Note: In a companion piece to this article, the three current and recent theological students cited below talk about why they aspire to the priesthood in a time of uncertainty for the church.
When the Anglican Journal spoke with Christine Ivy, Tom Hubschmid and Caleb Upton, it became apparent that they had something in common: all three aspiring priests had come to Anglicanism in their adulthood after an upbringing in more evangelical denominations.
Upton, who was raised in what he calls a non-denominational Baptist home, says the order and regularity of the Book of Common Prayer (BCP) became a spiritual lifeline to him when he discovered it in university.
“I credit the daily office with really saving my spiritual life,” he says. “It’s very encompassing of all sorts of different emotions…You submit to it, and it works on you….It actually brings everything that I am to it.”
The churches he had attended before becoming an Anglican, Upton says, base spiritual life on one’s own inspiration and feelings, making it difficult to feel connected to God at moments when one isn’t inspired. But the BCP’s daily office, he says, give him the discipline of regular structure on which he’s been able to train his prayer life to grow—a kind of spiritual “trellis,” as he puts it.
Hubschmid, who was raised in the Evangelical Missionary Church of Canada, a church with Anabaptist origins, was, as of press time, about to start confirmation classes in Anglicanism. He says his movement to Anglicanism began after he started attending a church in Lethbridge, Alta., where he was attending university at the time.
“When I went to the Anglican church it felt oddly like coming home, even though it was so different from what I was used to,” he says. “I haven’t really looked back since.”
Hubschmid says he likes that Anglican worship is much more active than worship at his previous church, which involved mostly just listening and singing.
“What I found with liturgical worship was that it was a kind of spiritual workout,” he says. “This engaging of one’s body, kneeling, standing, saying creeds, walking to the front, kneeling at the rail, receiving the elements of the Eucharist in your hands—it was extremely refreshing and nourishing; the physicality of it, and the consistency.”
Hubschmid also likes what he calls Anglicanism’s “loyalty to the deep sources of our faith,” the teachings of the church fathers and the medieval theologians.
“Maybe some of this sense of coming home is that I feel as if I’m involved in something that goes way beyond my knowledge of history,” he says. “It’s just a deep tradition.”
Ivy says she grew up in a family that practiced a “generic” sort of evangelical Christianity, attending different types of evangelical churches depending on where they lived at the time. She traces much of her attraction to Anglicanism to her attendance at Wycliffe, where, she says, she “fell in love” with a rich liturgical tradition she had never before encountered. Ivy also likes the fact that Anglicanism forms a global communion with deep historical roots running ultimately back to the early Christian church. And she prefers the regularity of Anglican worship to the more spontaneous forms of service she attended when she was growing up.
“I just really appreciate how, almost by doing things the same every week…you’re allowed to pay more attention to what I think is important, which is Jesus Christ,” she says. “You’re not reinventing the wheel—it’s not about preferences and personalities, necessarily.
“There’s something about the rootedness of it that I think I was searching for—a deeper kind of spirituality that is more meditative,” she says.
Ivy also appreciates the brevity and thoughtfulness of Anglican sermons. Growing up, she says, sermons were typically 45 minutes long—and not all of them were inspiring.
Upton, Hubschmid and Ivy all say they know other former evangelicals who have joined the Anglican church, and that it’s part of a wider trend of evangelicals toward more liturgical forms of worship.
Judy Rois, who, in addition to serving as executive director of the Anglican Foundation of Canada, teaches homiletics at Trinity College and Queen’s College in St. John’s, N.L., says she’s seen many students from evangelical backgrounds become interested in Anglicanism.
Rois says it’s often partly because they see in Anglicanism a more “expansive” theology—based on the “three-legged stool” of reason, tradition and scripture—than they’re used to. The tendency, she says, was actually noted and described in a 1985 book, Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail: Why Evangelicals Are Attracted to the Liturgical Church, by Robert Webber.