Book Review: Searching for Sunday, by Rachel Held Evans

In Searching for Sunday, Rachel Held Evans outlines her journey of loving, leaving, and finding the church, a theme I suspect is relevant to many of my Millennial peers who grew up going to church, but found themselves drifting away in later life.  Her story is similar to mine, in some ways. While Rachel grew up in the evangelical church and all that entailed – summer camp, youth group, and Christian concerts – I grew up in a church where my sister and I were often the only attendees under the age of forty. I do have some memories of Sunday school and pancake dinners on Shrove Tuesday, but I was completely oblivious to the fact that there was an entire subculture devoted to Christianity, complete with modern music, radio stations, jargon, and entire bookstores devoted to Christian literature. When I was sixteen, I visited another church with a friend, and I was stunned to see that a) her church had a bookstore, and b) there were CDs in that bookstore that included music more modern than hymns and “Shine Jesus Shine,” which was the most up-to-date song we sang at my church (sometimes we even clapped along).

Of course, by spending the first sixteen years of my life oblivious to evangelical subculture, I wasn’t missing out on anything essential, but I was missing out on some things more serious: I really did not know that I could be in relationship with God, or that the Spirit could empower me to love God and care for others. I didn’t grow up in a legalistic church, but in my own little type-A personality world, following God wasn’t about joy, or resurrection life, or hope – it was about following rules and being “good.” It shouldn’t come as a surprise that my love for the church waned as I grew older, as I became less interested in potlucks, gold stars for Sunday School attendance, and the many hide-and-go-seek hiding spots the church building offered when there were other kids in attendance besides my sister and I.

When I left for university, I left my childhood church behind, and I didn’t know it then, but I really entered a time of searching, in which I eventually found my way back to the church. Since that time, I’ve attended Christian Reformed, Pentecostal, Lutheran, non-denominational, Anglican, Methodist, and Alliance churches, and my experience has been all the richer for that variety. While these churches’ worship, theology, and ways of practically walking out faith vary, I, like Rachel Held Evans, could not resist the call of being part of a body of believers – could not resist the beauty of engaging in Communion, witnessing Baptism, participating in Confession, and walking in hope with others who are in Christ.

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Searching for Sunday is organized into seven parts named after the sacraments: Baptism, Confession, Holy Orders, Communion, Confirmation, Anointing of the Sick, and Marriage. Rachel weaves her story of “loving, leaving, and finding the church” through exploring the sacraments, from her time as an eager youthful evangelical, to her frustrations of unanswered questions, to her experiences in church planting (and mourning the end of that church plant), to her finding her current faith community. Not surprisingly, Searching for Sunday is beautifully written and thoughtfully crafted; it is both a sharing of the frustrations Millennials express about the church, and a celebration of the hope found in worshiping God in community. The following excerpt (in video form) highlights this truth:

Probably because of our experience with the liturgy of an intentional Christian community in Toronto, Michael (who is currently reading this book) and I were most drawn to the “Communion” section of Searching for Sunday. In addition to outlining the ways in which the Eucharist has been shared throughout history, Rachel does a lovely job of highlighting the ways in which the Lord’s Supper is shared today, whether as part of an entire meal, as distributed through bread torn from a common loaf and wine consumed from a common cup, or as an open invitation to those who have yet to meet with God. As with Rachel’s other writing, I enjoyed her combination of history, Bible, and evaluated experience, in the communication of her own story. While I don’t agree with everything she writes, and while I struggle to know where I stand with some of her subject matter, this doesn’t stop me from recommending Searching for Sunday.

In the book’s prologue, Rachel states that (in the United States) 59 percent of young people between the ages of eighteen to twenty-nine with a Christian background have dropped out of the church (p. xii), but in its final chapter Rachel shares,

This word for church, ekklesia, was used at the time of Jesus to refer to the “calling out” of citizens for a civic meeting or for battle, and is employed in one form or another in both the Old and New Testaments to refer to the people of God, assembled together. So church is, essentially, a gathering of kingdom citizens, called out – from their individuality, from their sins, from their old ways of doing things, from the world’s way of doing things – into participation in this new kingdom and community with one another (p. 254-255).

We are meant to follow Jesus, together. “Like every generation before ours and every generation after, we’re looking for Jesus – the same Jesus who can be found in the strange places he’s always been found: in bread, in wine, in baptism, in the Word, in suffering, in community, and among the least of these” (p. xiv). As we seek to understand how to be the church to a hurting world (and to one another), let us search together.

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