Rex Wilson, “Recovering Christ in Community”
Well, in short, I was at the end of my ropes. I lied, I cheated, I stole and I betrayed the ones that I loved the most. But the worst part of it was I left God. I thought I could get away with it everything I did, but my life came crashing down on me. I wanted to prove that God did have limits, that he would eventually discard me and leave me. I was in a bad place for a long time. I hated everyone, myself and most of all God. All that time I spent hating everything and everyone, God was putting people in my life. One person in particular whom I had not talked to in a very long time. We came very close and soon he invited me to Old North Abbey. It was very awkward for me at first. I felt very exposed and open during a time of my life when I wanted to crawl in a hole. As uncomfortable as I felt, I trusted the people there. I was in a place in my life where I didn’t want to lie anymore, I wanted to be truthful to myself and others. I half expected these new people to cast me off, but that never happened. The longer I attended the more and more people I met who loved me and didn’t hold themselves back from me after I told them my story. That was over two and half years ago and many of these people now are my close friends and Old North is my community. In community is where I feel the love of the Christ the most. God has blessed me with so much after I lost everything, some things I thought I would never have again and community is one of them. The funny thing is I’m not even Anglican, but that doesn’t matter at all. You see, Old North provides me with the only thing that matters, love, specifically the Christ’s love.
Ken Stansberry, “A Happy Accident”
Old North Abbey was a unusual find for me, especially since it wasn’t particularly what I was looking for. As a well-rehearsed Episcopalian, I had grown to love the liturgy and music of the high church, and I valued the aesthetics of art, the acoustics of carved stone, the scattered colors of sunlight through stained glass, the scent of incense in the air, and the quiet reflection of kneeling for prayer. Truthfully, I had always believed that context to be an appropriate catalyst for worship. I’m romanced by tradition, and I’m drawn deeper into worship by all the sights and sounds of the liturgical experience. In addition, I’m a shameless geek about church history and a zealous Anglophile. I teach high school English, and I’ve always gravitated toward the Bard and all things British. I don’t just find Anglicanism a worshipful experience; I find it consistent with all of the values I’ve stored in my Anglo-file.
When the church I grew up in started to use its autonomy to wander in some discouraging directions, I began to feel that the Orthodoxy of my liturgical perspective was being threatened. No longer was the historical church clinging to foundational truths and traditions as a starting place for discussion. Rather, the church seemed to be losing its rudder at just a time when the social waters were moving more swiftly and becoming more turbulent. It seemed the outside circumstances were defining the truths, rather than the foundational practices and decisions that years of debate in councils had prayerfully articulated. No longer was my church home a refuge from social change; it was a reflection of social change. Society seemed a greater truth to the church than God. Now, don’t get me wrong, society requires loving grace and mercy, and the church much embrace those challenges with love and forgiveness, but the guiding truths of the creed have to be the rudder of practice, the font of our traditions, beliefs, and unchanging, unwavering orthodoxy.
The changing landscape of my home church started a very long, often difficult and confusing, wandering. I guess it was my time in the desert. I wanted the same church orientation, but I wanted my orthodoxy unchanged by social whim. I didn’t find attractive options. I’m not hip enough for mega-church energy; I’m not eastern enough for genuine Orthodoxy; I’m not square with much of Rome, and I’m not smart enough to navigate all the varied machinations of American Reformed worship. I wanted what I wanted… probably the wrong filter for making choices.
As a single adult, I also mourned the fact that churches of many designs were losing its support of individuals of faith who struggle with the dynamics of life. As I looked for a new church home, I determined that that was the critical first step. I needed to build my faith in concert with a loving community that was honest about its needs and prayerful about its efforts. I needed a church that gathered around the table… for communion… for prayer… for counsel… for teaching… for celebration… for holding one another.
Old North was a happy accident . . . a small community attempting to build a community of faith down the street from my home. There was no carved stone, no stained glass, no pipe organ music, no traditional robes, no scent of incense, no kneelers, and no prayer candles. In their stead was a concrete focus on Anglican Liturgy, a love of community, an authentic connection, a space for reaching each other, and a depth of teaching that formed the skeleton upon which my value for surface aesthetics could always be draped. My Anglophile urges could always grow, but they were useless without a heart at the core. Old North is building the core, and that is proving to be enough.
I, somewhat accidentally, tripped over the threshold of Old North. I thought it would be another passing visit, but something authentic kept me there. I’ve found more than an Anglophile museum for worship; I’ve found a family . . . never really had that in my former church experiences. What’s especially nice is that we’re forming that family in the most natural way possible, grounded in good teaching, expressed in tradition and liturgy, shared in feasting and festivity, and held together with prayerful support and honest embrace. The aesthetics will follow; we’re working on the frame for now.
I’ve been a churchgoer for most of my life. Truthfully, this is my first church family. What a comfort.
Allison Sprouse, “A New Understanding of Church”
Old North Abbey began long before a worship space was secured or the first Sunday morning attendee was welcomed. For me, it began after suffering from a miscarriage. Patrick, then an associate pastor for another church, visited our home and sat with me in the silence while also offering me hope through prayer. The visit was simple in nature – one that he may not even recall – but for me it was life changing. The definition of what God created church to be was demonstrated for me as Patrick offered to help carry my burden out of a pure desire to help someone in their suffering, not as something to be checked off of his list.
Years later, as the vision for what is now Old North Abbey grew, we relocated our family to the neighborhood of Old North Knoxville. During the first few months of living on Oklahoma, a small group began meeting in our home to pray with Patrick about the vision he had for a church in this neighborhood. Our home never felt so alive and full of God’s purpose as those small group meetings led to Sunday morning worship services.
Old North Abbey has forever changed my understanding of “the church”. I was challenged to love my neighbors well even when some of those neighbors were (in my opinion) unlovable. In spite of my shortsightedness this community of neighbors has helped to transform my Christian worldview.
Naomi Yoder, “An Unexpected Community”
I first visited Old North Abbey without the slightest intention of attending. The church I had grown up in was personally and ideologically comfortable and I didn’t plan to leave it. It didn’t take long before I was drawn in by Old North Abbey’s passionate commitment to being a community of people who live out their faith. I knew that my time in Knoxville and thus in the congregation would be limited, which led me to initially resist becoming truly involved in the community, even once I had decided to attend Old North Abbey regularly. I appreciated the worship on Sundays (the preaching and music are consistently impressive), but I felt like it would just be a place to spend my time before I moved on to find a new home church. I knew I could not label myself an Anglican, so I assumed that would mean I could not be part of Old North Abbey. The loving counsel of several leaders in the church drew me deeper into the life of the church. I found people who were willing to discuss my concerns, build me up in my strengths, and challenge the inconstancies in my understandings. Although there are still aspects of the theology with which I struggle, I discovered that the community at Old North Abbey, as expressed on Sundays and throughout the week, was more important to my faith than the terms used. The religious diversity at Old North Abbey makes it a place where theology is not rote, but discussed and embodied. Through those vital conversations, and particularly through Patrick’s willingness to discuss my concerns and make sure the process was what I needed it to be, I decided to be baptized at Old North Abbey on Easter Sunday. My experience of Holy Week at Old North Abbey, culminating with my baptism on Easter, was truly one of the most meaningful experiences of my life and a full expression of the gifts of the congregation. The services used not only beautiful liturgy, but also the gifts of many in the community. They showed the church at its best: a comfortable and hospitable place focused around relationship with God and with each other. It was truly a blessing to be baptized there. Even now, as I have moved away from Knoxville to attend graduate school, I am thankful to know that Old North Abbey will continue to be a community of people who will challenge my beliefs while encouraging me to live them out more fully.