I thought I’d begin this post with a bit of a story in my life.
I grew up in the church. Probably not the one you’re expecting. While not overly religious, my parents baptized me as an infant in the Catholic community they were a part of back in Hamilton Ontario. It would only be a few years later that my parents would divorce and my mother and I would move from Fort McMurray down to Calgary.
While divorce was not looked well upon in the Catholic denomination, particularly in the late ’70’s and ’80’s, my mother became involved with the Anglican Church cathedrals in downtown Calgary. There were many a choir practices to which she’d bring me I would spend my time as an adventuresome 4-5 year old exploring the “articulated tunnels” and the dark “catacombs” of these “long lost” church temples and cathedrals!! My imagination for the amazing stories that took place in these “ancient” buildings had no bounds!!
As I entered my school years, my mother enrolled me into the Catholic school system; while be accepted because of my catholic baptism, I could never understand why the would never allow me to participate in catholic sacraments during Mass simply because I was a part of an Anglican church and never participated in their First Communion cataclysm classes. It was all a bit prejudicial to me and I left the system the moment my mother gave me the option to go to public school in Junior High.
It was here that I really only found meaning in the church through youth groups and church camp retreats where my friends and I could hike, bike, tell ghost stories around the fire, and yes… sneak into the girls side of the camp late at night when we could slip out of the cabin unnoticed. :)
Of course, life does not always go the way we expect it to some times and my life dramatically changed in the mid ’90’s; April 23rd, 1994 to be precise. I was 15 and I was involved in a major car wreck. I will leave the details for another time but will say that on this day my life dramatically changed. My mother passed away and although having other family members around me, I would eventually end up living life on my own through a long hospital stay, a brief single apartment, and a group home experience before entering adulthood and my own living spaces. But this is a story about church.
The years following my accident I really was not involved in the church. There was no point. My friends had long left, as the person I was no longer was the same person I became; and my family had passed away and those left were at a distance while not really holding me to any accountability to such a belief or community. It wouldn’t be until several years later that while delving deep into the Martial Art philosophies I began to question the nature of this God I was raised to believe in and told stories about.
My girl friend at the time (later to be my wife ;) ), invited me to her church, a Four Square Full Gospel community in NE Calgary. A much different encounter with the church I grew up with as I’d roll my eyes to the old lady in the seats standing up and “prophesying” AGAIN to the falling apart of the church and of course the speaking “in tongues” until she became slain in the Spirit. I’d rock to the contemporary and upbeat music which was far different from the choir led hymnals of old, and of course I’d try to keep from jumping or falling out of my chair whenever Arnie would let out one of his yelps while giving his hour long or more sermons. It was here that Bonnie and I would get married.
Moving south, we found it easier to find a home in the local North American Baptist Church of our community in McKenzie Town. It was here that I in the most sincerest way was “born again”. There is a lot that could be said theologically about this term but it was a reality in my experience where the only way I can describe it is by saying that God became alive to me here and my faith was no longer just about social community and relational friendships but rather about a relationship I had with the God who created me. Through many intimate coffees with my good friend Humphrey and the shared meals with our small group, I was led into my theological studies at a local college called Alberta Bible College. It was here that Bonnie and I were baptized while giving testimonies in front of the congregation and Norm pouring water over our heads.
Drinking deeply from the theological waters of this college campus I began an introduction to the Churches of Christ and Christian Independent community. There was more then just deep intellectual conversations in classrooms and hallways of this institution; there was the amazing epiphanies I had while reconnecting to the deeper meanings of communion that I so misunderstood as a child in the liturgical expressions of Catholicism and Anglicanism; and there was also the tears and raised voices of debate as we discussed the implications of wrongful institutionalized beliefs about baptism and whether Bonnie and I were “damned for the fires of hell” because we were not fully immersed. I couldn’t help but see the parallels to my old feelings of rejection to the sacraments in the Catholic Church as a boy. It’s ironic when you consider Thomas Campbell’s original rejection of the Catholic’s sacramental practices around the Lord’s Table! ;)
Of course, this journey and story would not be complete without mentioning the visits I would make to my fathers Pentecostal community, Victory Church and the many conversations and debates we would get into on the theological understandings of healing. Even today I see the rather scared and damaging effects that journey has had on my dad and his wife. I’m thankful that even though that experience left them spiritual empty and abandoned, we are still here with them and as we listen, pray, and serve; we might be able to bring a restoration in time.
Today I serve in a House Church Movement supported by the Evangelical Missionary Churches of Canada and while I deeply struggle with the idea of denominational ties, I am greatly thankful to be a part of this community! While I do not think it is theologically “all correct”, I truly believe God is working through their endeavors to pursue His Kingdom at there utmost.
Why do I tell you this tail?! While it is riddled with holes, incomplete details, and of course still unfinished, I must confess that I have never been able to grasp the concept of the church being found in one singular denominational declaration or building institution. Church has always been a narrative journey for me and even more so, defined by the many memories and experiences of people, family and friends, who embody its impacts and works in my life and those around me.
I’m going to do something perhaps very dangerous here and say while I could leave you many quotes from Keifert’s and Mark’s writings, I think we will find those in many other posts and I’m sure I will use them in future also. I’d much rather leave you with a thought from my heart as to how we might define the church…
The church is not instituted into a singular doctrine, decree, or denomination – I think we’d all agree to this, if not at least in statement. I might even push Mark and say it is not solely in the pluralism and diversity of narrative experience. The church is the inner working of the Trinity through space and time while in relational polarity between humanities narrative exploration of his nature and the commonalities of ritual expressionism. I’m thinking to explain this more might take another few “300 word” posts! ;)
I could of course be completely wrong here and ultimately rewriting this whole post, hopefully before Thursday. But I felt led to share this while writing today and I’m putting my trust in His guidance. I hope this story meets you all well. Peace be with you!