Church Invitation: An Atheist on American Anglicans and Amazing Grace

12

What will an atheist find when he attends services at a conservative Christian church in South Carolina?

Editor’s note: Church Invitation is an occasional series at OnFaith where we ask people of various backgrounds to attend houses of worship and write about the experience.    

On Sunday, March 30, I visited St. Andrew’s Anglican Church in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, just outside of Charleston where I live. The church’s stated visionis to re-evangelize our society and transform our culture. My intention was to learn more about this church that was established in 1827 and now has more than 3000 members. So I attended both the 9 a.m. contemporary service along with several hundred young and old congregants, and then the 10:45 a.m. traditional service with fewer than a hundred people, mostly older.

Both services began with music (guitar in the first and organ in the second), followed by the minister reading Bible passages. The homily was titled “TODAY: How Should I Read the Bible?” I translated that in my mind to “How Should I Read the Bible TODAY?” However, the homilies were specifically about reading the Bible without concessions to modernity.

Rev. Chris Hancock, who led the contemporary service, was dynamic and sometimes humorous. After a little trouble with his PowerPoint presentation, he riffed off the Lord Acton quote, “Power corrupts, but PowerPoint corrupts absolutely.” He told us to read the Bible “humbly, prayerfully, thoughtfully, expectantly, and obediently.” No mention of reading it skeptically. He warned of scorners (like me, I guess) who use difficult passages to undermine the Bible’s authority, and quoted 2 Timothy 3:16: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness.”

Rev. John Burley had a more serious demeanor at the traditional service, though he made the same points. He warned of cultural biases that might lead us to follow only some parts of the Bible, saying that if any parts offend us, it’s because we don’t understand them. He also made the only reference to atheism, claiminginaccuracies in the film Noah were to be expected because the film’s director, Darren Aronofsky, is an atheist. Burley added that we must trust only Jesus rather than those who appear to be good and moral. (Hmm . . . should congregants then not trust Rev. Burley?)

He told us to read the Bible “humbly, prayerfully, thoughtfully, expectantly, and obediently.” No mention of reading it skeptically.

I might have put money in the collection plate if the minister had said it was for a good cause, like helping the poor, but the first minister merely quoted Acts 20:35, “It is better to give than to receive,” and the second asked for an offering to God. So I kept my money.

Each service ended on a nice note when we were asked to turn to our neighbors and say, “Peace be with you.” Some hugged, while others shook hands. I was a shaker. A prayer team was available to meet with those who came forward to receive Communion. I would have enjoyed a discussion with the prayer team, but I knew that was not an option.

After each service, I waited until the minister finished shaking hands with departing congregants and then introduced myself to the minister and we had a brief conversation. Both ministers were polite, although I could see that this was not the time to discuss issues. But when a third minister, Rev. Rob Sturdy, took time to talk with me between services, I asked about St. Andrew’s Church transition from Episcopal to Anglican affiliation in 2010, several months after The Episcopal Church (TEC) voted in favor of gay ordination. Neither he nor other representatives at St. Andrew’s gave gay ordination as the reason, saying rather that TEC had lost its way because it no longer follows scripture. Rev. Sturdy referenced retired Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong, who disavowed the Nicene Creed that St. Andrew’s maintains as part of its liturgy.

Written By: Herb Silverman
continue to source article at faithstreet.com

12 COMMENTS

  1. What is this even about….why bother ? no atheist really gives a hoot – Your Atheism is the most boring and most religious I’ve encountered but why is it on this site….nearly every story is about religion….are you trying to incite some atheist stridency ?….

    • In reply to #2 by Light Wave:

      What is this even about….why bother ? no atheist really gives a hoot – Your Atheism is the most boring and most religious I’ve encountered but why is it on this site….nearly every story is about religion….are you trying to incite some atheist stridency ?….

      Thanks for that comment. I skipped over this article but you helped me realize what an interesting story it really was.

      • In reply to #3 by Red Dog:

        In reply to #2 by Light Wave:

        What is this even about….why bother ? no atheist really gives a hoot – Your Atheism is the most boring and most religious I’ve encountered but why is it on this site….nearly every story is about religion….are you trying to incite some atheist stridency ?….

        Thanks for that comment. I skipped over this article but you helped me realize what an interesting story it really was.

        Not meaning to be rude but what did you find interesting…It sounds like torture to me….

      • In reply to #3 by Red Dog:

        In reply to #2 by Light Wave:
        Not meaning to be rude but what did you find interesting…It sounds like torture to me….

        It’s fine to be rude once in a while as far as I’m concerned. I think I have some Klingon blood in me, I would always prefer someone just said to me “you are full of shit” than tried to mask their feelings with false politeness.

        I found it very interesting that someone would go and engage with Christians like this. To me that is the essence of what it really means to believe in reason and critical thinking. It’s why I find all the endless dumb jokes and petty insults toward theists on this site so boring. I don’t need to insult people like LoneVoice for example. I don’t agree with them but that doesn’t mean I can’t treat them with respect and listen to what they say. And in the same way I think what this person did was very meritorious. I’ve thought about doing similar things myself and I’ve had some very interesting sincere discussions with theists throughout my life.

        I’ve known some very interesting and moral Christians in my life. They were the exceptions but I’ve definitely found some. And one idea these exceptional Christians all share is that deeds are more important than words. That a true Christian shows their faith by acts of kindness even to those that are worst to them. Not that I would ever personally do that but I admire that kind of sincerity and commitment and I feel that people who profess to believe in reason should have an analogous morality. We should try and hold ourselves to a higher standard than others and always try to be rational, especially with those that we most disagree with. Not that I’m claiming I do that, I know that I don’t I’m saying it’s a goal.

        • In reply to #10 by Red Dog:

          In reply to #3 by Red Dog:

          In reply to #2 by Light Wave:
          Not meaning to be rude but what did you find interesting…It sounds like torture to me….

          Thanks for your honest answer….I just wondered….I’ve been a non religious free thinker for so long that I do take it for granted that some people are still trying to disprove religion to the religious I gave up on doing that ages ago……All that know your enemy stuff….I’ve never really cared – They are not my enemy – It takes too much energy to hate or fight an enemy and I’ve not been particularly interested in their points of view and there’s nothing I can learn from them that I don’t already know….I’ve always thought people have to realise the deception of Religion by themselves and wont really be coerced even by reason….which they don’t possess…….Only this website which I’ve been on for a coupla years out of my 40 odd and its the only place I ever really discuss skewed religious viewpoints at all….I’m just bored with religious discussions lately on here….I submitted a perfectly good discussion on the recent events in Ukraine which was relegated for several religious discussions…Agggrrrhhhhh – Cant get away from them……..

          It’s fine to be rude once in a while as far as I’m concerned. I think I have some Klingon blood in me, I would always prefer someone just said to me…

          I’ve have been a bit rude with self righteous ignorant people but not my fellow rationalists I hope and if I have ….well I’m excitable sometimes and I have inadvertently learned to be defensive in my life but its more of an automatic response but When I calm myself rationality usually follows

    • In reply to #2 by Light Wave:

      What is this even about….why bother ? no atheist really gives a hoot – Your Atheism is the most boring and most religious I’ve encountered but why is it on this site….nearly every story is about religion….are you trying to incite some atheist stridency ?….

      religion is only one of many topics raked over the coals of THE TRUTH on the Dawkins site. Wake up and smell the brimstone. LOL at the godsuckers.

  2. It feels a bit like attending a tooth fairy service and being asked to fall asleep to ensure the tooth fairy comes. Isn’t the understanding that there is no tooth fairy/god make this all a bit pointless.

    Herb is like a debater politely sitting listening to the arguments for why the earth is flat but never getting a chance to say your piece. Pointless.

  3. It’s not pointless at all. Ask any military commander in history if, given the opportunity, he would find it pointless to sit in on the enemy’s strategic planning sessions?

    And before you remind me that this isn’t a battle where strategy matters: keep in mind that to them, it most certainly is.

Leave a Reply