Staff photo by Allison Potter
The Rev. Christopher Adams in the new Curate at St. Andrew’s on the Sound.
Christopher Adams is many things: a tattooed 28-year-old, a husband and new father, a Texas-born graduate of East Carolina University and a former heavy metal rocker. He’s also a graduate of Duke Divinity School, a humble pastor with deep roots in the Wilmington area and the newest clerical addition to St. Andrew’s-on-the-Sound Episcopal Church.
Sitting in an easy chair with “The Anglican Theological Review” open on his lap, Adams speaks freely of politics and religion, but with the unassuming demeanor of one whose spiritual journey has taken on many forms and provided him a wide range of perspectives.
Self-described as containing “Southern Baptist DNA,” Adams hails from a deeply religious background. His grandparents and father all spent years in Puerto Rico as Baptist missionaries, with his grandmother later taking her vocation to Thailand after her husband passed away.
Adams was born in Galveston, Texas, then moving with his parents to Rocky Mount, N.C., at the age of 12. He delivered his first sermon while still in ninth grade, but like many young adults, he also struggled with faith early on.
“In middle school and into high school, I had no interest in the church,” he said. “But then I had a very profound experience, where for the first time I felt overwhelmed with the idea that God loved me. I felt so overwhelmed that at 14, I decided that I was going to enter ministry for the rest of my life, and I’ve done it since then.”
Years later at Duke, Adams became frustrated with what he calls “the rabid conservative theology” that he was encountering. In response, he joined and was initially ordained by the Cooperative Baptist Denomination, which espouses a more moderate approach, such as the acceptance of female pastors. The new church provided Adams with more room to embrace a less literal translation of the Bible.
“My father was a microbiologist, and he was able to be a Baptist and also to be a Darwinian,” Adams said. “So I grew up in a household where being a Christian who believed in evolution was not at all that uncommon.”
Adams does not hesitate to make the point that modern Christianity carries ample room for improvement, like playing a more active role in solving world hunger and showing acceptance to the gay community.
“It is sad to me that large groups of Christians find homophobia to be acceptable,” he said, complimenting Pope Francis’ recent headline-grabbing quote on the subject. “It’s one thing to have a theological opinion about homosexuality. … It’s another thing to be a vicious homophobe. I see it with a lot of the theological rhetoric that goes on, and that’s really a tragedy.”
Locally, Adams sees a role for the church in helping to reconcile some of the existing divisions left by what he calls a “sordid racial history” in Wilmington.
“I initiated a conversation with the head of the local NAACP just to ask her what churches are doing to further the cause of reconciliation in the city,” he said. “We still have deep divisions, and I still don’t see the church doing what I think the church should be doing, which is to provide a place of reconciliation.”
Adams, with his seven tattoos, also may contradict one’s expectation of a cleric’s appearance.
“It’s a reminder to me that wearing a clerical collar doesn’t make me powerful,” Adams said of his most recent one, indelibly imprinted a week after he received the first ordainment to ever be administered in the 178-year history of Airlie Gardens’ historic Lebanon Chapel. “But my ordination calls me to serve.”
His love of comic books is evidenced by the words “Who Watches the Watchmen?” tattooed on his left arm, but the rest reflect his humble worldview, including a man in formation as a reminder of his own incompleteness.
“I am fully aware of [the Church of Christianity’s] flaws, and fully aware of the way the church has failed people. But there’s something about the message of God’s grace and forgiveness that is compelling enough for me to stay and give my life to it, owning up to the fact that we still have a hell of a long way to go,” Adams said.