Over the last 13 years, I’ve often been asked, “Why the Anglican church?” It’s a question that has arisen as I’ve made a return to church life, discerned a path to ordination, and, ultimately, been ordained into the priesthood. As I venture through various points in my life, I routinely encounter this question during discussions about being transgender and Christian, with an addendum of “why do you stay?” Every time I’m asked, I admit honestly that I stumbled into the Anglican church completely by accident. But why do I stay? Well, that’s an interesting question.
I was baptized and brought up in the Roman Catholic church, at St Bernadette’s Parish in Windsor Park. I don’t remember when or why I started going, but I went each week knowing that it meant lunch at a restaurant with my grandma after the service (which, for a young kid in the ‘80s, was pretty darn exciting).
Most of the details are hazy as my memory of these early experiences is not great. I do, however, recall the heaviness of the room, the powerful feelings behind the words (even though I didn’t understand what it was all about), and the hard wooden pews. I also remember shaking hands with the people around me and not knowing why. Everyone just seemed so happy to see each other.
I remember attending catechism classes, both in school and at someone’s home, so I am sure that I had all the appropriate church lessons. As I got older, however, my faith and my increasing interest in scientific knowledge began to clash. Socializing became more important than praying, and, for many reasons beyond the scope of this essay, I got lost in life through my teenage years. I succumbed to the peer pressure that going to church was not a cool thing to do.
Despite the confusion of these years, my heartfelt pulled towards a belief in Jesus Christ and other aspects of the Christian faith. I was not always consciously aware of this pull, knowing only that prayer came automatically to my lips in times of despair and that I felt the call to attend church services at various points in my life. I didn’t tell anyone how I felt inside, letting those around me think that I had given up my belief in such things.
In my mid-twenties or so, I was at a meeting for a now-defunct charity organization where I met a priest, a female priest, who rode a motorcycle. She was counter to everything I knew about priests (who I believed could only be old, male, and boring!). She mentioned that she was about to become a priest at an Anglican church. Without much arm-twisting, and still in shock that women were allowed to be priests, I decided I would check out this seemingly progressive church.
While I stumbled across this Anglican church by accident, my decision to stay was purposeful. The people were amazingly loving, allowing me to explore my faith the way I needed to, accepting my family as it was, and guiding me back to the Jesus Christ I subconsciously always knew was there. I became an imported Anglican because of the faith, love, and support that I found in those people beside me in the pews.
Not everyone has a great experience in church. The Anglican Church has some rotten history and the present views of a good portion of the Anglican Church worldwide is not always loving to all people, despite God’s plea to us to love our neighbours as ourselves. I can certainly see why people leave the church. The deep-rooted systemic issues that exist in the church, including the Anglican Church, are cringeworthy. Homophobia, transphobia, racism, cis-heteronormative behaviours, and ignorance of climate change are just some of the reasons people give for leaving the Anglican Church. Indeed, there are other church denominations that are more accepting and loving towards their fellow human beings and more caring of God’s creation. The more I learn about the Anglican Church’s history and present, the more I need to discern why it is I stay, being a transgender male, in a blended multi-racial family, and with liberal religious views.
While I struggle to hear and read stories about events occurring within the worldwide Anglican Church, I can also see the potential that lies just beneath the surface. I’ve met enough people who are striving for significant structural and systemic change that I feel hopeful for the future of our church, especially the Anglican Church of Canada. I stay to be a part of that change. To be a visible representation of the beauty that exists in our differences and to help lead our church towards a future of truly following in the footsteps of Jesus.
Theo Robinson is the incumbent at St. Michael’s Anglican Church in Victoria Beach, a pastor in the Interlake Regional Shared Ministry with the Lutheran Church of the MNO Synod, and a spiritual care practitioner in health care. Follow him on Facebook and Instagram and check out his blog at tjrobinson.blogspot.com.