Author: Nancy Wade
“[The sacraments] reminded me that Christianity isn’t meant to simply be believed; it’s meant to be lived, shared, eaten, spoken, and enacted in the presence of other people. They reminded me that, try as I may, I can’t be a Christian on my own. I need a community. I need the church.” Rachel Held Evans, Searching for Sunday – Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church
The untimely death earlier this month of Rachel Held Evans hit many people hard. Rachel has been a prolific writer, provocateur, and advocate for a fresh branding of Christianity. I have loved her thoughtful perspective, her prodigious writing, and her sense of humor. That she is now gone at the age of 37, after suffering extreme complications from an antibiotic she was given for an infection, seems especially cruel. It has occurred to me that her four published books and the remnants of her blog are really the only writings we have to hold onto. And so, since her death, I have been re-reading her books and finding comfort in her blog posts. The wisdom gleaned from someone so young is truly remarkable.
After being raised in Dayton, Tennessee, in an Evangelical home, Rachel attended a conservative Christian college. At first, her beliefs were firmly entrenched in the certainty of Evangelical thought. But as she grew in her understanding, questions nagged at her, and she found herself in a full-blown faith crisis. Eventually, she began to speak out against many things she had learned as a child: the absolute nature of Christianity as “the one true religion,” the damnation of homosexuals, the teaching that only true believers would ascend to heaven.
Gradually, Rachel’s faith shifted to become more inclusive and her knowledge of Jesus widened as she came to believe that he turned no one away. She began speaking in favor of the acceptance of the LGBTQ community and against any faith practice that excluded anyone. She left the church entirely for awhile and eventually found her way to the Episcopal Church.
She grew increasingly aware of the value of her new church’s sacraments – Baptism, Confession, Holy Orders, Communion, Confirmation, Annointing of the Sick, and Marriage – and recognized their roles in bringing people of faith together. Her Searching for Sunday book is an examination of these values and how they can enrich the new Christian experience. Her careful review of these faith practices reflected her genuine hope for the millennial generation. She distills the complicated and perplexing faith of her childhood into a refreshing new viewpoint that will endure, even now that she is gone.
Dearest God of the Universe: May we keep the flame of hope alive as we come to understand, and expand on, the faith journey of Rachel Held Evans. May her clear-eyed progressive perspective live on in us and in those who treasure her words.