Chris Andrews ordained by unconventional group
A rainbow stole draped over the neck of the Rev. Chris Andrews was a new addition as the former United Methodist Church minister led his weekly Bible study in late August.
It symbolized the Jubilee Community, an unconventional religious group that ordained Andrews, 65, as a minister last month.
“This is a group of zany people who a lot of people have called a church for the last 20 years, but they don’t want to be called a church,” Andrews told the group that gathers at Cafe Americain in Baton Rouge each week. “They want to be called a community.”
Jubilee, founded by a former Methodist minister in Asheville, N.C., matches a theology and attitude that Andrews said he has respected for more than a decade. It follows creation spirituality, an uncommon religious perspective that Andrews calls “good religion.”
“That is healthy religion, religion that restores and heals and helps rather than religion that excludes and divides and puts up barriers,” he said after the study.
Andrews surrendered his credentials as a United Methodist Church minister in November 2011, according to a statement from the Louisiana Annual Conference. He had retired abruptly from Baton Rouge’s First United Methodist Church in July 2011 a few days after he filed for divorce, which, according to East Baton Rouge Parish clerk of court records, was finalized in February.
Andrews would not comment on his divorce or his separation from the Methodist Church.
Following his retirement, Andrews said, a few members of his former congregation approached him about leading a Bible study. It began in one member’s house, then grew too large and moved to Cafe Americain on Jefferson Highway.
“He has a wise perspective, and it’s a joy to listen to him,” said Julie McNeil, who attends the Bible study regularly with her husband.
While Andrews has become ordained by Jubilee, he does not plan to pastor a traditional congregation.
He already has a job as executive director of Rebuilding Together Baton Rouge.
“I don’t have the desire to start a new church,” he said. “I do have a desire to be a part of authentic community with other people who are not afraid of questions and diversity and openness to life.”
On the last Monday in August, Andrews explained his ordination in the Jubilee Community to the Bible study audience, which he took to calling “Jubilee pioneers.”
“What does ordination mean? It means a lot of people have laid their hands on you,” he told them.
Then, beginning the study, he lit a candle as “a symbol of the Holy One in our midst.” Andrews took prayer requests, then asked God’s blessing in his strong baritone voice.
His lesson, titled “Toward a Richer Spirituality,” employed an adjective that Andrews uses often to describe the theology of creation spirituality — rich. Creation spirituality differs from the traditional Christian perspective from the very beginning, Andrews said.
Most American Christians view the world as “fallen” because the creation story features the first humans disobeying God, then being punished. Creation spirituality rejects that, instead seeing the world as “blessed” from the very beginning, Andrews said.
“The place to start is with original blessing, not original sin,” he said. “If we start with blessing, the whole agenda changes. Rather than having to be saved from sin, what we do is we seek to live fully because that’s the great gift — life.”
The theology tends to attract a certain demographic, said David Otto, chairman of the religious studies department at Centenary College in Shreveport. Creation-spirituality-accepting believers are usually college-educated, often vote Democratic and usually are concerned about the Earth and ecology, he said.
“It is certainly a different approach to a standard Protestant theology of human depravity and original sin,” Otto said by phone.
This perspective has caused some controversy, Otto said. Matthew Fox, who popularized creation spirituality through his writings, was expelled from his Dominican order, Otto said. Most Christians, he said, know very little about the theology.
In his lesson at Cafe Americain, Andrews focused on the building of community. He reflected on the strength of Alcoholics Anonymous, which has been called “the priestless church,” he said, where people get together and share their stories to grow together.
“Stories don’t have to be pretty to build community,” he said. “They need to be open and honest.”
Christian spirituality, he told the audience, “is as much about dealing with each other as it is about dealing with God.”
Bible study regulars said they enjoy Andrews’ Bible study for its outlook and perspective on faith.
Shirley Porter, who first heard Andrews speak at First United Methodist, said she likes “the positive message, the positive people who are involved. I think it’s a message you can enjoy.”
Andrews said he believes that the main benefit of creation spirituality is an honest, healthy view of life and the world. He cited John Chapter 10, when Jesus said that he came so “they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.”
This theology “gives people a handle for living life more fully,” Andrews said. “It does that through a radical honesty. By that, I mean it’s honest about life. Life is not always fun. It is not always good. There is pain in life and disappointment and there is sin. In the midst of all that, even this pulse of life is at work, which is God, to redeem and to make whole. That’s the difference.”
At the weekly study, Andrews welcomes all types of believers — Buddhists are as welcome as Christians, he said — and atheists and agnostics. He presents himself as a Christian who is a theologian of creation spirituality, but he does not claim that God speaks only through the Bible.
“Certainly he can speak through other channels, other texts,” Andrews said. “It is for me ground zero. The Old and New Testament are the sacred Scriptures of my life and my confession.”
Now at the traditional retirement age, Andrews does not consider his new ordination a beginning. Rather, it is a continuation of his previous work, he said.
“I was a Methodist minister for 42 years. I hope I did religion in a good way,” he said. “Frankly, I don’t think I did. There were times I did, but there were also times when I didn’t do it in a good way — as we all do.”
Creation spirituality and the Jubilee community are good religion, Andrews said. He said he hopes it will be good for Baton Rouge.