A Really, Really Practical Post

Of all the uses to which I have put this blog in the fifteen months I have been writing it, of all the things I have communicated in the previous one hundred thirty-three posts, what I am sharing in this post is the most difficult, most awkward, and most likely to be misinterpreted. Still, I have learned that, when an idea implants itself in my thought processes and intrudes repeatedly into my consciousness over several days, it is likely something I should heed. So, here goes.

For nearly five years, since the door closed on my fourteen years of ministry as an instructor in a small Bible college, I have been asking God to show me what new door He was opening. For a time, I thought I detected a sliver of light through a door slightly ajar. I painstakingly prepared for a ministry within the Anglican tradition. Following my ordination as a priest in May 2011, I spent a year and a half trying to force my way through a door which God was not opening, at least not at this time.

I have written much about my vision for a new church in Columbus, Ohio, near the campus of The Ohio State University. More than a year ago I located a small office for rent Grandview Officein Grandview Heights, the very community in which it seemed that God might be leading us to establish the new church. The circumstances surrounding my discovery of the office’s availability, along with the generosity of the people of St. Augustine’s Anglican Church in assuming the cost of renting the office for one year, led me to conclude that God was in the midst of that enterprise.

The church is not yet a reality. The office did not directly lead to an even greater presence in the community resulting in the formation of a congregation. The vision for the church still lives, but God’s timing, in that regard, is different from mine.

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The Vision Abides

It has now been exactly one year since I set up shop in a small office on 1st Avenue in Grandview Heights, an urban community just west of downtown Columbus, OH. The locals call it simply Grandview, and it is a legal jurisdiction separate from Columbus. It has its own mayor but not its own identity so far as the Post Office is concerned—our mailing Grandview Officeaddress is Columbus, not Grandview; go figure. We chose the community as a potential location for a new church since it is not far from the south-most reaches of the main campus of The Ohio State University. (It also didn’t hurt that my favorite coffee house in all of Columbus is an easy walk down the street from my office.)

The office is simple, even spartan—just one room and a tiny bathroom—on the first floor of a two-story building. (In the picture shown, our office is in the southeast corner, just to the right of the entrance.) Our only neighbor downstairs is the office of the lawyer who owns the building. Upstairs are four small residential apartments. Nothing fancy, but altogether suitable as a place to work, to meet, to think, to change my shoes before walking through the neighborhood. It is a minuscule presence in the community, but it is a presence nonetheless.

The other day my landlord asked me how things were progressing toward our goal of establishing a church in the neighborhood. I told him things were going slow, but I was still there (in the office) and still hopeful. In an entire year, he had never said a word about the potential for St. Patrick’s Church becoming a reality. On this particular day, nearly a year after I moved in, he said, “I wish you well in your efforts, and I hope it really does happen.”

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Upended Expectations

Almost nothing about life after sixty (I’m nearly sixty-three) has turned out the way I expected it would when, as a youngster in my thirties and forties, I would occasionally look ahead to what I might experience when I became a senior citizen.

I expected that I would spend these years well established in some ministry setting, enjoying the fruit of a lifetime of faithful service to the church. I ex- pected that I would be in demand across the country—and maybe around the world—as a conference speaker and itinerant preacher, having built a reputation for effectiveness and impact as a teacher and a pastor.

I never expected to lose my job as a Bible college instructor at age fifty-eight and, consequently, to join the ranks of the long-term unemployed. I never expected to retire. In fact, I don’t really think that retirement is a biblical concept. I certainly never expected to be forced into an early retirement, for which I am woefully ill-prepared, both economically and psychologically.

I never expected that my only daughter would enter her thirties as a single mother, nor that my wife would enter her sixties as a cancer survivor. And I never expected that, forty-two years after I was ordained a minister at Elkview Baptist Church near Charleston, WV, I would feel so spiritually homeless and estranged from organized religion.

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Going Silent… For A While, Anyway

This is my 114th blog post. That comes out to more than ten posts per month since I started this blog last October. More than 150,000 words, which is about the same number as in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer combined. Before I started the blog, some friends had encouraged me to write a book, but I didn’t know if I had that much to say. I couldn’t believe that I could write that many words. Now I know that I can.

As I said, this is my 114th blog post. It is also my last… for a while, at least.

It isn’t that I have run out of something to say. Anybody who knows me well will tell you that I almost never run out of things to say. It isn’t that I am finding it difficult to put my thoughts into words. I haven’t developed a case of “writer’s block.” It also isn’t that I have fallen into a pit of despondency and am too depressed to write. I’ve written about my tendencies in that direction, what Abraham Lincoln called “a misfortune, not a fault.” Actually, writing this blog has helped me deal with dark days like that, and I almost always feel better after I have published a blog post.

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An Outpost For The Kingdom

One week ago, I was in Washington, DC, where I attended a day-long conference on the campus of Georgetown University. The conference was called “Evangelicals for Peace: A Summit on Christian Moral Responsi- bility in the 21st Century.” It was time well-spent, and I will have much more to say about what I learned and experienced there, but I think I will hold off on that commentary until after Election Day. The issues addressed at that conference are far too important to be diluted or misinterpreted or ignored amid the clamor of propaganda and demagoguery, from both sides of the ideological spectrum, that assails the senses and clogs the airwaves and the internet during this highly-charged political season.

I mention this event because of a conversation I had while I was there. I was seated next to a gentleman who serves on the staff of the International Criminal Court, and as we chatted during the break times throughout the day, our exchange became progressively more substantive. During the mid-afternoon break, I shared with him, as succinctly as I could, my vision for a new church in the vicinity of The Ohio State University.

I described the yet-to-be-birthed congregation, which we are calling St. Patrick’s Church, as a community of faith in the Anglican tradition, established on a foundation of evangelical orthodoxy and committed to radical discipleship. And then I used a term which I don’t think I have ever used before. At least not often. I said, “We want St. Patrick’s to be what every church should be but few really are… an outpost for the Kingdom of God.”

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The Past Is Prologue (or How Anabaptism Continues To Influence This Anglican)

I’ve told this story before. A couple of years ago I took a graduate-level course in the history of Anglicanism. One day, well into the course curriculum, I found myself responding, yet again, to what I perceived to be an unwarranted and misguided criticism, from one of my fellow-students, of some aspect of the Free Church tradition, where I had spent more than thirty-five years in vocational ministry.

After several minutes of “spirited” exchange, the professor waded into the fray. After confirming that my learned opponent was indeed misguided in his critique, at least on that particular point, the instructor leaned across the lectern and looked directly at me. “You’re not an Anglican,” he said. It wasn’t a judgment or an accusation, and there was not one note of rancor in his voice. He was simply making an observation. “You’re not an Anglican,” he repeated. “You’re a liturgical Anabaptist.”

He later explained that he wasn’t challenging my commitment to Anglicanism nor suggesting that I should not be preparing for Holy Orders. Rather, he was voicing his opinion that my Anabaptist convictions were so deeply ingrained that they naturally informed my response to criticism of the Free Church tradition and infused it with passion. I have to say I think he was right.

Last winter I wrote a blog post called “My Debt to Anabaptism.” I meant everything I wrote there. Since that time, however, I have had occasion to think more about my quarter-century sojourn among Mennonite Anabaptists, the lessons I learned and the convictions I developed there, and the relationship of that chapter of my pilgrimage to my current identification as an Anglican priest.

One such opportunity was occasioned when I heard that Gene Herr had died. In response, I wrote a blog post called “Gene Herr Was My Hero” to express my appreciation for the testimony and example of a man who grew up as a Mennonite Anabaptist but was drawn toward the liturgical tradition later in his life. I admired his courage in following his convictions and his insistence that these two traditions could strengthen each other.

More recently I stumbled onto the online musings of Tim Chesterton, an Anglican priest in Canada, who developed an interest in historical Anabaptism and its contemporary expressions and drew conclusions similar to those of Gene Herr regarding the compatibility of Anabaptism with the liturgical tradition and the mutual benefit which he believed Anabaptism and his own Anglican heritage could be to each other. He spent a sabbatical studying Anabaptism and compiled his conclusions into a series of blog posts. I found them fascinating.

All of this convinced me that I needed to write another post in which I would update the conclusions I expressed in my earlier post. This, then, is that.

My professor was right. I am a liturgical Anabaptist. I might still be a Mennonite if I could have found a place, within the particular group of Mennonites with whom I was serving, where my growing convictions regarding the importance of the liturgical tradition would be acknowledged and appreciated. Finding no place like that, I had no choice but to turn in another direction. I became an Anglican with Anabaptist convictions instead of an Anabaptist with liturgical sensibilities.

I love Anglican worship, and I don’t think I could ever feel at home again in a tradition in which the celebration of the Eucharist (Holy Communion) was not the pinnacle of the church’s corporate worship. At the same time, I miss a lot that I had come to love and appreciate as an Anabaptist. Yes, I miss the tradition of a capella congregational singing which some Mennonite churches still cherish. And, oddly enough, I miss the sense of “family-ness” which pervades much of the Mennonite community, even though I always felt that I was a guest at the table and not really a member of the family.

Here’s what I miss most about Anabaptism, however. I miss the serious conversation I used to engage in with other Anabaptists, many of them my colleagues in ministry, concerning the interface between the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels, their interpretation by Paul and others in the NT Epistles, and their practical application amidst the contemporary culture. I didn’t always agree with my fellow Anabaptists, but I always respected their viewpoint (even though I’m certain that more than a few of them would be surprised to hear me say that).

Like most traditions, and like me when I was serving among them, Anabaptist Christians talk a better game than they play. But I miss talking that game with them, and I’ve concluded that, at least sometimes, the more you talk about something the more likely you are to do something as a result.

My experience among Anabaptists sharpened my sensitivity to injustice in the world and strengthened my convictions regarding “biblical nonresistance.” (See Matthew 5:43-48.) That is a perspective almost completely absent from the circle of colleagues among whom I move as an Anglican. I miss it terribly. (It is not absent from Anglican sensibilities altogether, however, as this quote by Desmond Tutu illustrates.)

So, in this update to my post titled “My Debt to Anabaptism,” I am going on record to declare that, whatever the context of my future ministry as an Anglican priest, I will be making it clear that the shape of my Anglicanism will be strongly informed by my Anabaptist convictions. And now that I know that men like Gene Herr and Tim Chesterton share my convictions in that regard and have left a written record to serve as precedent for me, I am even more energized and encouraged.

In The Tempest, Shakespeare wrote that “what’s past is prologue.” I don’t know how long I still have to serve Christ and His Kingdom, but whether it is two weeks or thirty years, I plan to serve it as an Anglican Anabaptist (or should that be an Anabaptist Anglican?). I am totally convinced that my pilgrimage has not been a series of disjointed meanderings. I feel enriched and empowered by my exposure to these two traditions—Anabaptism and Anglicanism—into which God has providentially guided me over the past thirty-five years. They are not mutually exclusive. They are, in fact, mutually beneficial, and I am grateful to God for allowing me to experience the benefits of both communions… separately in the past and blended in my future ministry.

For some specific descriptions of ways in which this union of Anabaptism and Anglicanism may manifest itself it my future ministry, stay tuned to my future blog posts. Thank you for reading, and as always…

Soli Deo Gloria.

Right Thing, Wrong Way (Part Two)

Instead of being a counter-cultural community, the evangelical Christian community, of which I am a part, is taking its cues from the prevailing culture.  As we do, we are always a step behind the culture so we look like we are hurrying to catch up.

For example, much of the culture has recognized the inadequacy of the modernism which arose from the Enlightenment and has moved beyond its sterile secularism to the nebulous and narcissistic “spirituality” of post-modernism.  The church, however, is showing signs that it has fallen under the influence of the very secularism which the prevailing culture has rejected.

Sixteen years ago, a group calling itself the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals published something called “The Cambridge Declaration,” in which they fairly and accurately assessed the state of contemporary evangelical Christianity.  In it they wrote:

As evangelical faith becomes secularized, its interests have been blurred with those of the culture.  The result is a loss of absolute values, permissive individualism, and a substitution of wholeness for holiness, recovery for repentance, intuition for truth, feeling for belief, chance for providence, and immediate gratification for enduring hope.  Christ and His cross have moved from the center of our vision.

And again, Lesslie Newbigin:

What is required of us is faithfulness in word and deed, at whatever the cost; faithfulness in action for truth, for justice, for mercy, for compassion; faithfulness in speaking the name of Jesus when the time is right, bearing witness, by explicit word as occasion rises, to God Whose we are and Whom we serve.  There are situations where the word is easy and the deed is costly; there are situations where the deed is easy and the word is costly.  Whether in word or in deed, what is required in every situation is that we be faithful to Him who said to His disciples: “As the Father sent me, so I send you,” and showed them His hands and His side.

The contemporary evangelical church in America has sold out to the prevailing “spirit of the age”—consumerism.  Doesn’t anyone see the irony in multi-million dollar church campuses—complete with health clubs, coffee shops, and state-of-the-art media technology—led by highly paid staffs of specialists whose training and experience is more likely to be from the world of business than from a theological seminary—all supposedly involved in service to the One Who said, “Take up your cross and follow me.”

Brothers and sisters, we are doing the right thing but in a decidedly wrong way.

Henri Nouwen, in a book titled In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership, reminds us:

Real theological thinking, which is thinking with the mind of Christ, is hard to find in the practice of ministry.  Without solid theological reflection, future leaders will be little more than pseudo-psychologists, pseudo-sociologists, pseudo-social workers.  They will think of themselves as enablers, facilitators, role models, father or mother figures, big brothers or big sisters, and so on, and thus join the countless men and women who make a living by trying to help their fellow human beings to cope with the stresses and strains of everyday living.

But that has little to do with Christian leadership because the Christian leader thinks, speaks, and acts in the name of Jesus who came to free humanity from the power of death and open the way to eternal life.  To be such a leader it is essential to be able to discern from moment to moment how God acts in human history and how personal, communal, national, and international events that occur during our lives can make us more and more sensitive to the ways in which we are led to the cross and through the cross to the resurrection.

It used to be that pastors were called to service on the basis of their knowledge of scripture, their spiritual insight, and their personal holiness of character.  Today a pastor needs to be a motivator more than a mentor, a psychologist more than a prophet, more familiar with technology than with theology.

In his book, The Technological Society, Jacques Ellul has written…

In our technological society, technique is the totality of methods rationally arrived at and having absolute efficiency (for a given stage of development) in every field of human activity. … The machine has made itself master of the heart and brain both of the average man and of the mob.  What excites the crowd?  Performance—whether performance in sports or economic performance, in reality these are the same thing.  Technique is the instrument of performance.  What is important is to go higher and faster; the object of the performance means little.  The act is sufficient unto itself.  Modern man can think only in figures, and the higher the figures, the greater the satisfaction.

This is not authentic Christianity, but it does help to explain the line in Os Guinness’s book, Dining With the Devil, where he quotes a Japanese businessman who asks a visiting Australian Christian, “Why is it that, whenever I meet a Buddhist leader, I meet a holy man, but whenever I meet a Christian leader, I meet a manager?”

More anon.

My Life, The Laboratory

For fourteen years I taught a variety of courses as a member of the faculty at a small, Mennonite Bible college. The only course I taught in every one of those years was called Life of Christ. Unlike many of my courses—Apologetics, Systematic Theology, Spiritual Formation, for example—which required some explanation as to what, exactly, they involved, Life of Christ was a course whose name accurately reflected its content. It was a summary of the roughly thirty-three years of earthly existence in human form by Jesus of Nazareth, the narrative for which is contained in the four Gospels of the New Testament.

Each year I would seek to tie the major events of Jesus’ life together in a way that encouraged the students to explore the interrelationship between them and not simply regard them as a collection of disparate experiences to be examined in isolation from each other. For example, I believed it was important for students to recognize the vital relationship between the Baptism of Jesus and the subsequent event in the chronology of His life—His Temptation.

I taught my students that, at Jesus’ baptism, when the voice of God the Father rang out, “You are my beloved Son; in You I am well pleased,” Jesus’ identity as the Messiah was confirmed undeniably. Shortly thereafter, when Jesus faced the temptations which were thrust upon Him by the Adversary, the reason for that experience was to establish what kind of Messiah He would be. That is, would He use His divine power to serve His own interests, or would He remain faithful to the purpose for which He had come to earth—i.e. to announce the Kingdom of God and, through His sacrificial death on the cross, to make a way for sinful humans to enter the Kingdom?

Recently, I’ve thought a lot about the relationship between those two events in Jesus’ life. I’ve concluded that it can help me understand and appreciate the course of my own life over the past five or six years. Here’s what I mean.

I lived a relatively uneventful life for more than fifty years. As a senior in high school, I received a call from God to devote my life to vocational Christian ministry. I set out to prepare myself to fulfill that call—first in a Bible college, then at a Christian liberal arts college, and finally in a Mennonite seminary. I served in the pastorate, as a broadcaster, and as the staff executive for a parachurch ministry. In 1994, I joined the faculty of the aforementioned Bible college, where I taught until 2008. Those fourteen years comprised, by far, the most fulfilling and satisfying period of my entire ministry up to this point.

In my classes I was able to share concepts and principles which I had come to believe through decades of life experience, and to examine them and test them—at least intellectually—far more fully than I would ever have had opportunity to do as a pastor. The more my students pushed me to defend the principles I was teaching, the more I enjoyed the classroom dynamic, and the happier I was as a teacher.

In truth, much of what I taught was more theory than practice. That is, my “life experience,” much of which had come through my years as a pastor, was largely my observation of people who were going through times of stress and pain. I can now see that, comparatively, I had actually faced very little pain in my own life. For example, I had preached scores of funerals in my years as a pastor—once, as pastor of a large Mennonite church in Virginia, I preached four funerals in five days—but I had never lost a member of my immediate family.

Then, in early 2005, my mother fell ill. She ultimately died in late 2007, after nearly three years of suffering, complicated by what I now believe was a misdiagnosis of her condition early on. Despite my years of experience as a pastor, I was not prepared for the immense pain—physically for Mom and emotionally for the family—which we would need to endure. In some ways, it continues to this day.

Everybody will face the sorrow of losing family members at some time. My experience is different only in the particulars. My situation was complicated a bit by the fact that, between January 2007 and June 2008, in addition to my mother’s passing, our unmarried daughter gave birth to our grandson, I lost my job, and my wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. I’ve mentioned these things before, and I do so again in this context, not to gain your sympathy, but to lay the foundation for the point of this blog post.

Jesus left the Jordan, where He had been baptized, and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where He confronted the temptations from the Adversary, and where He would undergo a severe testing of His relationship with His Father. My own experience is miniscule by comparison, and I entertain no messianic delusions, but there are some similarities.

My mother died almost forty-one years to the day from the date on which I preached my first sermon, as a high school senior, at Ivydale Baptist Church in October 1966. Over the course of those years, I had made some dramatic pronouncements concerning the expectations God had every right to make of those who professed to follow Jesus as Savior and Lord. From church pulpits and classroom lecterns I had preached and taught the cross-bearing ethic of Jesus and the radical nature of Christian discipleship. In 2007, to a degree I had never experienced before, God said to me, “Let’s see if you really believe what you’ve been preaching all these years.”

And let me tell you, I almost failed the test. In fact, the final grade hasn’t yet been recorded, and some days it is not at all clear to me that I am going to pass.

Students of science, especially, are familiar with courses in which they spend part of their time in the lecture hall and part in the laboratory. They learn theory in the lecture hall, and they test it in the lab. Well, my life has entered its laboratory phase. Almost every day I am forced to confront the intersection of some principle which I taught from the pulpit or lectern with the reality of my experience in the present. Many days, that intersection is the scene of a massive collision from which, so far, I have emerged, although not always unscathed.

You’ve no doubt heard the aphorism: “Those who can, do; those who cannot, teach.” What a load of rubbish, clearly concocted by someone who had never been a teacher, at least never a good one. It used to be that, whenever I would hear somebody quote that saying about the contrast between doing and teaching, I would respond with something like, “Effective teaching IS doing, you moron.” (Those last two words I would say only in my head, mostly.)

I still believe that. Effective teaching really IS doing something significant which makes a vital contribution to our culture. BUT teachers—especially those who aspire to be teachers of Biblical content and spiritual truth—need to keep in mind the caveat issued by St. James in his New Testament letter.

Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. (James 3:1, NIV)

At the end of the day, we who believe we are called to the ministry of teaching need to be aware that, in all likelihood, God will reinforce the truth of our words by subjecting us to a test of those truths in our own lives. At least, I’m pretty sure that is what has been happening in my life over the past five years. I should have paid more attention to James.

Anglican Ordination: One Year Later

I once heard a public speaker, after he had received a moving and laudatory introduction, begin his speech like this. “After that wonderful introduction, I can hardly wait to hear what I am going to say.”

I feel that way as I sit down to write this post. I really have no idea what all I am going to say about this subject, but I can hardly wait to find out.

On Tuesday, May 10, 2011, The Rt. Rev. +Roger Ames, Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of the Great Lakes, laid his hands on my head and ordained me for ministry as a priest in the Anglican Church in North America. It marked the culmination of a five-year transition from a lifetime of ministry in the Free Church tradition (more than twenty-five years among Mennonites) into Anglicanism and the liturgical tradition.

Shirley and I attended worship in an Episcopal church (St. Matthew’s in Westerville, OH) for the first time, in July 2006. At the time, I was heading into my thirteenth year as a member of the faculty at a small, Mennonite Bible college located northwest of Columbus. It was not our first experience with liturgical worship, but it did represent a turning point. From that moment, we became aware that our spiritual pilgrimage had taken a dramatic turn which would ultimately yield life-changing consequences.

By the time we had attended services at St. Matthew’s off and on for more than a year, we knew that we were “hooked” on liturgy. (I have written, in earlier blog posts, about the profound effect of liturgy on my spiritual life at a moment when, owing to my circumstances, I was close to abandoning organized religion altogether.) We knew that we could never return to a pattern of worship that did not include the liturgical elements which we had come to appreciate so deeply, especially the weekly celebration of the Eucharist or Holy Communion.

As I have noted many times in this blog, God called me to vocational ministry more than forty years ago. I was born into a Fundamentalist home, moved to a more mainstream Evangelicalism early in my ministry, then embraced the “radical discipleship” of Anabaptism in the 1980s. In each tradition, and apart from my own efforts to control events or orchestrate circumstances,  I was called, by the people of God, into roles of ministry where my gifts and abilities found productive and meaningful expression. In each case, my ministry opportunity was accompanied by financial compensation, so that I was able to make a living as I served God and His people—the very definition of “vocational ministry.”

As God made it clear that Shirley and I should move from Anabaptism to Anglicanism, so far as a context for worship was concerned, it seemed only logical, given the pattern I just described, to assume that our identification with the Anglican communion would result in our being drawn or led to a setting in which my ministry gifts could be put to use. (And, I had reason to believe, where my service would generate some financial compensation.)

We received the Sacrament of Confirmation in April 2009. Within a few months, I embarked on the process of preparing for Anglican Holy Orders and was ordained a (Transitional) Deacon in February 2011. Not quite three months later, I was ordained a Priest. Along with conferring Holy Orders, Bishop +Ames commissioned me to plant a new church west of downtown Columbus, OH, in the vicinity of The Ohio State University. That remains our goal, although our progress toward the goal has been incremental, at best, for reasons I have outlined in earlier blog posts.

Compared with my experience in ministry in the Free Church tradition, my time as an Anglican priest has, so far, been enigmatic—as fraught with discouragement and frustration as it has been satisfying and rewarding. Irony abounds. For example, had the Episcopal Church been our only portal to the liturgical tradition, we would have long since retreated from this path. I would never have been ordained an Episcopal priest. But the phenomenon which has made it possible for me to identify with Anglicanism—namely, the emergence of an orthodox and Evangelical province known as the Anglican Church in North America—has also resulted in ex-Episcopal parishes which are top-heavy with clergy, financially overburdened, and so locally and inwardly focused that there is almost no environment in which a transplant such as myself, with no network of contacts and no personal resources, can take root and flourish.

Still there have been a few “heaven on earth” moments. Just this past Sunday, I was asked to travel to Erie, PA, to preach and celebrate Communion for a group of Presbyterians who are seeking God’s direction regarding their future relationship to the broader church. They wanted the service to be “authentically Anglican,” and it was—Book of Common Prayer, Rite II, virtually without variance from the liturgy, more “Anglican” than some of the Anglican services I have been in over the past year. My spirit soared as I prayed the prayer of consecration over the bread and the cup, and, as is always the case when I celebrate Eucharist, I was almost overcome with gratitude and joy as I raised the elements and declared them to be “the gifts of God for the people of God.”

And so, I haven’t quite found my “niche” as an Anglican priest, but I have no doubts that, as I followed the winding and arduous path to Holy Orders, I was led by God every step of the way. As my grandfather might have said, I may not yet be in the right row, but I’m sure I’m in the right patch.

So there you have it… my reflections on my first year as an ordained Anglican priest. There is always more to say, but I think this is enough for now. I said, at the outset, that I could hardly wait to read what I was going to write on this subject. Having now both written and read it, I am glad I have done both. And I thank you for sharing the experience with me. Soli Deo Gloria.

One Heck Of A Ride

On May 12, Shirley and I will celebrate our thirty-ninth wedding anniversary. Over the course of my life, many things have turned out differently from what I might have expected, and by “differently” I mean “less than expected.” My marriage, however, has exceeded my expectations in every way, thanks mainly to the grace, forbearance, and loving character of the woman it was my good fortune to marry back in 1973.

She is the most tirelessly selfless and self-giving person I have ever met. I have never heard her speak ill of another person, and her capacity for compassion and empathy knows no bounds. She is consistently kind and generous to everyone she meets and constitutionally incapable of holding a grudge.

Shortly after I enrolled in seminary many years ago, one of my professors described Shirley as “the stereotypical pastor’s wife” (and he meant it as a compliment). Whenever we have left one field of ministry in order to move on to a new area of service, people have routinely said, “We’re going to miss you, Eric… but we’re really going to miss Shirley.”

Before moving to Ohio twelve years ago, we lived in Virginia nearly twenty years. Before that, during the early years of our marriage when I was completing my college and seminary degrees, we lived in five other states in seven years. We have never owned property, which is one reason we have lived in twenty-seven different houses or apartments over the course of our married life. In all of this moving, from house to house and from state to state, I have never heard Shirley complain about not having “a place of our own.” She may very well be the least materialistic human being ever to walk on God’s green earth.

My grandfather always counseled me to marry “above myself.” I think he had in mind relative wealth and social standing. Both Shirley and I come from lower-middle class, blue-collar homes. So with regard to money and status, neither of us married “above” the other. In terms of personality traits and those characteristics which combine to make someone a “good person,” however, I hit the jackpot when I married her, and I know I made Gramps proud.

I have been in vocational ministry all of our married life, except for the years I was a full-time student and a few brief periods between ministries when I took a “secular” job to help tide us over. In that regard, Shirley knew what she was getting into when she married me. We never expected to be generously compensated for our ministry, but then again, we didn’t choose this line of work “for the money.” In fact, we didn’t choose this line of work at all. God called us into it, both of us together, and Shirley has never uttered even one syllable of dissatisfaction or regret—she has never lamented over “what might have been.” In fact, when our circumstances have been particularly grim, and I have been tempted to change fields and pursue some other occupation, it is Shirley who has consistently reminded me, “Remember your calling.”

Faithfulness to my calling and sensitivity to the leading of the Holy Spirit have not always resulted in positive outcomes or satisfying situations, at least not according to the standard by which professional success and accomplishment are usually measured. We began our ministry pilgrimage in Fundamentalism nearly forty years ago. Soon after we were married, we moved to the “kinder and gentler” environment of more mainstream Evangelicalism. Some years later, in response to the “nudging” of the Spirit toward a more radical expression of Christian discipleship, I enrolled in an Anabaptist seminary, and that led to more than twenty-five years of ministry among Mennonites. Eventually we were drawn to the mystery and beauty and reverence of the liturgical tradition in worship, and we sensed a need to identify with a communion which valued contributions from all twenty centuries of church history. That’s when we became Anglicans.

Transitions of this sort are not easy. In our case they have often been traumatic and emotionally painful. Each transition has resulted in damage to relationships with those who could not understand why we were “abandoning” them for something new. Those who had most warmly received us when we first joined them were often the most critical when we left. And of course, it took (and is taking) considerable time to feel at home in the new communion. Confidence had to be won, networks had to be rebuilt, feelings of suspicion and doubts about motivation had to be overcome.

We are in the middle of a period of adjustment and finding our place in a new communion right now. It is very, very difficult—more difficult than similar experiences in the past. Without Shirley, I would not make it. I am too old, too tired, too cynical. I don’t suffer fools gladly. I have little patience with those who waste my time, and I constantly chafe under the perception that my current situation is mainly “treading water” until God opens a door for active ministry once again. In all of this, Shirley has been, and remains, a rock to lean on, the one sure and unchanging human presence in my life.

I have been unemployed for four years, ever since my position on the faculty of a Mennonite Bible college was terminated owing to my turn in the direction of Anglicanism and the liturgical tradition. Two weeks after I lost my job, Shirley was diagnosed with breast cancer. Since my health insurance ended with my employment, Shirley had to continue to work full-time through the months of her treatment (including surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation) in order to maintain insurance coverage for our astronomical medical bills. I could never have done what she did, and all without one word of complaint, even when she was so sick that death seemed almost preferable to the side effects of treatment.

This is the woman that God, in His great mercy and grace, gave to me. And to my dying day, words will be inadequate to express my gratitude to Him and my love and respect and appreciation for her. It’s been one heck of a ride, and it’s not over yet.