A Farewell To Anglicanism

Most of the readers of this blog are not Anglicans and do not come from a liturgical or Prayer Book tradition. Rather, they identify with the Free Church tradition in American Christianity, represented by denominations such as Baptists and Mennonites, quasi-denominational networks such as the Vineyard churches, and multitudes of congregations which classify themselves as independent or non-denominational. I grew up in that tradition but, as I have noted countless times in these blog posts, about ten years ago my wife and I began to be drawn toward a more liturgical form of public worship. That led, in time, to our confirmation as Anglicans and, in the spring of 2011, to my ordination as an Anglican priest.

As I reported in a post on November 9, my credentials as a priest have recently been de-activated by my request, I have been released from both the privileges and responsibilities conferred upon me by my Bishop when I was ordained a priest, and I am no longer authorized to carry out sacramental ministries (such as celebration of the Eucharist) in congregations associated with the Anglican Church in North America.

A few of my readers have asked me to say a bit more about that matter, including what led me to request “laicization” only eighteen months after ordination, and what all of this means for my future ministry. I have decided to use this post (which is far longer than usual) to address some of these issues, and then I intend to move in an altogether different direction in future posts.

Continue reading

I Heard The Voice Of God

Last Friday I published a blog post in which I announced that the Bishop of my diocese had granted my request to be released from my ordination vows. Although I remain, technically, a priest in God’s One, Holy, Catholic (i.e. “universal”), and Apostolic Church, I have been “laicized.” That is, I can no longer carry out sacramental duties—such as celebrating Eucharist—in any church which is part of the Anglican Church in North America.

I will, most likely, be saying more about the events and circumstances which produced this result, but not today. Today I want to share with you something of inestimable value which I came to appreciate more deeply as a result of this recent experience. God has blessed me with something so incredibly precious that I simply cannot keep it to myself.

I’m talking about friends, but not just any friends. Friends who know God and allow themselves to be the channel for a word from God to me. Friends through whom I hear the voice of God.

Continue reading

My Hope Is In The Diocese

Like many Christians, I grew up with what I now believe to be a grossly deficient view of the role and purpose of the church. My parents were Baptists. I was baptized, and eventually ordained, in that tradition, which is characterized by a strongly congregational polity (i.e. form or system of government). That is, while Baptist churches may link together for certain kinds of cooperative endeavors, each local congregation is viewed as an autonomous entity, not subject to any kind of outside authority so far as its decision-making apparatus is concerned.

In some Baptist churches, the form of government in the local congregation is something close to a pure democracy, where a vote of the membership is required for virtually every decision of any significance. Others operate under a system in which the pastor, as the lone “elder” in the church, pretty well runs the show, assisted to some degree by a board of “deacons” who presumably advise the pastor and, in rare cases, may actually possess sufficient authority to override a pastoral decision.

A similar polity is favored by “independent, non-denominational” churches, many of which use terms like “Bible Church” or “Community Church” in their names. My first two pastorates were served in churches of this sort, without denominational identity but decidedly congregational in polity. I was in my thirties before I began to think of “church” as anything other than a local, autonomous assembly, responsible for its own program, accountable to nobody except its own membership, and sometimes not even to them.

Well, that’s not entirely true. As a Bible college graduate, I understood the term “church” to be used in the New Testament with reference to the “body of Christ,” composed of all Christians, everywhere, across the centuries of “church” history. But this “universal church” was sometimes called the “invisible church,” and a church that you could not see was, in practical terms, nonexistent. The only church I knew anything about, so far as personal experience was concerned, was a local, independent entity, operating according to its own perception of Christian doctrine, and often in competition with similar local churches in the same general area.

Eventually, I came to believe that affiliation with a local church assembly alone, to the exclusion of formal and official identification with a broader, more diverse community of Christian believers (as in a denomination), revealed an inadequate understanding of the concept of the church as the “body of Christ.” I had read the Nicene Creed, with its declaration that “we believe in one holy, catholic, and apostolic church,” and I wanted to do something, in terms of formal identification and official membership, which reflected my commitment to that church.

The proliferation of Christian denominations, I maintain, is one negative consequence of the Protestant Reformation. Thus it is not possible, in organizational and institutional terms, to identify formally and officially with the “one holy, catholic, and apostolic church.” Even the Roman Catholic Church, since Vatican II, recognizes that there are genuine Christian believers not covered by its umbrella. The best we can do, or so it would seem, is to identify with a denomination—ideally one with worldwide membership—which also recognizes its place within the family of churches, denominations, fellowships, coalitions, and alliances which, ostensibly, worship Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord and King of the Universe.

That was the decision to which I came, nearly thirty years ago, when I became a member of what is now Mennonite Church USA. MCUSA is a tiny denomination, but it is linked to a worldwide Mennonite/Anabaptist network. Moreover, at the time, affiliation with even a small denomination was a big step for someone with my background to take.

I took that decision seriously. I could have embraced many of the distinctives which drew me to Anabaptism—an emphasis on radical discipleship, Biblical nonresistance, simplicity, and a commitment to social justice, for example—without actually joining the Mennonite Church. But I was ready to identify with an entity that included brothers and sisters in Christ outside of my local congregation.

Twenty-five years later, I was captivated by the beauty and mystery of liturgical worship. For a time, I tried to “scratch the liturgical itch” without identifying formally with a denomination in the liturgical tradition. Initially, I wanted to be an Anabaptist with liturgical sensibilities. The more I learned about Anglicanism, however, the more I was drawn into the communion as much for its polity, its history,

The Flag Of Worldwide Anglicanism

and its worldwide witness as for its liturgy. Today I consider myself an Anglican with Anabaptist sensibilities.

Anglican polity is decidedly not congregational or democratic. It is episcopal, which is the English form of a Greek word often translated “overseer” and is the etymological root for the English word bishop. In Baptist churches, authority rests with the congregation. In Anglican churches, authority rests (or is supposed to rest) with the bishop. The bishop’s authority extends to a specified number of local congregations (known as parishes) which all together comprise what is known as a diocese.

In congregational polity, the local church is the fundamental unit of ecclesiastical identification. In Anglican polity, it is the diocese. Local parishes exist to embody the vision and mission of the diocese in a particular community. They are the means by which the diocese interfaces with a specific neighborhood. Clergy are not members of a local parish. They are members of the diocese only, and their role is to represent the bishop in the parishes where they serve in a variety of roles.

This system of government, which is based on a particular understanding of terms and patterns found in the New Testament, has some weaknesses, but overall it is workable and efficient. Its efficiency and its effectiveness depend on the character and competence of the bishop and the faithfulness and commitment of the diocesan clergy to the system and to their vows of loyalty to the bishop.

I believe that episcopal polity (i.e. parishes in a diocese living under the watchcare and authority of a bishop) is not only efficient and effective (at least in theory) for the organization and operation of local churches or parishes. It is also tailor-made (again, in theory) as a mechanism for the planting of new parishes.

Here’s what I mean. A single local parish within a diocese may not possess sufficient resources, either human or material, to support the birth and development of a new church in its area, even when the need for such a new congregation is obvious and indisputable. By pooling the available resources from all the parishes in the diocese, the cost of planting a new church could be underwritten for a year or two. As the new church grew and took on responsibility for its own support, diocesan funds could be re-directed toward another area with a need for a new church. In this way, each new church would be a joint effort of the diocese, and the entire diocese could rejoice in its success and benefit from its ministry.

I have proposed a pattern such as this for consideration by the parishes in my own diocese. So far, it has gone nowhere. That makes me sad, since I have pretty much concluded that this approach may be the only way our vision for St. Patrick’s Church can be realized. And it may be the only mechanism by which I can find a context for vocational ministry in the Anglican communion.

Come On, Anglicans—Catch The Vision

I have been an ordained minister for more than forty years. I have actually been ordained three times in three different theological communions: first as a Baptist in 1970, then as a Mennonite in 1982, and finally (and I do mean finally) as an Anglican priest just over a year ago.

As a minister in three communions who has served in a variety of ministry settings and in several different ministry roles (as a pastor, a broadcaster, a parachurch executive, and a college professor), I’ve seen it all—the good, the bad, and the ugly of evangelical church life in America. In fact, I have very few colleagues in ministry whose experiences within and among the American evangelical community are as varied and touch as many different traditions as mine. There are both assets and liabilities associated with that, but they are not the subject of this post.

What is the point of this post? I’m glad you asked.

My wife is away for a week or so, visiting her family in another state, and on those rare occasions when we are separated for more than a day or two at a time, in addition to missing her like crazy, I always seem to wax nostalgic and spend some time thinking back over the course of our life together.

I am writing this on a Sunday evening, at the cIose of a day in which I preached in the worship service of the church we attend, sat in on a meeting of the church’s leadership team in the afternoon, then came home and fell asleep while nursing a pounding headache (altogether unrelated to the earlier events of the day… I think). All of those elements have contributed to the direction my thoughts are taking me tonight as I reflect on where God has brought me after four decades of vocational Christian ministry.

I am a teacher. That is my primary ministry gift. As a pastor, my preaching ministry was marked by a distinctive teaching style. As a broadcaster and a parachurch exec, much of my ministry consisted of carefully prepared public presentations in which I was explaining something or advocating on behalf of something or issuing some sort of challenge—and all of this made use of my strengths as a teacher and communicator.

I am also an introvert. When I was in seminary, my faculty advisor looked at the results of some personality type-indicator test I had taken, sort of shook his head a bit, looked at me over the top of his glasses, and said, “Hmmm. An introvert in an extravert’s job.”

“Should I look for another line of work?” I asked. (Of course he knew I had no intention of forsaking my very clear call to vocational ministry.) “Not at all,” he replied. “Just be prepared for the toll that your ministry will take—physically, emotionally, and spiritually.” He was right.

Because I am an introvert, and because I have gifts that are more suited to a classroom or some other context where the environment is conducive to thoughtful interaction without a lot of fanfare or excitement, I have never looked seriously at a ministry like church planting, which, I have always believed, requires a more outgoing, aggressive personality than mine and involves the use of entrepreneurial gifts which I don’t possess.

Ever so slowly, however, I am observing an evolution in my thinking and my perception of my own gifts as well as the possible shape of the final chapter of my active ministry.

Much of this new thinking is the product of simply facing reality. I am entering the Anglican priesthood at the very moment that the orthodox Anglican communion with which I am identifying is coming into existence. While the leadership of the Anglican Church in North America wants to highlight the proactive character of its mission, and rightly so, it cannot be denied that most of the parishes which comprise the new communion were formerly associated with the Episcopal Church.

I applaud the courage and fortitude which leaders at every level have shown as they have undertaken this necessary, but often gut-wrenching, act of conscience. I fully support and endorse the vision and program of the ACNA. Among the consequences of this decision, however, is the unavoidable reality that numerous parishes have been forced to abandon buildings they had paid for and assume new financial obligations which are made more substantial by the fact that, in the move from TEC to ACNA, most parishes retained all their clergy but not all their members. So the heavy costs are being borne by a smaller giving base. Thus, the hard fact is that there are almost no opportunities for ministry in established parishes to which people like me, new to the communion and with gifts not traditionally associated with church planting, can be called.

So far as the future health and vitality of the new communion is concerned, this is not a bad thing at all. Christianity has always thrived under pressure. It has been said, in fact, that “the blood of the martyrs was the seed of the church.” Evangelical Christianity, especially, is marked by a pioneering spirit that flourishes when it is required to face new challenges, break new ground, blaze new trails, or move into uncharted territory (pick the analogy you prefer).

That’s precisely where orthodox Anglicanism is at the moment. Mainline churches in the liturgical tradition are in steep decline. As painful as the experience of separation has been for ACNA, the liturgical tradition in the United States and Canada has actually been given an opportunity for spiritual renewal. The rich heritage of this communion proved irresistible to me, and I believe it can do the same for many others.

This post was sparked by an email from the rector of the church I am currently attending. In it he forwarded an email he had received from the pastor of one of the largest evangelical churches in central Ohio, if not the nation. The subject was church planting. The association of churches to which that large super-church belongs comprises about 550 congregations nationwide. That group of churches has taken up the challenge of establishing 750 new churches within the next decade.

In order to reach their goal, the national leadership of that association of churches is calling on each of their current member churches to assume a portion of the responsibility, commensurate with their size and setting. The large local church in our community has taken upon itself the task of planting twenty new churches as its contribution to the overall goal. They are marshalling resources, both human and material, and unapologetically calling for the kind of commitment and sacrifice that a venture of that magnitude will require. I applaud their zeal, and I wish them well in that endeavor.

The vision for church planting which is energizing this network of churches is not simply a desire to increase their numbers or enlarge their influence. Their vision was prompted by facing some disheartening, even disturbing, facts about the state of Christian faith in contemporary America. Here is a quote from this prominent church leader’s email.

It may seem odd, at first glance, to spend much time or money planting new churches in the U.S. when it seems to the casual observer that “there is a church on every street corner in America.” But when one scratches below the surface, one discovers some very troubling trends in American church life. Four out of five churches are either plateaued or are in steep decline. Put another way, research reveals that 80-85% of churches in America are on the down-side of the growth cycle, moving from plateau to decline to death.

The decline is particularly steep among Anglo-Roman Catholics and among mainline Protestants. Research demonstrates that just about the only thing that is keeping Roman Catholicism afloat in America right now is the massive influx of Latino Catholics. In terms of actual people in the pews, the Catholic Church has lost roughly one-quarter of its strength over the last 35 years. And attendance at mainline Protestant churches has simply fallen off the table. Whereas about 11% of Americans attended a mainline Protestant church service in 1973, today there are only about 4% (and the majority of these are over 65 years old).

But there is still more depressing news on the American church front. When researchers examined the World War II generation, they found that only about 5% of that generation claimed no religious affiliation when they were young adults. That doubled to more than 10% among the Boomers (those who came of age in the late 1960’s through early 1980’s). But it doubled again to about 20-30% among post-Boomers (those who came of age in the 1990’s and 2000’s). In other words, with each succeeding generation, Americans are becoming less attached to organized religion (primarily Christianity), and less inclined to attend church.

So why do we need to plant new churches in the United States? Simply put, we need to plant new churches in order to fulfill Jesus’ Great Commission. Churches that are in decline or are dying are not likely to fulfill the Great Commission, and there is an increasing number of people (primarily young) who are utterly detached from church. There is a desperate need, therefore, to plant innovative, entrepreneurial, highly evangelistic, and Christ-centered churches to reach the increasingly unchurched population of the U.S.

I wish every church leader at every level of the ACNA, from the Archbishop to the parish priests, could read this email. This is a vision and a challenge which we orthodox Anglicans can and must embrace. And we need to do it with the same kind of sacrificial commitment of resources which this nationwide network (the Vineyard churches) recognizes will be required to see the vision become reality.

I’m going to stop there… for now. But I have much more to say on this important subject. Stay tuned.

A Very Important Meeting

I have mentioned several times in these blog posts that I am an Anglican priest. I was ordained on May 10, 2011, by the Rt. Rev. Roger Ames, Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of the Great Lakes, which is part of the Anglican Church in North America. I have also noted that Anglican ordination is not generic. The new priest is ordained, or receives Holy Orders, for a specific ministry. In my case, when the Bishop laid his hands on me in ordination, he also commissioned me to plant a new church near downtown Columbus, Ohio, which would identify with a particular local neighborhood but would reach out to the nearby campus of The Ohio State University as part of its vision for mission and ministry.

For the first few months after my ordination, I gained some necessary experience in serving as a priest by assisting the Rector (the Anglican term for Senior Pastor) at St. Andrew’s Anglican Church in Lewis Center, OH, on the northern edge of the Columbus metro area in southern Delaware County. Then beginning in August last year, Shirley and I spent about three months preparing ourselves for our church planting ministry by visiting a number of other churches in our community and beyond.

We visited Anglican churches in order to observe how other parishes adapted the liturgy for their particular setting. We visited churches in college towns to observe their ministry to students. We had lots of questions. For example, how does a church that values identification with a local community balance that with an outreach to transient college students? How does a ministry to students affect or influence the shape and character of public worship, particularly with regard to styles of music, where tastes and preferences might differ greatly between generations?

Along the way I read lots of books on church planting and attended several conferences and seminars on related topics. In January 2011, for example, I attended the Church Planting Summit sponsored by Anglican1000, the arm of the ACNA which coordinates the denomination’s effort to plant 1000 new Anglican churches by 2014, a visionary challenge issued by the Most Rev. Robert Duncan at his investiture as Archbishop of the brand new denomination in June 2009. I also attended workshops on the use of social media and the value of liturgy, music, and the arts in the work of church planting.

By late fall, I was already tired, and we had not yet begun the hard work of actually planting a church. I was also discouraged. In September I had written a prospectus in which I outlined my vision for a new church, to be called St. Patrick’s, along with a broader, more comprehensive ministry which I sensed God was calling me to explore in conjunction with the church plant. I worked hard on that prospectus, made it as crisp and succinct as I could, and sent it out to about fifty people. Then I sat back to await what I expected would be an enthusiastic response and a chorus of voices calling out questions like “How can I be involved?” and “What can I do to help make this vision a reality?” Instead of  responses like that, however, the silence was deafening.

Just at that moment, the good people of St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, most of whom had never read my prospectus, reached out to Shirley and me. They invited us to consider St. Augustine’s our home until such time as God raised up the kind of support we would need to undertake the ministry of St. Patrick’s. At the same time, purely on their own initiative, they pledged to underwrite the cost of renting a small office in Grandview Heights, a municipality just northwest of downtown Columbus and virtually adjacent to the OSU campus. Their generosity was a godsend and a source of great encouragement.

Still, we are facing some significant obstacles as we consider our next steps. First of all, the broader orthodox Anglican community in central Ohio, which includes the parish out of which I was ordained, has not owned this vision nor rallied to this cause. That is both perplexing and discouraging. In addition, Shirley and I live about thirty miles northwest of Grandview Heights. We know that we cannot plant a church at that distance, but we are powerless to relocate unless or until God makes some provision in that regard. I have not been gainfully employed in almost four years. Our personal finances are depleted, and the diocese is strapped for cash, so it cannot assist us in this endeavor.

I have often said that I do not want to formulate a vision for a ministry and then ask God to bless it. Rather, I want to discover what God is doing and join it. It may be that God does not intend to bless the efforts to plant a new Anglican church near the OSU campus in Columbus, OH. From a human perspective, that is difficult to imagine, since the need is so real and the potential benefit to the work of the Kingdom of God seems so great. Still, the need alone does not constitute a call from God. Even Jesus, during His earthly ministry, did not regard a need, however legitimate, to be the sole determinant for where or how He would exercise His power. He did and said only those things which His Father in heaven directed Him to do and say.

I have done my best to make this opportunity known and to invite participation in this vision. I have made it clear that I am not a “lone ranger” personality. I bring a certain gift set to this endeavor, but I cannot and will not undertake it on my own. So far, response to my plaintive cry has been minimal. I believe I could conclude, based on the lack of response, that this is not God’s time to undertake this ministry of church planting, and I could turn my attention toward other avenues of service without a sense of abandoning this effort prematurely.

I am, however, going to take one additional step before I conclude that God is not in this endeavor. With this blog post, I am announcing an exploratory meeting for all persons who have any degree of interest in the possibility of a new church of the sort that I have described in this post and many earlier ones as well. The meeting will be held at the Rosedale International Center, 2120 E. 5th Ave., Columbus, OH, just northeast of downtown, on Thursday, April 12 at 7:00 p.m.

At this meeting I will review the prospectus I have written,  and I will share my vision for the church in general and for St. Patrick’s in particular. I will address any questions which arise and will encourage all who come to join the conversation with comments, counsel, and suggestions of their own. The meeting will last not more than two hours and will be mainly interactive.

You do not have to be Anglican, nor even exploring Anglicanism, to attend this meeting. In fact, part of the rationale for the meeting is to determine whether God wants to bring this vision to reality through the Anglican community in central Ohio, whether He wants to use others to bring it about, or whether we should conclude that God is not in this vision at all, at least at this moment.

Your attendance at this meeting will not obligate you at all, in any way. You will not be asked to make any commitment to the work of St. Patrick’s at the meeting. It is exclusively for information-sharing and to help determine the viability of the vision.

If you think you might be interested in attending, it would be helpful for our planning if you could let us know ahead of time… helpful, but not essential. Please don’t be dissuaded from coming just because you might not be able to make that determination until the last minute. There will still be adequate seating and enough coffee for everybody. But if you can let us know of your interest ahead of time, please send that information to me at stpatricksgrandview@gmail.com. (You may also contact me via a personal note on Facebook.)

Finally, if you would like to read a copy of the prospectus which summarizes the heart of my vision for this ministry, whether or not you plan to attend the meeting, I will be happy to see that you get a copy, as a .pdf file, by email. (We don’t have a website yet, since it has seemed a bit premature to develop one before we know if there will be sufficient support to get the ministry going.) Use the above email address to request a copy of the prospectus, and I will send it right away.

Thanks for reading this post. Thanks for praying for the meeting on April 12. And thanks for considering this invitation to attend. I hope to see you there.

Lazarus Laughed

Two stories will serve to illustrate my frame of mind as I write this post. In the first, a speaker of roughly my age stands before a gathered assembly and says, “When I was in my 20s and 30s, I cared a great deal about what people thought of me, and it affected the way I lived and worked. In my 40s and 50s that sensitivity passed, and I came to the place where I couldn’t care less what people thought about me. In my 60s it has finally dawned on me. Nobody is thinking about me at all.” (That’s a joke, not a pathetic, self-pitying cry for attention.)

The second story might be called “Lazarus Laughed.” In it, Lazarus of Bethany, the friend of Jesus, is in trouble with the religious establishment. You remember Lazarus. He’s the guy who died (John 11) and, four days later, Jesus raised him from the dead. It seems that, after the death and resurrection of Jesus, Lazarus began attracting attention with his account of his own death and resurrection, particularly when he described his death as a joyous passage from this life into the presence of God. Never, he told his eager listeners, would he fear death again.

The authorities demanded that Lazarus desist from recounting his experience since it undermined the influence of the powers that be by drawing attention to the greater power of Jesus. Lazarus replied, “What will they do if I don’t heed their demands, kill me?” Then Lazarus threw back his head and laughed and laughed.

I can relate to both these stories. For far too long I cared far too much about what people think about me and my ministry. I’m not suggesting that insensitivity and coldness are admirable character traits. They are not. On the other hand, hypersensitivity to the opinions of others, particularly to their criticism and expressions of disapproval, can be debilitating. At the least, it can cause such inner turmoil that the quality of both life and work deteriorates.

At long last I think I have gotten beyond all that. I still care about the opinions of my wife and daughter and a relatively small group of extremely close friends and counselors. But I am no longer bound and limited by my fear of what other people might think or say about me. If I believe I am speaking or acting under the direction of the Spirit of God, I am confident He will prevent me from being intentionally offensive or hurtful. And if others are offended or angered or hurt or disappointed because I have not conformed to their preferences and predilections, I can live with that.

After all, what do I have to lose? I’ve been unemployed for four years. I’ve experienced all the financial stress and the sense of humiliation and failure and self-doubt that are the consequences of long-term unemployment. My wife has fought a life-threatening disease, and together we have faced the pain and fear and loneliness that accompany that kind of pilgrimage. Experiences like those have a way of clearing your head, rearranging your priorities, and sharpening your focus.

Last May I completed a two-year period of preparation and was ordained an Anglican priest. In the intervening year, I have been learning how to be a good priest. I have carefully observed many who have walked this path a lot longer than I. I like some of what I have seen, and I have tried to emulate it. But I have seen a lot that I don’t like. I have been hesitant to speak up or raise questions or suggest another way because I am new to the tradition, and I don’t want to “rock the boat.” It has been important that I be perceived as a “team player.”

And then it hit me like the proverbial ton of bricks. That sensibility is dangerously close to the debilitating hypersensitivity to criticism and disapproval that I thought I had left behind. I refuse to be bound by it any longer. I have done everything I can do to make my allegiance clear and to establish the transparency of my motives. It is still important for me to be a team player, but the team I am playing for is the church, the agency of the Kingdom, and the team captain is Jesus the King.

As things stand right now, I am still planning to be part of a church plant in Columbus, OH, which will relate to a local community while reaching out to the campus of Ohio State. That such an enterprise would be consistent with the plan and purpose of God seems like a no-brainer to me. A church like the one I envision is needed in that place. In God’s time I feel certain it will come about. I hope to be part of it. It hasn’t happened yet, however, and that reality has given rise to some additional thoughts.

I remain puzzled that the orthodox Anglican community in the Columbus area has not rallied to this cause. From my perspective, this is a ready-made opportunity for meaningful, practical, and fruitful outreach. I know that other Anglicans in this area already have their own local-church loyalties. Still, how can Columbus-area Anglicans, associated with the Anglican Church in North America, which has been challenged by Archbishop Duncan to plant 1000 new churches by 2014, not be willing to rearrange their priorities (and their budget) in order to help make this vision a reality? How can Columbus-area Anglicans call themselves “missional” while an opportunity for genuine mission goes begging?

God willing, next week I will attend a four-day Church Planting Seminar, under the sponsorship of the North American Church Multiplication Institute, at Ashland (OH) Theological Seminary. It will be the first extensive, systematic examination of all the elements that contribute to effective church planting that I have undertaken since I was commissioned to this work a year ago.

Everything is on the table here. I expect to come away from this experience energized and better-prepared to pursue the vision for St. Patrick’s Church and Ministry Center. Will this vision be realized within an Anglican context? I expect that it will, but maybe not. As I have said many times, I am as much a liturgical Anabaptist as I am an Anglican. I am the product of forty years of vocational ministry in the Free Church tradition. I haven’t abandoned all that I learned and experienced there just because I have taken Holy Orders as an Anglican priest.

A dear friend reminded me recently that I was a Bible college instructor for a lot of years, and there is likely a setting where that content can still be used in service to the Kingdom of God. How might that affect the shape or focus of the ministry which God may bring about under the banner of St. Patrick’s Church and Ministry Center? I don’t know, but I’m excited to find out. And, as I said, everything is on the table.

I took a little break from blogging over the past week or so, but I’m back. I have a lot more to say about some things I have introduced in this post, but that’s all for now. Thanks for reading, for praying, and for sharing with me your time, your encouragement, and your faith. I love you all. Stay tuned.

A Slightly Different Route To The Same Destination

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