The first time we visited Trinity Anglican Church’s Eastside location in June 2019 (the weekend we visited Decatur to choose an apartment for our impending move), I sobbed through the entire service. I’m not talking about a few tears streaming down my face—I was visibly weeping. People around me patted my back and flashed soft, empathetic smiles. I was completely burned out, anxious about the future and spiritually dry.
I think the thing that made my experience at Trinity so powerful that Sunday and many Sundays since is an overwhelming sense of simplicity and humility that pervades every part of the environment there. While it’s familiar and modern enough to attract a crowd of millennials (coffee, bagels, guitars, kids church), there’s nothing especially flashy about it. The church’s main visual displayed on its website and on the overhead projectors on Sundays isn’t a sleek highlight reel of upcoming events—it’s a 15th century religious icon depicting the Holy Trinity. The stage is outfitted with a long gray curtain, a simple wooden cross and a pulpit. In front of the stage sits a communion table with a couple of candles along with four gray chalises filled with wine and round wooden bowls that hold the bread.
The music is subtle and mostly acoustic—a mix of modern songs, traditional hymns and originals. I usually enjoy worship music at church, but honestly don’t feel moved by it most of the time. That morning we visited for the first time, the lyrics of the songs and the simplicity of their arrangements inspired a sense of peace and rest in me that I hadn’t experienced in a long time.
Every week, including that first visit, there are several scripture readings that follow the liturgy in the Book of Common Prayer. The sermon is always about one of these texts.
The tears really started flowing that first visit when I realized we’d be hearing a sermon from a female pastor that morning. The full-time pastor at the Eastside Parish has been a man for the past couple of years, but this woman was the original Parish pastor and has since become the Education Pastor over all the locations/parishes. She rotates around to the different parishes and teaches at all of them periodically in addition to leading lots of classes and studies outside of Sunday mornings. That day, she taught with such authority, intelligence and passion, and I realized this was the first time I had ever heard a woman preach outside of women’s events, Mothers’ Day or a kids/youth group setting. Her presence on that stage wasn’t a token, a special circumstance or a controversial decision—she was just a pastor using her incredible teaching gift to lead us all closer to Jesus. I did not know I had been missing that until I experienced it.
After the sermon, there were two baptisms—both babies. One was this female pastor’s son. She baptized him along with another child from that campus, and I cried harder than the babies.
We then read a corporate confession and participated in communion, walking to the front and each receiving the words from our communion server: “Christ’s body, broken for you” and “Christ’s blood poured out for your sins” as we dipped our wafer into wine. This act of weekly communion has since become a very important part of my relationship with God. I know that sounds so strange, but I heard someone say “Communion is medicine” recently, and I just couldn’t agree more. There is a mystery to it that somehow has helped me communicate with and feel God’s presence in a very powerful way. I felt a literal physical release one Sunday as I prayed before receiving communion and I can pinpoint that moment as the time when all the angst, doubt and anger about faith I'd been carrying around for a year left my mind and body.
Finally, we read the Sending Out Prayer: “Eternal God, heavenly Father, you have graciously accepted us as living members of your Son our Savior Jesus Christ, and you have fed us with spiritual food in the Sacrament of his Body and Blood. Send us now into the world in peace, and grant us strength and courage to love and serve you with gladness and singleness of heart; through Christ our Lord. Amen.”
So that’s what we do on Sundays now. It’s pretty much the same every week, with the exception of some different practices based on which season of the church calendar we’re in. Something I love about this church is although it’s infused with all of these traditions and rhythms I didn’t grow up knowing about, they have a way of incorporating an explanation into everything so no one feels like they’re lost or on the outside. Hardly anyone at the church is from an Anglican background, so it’s new for just about all of us. All the pastors utilize this subtle humor to make us all a little more comfortable—this kind of “we know this is weird, let us explain…” tone. It always feels like the people on stage are not performing, but are instead just having a conversation with us. Our Parish pastor is intelligent and is a great communicator, but like all of us, he forgets things, can’t find verses at times and jokes about contradictions he makes or ideas he doesn’t fully know how to explain. He doesn’t try to hide when he makes a mistake, but instead just jokes about it and moves on. It’s all just very humble, approachable and authentic.
One of the biggest differences in my Baptist background and Anglicanism is the way in which each views baptism and communion. For Anglicans, these two practices are viewed as Sacraments. For Baptists, they are ordinances.
We recently went through a series of classes to baptize our kids later this year, so I’ll focus on baptism to explain the difference.
The idea of baptism I grew up understanding centered on an individual’s response to God’s grace, but Anglicans understand it a bit differently.
First, for Anglicans (and some other Protestant denominations), baptism, along with communion, is classified as a Sacrament. My newbie understanding of a Sacrament is this: it’s a visible/outward symbol of the reality of God, as well as a channel for believers to experience God’s spiritual presence through physical objects like bread, wine and water. Augustine described Sacraments as “an outward sign of an inward grace.” Our pastor explained that Sacraments are meant to remind us that Heaven and Earth are not separate places—that God is here among us and accessible to us right now, not just after we die.
In this view, baptism, regardless of the age of the individual being baptized, illustrates the beauty of Christian community and reflects God’s love for his people regardless of their response, much like the commandment God gave Abraham to circumcise all male Hebrew infants as a sign that they were God’s people.
I understand this theology like a parent’s unconditional, “I’ll go first” love for their child. My daughter didn’t emerge from the womb responding with “BUB YOU MAMA!” when I told her “I love you,” but I said it multiple times every day for months and months with no response, and I’d continue saying it the rest of my life even if she never reciprocated. In this way, baptism is a very God-centered practice that puts the emphasis on God’s faithfulness to his people and points to the way he works through community and family.
Protestants who baptize infants do not believe baptism “saves” babies, nor do they believe in the Catholic idea of transubstantiation in communion (that the elements literally turn into Jesus’ body and blood). However, they do believe there is a spiritual mystery and importance in the Sacraments, and both are definitely a BIG deal.
In Baptist churches as well as many nondenominational and Pentecostal churches, baptism and communion are ordinances rather than Sacraments. An ordinance is defined as a religious ritual whose intent is to demonstrate an adherent’s faith. So, it wouldn’t make sense to baptize an infant if baptism is meant to be an outward expression of a person’s individual faith rather than a sign of God’s faithfulness to his people as a whole. As an ordinance, communion is generally called The Lord’s Supper and is seen as simply a reminder of Jesus’ sacrifice.
Both of these ideas are present in scripture, so I don’t believe it’s a point worth arguing; just two different perspectives. Trinity actually expresses this view as well and offers infant baptism in addition to a non-Sacramental option (blessing) for infants whose parents would rather wait until their children are older and have demonstrated a desire to become Christians. For parents having kids baptized as well as older kids and adults who receive the Sacrament of baptism, there is a requirement to complete a four-week baptism class. Individuals who are baptized as infants have the opportunity to go through a class and appear before the church to affirm their faith once they choose to become Christians.
There is so much more I could say. This feels so incomplete, but it's already so long, and I have faith that if you are super duper curious you will ask me or Google to fill in the gaps. I hope this series of essays has encouraged you (if you're a Christian or have a desire to be) to take faith seriously and do your own research, explore different denominations and reject fear of those who hold different interpretations of Scripture. We can all learn from each other if everyone comes to the table with a humble heart.
I’ll wrap up with a confession we read this past Sunday that resonated so deeply with me. Our pastor wrote this to go along with his sermon on Romans 4:1-5, 13-17. I think it's also just a perfect illustration of the vibe at Trinity. I hope it is a blessing to you, too, regardless of where you fall on the theological spectrum. 😉
“I confess that I have listened to the voice of fear, I have given in to insecurity, I have embraced shame and this has affected my whole life: How I see God. How I see myself. How I see others.
In an effort to try feel better about myself, I have made myself feel more important than others. I have spent my days pursuing my desires (which I have misnamed as “needs”). And I have done this to the detriment of those around me. I am often preoccupied with myself, annoyed by inconveniences, “generous” only when it doesn’t really cost me, “patient” when I have nothing better to do, “compassionate” when I think I might get something out of it. But rarely do I see others as truly valuable, rarely do I consider another’s life as seriously as my own.
Furthermore, I have looked to you, God, to exist for my happiness. I am frustrated by your silence at times, confused by your felt absence, and angry that I cannot control you. I have tried to use you and yet, at times, you have still moved towards me in grace, have still let me know your voice, have still spoken your love over me.
I desire to live rightly, to trust you with my life—both the good and the bad. I desire to live in your story, believing that through Jesus I am free, forgiven and invited into your story. In faith I move towards you knowing that, even when I didn’t want you, you first moved towards me. Amen.”