Everyone has heard some version of this story. A man is forced up to the roof of his house as the flood waters rise around him. He is very religious, so he prays for God to save him, and he is convinced God will do a miracle in his behalf. Soon a man in a rowboat comes by and invites the man on the roof to get in. “No thanks,” the man says. “I have prayed to God, and He will take care of me.”
The water continues to rise. A man in a speedboat comes by and tries to convince the man to get in. “No thanks,” the man says. “I have prayed to God, and He will take care of me.” He says the same thing to the pilot of a helicopter who offers to drop a rope ladder and lift him to safety.
Finally, the raging torrent sweeps the man away, and he drowns. As he stands before St. Peter, he is angry and indignant. “I prayed to God for a miracle. Why didn’t He save me?” St. Peter, incredulous, replies, “He sent you two boats and a helicopter. What more did you expect?”
Sometimes the answer to our prayers can be, as they say, hidden in plain view. That may very well be true in my own situation just now.
For several months I have been praying that God would “do a miracle” in order to raise up a group of people who would share my vision for a new church in the vicinity of Ohio State University and would commit themselves to join Shirley and me in that endeavor. During this time, we have been attending the worship services at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church.
St. Augustine’s is a brand new church. It meets in a large classroom of a local college on the northeast side of the Columbus metro area. The priest-in-charge of this fledgling work is the Rev. Kevin Maney. Kevin and I had met when he was on the pastoral staff of another Anglican church in the Columbus area, and Shirley and I worshipped there.
A few months ago, sensing that I was becoming discouraged by the fact that no core group of vision-sharers was emerging to help establish St. Patrick’s Church near the OSU campus, Fr. Kevin’s wife, Dondra, invited us to worship at St. Augustine’s until St. Patrick’s was ready to begin public services of its own. At the time, I did not realize how much of a godsend this would turn out to be.
I was discouraged. At the urging of some leaders with church planting experience, I had written a detailed prospectus, outlining the vision for St. Patrick’s, and had distributed it to several dozen people with whom I had been associated during the process of preparing for Holy Orders in the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA). I had poured my heart into that document, and yet there was almost no response. Nobody came forward to own the vision and join the work. Nobody offered to help defray the expenses that are common to every new venture of this sort.
The ACNA is a new denomination, not yet three years old. Likewise the Anglican Diocese of the Great Lakes, of which both St. Augustine’s and St. Patrick’s will be members. Both the denomination and the diocese are possessed of great vision but with limited resources to carry out the vision. Many of the constituent parishes of the new church came out of the Episcopal Church (TEC). Many were forced to surrender their church buildings and other properties in the process. I know that finances are tight.
I personally believe, however, that too much is being made of the “newness” factor. It’s true that, if we use the Episcopal Church as the model for how finances are to be allocated in parish life, the new church (ACNA) doesn’t have sufficient resources readily available to maintain all existing parishes and plant 1,000 new churches by 2014 (the Archbishop’s vision). ACNA parishes simply will not be able to fund building construction and maintenance and staff salaries at the same level they were accustomed to when they were part of TEC. Especially not if existing parishes are going to do the right thing in helping new parishes to get started so that the Gospel of the Kingdom and the testimony of the Anglican Church can reach new people and extend into new areas. There will need to be some belt-tightening. Some previously well-compensated clergy will have to take a hit for the cause in the form of a reduction in pay. It’s what you do in a missionary church, and that is what ACNA is… or aspires to be.
This “missionary spirit” is precisely what I have observed at St. Augustine’s. Just a few weeks after Shirley and I began attending services there, Fr. Kevin informed me that the church leadership decided they wanted to underwrite the cost of renting office space for St. Patrick’s in Grandview Heights, the area on the west side of downtown Columbus where we hope to see that church planted. I was overwhelmed. I still am.
Last Sunday, at Fr. Kevin’s invitation, I preached and celebrated the Eucharist at St. Augustine’s. I cannot describe the joy that filled my heart as I had the privilege to serve in this way once again. I didn’t realize how much I had missed it. Following that service, Fr. Kevin asked if I would agree to preach and celebrate at St. Augustine’s on a regular basis until St. Patrick’s gets “on its feet.” I have decided to accept that invitation, with deep gratitude, and will probably preach about once a month. As soon as a schedule is finalized, I will let you know. Perhaps some of our friends in the Columbus area, who know me from other settings and are involved in churches of their own, will nevertheless want to visit St. Augustine’s on occasion.
So, here’s what I mean by “a slightly different route to the same destination.” Shirley and I have decided to join forces with the folks at St. Augustine’s and do everything we can to help that church grow and prosper as an agent of the Kingdom of God—touching people’s lives, preaching a message of hope and restoration, reaching out to the community with the good news of God’s transforming grace. In the process we will continue to pray that God will raise up a committed core of believers who will own the vision for St. Patrick’s and join us in that endeavor.
I want to make this clear. We are not giving up on St. Patrick’s or the vision God has given us to plant a church that will reach the OSU community from its base in a local neighborhood. I have always believed, however, that the scenario most likely to succeed in bringing this vision to reality was one in which St. Patrick’s is “birthed” by a “mother church”—one that will provide covering and encouragement and resources for the new work, especially in its infancy. It may very well be that part of God’s plan for St. Augustine’s includes enabling it to fill that role in relation to the vision for St. Patrick’s.
Whatever the future holds, I am pleased and honored to endorse the ministry of St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, and I encourage all my friends and acquaintances to pray regularly for God’s blessing on this new work. At the moment it is small, but it has a big heart and, most importantly, a desire to serve Christ and His Kingdom in a way that meets needs and touches lives.
In future posts I will expand upon the ways we will continue to cultivate the vision for St. Patrick’s. Some of that will include plans for developing the St. Patrick Center, a ministry which will serve not only the Columbus area but, potentially, the entire diocese and the ACNA.
In the meantime, thanks for your continued prayers for Shirley and me. Our transition from the free church tradition to Anglicanism has been far more arduous than we had expected. There have been days when we have asked ourselves if it was worth it. At least for today, however, we are encouraged and expectant and are beginning to believe, once again, that God may still use us in ministry for some time to come. If that turns out to be true, we will be so grateful, both to God and to the many of you who have never ceased to pray for us as you have followed our pilgrimage—in pursuit of authentic faith and in response to the guiding hand of God.
Soli Deo Gloria