22/07/2016

Searching for Sunday (by Rachel Held Evans)

I don’t remember when I first came across the thought-provoking blog by Rachel Held Evans; perhaps a friend pointed me in her direction, or maybe I came across it after following a link from elsewhere. She is an American Christian believer who would be considered progressive - even liberal - by many; she struggled at times with the church of her younger days, and writes movingly about much of her journey through questioning and faith, and eventually back to a community of other believers.

Since I like her writing so much, it seemed like a good idea to put one of her books on my wishlist. I was very pleased to be given ‘Searching for Sunday’ for my birthday earlier in the year, and have been reading it, a few chapters at a time, over the past couple of weeks.

Subtitled, ‘Loving, leaving and finding the church’, the book is partly biographical. It charts the author’s journey from the passionate evangelical faith of a child through disillusionment, anger, sadness, and eventually leaving behind Sunday services for some years. It tells us of her college days, of some of her friends, of her marriage, of an experiment with a new and truly progressive church, and the eventual discovery of a very different kind of congregation from the one she grew up in.

It’s structured in seven main sections, each one entitled by one of the sacraments recognised by many liturgical churches: not just baptism and holy communion, but confession, ordination, confirmation, marriage, and anointing the sick. That might sound very formal, but more than anything these are used as structures on which to spread the story in a way that makes the path easy to follow. In the first section, ‘baptism’, for instance, we read of the author’s childhood faith, her actual baptism as a believer, and - among other things - her intense dislike of youth group games, something which, as a fellow Introvert, I could strongly relate to.

Within each section there are several short chapters, some of them only a few pages long, charting another part of the journey, or taking a brief aside to look at what can be meant by the sacrament concerned. It flows beautifully, and the writing style was exactly right: expressing, very often, things I have thought or felt, but have somehow not been able to put into words.

Having finished the book, I feel encouraged, and inspired, and a great deal more relaxed and positive about my own journey, and my many struggles with some forms of organised church. While I’m not as proactive as Rachel Held Evans and would hate being in the limelight, giving talks as she has done and taking on leadership roles, I suspect there’s a place for each of us in some form of community, even if it takes years to find it.

It doesn’t preach or prescribe; it shares thoughts, and offers ideas, and new ways of considering our relationship with Jesus and with each other. The author is honest about her own failings and acknowledges many who have held her hand and helped her along the rocky road. I would recommend this book to anyone who questions fundamentalist style evangelicalism, or rigidity of doctrine, or indeed who has difficulties with the upbeat nature of so many churches.

Review by copyright 2016 Sue's Book Reviews

No comments: