My Canterbury Tale, Part Three

(Continued from part two)

A year after starting my hotel position, with the Prayer Book and a change of health practices counteracting my depression, I was doing much better but still felt out of place. While I loved (and still very much love) my Sojourn family, many changes had occurred at Sojourn over the previous three years, more were still ongoing, and I felt far less connected. In our Sunday services, much of the liturgical structure had gradually become less discernible. The focus seemed to shift ever-so-slightly towards entertainment or motivation from theological and spiritual depth. Not only that, but the sound dynamics in the worship space we’d moved into three years prior were causing me to have headaches, and I was having to wear earplugs or step out of the sanctuary for long periods of the service for some relief.

Then, one day, a friend told me about a local Episcopal church he had visited on a whim and that he found it beautiful and the rector’s teaching refreshingly solid. The Episcopal Church is the longstanding American branch of the Anglican Communion; however, the Anglican Church in North America split away and allied with Anglican Communion provinces in Africa in 2009 due to unorthodoxies arising within the Episcopal Church. Encouraged by the seeming orthodoxy of the priest at this parish and yearning for liturgical beauty, my friend and I decided to attend an upcoming Choral Evensong at this church.

Choral Evensong is the Book of Common Prayer’s Evening Prayer liturgy set to music. It was something I had heard about but, until that moment, never experienced. The angelic, soaring voices echoing throughout that late-19th century gothic revival structure were too much, especially when they were singing the words that had become my lifeline. At that moment, I felt like I knew what Saint Paul meant about being “caught up to the third heaven” (2 Cor. 12:2).

I began attending this church’s early Sunday morning Eucharist service. It was a spoken, traditional-language service at dawn, and I would show up 20 minutes early to kneel in my pew and pray in the silence. Then, the liturgy would start. Being the older Prayer Books’ language, it gave a sense of connection with the past. As Winfield Bevins says in his book Ever Ancient, Ever New: The Allure of Liturgy to a New Generation,

There is something beautiful about praying prayers written by others from another time and another place. Doing so provides a connection and continuity with the prayers of other Christians from other times and cultures. These prayers are scriptural and rich in theology, and, although many of them are very old, their words are timeless.

I eagerly awaited this time each week. At this point, it was the first time I had longed to attend church services in years. A sense of peace and tranquility settled onto me while reciting the prayers and consuming the Eucharist that I desperately needed. It wasn’t the pep rally that I had come to expect from Evangelical worship services. There weren’t feelings of excitement that I felt I had to conjure up. There were simply the prayers of the saints tending my wounds and the body and blood of Christ nourishing my soul. Again, Bevins states,

For those who are looking for an opportunity to meet with God that cultivates an aura of transcendence, the rhythms of ancient liturgical worship are attractive. It’s slow, repetitive, and it lacks instant gratification. The beauty of a faith that didn’t start yesterday is that it is not driven by the latest fads or personalities. For many, it harkens to another time and is not bound to the biases of today’s culture.

Sadly, not everyone in this Episcopal church was as theologically sound as the rector. His vestry turned on him for his traditional orthodoxy, the local bishop sided with the vestry, and the rector stepped down. Once that happened, I returned to Sojourn, where I was still a member, but I moved to a different campus of the church that by now had multiplied itself fourfold. My theological objections to Anglican thought were long past since reading more from the Early Church, so I also knew my ministry paths through Sojourn would be limited henceforth. At this point, though, I knew what had to happen. If an Anglican church were planted in the area again, I would join, and I would pursue ordination.

And, so, it happened. It took three years, but it happened. A friend who had been part of the previous Anglican plant invited me to be part of a new one. Interest meetings started happening in the lobby of the Sojourn campus I was attending, oddly enough. The elements began falling together quickly. If I had any internal questions remaining to settle, they were put to rest a month in, when I took a long-awaited trip to England and Ireland.

While in England, I attended two services at Westminster Abbey and, in Ireland, a Choral Evensong at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. There, amidst the 900-year-laid stones, standing above the bones of centuries of my fellow Christians, I joined in the prayers they had spoken long ago and spoke in glory at that moment. The words I had now long memorized, I echoed with them through those ancient arches. I felt at one with the Church—past, present, and even into eternity. I felt home.

I was confirmed in the Anglican Church a few months later. Speaking through the prophet Jeremiah, the Lord called his people to “ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls” (6:16b). I walked the Anglican Way’s ancient path, my “Canterbury trail,” and I found rest there. I found rest in the beauty and depth of the ancient rhythms, the prayers of the saints, the prevalence of the scriptures, the wonder of the Eucharist, and the catholicity of Christianity past, present, and in Christ’s coming Kingdom.

(Cover image: the north face of Westminster Abbey, London, UK. Photo © Jacob A. Davis)

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