the way, if you are ever in Vancouver, there is a very charming Anglican church on Burrard Street downtown; they have regimental flags there, housed in a special cabinet with pull-out drawers.