Full Circle and Across the Globe: An Anglican Journey

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Growing up in Northern Ireland, Anglicanism often felt more like a gang than a religion. It wasn’t just about where your family went on Sunday; it was as much a part of your identity as having red hair, an aptitude for maths, or a brother on the rugby team. 

We had five churches in our (predominantly Protestant) town, and even as kids, we picked up on the hierarchy. Occupying the bottom of the rung were the Baptists, a small group so alien to us that we viewed them as a well-meaning but ultimately weird cult. Next were the straight-laced Methodists, then the overly enthusiastic Presbyterians, the aloof Catholics, and, finally, the proud all-stars of the Irish Protestant faith, the Church of Ireland, the Irish expression of the Anglican tradition.

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Among my friends, there was no animosity in these divisions; it was just life. We mingled quite happily across the boundaries, but we knew they were there. Even when I left Northern Ireland as an adult, it proved impossible to escape these divisions—the inevitable product of a country’s centuries-long obsession with doctrinal differences.  

Skipping around the globe, I bumped into Northern Irish people everywhere. South Africa, France, the Caribbean—it didn’t matter where you were, the response upon meeting a fellow countryman was always the same. Two questions. Where did you go to school? What’s your surname?

These weren’t idle inquiries. If you grew up in Northern Ireland during the 90s, the answers to those two questions were all you needed to discern someone’s religion. It was basically a veiled way of asking, “Are you Protestant or Catholic?” And it drove me crazy. 

Lost and Searching

At that point in my life, I was happily shedding my childhood, and religion was just another thing to jettison. I didn’t want a reminder of the old days in the gang; instead, I was looking for a new identity, not rehashing the old one.

I had lost my faith—not my belief, which had been hard-wired into me from an early age, but my faith that it meant anything. When I thought about God at all, he seemed a sort of passive celestial babysitter. He’d be there in an emergency but dozed off on a cloud while I careened from bad decision to bad decision.

So I kept moving. From country to country, telling myself I was adventurous, worldly, brave, and exciting. I had many wonderful experiences and met some truly amazing people who continue to be a gift and blessing in my life. But I didn’t meet God, and I never found what I’d lost until I stopped searching.

Returning to God

I moved to Canada just before the pandemic, and as the world plunged into lockdown, I became scared. I feared that my family back in Ireland would get sick and that I wouldn’t be able to travel to see them. Everything seemed to change so fast, and things got more out of control by the day. 

God spoke to me through my fear. Facing such darkness brought me to a point where I could finally embrace the light. But the pandemic wasn’t the only thing that brought me back to church; a fellow Northern Irish expat also had something to do with it. 

Encountering Lewis

C.S. Lewis was born in a small house in Belfast, just around the corner from where I went to school. Having read his biography, I felt a deep connection to the legendary author—he’d walked the same hills I walked as a teenager, enjoyed the same views, and felt the same pride at being part of such a complicated but resilient country. 

During that first lockdown, I challenged myself to read his complete eight-book box set of apologetics. Around page 4 of Mere Christianity, God came roaring back into my heart. 

In that book, C.S. Lewis talks about how to find a church, likening the process to standing in a hallway and poking your head into each of the rooms to see which appeals to you most. 

Returning to my faith allowed me to stand in that hallway and reexamine where I wanted to be—did I want to automatically head back to my family’s faith or find a new room more suitable for the adult me?

Finding a Church

Celtic Roots

I’ve always loved the Church of Ireland. Far from being just another offshoot of the English Church, it has a distinct history and heritage stemming from the monastic traditions of the early Celtic Christians.

This is St Patrick’s church—a church characterised by its loyalty to the past and retaining some of the flavour of the pre-Reformation faith. Whenever I attended a Catholic church as a child (my Galway-born grandparents were firmly ‘on the other side’), I remember thinking there was little practical difference between their service and the usual fare at my own parish. I practiced many of the same rituals, heard the same language, and saw the same Christian motifs.

Our church in Belfast was considered High Anglican. As a child who naturally gravitated towards rules and order, I loved its ritualistic nature: the solemnity of going up for the Eucharist, the unchanging prayers, the chanted psalms, and the familiar hymns. 

This certainty was very appealing to my younger self—the world was full of upheaval, but at least church never changed. You could step through those doors on a Sunday and have the same service you’d had the Sunday before and the Sunday before that. And not just at home. Attend any Anglican service anywhere in the world, and you’ll feel welcomed as part of an everlasting club. 

In Canada, however, I began to question the idea of being part of the same old club. It seemed like a step backward. I was good at reinvention, after all. Travelling so much had turned me into a chameleon, so why not shed the old, dusty Anglican skin and become a shiny new Baptist or a freshly minted Presbyterian? 

Anglican on Another Continent

Going back to C.S. Lewis and his hallway metaphor, he tells readers:

The question should never be: “Do I like that kind of service?” but “Are these doctrines true: Is holiness here? Does my conscience move me towards this? Is my reluctance to knock at this door due to my pride, or my mere taste, or my personal dislike of this particular door-keeper?”

That hit a nerve. At the root of my reluctance to return to Anglican was the oldest sin in the book: pride. I thought I was above the church of my childhood, that I’d outgrown it. But there’s a reason that the first place I visited in my new town was the Anglican church. And there’s a reason I felt a rush of comfort and peace walking in. I knew at that moment that God wanted me there. Sometimes it’s just that simple. 

Coming Home

I’ve been a member of my local Anglican church for almost two years, and it’s been a blessing in many ways. That feeling of coming home has deepened with every service as I get to know my fellow parishioners and contribute to the life of the church. 

It’s a beautiful gift to be a part of a church that meets you where you are but also carries with it a tradition that stretches back to your childhood and beyond. I think of that every Sunday when we read the Collect for Purity, a prayer Anglicans have been saying for over 500 years. 

Hundreds of years ago, in their small country parish, my Irish ancestors bowed their heads to say the same words. I’m blessed to be a part of that lineage, and I’m grateful to God for showing me that being an Anglican is in my blood, as much a part of my identity as having red hair, an aptitude for maths, or a brother on the rugby team. 


Image by Richard Mcall from Pixabay.

Author

Catherine Morris

Catherine Morris is a freelance writer and editor. She and her family live in Southern Ontario. When she’s not hiking, reading, baking, or gardening, you can find her managing Communications at St John the Baptist Anglican Church.

View more from Catherine Morris

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