My family and I go to International Anglican Church1 in Colorado Springs. For those interested in such things, it’s part of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA). We think it’s a great church, and we’re happy and content.
But it took me a long time to get to “happy and content.” And I ignored a lot of perfectly fine churches along the way. Maybe you’ve been there too: so enamored with the thought of a “perfect church” that you refuse to see the good in other churches.
In this series, I’ll share the lessons from my too-long search for the perfect church, and how my cynicism kept me from being content.
Chapter One: the St. Mary Magdalen Fairy Tale.
My first taste of Anglicanism was in college, during my semester at Oxford. I went to a parish called St. Mary Magdalen’s, and it was awesome.
St. Mary Mag’s, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways:
- It was ancient. While I was there, the parish celebrated its one thousand year anniversary. It started as an Anglo-Saxon chapel before the Normans invaded England. Each Sunday during the Nicene Creed, I thought through the generations of people standing right where I was, saying the same Creed I was, proclaiming the same faith.
- It was high church. Thanks in part to the Oxford Movement, Mary Mag’s was known as the highest-church Anglican parish in the world. Its parishioners bragged that their mass was “more catholic than the Catholics.”
As someone with no exposure to liturgical churches, it was bewildering and wonderful. The entry of the cross with bowing and chanting, the stained glass windows, the holy water, the strong wine at Eucharist, the appeals to Mary. Even when we weren’t having mass, the sanctuary smelled of oak and incense2.
- The culture was charming. Mary Mags had all the old-timey trappings you’d expect from an Anthony Trollope novel. Each Sunday, all the town’s church bells rang in chorus as I walked the cobbled streets to church, the spires and steeples dappling the sun overhead. I entered the church past the gravestones and the stone memorials. After mass, we all gathered in the back of the chapel for tea and biscuits. Then all the parishioners would gather at some restaurant plucked from an Inklings story to discuss literature and local politics
It was awesome.
- It was intellectual. At that restaurant, I was consistently wowed by the parishioners’ intellect. The head priest, Father Peter, was especially impressive. He was an Oxford graduate, and a tutor of theology at the university. He tackled my (many) theological questions with a freakish eloquence, twirling his fingers in circles and forming his thoughts in complete paragraphs. I was wowed.
By the end, I was the poster boy for Anglo-catholicism. Literally–Mary Mag’s posted a picture of me on the front page of their website. I thought I had found where I belonged.
But alas, it wasn’t to be. And that’s what my next post is about…
In the meantime, what do you think of my reasons for falling in love with Mary Mag’s? Have you done something like that for similar reasons?
1 If you’re interested, you should check out our new website. It’s really good. Seriously, you should look at it.
2 Okay, I made that last part up.
Photo credit: Ed Webster