Forty-five years ago, when I was a senior in high school, God and I entered into a pact, a covenant, if you will. More accurately, God set some terms, and I agreed to them. He told me that, if I would use my gifts, talents, and abilities to advance the Gospel of the Kingdom of God and to help Christians “grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ,” then He would take care of me. He didn’t speak to me in an audible voice, but the reality of God’s call on my life would not have been greater nor more certain if He had.
My pilgrimage has been (to borrow the title of a Beatles’ song) a “long and winding road.” I have been exposed to and influenced by a number of Christian traditions. I have served in vocational ministry in several of them. While to some observers, my circuitous journey from Fundamentalism via Evangelicalism and Anabaptism to Anglicanism reflects instability, I prefer to see it as (to borrow the title of a book by Eugene Peterson) a “long obedience in the same direction.”
Many of you know that I was ordained to the priesthood in the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) in May 2011. You may not realize, however, that ordination in this tradition is not generic; that is, a priest receives Holy Orders for the purpose of serving in a particular ministry. In the Free Church tradition where I served for thirty-five years, it was common for recognition of gifts and a call to a place of service to precede credentialing, which could be secured later if and when it was deemed useful or necessary. In the Anglican tradition, at least in my experience, credentialing precedes ministry but with full expectation that a specific ministry, identified at the time of ordination, will soon follow.
I came to the Anglican Church out of a lifetime of vocational ministry in the Free Church tradition. In all that time, I had never had to look for, much less create, a context in which to use my gifts in service to Christ and the Kingdom. More often than not, I needed to choose between several opportunities, any of which would have been a productive, fulfilling ministry. As a Bible college student, I was taught that the greatest ability required for Christian ministry was availability. “If you are available and willing to serve,” I was told, “God will always lead you into a ministry context where you can use your gifts for His glory. The need will always exceed the supply of available servants.”
Imagine my surprise, then, when I was told by a veteran Anglican clergyman very early in the process of discernment and preparation which would eventually lead to my ordination in this tradition, “I have no doubt that you are qualified for Holy Orders. What I don’t know is where we will find a place for you to serve.” This way of thinking runs counter to the principle by which I have lived my life and carried out my ministry for more than thirty-five years.
I simply cannot believe that the inability to “find a place” for me to serve in the Anglican Communion means that there is an absence of need. Rather, I take it to mean that there is a shortage of money. If so, this poses something of a problem for the future of ACNA. I will have much more to say about that in my next few posts.