On a Pilgrimage, Following Jesus

Since I started blogging, I’ve seen many other blogs come and go. Some were created for a specific time and purpose with a limited life span. Others fell into disuse and eventually closed. Some bloggers grew tired or disillusioned or both, and left the often relentless pace of blogging behind.

Unfortunately that means that some of the guest posts I’ve done in the past may also have disappeared. So far, I’m aware of one casualty–my interview by Tyler Tully on his blog, the Jesus Event, which is no longer in service. Instead of my interview on following Jesus, the old link brings up an ad to buy his old domain name.

I don’t know how or when that happened, but rather than leaving our conversation lost in space, today I’m un-erasing it by sharing it here in a re-edited version with a new title. I’m still on a pilgrimage, still seeking to follow Jesus.

First of all, April, thank you for doing this interview. Tell me a little bit about your faith journey. I know you come from a diverse community in Canada. Is that where you were raised? When were you first introduced to Jesus?

Yes, I was born and raised in Canada–in Vancouver, British Columbia–and my parents were also born and raised in B.C. Although my mom and dad weren’t actively involved in the church, they had a church wedding, I went to Sunday school with my sisters, we’d say a table grace at mealtimes, and somehow I grew up believing that God loved me.

In high school, a friend invited me to a youth rally, and I heard my first “hellfire and brimstone” sermon with an altar call. When the invitation was made, I went forward, and I still remember the verse of Scripture given to me by the prayer counselor. I later learned it in the New Revised Standard Version:

But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God
(John 1:12).

That added to my understanding of God as One who loves me and who also calls me to respond, who has the power to transform my and everyone’s life.

All of that became more personal as I learned to know Jesus in different and deeper ways. I began to read Scripture for myself, to talk with Jesus beyond a simple table grace, to listen for his voice and follow him.

It’s remarkable that even with a “fire and brimstone” sermon or environment, you distinctly remember feeling that you were loved and that you had a special relationship with God. As you started growing in confidence and knowledge, how did your journey begin to bend you towards the Anabaptist tradition?

I think it’s part of the mystery of God’s grace–how somehow I received the hellfire and brimstone call to commitment in the context of what I already knew of God’s love, and one of the results was that I no longer took God’s love for granted, but saw it as a call, a claim on my life.

In response, I wanted to live out my faith in daily life. So I read Scripture and engaged in prayer and connected with other thoughtful and prayerful Christians both in high school and in university. I read widely, and was influenced by C.S. Lewis and Mere Christianity, Dorothy Sayers and The Mind of the Maker, Ron Sider and Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, and many others.

My husband and I married while we were both still in university, and together we formed and tried to live out an understanding of Christian faith and life that focused on following Jesus, simple living, and peace. During these years I went to different churches of different denominations–Lutheran, Anglican, Baptist, Gospel Hall, United Church, Plymouth Brethren, and others. Some might say I was church hopping or church shopping, but I think of it as a kind of pilgrimage, looking for a church home even as I was figuring out what it meant to be Christian. For me and for us, the Anabaptist Mennonite Church became that church home.

So how did you begin your journey towards Anabaptism in a tradition that is ethnically rooted outside of your own experience? Was that before, after, during your calling to be a pastor? How did that develop?

Oh that was long before I ever thought of pastoral ministry. As a young couple, my husband and I were serious about following Jesus in daily life, simple living, peace. Our understanding and practice grew out of our relationship with Jesus, reading Scripture, and some of the authors I’ve already mentioned. We were also actively looking for a church and were attracted by what we saw as the Anabaptist/Mennonite emphasis on discipleship, community, and peace.

So when friends invited us to be part of a new Mennonite Church that was forming, we were glad to be involved and to become founding members. I guess we were neo-Anabaptists before the term became popular. We were people who already had a keen interest in radical discipleship, who found enough commonalities with the Anabaptist/Mennonite version of the Christian faith and made it our home.

So your journey is obviously one of change, like so many others who experience a living faith. How has your calling as a pastor informed or directed this spiritual journey of yours, and how is it leading you ahead?

I never intended to be a pastor. I felt a strong calling to write, I was teaching at a Bible college part-time, and as I engaged in my writing and teaching, I was called from that into pastoral ministry. I was the first woman called to pastoral ministry in my congregation, the first woman ordained to pastoral ministry in my area church, which some might identify as radical.

But it didn’t feel particularly radical to me–it was a gradual unfolding over time, seeking to follow God’s leading. I also see that as the way forward. I’m not trying to be radical or trying to be conservative or trying to be any kind of label. For now I continue to pastor, I continue to write and publish–but these aren’t the main event. They’re all part of what it means for me to follow Jesus. In that sense, even though I’ve now been at my church for years, I’m still on a pilgrimage.

_____________________

Writing/Reflection Prompt: In what way(s) might you describe your life as a pilgrimage?

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8 replies

  1. Thanks, April, you have answered some of my questions that formed subconsciously in my mind as I’ve been reading your blog. My Christian pilgrimage began in the Anabaptist tradition, then morphed into very evangelical, altar call, emphasis on conversion, personal relationship with Jesus, then Holy Spirit baptism and now back to Anabaptism! I treasure all these experiences as they have made me a whole person in Christ, and I’m thankful for God’s leading!

    • Thank you for sharing some of your journey, Elfrieda – I hadn’t realized that your pilgrimage had led you through these different places and spaces, and then back home again. That in itself brings a sense of wholeness, although I imagine that your experience of Anabaptism is quite different now than before. Pilgrimage changes us.

  2. Thanks, April. It is inspiring to hear about your journey and how God has led you.

    • Thank you, Grace – God’s sure presence and leading are especially reassuring when the way seems uncertain or takes an unexpected turn. May you also continue to journey with confidence and hope.

  3. Thanks, April. You’ve left an interesting reflective challenge – I learned early-on that not everyone is welcome in church communities but I knew intuitively that God’s love reached beyond the walls of our human constructs. My early days also resulted in an acute awareness and distrust in adults or authority. So while my theological pilgrimage has been anabaptist, my spiritual pilgrimage has been universal. Along the way God blessed me with a loving partner gifted with a broad mind, enough room for quantum theory and all kinds of imagination. My learning from nature has grown as I’ve aged and I appreciate your unique perspective. Keep on blogging beautiful sister.

    • Thank you for your comment, Nellie. Each person’s journey is unique, yet our very uniqueness that sets each one apart and is so precious, can also make us feel lonely at times. What a gift then when we can connect and encourage one another–thank you for your kind words and encouragement!

  4. Glad you rescued this great interview, April. I’m so glad your journey led you to Anabaptist faith and to the pastorate. You kept your calling to write intact as you followed the pilgrim path. Hallelujah.

    I chuckled when I read your first paragraph because of the subject of my next post tomorrow.

    You might chuckle too. 🙂

    • Thanks, Shirley – it continues to be a wonderful journey 🙂 Your comment makes me curious, so I’m heading over to your blog to see your new post now….