This is a church that has a storefront in our neighbourhood. The St. Francis National Evangelical Spiritual Baptist Faith Archdiocese of Canada. Personally I like the acronym printed on the window below, the “St. Francis N.E.S.B.F. Archdiocese of Canada.”
It makes you wonder about this history of this group. How on earth did they come up with that name? At first glance it seems like they’d have something to appeal to just about every kind of Christian.
- St. Francis – well he appeals to everyone, but especially to Catholics
- National – that appeals to established Church types
- Evangelical – obviously appeals to…
- Spiritual – maybe the charismatics?
- Baptist – of course…
Some of these things don’t normally go together, notably “St. Francis” and “Baptist,” which makes it all the more interesting. I found a website for the church, which explains that they are a group from Trinidad. They seem charismatic – they are also called “shouters,” and the have three hour worship services – and they mix elements of Protestant Christianity with African religion. It’s not clear from their site exactly what that looks like. They themselves aren’t exactly clear on their origins.
What is interesting to me about this group is that they are charismatic, but they don’t seem to downplay the significance of ritual and symbol in their faith. Actually their website lists candles, bells, swords, flags, uniforms and a whole host of other items as significant in their worship. Most charismatically-oriented protestants (we could expand that to include most evangelicals) are wary of any kind of ritual. They’ve got some obviously “catholic” elements in their worship (one page on the website has prayers of the saints), but they speak in tongues and have street preaching missions.
Then again, if you know the story of St. Francis and the mendicant friars, you’ll know that these things are not so distinct from one another after all. Francis was the ultimate charismatic. He was also completely committed to the Catholic faith, and to the task of preaching the gospel. Maybe the St. Francis N.E.S.B.F people are on to something. It’s the history of division in the Church since the Reformation that has caused us to see the various terms that go into their name as being at odds with one another. The names that we have given to our denominations are there precisely to distinguish us from the other denominations and traditions. Our particular denominational identities then become filters for the discernment of what is good, acceptable, and true. For example, in my tradition, if someone says something is “Wesleyan” that automatically makes it acceptable, but if it’s “Calvinist” people assume it is wrong, without even really thinking about it. Although strong denominational identities are fading fast, most of us have been formed in communities that make these kind of distinctions all the time. “St. Francis” and “Evanglical” seem an odd pairing to a contemporary evangelical, because St. Francis is seen as a Catholic figure. But actually Francis lived during what is rightly called an “evangelical revival,” a real flowering of the gospel, which included radical forms of discipleship, self-denial, and evangelistic preaching missions. I really don’t know much about the St. Francis N.E.S.B.F., so I wouldn’t want to hold them up as a model of anythying, but maybe the fact that they seem to have developed in obscurity has allowed them to hold these things together without worrying that they were crossing traditional boundaries.