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Dear Hyde Park Family,

Last Sunday we began our new worship series, “Hard to Believe,” which explores essential tenets of the Christian faith that are difficult to fully comprehend. You can watch last week’s sermon here.  My hope is that this series will give you the freedom to both embrace mystery and ask sincere questions about what we claim as Christians.

Asking questions is how we mature, both in life and in faith.

After worship, a parishioner named Sheffield Crowder shared a powerful personal story with me. Sheff is a gifted community leader who works with non-profits in the area of education and leadership development.

He is also a deeply committed Christian. He gave me permission to share his story.

Sheff grew up on a small horse farm here in Tampa, with aspirations of being a nationally renowned equestrian rider. As those dreams were ending and he was struggling to find his course in life, a friend invited him to a local gathering of the Christian ministry Young Life during his junior year in high school, and his faith journey really began.

Sheff developed both the acumen and passion for thinking hard thoughts about spiritual matters. It ignited an interest in philosophy and theology, which he eventually pursued at Wheaton College in Chicago. Part of his education included some study abroad in Amsterdam, ministering throughout the Red-Light District, where he experienced the diversity of persons and perspectives in this international, cosmopolitan city.

It is there that he began to wrestle with deep and profound questions of his faith, and how his beliefs related to other religions and people with no religious affiliation.

The result for Sheff was an existential crisis of faith.

As he continued to attend theology and philosophy lectures by leading professors and lecturers, his intellectual dilemmas deepened. His chief areas of struggle were about the trinitarian nature of God and the dual nature of Christ’s incarnation. (Which, incidentally, are the topics of the first two sermons in this current worship series.)

Eventually, Sheff reached a point where, in his words, “I got to the top of my intellectual capability, and I couldn’t figure it out.” It was a poignant moment. After pestering his friends and colleagues with questions, and after reading as much as he could to think his way through his struggles, he came to the only conclusion he believed was intellectually honest:

He needed to reject the claims of Christianity and become an agnostic.

That’s when, the very same night that he resolved to let go of his faith, a beautiful, miraculous thing happened in his life. Here’s how he tells the story:

“One night in my dorm room, after much personal study, angst, and turmoil, I decided that if I was going to be intellectually honest, I needed to become an agnostic. It was something I didn’t want to admit, but I had to. So, I did.

I was depressed about my decision as I wanted to believe. I then fell asleep.

When I woke up the next morning, my roommate told me something that changed my life. He said I had been praying aloud in my sleep. Apparently, at the very moment that my head took my spiritual journey as far as it could go, that’s when my heart took over. That’s when I began to pray, even as I was sleeping, with my head and my heart.

At that moment, when my head and my heart became fully integrated, that’s when my belief went to a different level.

And I have never had a crisis of faith since then.”

Sheff’s story is a powerful reminder to us of how each of our spiritual journeys, while so different in their own rights, are all connected by the same gracious work of the Holy Spirit. When we allow both our head and our heart to guide us on our journeys, we can ask hard questions of the faith, while still embrace mystery and ambiguity. Our intellect can be both humble and curious, and our hearts can be both prudent and passionate.

I hope you will join us this Sunday as we tackle profound questions about the full humanity and divinity of Jesus, along with every other Sunday in this five-week series. And if you would like some “bonus content” that does a deeper dive into these topics, we are debuting a new video series called “Beyond the Sermon,” featuring conversations between me and Mat Hotho, our Director of Production and Online Engagement. You can watch last week’s 15-minute conversation here.

See you Sunday!

The Rev. Magrey deVega
Senior Pastor, Hyde Park United Methodist