Rachel, The Mainline and Me

Dear Rachel Held Evans

I like you. Like a lot. I don’t know what it is, but so many of the things you write resonate with me. It’s almost as if you’ve channelled the voice inside me, the one that is crying out for a better church, a more robust church, a more humble church – one that’s justice-oriented and passionate about its worship, and is willing to ask deep questions about why we do what we do.

I’m just wondering, but are you somehow channelling me? Am I somehow channelling you when I talk about the church? It just seems – to me at least – as though we’re on the same wavelength. Which is scary.

Here’s the thing, your most recent post – you know that one about the Mainline and Me? I could have written that. In fact, in various times and places over the past four years I’ve said very similar things, and predominantly to folks within mainline traditions. I find it a bit eerie. But maybe we’re onto something.

The thing is, I worked within the Anglican Church of Canada for four years. Over those four years as Missioner for Youth Formation and Vocation in our nation’s capital, I spoke numerous times around the diocese about these very same things. I reflected on Kinnaman and Barna. I challenged congregations to think about why it is they do what they do.

And when congregations would come to me and say “we only need contemporary music to bring in the kids,” I often shot back: “actually, what you need to do is live out what you say you believe. You need to live lives of deep faithfulness and integrity. You need to be able to articulate the way in which your story and God’s story intersect.”

Contemporary music is fine. Personally, I prefer a blend of old and new, with a little bit of that so-called secular music thrown in, not for the sake of relevance, but the sake of resonance. I’m more likely to hear that Coldplay song during my week than a Dave Crowder tune or Fanny Crosby number. Bring me back to Sunday. Help me carry the liturgy into my week.

If liturgy is meant to form us, then by-God, allow it to form me. Make it impossible for me to let it go. Have it wash over me again and again, and let it resonate with the world I live in, even as it calls me into a new and different future. Even as it calls me to live into the Kingdom of God. Even as it calls me to look towards a world that is now, and somehow not yet.

Rachel, here’s the thing. I’ve preached to so many congregations and groups of people about this stuff, and I know that many of them get it. I know that many people understand what it is we’re talking about. I’m just not sure how change is going to be affected. I don’t know how we’re going to make that great leap that would entice someone like me – an evangelical on the Canterbury trail myself – to engage in a deep and meaningful way.

I was having this conversation with a senior cleric in my new hometown a few weeks ago who talked about the difference between our educational models in the mainline and evangelical contexts. We talked precisely about how evangelical churches challenge us, demand something of us – time, money and learning – whereas much of the mainline church warms pews on the Sundays, and is somehow unchallenged in how to connect faith and real life.

Perhaps I’m oversimplifying things here, but, I dunno, I guess I just don’t understand. Thing is, I want to be part of a church that’s liturgically creative, whose community demands something of me, even as I ask something of it. I want to be challenged in my faith, and I want a place to rest.

I want worship that is compelling, resonant, and feels as though someone’s not only put some thought into it, but that there’s a sense of purpose and meaning and intimacy to it. Liturgy that acknowledges the beauty and the pain of life.

And if there aren’t hymn writers who can go deep enough into the pain and torment of Holy Week, maybe we start to draw on the great works of James Hetfield, and sing “Nothing Else Matters.” I don’t know. It’s worth a shot.

I guess what I’m saying, Rachel, is that I miss so many of the things you say you do too:

I miss that evangelical fire-in-the-belly that makes people talk about their faith with passion and conviction.

I miss the familiarity with scripture and the intensive Bible studies.

I miss the emphasis on cultivating a personal spirituality.

I miss sermons that step on a few toes.

In all truth, I feel a bit church homeless. Anglicanism has felt much like home for the past four years, but that also involved the planting of a church that really takes some of these things into account. Now, in a new town, I feel at a loss. Are there no others out there who feel this way? Is there nobody in Vancouver who thinks the way I do? I don’t know, Rachel. They’re probably out there. And like me, they’re probably fitting restlessly into some other church’s pews waiting for something new to come along.

I just wonder who has the guts and the vision to pull it off.

In Hope.


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Andrew Stephens-Rennie
Andrew is a writer, dreamer and organizer with a keen interest in developing leaders in faith, compassion and justice.

He currently serves as the Director of Missional Renewal for the Anglican Diocese of Kootenay on the unceded territories of the Sinixt, Syilx, and Ktunaxa nations. He previously served as the Director of Ministry Innovation at Christ Church Cathedral in Vancouver, BC.

Andrew is cofounder and contributing editor at www.empireremixed.com, and co-editor of "A Sort of Homecoming: Essays Honoring the Academic and Community Work of Brian Walsh" with Marcia Boniferro and Amanda Jagt.

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