John Sundara is in his second year of the Master of Divinity program in the Pioneer track, specializing in fresh expressions of church, at Wycliffe College, Toronto.
I was born and raised in India until Grade 9 and was baptized into the Church of South India (CSI). Growing up, I remember my father having a daily habit of scripture reading and prayer. Our family prayed together almost every evening, led by my mother. My grandparents were devout Lutherans who lived out their faith through active service at their church. And my Sunday school teachers took great pains and care to teach us songs and stories about Jesus. Other than drinking copious amounts of juice and colouring pictures at Sunday school, I remember thinking, “Jesus really loves me, and he can do anything.” Family and Sunday school teachers played vital roles in shaping my faith.
The CSI, although Anglican, is also an ecumenical denomination where Anglicans, Lutherans and Methodists are in full communion under one bishop. This is because Christians in India are a minority and we realized we needed each other’s support. For example, when I visited my grandparents’ Lutheran church and asked them what church they were, they said, “we are all CSI, we are one church.” Not only was ecumenism a practiced value, so was holistic mission. The CSI had medical missions in slums, Christian education, orphanages, etc. They valued ecumenism and proclaimed the Gospel in word and deed.
I was 13 when my parents immigrated to Canada. Although I knew all about Christ’s life, retrospectively speaking, I realized my life did not centre around him. You could say that I had all the right answers, but my life centred around myself. The sad part was that I wasn’t even aware that I was oriented away from him, although I thought I was following him because I knew all the answers.
By the summer of 2001, when I was 16, I unintentionally had not attended church in a while. I stumbled upon some Christian programming on TV. The familiar hymns and their imagery moved me, especially one where I pictured myself sinking in a sea of my sin and brokenness, while Jesus stood on the waters lifting me out. I think it was the first time where the significance of my baptism became alive to me. It was a spiritually refreshing experience and caused me to remember how much Christ loved me, and to consider orienting my life around him.
Although this spiritually refreshing moment in high school happened, my university days were lonely. I missed Christian community and fellowship, and found myself increasingly thirsty for it. I also desired to do something more practical with my faith, like Bible study groups or a service project. I heard about Power to Change, an interdenominational campus ministry, through my cousins and became involved in my third year. One of my first mentors was pursuing his PhD in physics. Since we were both science students, we talked a lot about faith and science, suffering and evil and the existence of God, and faith in Christ. He was very helpful and discipled me in the faith. When I graduated from university, I decided to intern with Power to Change for a year. My ministry included mentoring younger students, leading Bible studies, and organizing student retreats, just to give back because of how much I benefited when I was involved.
Over time, I realized that the more I wanted people to discover and experience Christ, the more I was being drawn into ordained ministry. I wanted to help people discover and experience Christ through the sacraments of baptism and communion and the ministry of the Word. Part of it came out of God weaving a desire into me to pick up my cross and follow Christ more and more. Part of it came out of a desire to draw people closer to Christ as I had been drawn. While I was still serving with Power to Change, I took a few classes at Wycliffe and thoroughly enjoyed them. I also felt affirmed by older Anglican ministers and lay leaders who knew my faith journey and gently kept encouraging me to consider ordained ministry. Over a few months, after thinking about serving God in the wider communion and life of the church, I decided to become ordained.
Life with Christ has its ups and downs. There are times when I wrestle with making sense of the suffering and evil I see in the world. There are other times when I am convinced that Christ is doing something good in the world and me, even though I might not perceive everything fully. Orienting myself around him becomes more worthwhile when I understand how much he loves me. Through the ups and downs, I think Christ has become a more beautiful person to me, such that knowing him has a “constraining” effect, sort of like the Scottish hymn, “Oh Love that wilt not let me go.”
Five years from now, I hope to be serving as an Anglican priest ministering to people and drawing them closer to Christ. I enjoy inviting people to explore what he has done for us. Of recent, I have become interested in how faith can serve, love and benefit people outside of the church in meaningful and practical ways. I’ve been inspired reading about Anglican ministers in other eras who were very involved in the community to love and serve people for the sake of God’s justice and mercy. It’s something I would like to explore more, while I continue serving in the church.
Some of my favourite passages from scripture are John 3:30, where St. John the Baptist says that he must decrease and Christ must increase; the passage where Jesus washes his disciples’ feet (John 13:1-20); and Philippians 2:1-11, where St. Paul describes Christ’s humility and servanthood for our sake. These passages reorient my heart towards Christ’ humble sacrifice for me. But the passage that I try to reorient my life around the most is Philippians 3:7-16, especially the part where St. Paul speaks of the surpassing worth of being with Christ, compared to everything else as loss.