Anglican Fever: Catch It!

Late last week, the Christian Broadcasting Network posted on its website, CBN.com, a report titled, “Anglican Fever: Youth Flock to New Denomination.” The denomination at the heart of the story was the Anglican Church in North America! (If you’ve not yet seen the report, you can read it and watch the video here.) My thanks to all the folks who forwarded the link to that story to me with their expressed hopes that it would bring me encouragement. It did!

I was actually not surprised by the report. I studied at Wheaton  (IL) College back in the ’80s, and over the years I became well-acquainted with the impact on that campus of the late Robert Webber and his emphasis on “ancient-future” faith. As a direct consequence of Webber’s influence, several orthodox Anglican churches were established in the vicinity of Wheaton, and a sizable percentage of Wheaton’s student body attends one or another of them. Last September, Shirley and I went back to Wheaton for the purpose of visiting the Church of the Resurrection, one of those Anglican churches near the college campus, where 200 Wheaton students attend worship services weekly. It was a wonderful experience!

I also taught college undergrads for fourteen years at a small Mennonite Bible college, and as I was being drawn to Anglicanism from the free church tradition, I began to incorporate references to the value of liturgy into many of my lectures. In my course in Spiritual Formation, each class session started with the Daily Office. Most of my students responded positively to that exposure, and I fully expect some of them to join me on the Canterbury Trail. I feel sure that such a prospect hastened the termination of my contract there, but I have no regrets. I love my new ecclesiastical home, and if God wants to use my example as a way of enabling others to find the spiritual satisfaction and fulfillment which Shirley and I have experienced in Anglicanism, I am both willing and eager to serve His purposes in that way.

The CBN report reinforced my belief that, if the vision for St. Patrick’s Anglican Church ever takes root, it will grow for all the reasons highlighted by that news story. Young people who have come of age in a postmodern American culture are looking for spiritual reality in the context of a tradition which connects with every era of the church’s 2000-year history. Anglicanism offers rich tradition, vibrant liturgy, and cultural relevance, along with a structure for worship which is both formal and flexible. It is tailor-made for postmodern seekers. When all of that is combined with the quality of authenticity which the break with the Episcopal Church has revealed, the prospects for the ministry of ACNA, particularly among college-age young people, ought to be encouraging.

In light of that potentiality, then, this little story may be instructive. I had breakfast this morning with one of my former students who will soon graduate from an evangelical seminary in the free church tradition. (I have tried to encourage him to bring his brilliant intellect and his multiple ministry gifts and join me on the Canterbury Trail, but so far I have not been sufficiently persuasive. I have not given up, however.) Following our meal, he accompanied me to Grandview Heights to see the new office, which he referred to as our “outpost” for the Kingdom in that place.

At one point in our conversation, he asked me, “Why hasn’t the Anglican community in Columbus embraced the vision for St. Patrick’s in a practical and substantive way… with the people and money necessary to establish this church?” I told him of the generous provision from St. Augustine’s Anglican Church to underwrite the cost of renting the office for the first year.  Beyond that, I had no response.

With his question in mind, then, here’s what I think God is telling me to do. (For the germ of this idea I am indebted to my dear friend, Dean Wilson. I once heard the word mentor defined as “a brain to pick, a shoulder to cry on, and a kick in the pants.” That describes Dean to a tee, and yesterday he kindly and graciously administered a gentle and altogether timely boot to my derriere. I am in his debt.)

I had been lamenting that, while it seems that most textbook descriptions of church planters assume an outgoing, entrepreneurial personality, I am more of an introverted academic. Dean reminded me that, if God has called me to be involved in planting St. Patrick’s Church, He expects me to be who I am and use the gifts He has given me. I wish I were more gregarious, I wish there were more people involved with me in this endeavor, I wish I were taller and thinner (just thought I’d throw that one in there). But, as they say, “if wishes were horses, then beggars would ride.”

I’m not an entrepreneurial extravert, but I am a really good teacher. So I need to use my gift as a teacher to help lay the foundation for St. Patrick’s Church and Ministry Center. Here’s how that is going to happen (I hope). Sometime after the first of the year, I am going to announce the dates, time, and location for a series of four sessions of 75 minutes each on the topic of “The Gospel, The Kingdom, and The Church.” The format will be a 40-minute lecture with the rest of the time devoted to Q&A and discussion.

Jesus came preaching “the gospel of the Kingdom,” and a generation after His ascension, that was still the focus of the preaching of Paul. These four sessions will explore the relationship of the “gospel of the Kingdom” to contemporary Christianity and the role of the church in continuing to proclaim and embody the heart of Jesus’s message. They will also give me a chance to present my vision for St. Patrick’s in a setting where I can answer questions and make concrete suggestions for how people can help the vision become reality.

I have much more to say about how St. Patrick’s can help to spread the Anglican fever (along with the gospel of the Kingdom), but this is a first step. Stay tuned, and I hope you’ll be able to attend some or all of the sessions. I’ll keep you posted.

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