I love being an Anglican priest. I’ve only been ordained about ten months, and I have not served in regular parish ministry, so there are many aspects of the job which I have not yet experienced first-hand. But I was an ordained minister in the Free Church tradition for forty years before I took Anglican Holy Orders, so I am not a neophyte. Since I love the parts I have been involved in (preaching, celebrating Holy Communion, etc.), I can say that I love the other facets of the work in anticipatio (an ancient Latin phrase I just made up).
Nothing I have ever done as part of a public worship service compares with the pure joy I feel every time I elevate the consecrated bread and wine during the Eucharist and announce, “The gifts of God for the people of God. Take them in remembrance that Christ died for you, and feed on Him in your hearts by faith, with thanksgiving.”
Moreover, the liturgical tradition offers a minister so many resources for use in providing pastoral care to parishioners. I have been saying prayers since I was a child, and I am perfectly capable of composing a prayer in and for most any situation. I have found, however, an abundance of riches in the collection of “set” prayers for all occasions in the Book of Common Prayer, one of the great gifts of God to the Christian community. And during this Lenten season, I have been learning to use the Anglican Rosary, shorter and less complicated than its Catholic counterpart but immensely rewarding and comforting in its own way. I can only imagine the blessing and encouragement that it must be to those who are bedfast or homebound. With resources such as these at my disposal, I feel much more equipped as a pastoral caregiver than I ever did before.
Yes, I love being an Anglican priest. But I don’t necessarily have to be one.
Forty-five years ago, God called me to devote my life to Christian ministry, but He did not stipulate what form that ministry should take. I have been a pastor, an itinerant preacher, a radio broadcaster, a parachurch executive, and a Bible college professor. In each of those roles I have fulfilled my calling, and God has blessed my efforts. When I followed my convictions out of the Mennonite Church, where I had served more than twenty-five years, and into Anglicanism, I naturally assumed that, in time, I would find another context for ministry in which I could be faithful to my calling.
I soon learned that vocational ministry in this tradition most generally requires ordination to the priesthood. (There is an Anglican ministry known as “vocational deacon,” but I have met very few who have chosen to devote their lives to that role.) Administration of many of the sacraments, such as consecration of the bread and wine at the Eucharist, requires the ministry of an ordained priest. And when you think of “vocational ministry” in the Anglican tradition, you most generally assume that means parish ministry, as a rector or vicar. For a variety of reasons, I’m not at all certain that such a role is going to develop for me, yet I am committed to fulfilling my calling in some way.
When I was ordained a priest last May, I was commissioned to plant a new Anglican congregation in the vicinity of the campus of The Ohio State University in Columbus, OH. I have written much about this venture in these blog posts over the past few months. I have shared both my dreams and my frustrations. At this writing, both the dreams and the frustrations continue, undimmed in the first instance and unabated in the second.
I am committed to the discipline of spiritual formation, the variety of ways and means that God employs to “form” us into the image of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. I taught a course by that name in Bible college, my pastoral ministry was characterized by an emphasis on spiritual formation (although I wouldn’t have used that term to describe it in those days), and for the past four years, my life has been caught up in an experience of personal spiritual formation of a specific and intense nature. During that time, God has been “forming” me mainly through the discipline of waiting.
I have reason to believe that the time of waiting is coming to an end and may, in fact, already be over. Here’s the way I see it. Sometimes we get so tired of waiting that we venture out, on our own, without guidance. If God has not directed us to move, we will invariably become lost, exhausted, and discouraged. Then, before we can make further progress, we have to return to the place where we were waiting and continue that holding pattern until God gives us marching orders. Movement on our part, if God has not directed that we move, will never succeed in “forcing God’s hand.” He cannot be compelled to guide us if we move before He signals us to move.
Sometimes, however, that signal comes without specific direction. All we know is that God has indicated it is time to move. In that case, we venture forth, sustained by the confidence that God will direct a moving vehicle if He has let it be known that it is now time to move. I think I have come to that place.
I don’t think my ministry is over. In recent days, I have sensed that more keenly than I have for months, maybe years. I am beginning to feel comfortable talking about ministry opportunities in terms of when God will open those doors, not if He will open them. At the same time, I’ve come to the place where I can accept the possibility that the final chapter of my active ministry may not be as an Anglican priest.
Would that mean that all of the work I did to meet the requirements for Holy Orders would be wasted? Not at all. I learned a lot during those two years of preparation—a lot about God, about ministry, about God’s way of working in the world, and about myself as a pilgrim on a relentless pursuit of authentic faith. I am fully and unequivocally committed to the liturgical tradition. I’m fairly certain that some, perhaps much, of my future ministry will be dedicated to sharing the blessings and benefits of liturgy—for worship, for spiritual formation, and for faithful discipleship in general—with those who are not familiar with that tradition but are interested in learning. And I could not have experienced a more effective or efficient immersion in the tradition than that which has accompanied my preparation for Holy Orders and my experience as a priest since my ordination.
I’m a teacher, by calling, training, and disposition. I’m convinced that, somewhere in the world, my gifts, my experience, my single-minded commitment to the service of Christ and the church can be of use to the Kingdom of God. For that reason, I am exploring every possibility for ministry that God makes me aware of. The time for waiting is past. The time for movement is at hand.
I still believe that the dream of planting a new church near the OSU campus is a worthy goal. The more I ponder it, the more I believe in it, and the more I sense that, someday, it will be a reality. I hope and pray that orthodox Anglicans in central Ohio will not allow this opportunity to slip through their fingers, since I feel certain God will accomplish it through somebody else if the Anglican community doesn’t meet the challenge.
In the meantime, I have started moving again, and that, in itself, is a good feeling.