By Joel Amis, candidate for M.Div., ’18
In early 2015 I found myself being drawn back, or rather, led back to Anglican Christianity. At the time I was a student with the United Theological College and affiliated with the Unitarian Universalist Church. I had felt the call to ordained ministry about 15 years prior when I was an undergraduate and active Episcopalian back in Georgia, my home state – but I had actively resisted that call at the time… “no”, I said, “at least, not just yet”.
The story of why I drifted away from the Episcopal Church and how I ended up, for a brief time, in the Unitarian Universalist Church is a long and complex one, beyond the scope (and length) of this piece. Suffice it to say that God brought me through this experience with Unitarian Universalism to help me realize where I really need to be… and, indeed, who I really am. One might say that, since I obviously wasn’t willing to go through the front door (as my earlier resistance had demonstrated), God decided to bring me in through the basement – so I wouldn’t really know where I was being led until I actually got there! True, I was (and am) a theological liberal and a social progressive – but Unitarian Universalism proved beyond my spiritual comfort zone. Nonetheless, it was in the Unitarian Universalist environment that I came to understand my identity as a Christian, in a way I couldn’t in the very conservative religious environment of the U.S. South. It’s as if God led me to the brink, so that I could then turn and see clearly where I needed to be.
Yet this only explains how I rediscovered and re-embraced my Christian faith – it doesn’t really explain the Anglican element. After all, I was studying with the United Theological College, so why not the United Church? For this explanation, however, we must move beyond reason, beyond doctrines, beyond politics to something more, shall we say, something mystical.
On Ash Wednesday, 2015, as I stood at the crossroads (convinced I was not a Unitarian Universalist, but not sure where to go from there), I went to the Tri-College worship celebration, which was hosted by Dio that month. As we went through the liturgy of imposition of ashes (which I hadn’t experienced for many years) and Holy Eucharist, I became overwhelmed by the feeling of being home. As I looked around the chapel, I distinctly felt that I was not a Unitarian Universalist among various Christians, but rather an Anglican among fellow Anglicans. It was then that I knew I had come home.
Having been brought up as a Methodist, I was attracted to the Episcopal Church primarily because of the liturgy – and it was precisely in the context of the liturgy that I was called home to the Anglican Church. But while I’d long felt this attraction to liturgical worship, I wasn’t always able to articulate why exactly I resonated so strongly with it. Was the liturgy, as my Southern Baptist relatives might suggest, just empty ritual and show, just “theatre”?
It was only upon returning to the Anglican Church that I realized why my soul resonated with liturgical worship: sacramental worship is incarnational. God is more than just words in the Bible, a sermon, a creed or a theology. God, in my understanding, is incarnate in the world and in us – Immanuel, “God with us”. This macrocosmic truth is embodied microcosmically in the liturgy – especially in the Holy Communion. The liturgy touches us not only intellectually, but also sensually, i.e. all the senses of our incarnate being are engaged. Thus, we are able to move beyond the mere verbal and intellectual, towards mystical encounter with the Divine.
We Anglicans are often at a loss to explain what exactly transpires in the Holy Eucharist – ask 100 Anglicans and you’re liable to wind up with 100 answers! But, nonetheless, we all gather around Christ’s table, as Christians have been doing for two millennia. And it is there that, on a microcosmic level, we experience union with Christ and with one another, and witness the eternal truth of God’s Incarnation. As we learn from Luke’s Gospel, Christ “was known to them in the breaking of the bread”. In my view, the breaking of the bread was not just a reminder, but rather a point of encounter. Likewise, when we gather in Holy Communion, we encounter the risen Christ, among us and within us.
Yes, my path back to the Anglican Church has been rather winding, and not without pitfalls – but God finally led me home. Ultimately though, my homecoming did not come about through intellectualizing and rational debate, but rather through the liturgy… “in the breaking of the bread”.