In my childhood we were members of a Bible Church, which is like being a Southern Baptist from New Jersey. We were conservative evangelicals living in the 'burbs of New York City. Most of the kids in my school and neighborhood were either Jewish or Catholic. So, when religion came up and they asked, "What are you," I didn't have an answer that fit their categories. "I'm a Christian," I would say, hoping this would answer them. It didn't.
Church was the central organizer for my early life. Each week we went to Sunday school and Sunday morning service, then headed home for supper which was usually preceded by a chorus:
"Thank you, Lord for saving my soul. Thank you, Lord for making me whole. Thank you, Lord for giving to me, thy great salvation so rich and free."
After supper we read the funnies and goofed around. TV was forbidden on the Lord’s day. Then it was back to church for the Sunday evening gathering, which was my favorite of all the events in the church week. That was the night we spent the whole service singing.
Sunday evening was way better than Wednesday night prayer meeting. That was always boring to me as a kid, at least until I figured out about girls. The rest of the week was filled with Friday night youth group, Thursday night church league volleyball during the summer, and the occasional Saturday night movie about the end times shown on a large sheet in the church parking lot.
Most of us who grew up evangelical in the 1970s watched the end times movie, A Thief in the Night. The basic premise is this: Jesus returns, and those who have been saved are taken to heaven while those who have not asked Jesus into their hearts are left behind to face a time of tribulation.
Now, imagine being ten years old and having watched this movie three times in the past few months. You return from the beach and expect your mom to be at home as promised, but she is not there. Suddenly the lyrics of a song begin to play in your mind: “Life was filled with guns and war, and everyone got trampled on the floor, I wish we’d all been ready.” You are sure you’ve been left behind.
At college I majored in biblical studies and communications, believing that I needed to learn how to defend my view of God, a view I believed was the only correct one. In addition to my studies, I was given the task of preaching at open air rallies and telling people why they should ask Jesus into their hearts. I also began traveling with a singing quartet to churches throughout New England; they would sing, then I would preach the good news which, in this case, was that the listeners needed either to get saved or face eternal damnation and separation from God in the fires of hell.
I entered college expecting that my training would lead me into ministry at a church. Instead it led to me to the field of politics. I spent much of my twenties traveling throughout Virginia and other Southern states working to get individuals elected at the state and federal level. I believed that if I could get the right people in office, they would win America back for God. They didn’t.
At 30 years old I left politics and entered my desert years. I had staked my identity on the belief that my role in this world was to convince people, even compel them, to accept my view of God. That desire had led me down a path of sowing seeds of discord, some of which became the weeds that currently crowd out our conversations about reconciliation. I began to wonder: What if the answer is peace, not power? What if God was up to something I had not yet seen? And what if the way to point people to God is not proclaiming the truth or garnering political strength, but it is living in the way of Jesus?
A major milestone during those years was reading a book by a former missionary named Lesslie Newbigin. One of his big ideas was that the good news of Jesus was constantly being interpreted by the actions of the Church. This blew my mind. If truth didn’t stand on its own, then belief, including belief in God, couldn’t stand outside of the actions of those who professed belief in God.
I found myself asking questions I had previously assigned to the unorthodox and the troublemakers. I also found other good troublemakers on similar journeys of exploration. These new companions were forming intentional communities that sought to demonstrate what the Sermon on the Mount and the discipleship of Christ could look like in the middle of the hard work of creating community. At 40 years old, I sold my house in the suburbs of Baltimore and moved my family into an intentional community in Lexington, KY.
If my faith journey were a made-for-TV story, the next chapter would be the part where everything was perfect, and I finally found my rest. But like all true stories, the next chapter is more complex. I learned so much about myself from my time in intentional community, including the fact that my need for certainty was keeping me from experiencing God. I also sensed that my tradition – white American evangelicalism – may have blinded me to some things God had been up to, things that would require me to take a much longer view on my faith.
That longer view is what led me to the Episcopal Church. After being a part of that intentional community for 8 years, I turned to what was literally my neighborhood parish, Good Shepherd, in Lexington, KY. It was around the corner from my house. What I found there was a deep sense of community rooted in the much larger history of the Church.
Two years ago, my wife and I relocated to Ashburn. We didn’t choose this area randomly. It was close to our work and friends. St. David’s also factored into our decision about where to live. We visited with friends and fell in love with the church. When we decided where to live, we purposely found a location five minutes’ drive from St. David’s.
I hope and pray that my journey is not complete and that I have many more paths to travel. What I have learned most clearly in my faith journey is that we all come from a people and a place, but, by God’s grace, we can choose the people and place where we feel God at work, and where we believe we can demonstrate the way of Jesus. For me, that is St. David’s.