Rev. Chris Roth, the newest ministerial addition to Sylvan Lake’s St. Timothy’s and St. Mary’s Anglican Churches, wasn’t always a Christian. In fact, there was a time in Roth’s life where he was certain Buddhism was his path.
Roth grew up in Red Deer, where the extent of his religious right of way had come to include going to church for Christmas and Easter services with his family. Despite his lack of a connection with the church in his younger years, Roth explained he spent a great deal of time as a teen looking into a variety of religions.
“By the time I was in my teens I had really rejected church and Christianity,” explained the pastor. “I was pretty sure there was something out there that was true and deeper than what it was I was seeing, but I was pretty sure Christianity had gotten it wrong – so I spent some time looking into other religions and things like Wicca but eventually I ended up very interested in Buddhism.”
It was around the time he had convinced himself he was a Buddhist at the age of 18 when he had a strange experience followed by a strange dream.
Oddly enough his strange experience took place one night in a local drinking establishment where he was meeting up with his friends.
“I hadn’t been drinking, I hadn’t been doing drugs – I was walking to the table and while I was walking I just had this inexplicable feeling come over me. I was overwhelmed. Everyone in that room I loved as much as anyone I had ever loved in my entire life and I couldn’t explain where that feeling came from,” remembers Roth.“It became a hinge in my life – I had to understand what that overwhelming feeling of love was because I knew if I could understand that and live in that then that must be how we should be living our lives,
“I just kept reflecting on it and I knew it was hinting at something different – it was touching on some other reality that was all of a sudden bubbling through in that moment.”
He explains he spent a great deal of time trying to pin point where that feeling came from, he wanted to know what the love was he had felt in that moment.
He couldn’t explain it, but he knew he wanted to know more about it. He wondered if there was a way to not only experience that overwhelming feeling of love one andwhile but to actually live in that moment and that feeling forever.
“Next came my dream,” said Roth, who added he had been reading into Buddhism a great deal at this time and had grown a strong admiration for the Dalai Lama. “It felt like so much more than a dream. In it I was riding in his car – it was an old Model T – we were driving through this flower garden and I turned to him at one point while we were riding along and I said to him I wanted to be a Buddhist, thinking he would want to put his arm around me and say ‘Ah my boy!’ or something like that. Instead he laughed at me and said to me, ‘You’re a Christian’.”
Roth awoke unhappy. He suddenly had a weird feeling he couldn’t shake following the Dalai Lama’s words to him in his dream. He decided in order to quell his concerns he would read the Bible.
“I finally said okay – I’m going to pick up the Bible and I’ll start reading it and then I’ll be able to say there were all of these contradictions and all of this stuff commanding us to do terrible things. So I figured if I read it then I could shake that because I would be able to point to all of these different things and know I wasn’t a Christian,” he explained. “I started reading the Gospel of Mathew – I got to a part called ‘The Sermon On the Mount’,
“I read Jesus talking about how not to judge others and that anger is dangerous to us and it mentioned how blessed are the poor and the meek – it was not what I hadexpected to encounter. I really thought I had just been there done that with Christianity – but all of a sudden here I was listening to Jesus and the Gospel talking about loving your enemies and it really just started to grab hold of me and I couldn’t let it go.”
Roth kept reading. He eventually came to the first letter of John, chapter 4, stating that God is love. The whole experience had come full circle for him – the night at the bar and the dream, it all made sense to him now.
“I remember saying to myself that must have been what I was feeling in the bar that night – I realized it was more powerful than just the common experience. It is something that is underneath and inside of reality,” said Roth. “I asked myself if God is love then is that God sort of peeking up when we have that feeling?”
This grand revelation led him to further his studies at the University of Lethbridge where he pursued a world religions degree. He studied all the world’s major religions including Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Islam and Christianity. It was during his time in Lethbridge he found himself at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church where he gained a full appreciation for the deep-rooted values the Church held.
“I found it very interesting and became involved with youth ministry there and people kept asking me when I was going to seminary, when all along I really saw myself doing something along the lines of a religious studies professor. It really just began to feel like there was a momentum pulling me there,” he tells.
Following his completion of his four year Bachelor’s degree in religion, the prior momentum mentioned carried him to Wycliffe College at the University of Torontowhere he completed his three year Master’s seminary. His journey again came full circle and following seminary he found himself returning to St. Augustine’s where hewas ordained a priest. Following his time at St. Augustine’s he found himself at an Anglican church in Edmonton for three years before returning home to Red Deer with his wife and children to be closer to his mother who is battling ovarian cancer.
Roth can now be found at St. Timothy’s and St. Mary’s every second and fourth Sunday of the month.