The past year has been both exhilarating and painful for the Reverend Andrew Teal, an Oxford University theologian and Anglican priest and visiting lecturer at Brigham Young University. He moved to Provo for the fall semester with high hopes and plans to research a book portraying Joseph Smith as an outcast. That was before Reverend Teal walked barefoot on a patio during the Utah summer, not realizing the surface was covered in heat-reflecting panels. He burned his feet so badly that he had to spend almost a month in the burn unit at the University of Utah Hospital before returning home to recover in the UK , where Deseret found him preparing for nine-hour major reconstructive foot surgery.
Reverend Teal, 57, had accepted an invitation to visit BYU’s Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship as an affiliate scholar at the request of his close friend, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Church of Jesus Christ. of Latter Day Saints. . The two had met through Elder Holland’s son, Matthew, who had been on sabbatical at Pembroke College, Oxford, where the Reverend Teal is chaplain and lecturer.
The pair described an immediate and lasting relationship, each taking turns giving lectures in the other’s home country. Although “it’s not quite a job swap,” Reverend Teal jokes, “when I was in Utah, he was here in my chapel, which is kind of funny.”
Asked to describe himself, Reverend Teal alludes to the contradiction of appearing scholarly while at times feeling inadequate. Above all, he says, he is a person “worthy of love because God loves me”. He notes rich and joyful relationships with his wife and children and friends and colleagues, but also with many others, some unexpected. “I know some of the greatest academics in the world, but also some fantastic people who are cleaners and cooks, and I’ve been blessed with a vision of what it’s like to be a human being in a web of relationships. ”
After a long day of teaching, he talked about finding blessings in unexpected events and the importance of building community.
Desert News: Your wound looks awful. How is your recovery going?
Reverend Andrew Teal: I have a major operation coming up, with muscle tissue taken from my thigh which is strapped over amputated toes on top of the foot, as there is very little flesh there. They’ll be using microsurgery to attach capillaries half a millimeter thick, and how the hell do they do that, I can’t even think. I’m absolutely impressed that people are willing to invest their time, expertise, and energy into something as modest as my feet.
DN: Did you find lessons in the experience?
AT: I learned how proud I am and how unhappy I am to be dependent on others. When you can’t put your foot on the ground and need other people to do everything for you in an intimate way that you wouldn’t want, it’s hard. They treated me with such dignity in the hospital. It was incredibly humiliating, rather than humiliating, as I imagined. In the middle of the night, nurses and doctors spoke to me — non-practicing Catholics, Methodists and Latter-day Saints, practicing Christians of various denominations — about their struggles with the faith. I found what Paul said in 1 Corinthians to be true: it is when we are weak that not only are we strong, but God is strong. I don’t think I would have had this experience if I had just researched and lectured. I glimpsed the mystery of human beings. It’s in the unexpected little things that we find the greatest truths about who we are.
DN: What was your experience with the Americans?
AT: Maybe it’s because I was in the West, but the people there are incredibly hospitable and so generous. After intensive care, a friend put me up in a house. Others not only invited me to eat, which was wonderful, but continued to bring me food. It was extraordinary. And it made me realize that it’s an act of grace not just to receive, but to allow others to give. You must allow people the human dignity to give and bless others.
DN: You’ve given talks about building community, which seems very difficult in this country right now.
AT: It’s not just an American thing. It’s part of the spirit of the times, where we don’t listen to or relate to people with respect for who they are. We almost have fun finding reasons to cancel them. It’s such a boring phrase, but I think it’s absolutely true. We cancel people rather than listen to them, rather than engage and find in this meeting something beautiful that happens, that takes us out of ourselves. Instead, we become so fragile, so defensive, so angry that we want to silence others. We don’t like people because we agree with them. We love them because they are people. And it’s important to practice, rather than sinking into our own prejudices.
DN: What are the benefits of a community?
AT: Only by engaging with the community can we ourselves grow. We don’t thrive in a hostile environment where we attack others all the time. If you accuse someone else of something, it shows that you are not comfortable with the mystery and complexity of who we are, who I am. That I did wrong and said mean things. Yet there is the grace of repentance to start over in community. Together we can build a place where love can flourish, with webs of safety, truth and forgiveness. You don’t find forgiveness at all in cancel culture. You find condemnation. So building a community also means saying yes to things you don’t yet know. If we are cynical and want to undermine others, then we will never grow. And we’re also going to be so bitter. We are going to be torn apart by resentment and malice.
DN: Were you surprised by the relationships you built in Utah?
AT: Foreigners often think that American culture is very individualistic. “It’s all about me.” In Utah, I found it to be the opposite. I found people to be diligent together and going out of their way to understand and connect. It was a real challenge to those perceptions.
DN: In the United States, church attendance is down and people seem less connected to religious institutions. Do you see that elsewhere?
AT: In a sense, you are a bit behind Europe in this regard. After the First World War—we are talking about 1918—the churches in England were hit hard because a whole generation of young men had been lost and there were questions about the goodness of God. After WWII it was a little different. There was quite a religious revival in the 1950s in England, and churches became very important again in society after the horrors of that war and its impact on families. But by the 1960s families were beginning to fragment and the power of the churches and their presence in society was declining quite significantly. The busiest church in the UK today is the Roman Catholic Church, but that’s partly because of immigration. There are very few local Catholic priests now. Most come from abroad. The Catholic Church in Ireland more or less collapsed, as it did in Spain. Although around 46% of people identify as belonging to the Church of England, attendance is minimal. I think it’s less than 2% of the population.
DN: What attracted you to your vocation?
AT: It’s intensely personal. I grew up with my grandparents, who were the stability of my family. My mother, who passed away last year, got pregnant when she was 16. So she married my father, even though they were both young teenagers and not mature enough. My mother lost this child while running towards a bus. Then I came. By the time I was born, they were effectively separated. My mother was like my big sister. And my grandparents were amazing, on both sides, paternal and maternal grandparents. So basically my background was always an older generation.
When I was 13, my grandmother died. And I found all the people at school to be incredibly nice. School children may be anything but, but they weren’t. I found a letter. I shouldn’t have watched it, but the director had written my grandfather a nice letter of condolence, adding that they would keep a very special eye on me. We were reading the Gospel of Saint Mark at the time in religious studies, and I remember thinking, why does it take someone’s death to make people more human?
Suddenly things started to make sense to me. It was a testimony of God’s love to a child who was grieving. Through the ministry of one or two people at that time, I realized that I had an obligation to live a life of love. It was then that I thought that perhaps the best way to give and contribute to the world would be in the public ministry. I didn’t catch it from a Christian community. It wasn’t going to church. It was because of something that happened inside.
DN: One last word ?
AT: You can never do or be anything that will make God love you less. He is love. He can’t do anything other than what he is. His only desire is for every human being to flourish. If this week has been bad, or if you feel your life has given you more hits than hugs, keep going, because the dignity and importance of a human being is never dispensable. You are never worthless. And feeling worthless in oneself can inspire us to reach out to others with empathy and understand other people’s pain, rather than crumble.
If you have the option to say, I’m sorry, I was wrong and to build someone else, do it. The mystery, the strange thing, is that He will edify us more than anything we can achieve or acquire. Never renounce the mercy of God. Never give up knowing that you can be a light to someone else, without you knowing it, just by being who you are.
This story appears in the April issue of Desert Magazine. Learn more about how to subscribe.