God is not afraid of new things! That is why he is continually surprising us, opening our hearts and guiding us in unexpected ways. He renews us: he constantly makes us “new.” A Christian who lives the Gospel is “God’s newness” in the Church and in the world. How much God loves this “newness!”
(Pope Francis, homily, Oct. 19, 2014)
Just like those who shook their heads at the biblical Ruth as she made her uncommon choices, members of the abandoned faith community may well shake their heads also. Except, for some personal confidantes, few people were initially aware of the deep intra-psychic process I experienced in contemplating the denominational move. There is a time delay between the shifting of tectonic plates at the bottom of the soul’s ocean, and the waves appearing on the surface of the water.
In my case, once the Anglican door opened both externally and internally, my mind and heart went “on retreat.” I literally fell silent for six months (a small taste of Zechariah’s silence during Elizabeth’s pregnancy!) while I prayed and consulted trusted mentors. By the time external signs of the move appeared, an extensive inner process of letting go and redefining had already been well underway.
As the beckoning to new life in another tradition grew stronger, a mental, emotional and spiritual reorientation gathered momentum. Sometimes a temporary living outside of any denomination occurs before a new denominational affiliation becomes possible, a liminal space of sorts to establish solid spiritual ground under one’s feet outside of a denominational identification. Eventually a sustained and informed movement in mind-heart-spirit “toward” something new and full(er) replaces the focus of moving “away” from the old.
Once I fell into a heartfelt yes, inner peace, clarity and joy released new energy and courage for the task ahead. A heartfelt encounter with the risen Christ in the new liturgical and ecclesial context sealed my decision, after Mary Magdalene’s example. Once Mary let go of how she knew Jesus on earth, her heart opened to welcoming the new risen Jesus as she exclaimed “I have seen the Lord” (Jn 20:18).
Those who have no personal experience of a crisis of meaning, and who have never had to question their denominational affiliation, may find it nigh impossible to understand another’s need to move to a different religious expression. Disbelief, judgment, denial and rejection may be heaped upon the one breaking denominational ranks. These feelings will be particularly strong in those with a denominational self-understanding of superiority with exclusive and absolute claims in faith and doctrine.
Others show support and understanding because they live their own struggles of faith vicariously through the departing person. They may doubt their own denominational affiliations, but are afraid or simply incapable of contemplating being elsewhere. One friend reduced contact because “Your denominational exploration is too close for comfort; you are raising all the questions I am trying hard to keep at bay so I can stay. I get very nervous every time I talk to you.”
Finally, many genuinely understood, respected and supported my denominational move. Many of these were well-grounded and secure in their faith and denominational identity; some had experienced similar transitions with a heart that could appreciate a diversity of expressions with joy and peace. Such friends remain a vital source of affirmation and support, embodying the continuity between my past-present-future.
In order to express continuity in my spiritual and vocational pilgrimage, and before the formal reception into the Anglican Church took place, I marked the denominational transition through a creative liturgical ritual with elements from both Anglican and Roman Catholic traditions. It was an unforgettable event with numerous family members and friends from at least seven different Christian traditions present. This ecumenical celebration was not only a powerful sign and instrument of Christian unity, it also facilitated the notion that the past goes with us into the future as a valuable resource and a treasured legacy. For the past is never gone and life has only changed, not ended.
Rev. Marie-Louise Ternier is now an Anglican deacon, serving the Anglican and Lutheran parishes in Watrous, SK. In her spare time she serves on the programming team at Queen’s House in Saskatoon. Marie-Louise is a published author and spiritual director, retreat leader and conference speaker. This column is co-published with the Saskatchewan Anglican. Marie-Louise blogs at http://graceatsixty.wordpress.com