Welcome to the Faith, Fully project. If you’re new to the project, you can read more about it and join us if it strikes your fancy. And you can follow us here or on the Faith, Fully Facebook page. You can read every Letter 1, or follow all the letters.

Dear Brad:

First of all, thank you for starting this project.  My hope is that it becomes an opportunity for people with different relationships to faith to understand each other a bit better than we do.  I hope to learn from others’ stories, and for my story to be enriched by theirs.

I’m a priest in the Episcopal Church, a small US-based denomination that is an outgrowth of the Church of England (remember Henry VIII?).  In the Episcopal Church, priests may be men or women, and we may be married – luckily for me, as my wife is also an Episcopal priest.  Right now, I’m serving as the rector (or pastor) for a cluster of three small congregations in a rural part of Western New York.

I was brought up in the Roman Catholic Church, though I wouldn’t have called my family particularly devout.  My parents brought us to Mass everySunday; it was just something we did.  I think I took faith for granted; I accepted that going to church and learning about God was important.  It never really occurred to me to do anything else.  One memory I do have is of my first Confession – I honestly don’t remember what I confessed, but I do remember being filled with a kind of joy and peace afterwards: a sense of belovedness.  I didn’t connect that at the time with any doctrine, but I knew it was a “God thing.”

I’ve always loved singing.  As a kid, I knew that church was one of the places where you got to sing.  When I was in middle school, I joined the choir at an Episcopal church with some friends of mine.  This meant attending services there, rather than at the Catholic church.  (My parents were fine with it; this isn’t a story of a family ruptured by religious differences.)  The service at an Episcopal church was and is very similar to a Roman Catholic Mass – you sing some songs, say some prayers, hear some Scripture, and have Communion.  I felt at home quickly there.

There were lots of God-moments in the choir, only now they started to be more connected to the stories we were hearing and singing about.  I remember the services for Holy Week – the days we remember Jesus’ suffering and death – as being, all of a sudden, powerful and meaningful.  This story became somehow more than a story.  Soon, I was sticking around for Sunday School, and eventually, in my junior year of high school, I took the formal step of joining the Episcopal Church.  After that came college, a call to ministry, marriage, seminary, ordination – but that’s a longer story, and one for another letter, perhaps.

Faith for me has never been about getting answers; it’s always been about wrestling with questions.  I remember when I was considering joining the Episcopal Church, I asked my priest about the Church’s stance on issues like abortion and the death penalty – topics on which I knew the Roman Catholic position well.  She said “Well, read the Bible, pray about it, talk about it – what do you think?”  It’s not that our answers to questions like that aren’t important, but that what makes us Christians is how we ask the questions.

I ask questions as someone for whom the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the foundational story.  I happily and faithfully turn to science for answers about how the world works, but those are not my only questions.  How am I to live?  What am I for?  How do I live in a world that’s both as messed up and as beautiful as this one can be?  How do I reconcile my belief in a loving God with such a world?  For that last one, the only answer I’ve found is the Cross.  The only way a loving God can meet a broken world is by entering into it and taking the brunt of our evil, and that’s what I believe happened on the Cross: Jesus died because we killed him.  What happened after – the empty tomb, the Resurrection – that’s what gives me hope.  My hope is that love is greater than death, greater than evil, greater than all the brokenness there is in the world.

One more thing – when we talk about faith, I think the missing part is faith in what?  What is it that we trust?  For me, the answer is the God revealed in Jesus.  I learn about God in the Bible, but the Bible doesn’t and can’t contain all of who God is.  I learn about God through the traditions of the Church, but the Church doesn’t have a monopoly on knowledge of God.  I learn about God through reason and intellect, through conversations with others in community, but I certainly won’t claim any full understanding of God.  I can just keep asking questions.

Thank you for giving all of us the chance to share our stories and ask our questions together.  Looking forward to reading and asking and pondering more, I am

Faithfully yours,

Andrew