“I was born again. It happens to Episcopalians”

June 23, 2014

alice01

I’m a little late getting around to this, but let me offer a word of gratitude for the life of actress Ann B. Davis. She died a couple of weeks ago at age 88. Of course, people of my generation may be forgiven for knowing her by another name. For us, she was Alice, the live-in housekeeper, cook, and dispenser of Yoda-like wisdom on The Brady Bunch. As I said in yesterday’s sermon, we all wanted someone like Alice in our lives, and I hope many of us were blessed to know someone like her. (I was.)

The actress herself, though a lifelong churchgoer, had a conversion experience in 1976. “I was born again,” she told the AP in 1993. “It happens to Episcopalians. Sometimes it doesn’t hit you till you’re 47 years old.”

Her quip is funny, of course, because we don’t normally associate being “born again” with Episcopalians. On theological grounds, I dislike the term because it implies that being born again is an optional feature for some Christians. In truth, new birth happens to all Christians with genuine faith.

Still, I know what she means: I had a similar experience in 1984, when I first professed faith in Christ and was baptized. Like Wesley, “I found my heart strangely warmed” by a powerful sense that God loved me, forgave me, and made me a part of his family.

Long-time readers of this blog probably won’t be surprised to know that I’ve experienced a powerful renewal of my Christian faith over the past five years. I first became aware that something was happening within me in 2010, around the time of my ordination. I’ve called this experience my “evangelical re-conversion.” It has been accompanied by a powerful conviction of my own sins, a profound sense of gratitude for Christ’s atoning work on the cross, and a renewed commitment to God’s Word, the Bible.

Consequently, my preaching and writing have emphasized sin and repentance, the cross of Christ, and the authority of scripture.

So I can identify with Davis’s experience. She was part of an evangelical renewal movement within her church (Hey, just like me!). Although she participated in occasional Brady reunions over the years, she mostly retired from show business and devoted the rest of her life to serving the Lord as part of a community of like-minded Episcopalians.

At her funeral, the Rev. Paul Frey, son of her long-time pastor, the Rt. Rev. William Frey, said that when she first volunteered to work at a homeless shelter, she said, “‘I want a backstage job. I want to do laundry.’ I told her that meant cleaning mostly really nasty socks. These guys have been wearing socks for three or four weeks. She said, ‘It’s OK,’ and did it faithfully for more than six years.”

I also like this, from one recent blog post:

Speaking with People in 1992, Davis talked about the religion that meant so much to her: “‘My mother would write letters when I was away at camp and say, “There’s an Ann-shaped space around the house. Nobody fills an Ann-shaped space except an Ann.” I’m convinced we all have a God-shaped space in us, and until we fill that space with God, we’ll never know what it is to be whole,’ she said.”

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