Below are remembrances and reflections from members of the Episcopal Church in Delaware
and a video of Rachel on the Table and the Gospel.
The Rev. Charles Lane Cowen
Associate Rector, Trinity Parish, Wilmington
The Rev. Paul Gennett, Jr.
Interim Rector, Immanuel Church, Highlands
Parishioner, Trinity Parish, Wilmington
Parishioner, All Saints', Rehoboth
Wrestling with God: A reflection on the life and work of Rachel Held Evans
by the Rev. Charles Lane Cowen
Associate Rector, Trinity Parish, Wilmington
Instead of fighting for a seat at the evangelical table, I want to prepare tables in the wilderness, where everyone is welcome and where we can go on discussing (and debating!) the Bible, science, sexuality, gender, racial reconciliation, justice, church, and faith, but without labels, without wars. ¹
The late Christian writer, advocate, and evangelist Rachel Held Evans wrote these words on her blog in 2014 when she made the decision to leave evangelicalism behind. I had been following her for a while when she wrote this powerful blog, and I was surprised to hear that she was finally abandoning the label “evangelical.”
Like Rachel, I am a millennial in my mid-thirties who grew up in an evangelical—dare I say fundamentalist—church. I, like Rachel, both loved the rich tradition of my inherited faith and also found its attitudes toward women, LGBTQ+ people, and anyone else who didn’t fit inside their box completely at odds with the stories of a loving God I had been taught.
When I first met with the Commission on Ministry in Rhode Island as part of my discernment of a call to the priesthood, I remember telling them that I struggled with my evangelical upbringing and my Roman Catholic college formation. A very wise priest on the commission said to me, “Ok, Charles. You’ve complained about the evangelicals and the Roman Catholics. Now tell us how they have shaped you for ministry.”
I was completely taken aback. Of course he was correct. My Southern Baptist roots gave me a deep love of the Holy Scriptures and taught me to value the spiritual gifts of a rich prayer life. The Roman Catholics taught me an intense love of liturgy and invited me into an intellectual tradition I had never imagined. Through reading Rachel’s blog, twitter, and books, I found someone who had walked a similar path as me. Rachel recognized the beauty and wisdom of parts of her evangelical upbringing while also giving me permission to reject those teachings that marginalize God’s people. She proclaimed that God’s love always soars above human hatred.
I belong to a generation that largely grew up going to church and has rejected it as adults. A dear friend of mine recently told me that she respects my life as a priest, but she refuses to teach her daughter “superstition that leads to division.”
I think for many millennials like Rachel and me, we saw the hypocrisy of a church that teaches that everyone is made in the image of God yet rejects the full inclusion of women, LGBTQ+ people, the poor, immigrants, people of color, and any number of other marginalized groups. When I was in high school, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes was the most exclusive club at our school. It was run by the most popular students and looked more like a scene out of the film Mean Girls than a scene out of the Gospel.
Today my heart breaks that the church has lost a voice like Rachel Held Evans. She was one of us—one of the many millennials who rejected the voices of exclusion and marginalization while still embracing the God of love. If you read through Rachel’s blog and books, you see she had a deep connection to Holy Scripture. She took them seriously and wasn’t afraid to wrestle with them in the same way Jacob wrestled with God.
She grabbed ahold of the Christian faith in which she was brought up, and she boldly proclaimed, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me” (Gen 32:26 NRSV).
God, indeed, blessed Rachel. And God blessed us through her. She now sits among the great cloud of witnesses who still shout out Jesus’ truth that in the Kingdom of God there are no outcasts. I give thanks for her witness and pray that she and her lessons to us not be forgotten.
“Into your hands, oh merciful Savior…” — Remembering Rachel Held Evans
by the Rev. Paul Gennett, Jr.
Interim Rector, Immanuel Highlands
“Death is something empires worry about, not something gardeners worry about. It’s certainly not something resurrection people worry about.” Search for Sunday, p. 225
I hold my sadness with so much of the world at the sudden death of a clarion voice of faith, hope for the church, and truth-with-love teller of Rachel Held Evans, a spiritual author, blogger, and faithful advocate for all people of God’s love. While I never met her in person, I always felt an uncomfortable comfort through her writing. An edginess that made me look deeply into the mirror of my faith living, always feeling surrounded with her heartfelt desire that I can do better, we can do better, broken as we are. She spoke to her love of the small “c” church made up of people of faith, gathered around tables, being fed and then feeding the world together in Christ’s body, broken for you.
Leaving her evangelical roots after a failed storefront church plant, she and her husband Dan found a home at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in their hometown of Dayton, Tennessee. She wrote passionately about her hope that the church, like any gardener knows, might need to die to rise anew. She was a conspirator in this missionary work with Nadia Bolz Weber, the “Sarcastic Lutheran” as she calls herself, and a tireless advocate for women and men of faith, and countless LGQBT+ people and clergy. She was a wife to Dan, a mother to two young children, a daughter, and a beloved child of Love’s creation. While I will deeply miss her words made flesh through her truth found in her books and through her active social media presence. I deeply believe her spirit, which touched so many, many people, will live on with grace and ferocity.
She quoted Barbara Brown Taylor later in this chapter which for me echoes how her life, her love, her faith, and her hope will be a light through others onward that may never be extinguished …
“New life starts in the dark. Whether it is a seed in the ground, a baby in the womb, or Jesus in the tomb, it starts in the dark.” [p.229]
RHE and Me
by David Smith
Parishioner, Trinity Parish, Wilmington
On April 24th, when I first read that Rachel Held Evans was in hospital with a serious medical problem, Marie and I donated to a GoFundMe campaign to help with her medical costs. Known widely as RHE, I knew Rachel through her four books I had read and by hearing her speak on two occasions. One of these occasions was the Why Christian 2018 conference, which she co-hosted and at which I learned of many new (to me) women speakers with powerful stories to tell. Each update I read about Rachel’s medical condition sounded more dire until on Saturday morning May 4th, I read that she had died early that morning. Her death has made me grieve, for her husband, children, and family as well as for those like me, who have found someone who followed a path out of fundamentalism to find a more loving, inclusive, and accepting Christianity we are trying to live. I know that I would have learned much more from her had she lived. I pray for her family, and for her. RIP Rachel Held Evans.
A Needed Voice in the Wilderness
by Jon Rania
Parishioner, All Saints’, Rehoboth
Rachel had a profound impact on my life and so many others. Especially at a time when there are so many conflicting voices in society. For me, she was a much needed voice in the wilderness — more in line with what I believe Jesus’ message was, and is in my life. This often reminds me of a message from Presiding Bishop Curry, “If it’s not about Love, it’s not about God.”
Gone too soon. May she rest in peace and rise in glory.
Rachel Held Evans on the Table and the Gospel
“What’s offensive about the Gospel isn’t who it keeps out. It’s not who it keeps away from the table, it’s who it invites in." - Rachel Held Evans Rachel on giving and receiving communion and the power and offensiveness of the Gospel.No words...God and Rachel created more room for love. More will with Rachel: https://www.theworkofthepeople.com/person/rachel-held-evansPosted by The Work of the People on Tuesday, May 7, 2019