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.

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Potpourri

potpourri \ˌpō-pˈrē\  (fr. French, lit. “rotten pot”) : a miscellaneous collection

I keep a notebook wherein I jot down words, ideas, or themes which I may later develop into a blog post or use in a sermon. As I perused that list this morning, I decided to combine three of them into a single post.

It’s not that I don’t think I could write an entire post on any one of them. I find that the one benefit of getting older is that my life experience, after more than six decades, is now so rich and varied that I can wax verbose (if not eloquent) on almost any subject, whether I know anything about it or not.

Truth be told, I don’t think I should devote an entire post to any of these subjects, at least not today. The first two are subjects which are likely to get me in trouble the more I say about them, and details related to the third are simply too sketchy at present. Yet I feel compelled to say something, so here goes.

Number One: The Fourth of July

I am grateful to be an American. (Somehow it seems a bit inappropriate to say that I’m “proud” of something which came to me purely as accident of birth.) I’ve had opportunities here that I might not have had in other countries, that I surely would not have had in some.

At their best, Americans are generous, hard-working, compassionate people. That is something important to celebrate on this Independence Day. At their worst, however, Americans can be—and have been—greedy, bigoted, and hateful. In other words, Americans, as a nation, are no better and no worse than people anyplace else in the world.

It is perfectly appropriate to encourage the pursuit of excellence and to recognize Americans who have achieved a measure of distinction in their respective fields. Why is it then necessary to frame our appreciation (and yes, justifiable pride) in the accomplishments of some outstanding Americans in the language of American exceptionalism? Virtually every other nation can point to important contributions made by their citizens. Is it really necessary to encourage Americans to think of themselves as better than everybody else?

July fourth is the one day of the year when most Americans think about our nation’s founding document, the Declaration of Independence. Several times this week we will see on television the image of the American flag, waving in the breeze, perhaps with the chords of a patriotic hymn in the background, while someone reads aloud the familiar words—

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.

Some of us will recognize the irony in the fact that, at the time Thomas Jefferson penned those words, nearly one person in five in the thirteen American colonies was a slave, and that Jefferson himself owned more than 600 slaves over the course of his lifetime.

This well-known and much-discussed fact, along with a reference to the monstrous injustice which freedom-loving Americans of European descent inflicted on the Native American population, should remind us of the immense gap between the ideals we profess and the behavior we practice. That fact alone should temper our inclination toward celebratory excesses that can turn helpful self-awareness into myopic self-righteousness.

Then, too, on this Independence Day, it might be wise, when considering the nature of true patriotism, to recall two other quotes from Thomas Jefferson. In a letter to John Langdon, from 1810, Jefferson wrote, “Money, and not morality, is the principle of commercial nations.” Before that, in 1786, he had written to M. de Meunier, “Merchants are the least virtuous citizens and possess the least of the amor patriae (‘love of fatherland’).” Just saying.

Number Two: Anglican Ministry

For the first time since my ordination to the priesthood in May 2011, I am beginning to consider seriously the possibility that I will not serve the final chapter of my active ministry as an Anglican priest. I hinted at this prospect in an earlier post, and in the past few days it has become a recurrent theme in my thinking.

Two realities, I believe, are responsible for this pattern of thought. The first is my intuitive sense that even my closest friends are beginning to show signs of “compassion fatigue.” When people whom I love dearly and respect deeply start to say things like, “You know, maybe this Anglican priest-thing is not going to work out for you,” then I know it is time to reconsider my options and priorities.

I came to Anglicanism after forty years of ministry in the Free Church tradition, first in mainstream Evangelicalism and then, for more than twenty-five years, among Mennonites. This is the first time, in all those years, that I have not found a place to use my gifts and experience in the service of Christ and His Kingdom. It is troubling, discouraging, and energy-depleting. Increasingly I am coming to believe that a change may be required in order to preserve my emotional health and my spiritual wholeness.

Second is the matter of integrity and candor in the exercise of my Holy Orders. As I’ve mentioned many times, when I was ordained, Bishop Roger Ames commissioned me to plant a new Anglican church in Columbus, OH, near the campus of The Ohio State University. One year later, despite considerable investment of resources and intense prayer, we are really no closer than we ever have been to seeing that vision become a reality.

There comes a moment, it seems to me, when we have to face the situation both honestly and objectively. For reasons that are not altogether clear to me (although some of the reasons are abundantly clear) those obstacles that everyone has acknowledged as insurmountable apart from a miraculous infusion of God’s power remain “uninfused.”

If you’ve been following this narrative with any degree of interest over the past several months, I ask you to join me in prayer for wisdom and direction. And stay tuned to this space for any updates on the situation. Finally,

Number Three: 2013 Celtic Christian Pilgrimage

Despite the uncertainty which has characterized my life and ministry for the past few years, I sense the need to start planning for at least one pilgrimage, maybe two, in 2013. The first one, and the one I would encourage you to consider being a part of, is a pilgrimage to Celtic Christian sites in Ireland and Great Britain.

Along with another couple, Shirley and I led a pilgrimage of this sort in 2006. Thirty-two of us, mainly college students and young adults, traveled to Ireland, Scotland, and England. On that trip, we combined visits to Celtic Christian sites such as Glendalough and the Hill of Tara in Ireland, the island of Iona off the west coast of Scotland, and the Holy Island of Lindisfarne off the northeastern coast of England with locations of significance to C. S. Lewis such as his birthplace and childhood home in Belfast, his residence (the Kilns) and favorite pub (The Eagle and Child) in Oxford, and Magdalene College at Cambridge, where he completed his teaching career.

I deliberately use the term “pilgrimage” in describing our plans for a trip like this. We hope that most participants would approach this experience as an opportunity to hear from God and draw closer to Him through exposure to early Christian history and an encounter with some “thin places” where a sense of God’s presence has been particularly real to so many in the past.

Tentative dates for a pilgrimage of this sort are a ten-day or two-week period sometime between mid-May and mid-June next year. At that time of year, the weather is warm, daylight hours are near their maximum, and the crowds that accompany peak tourist season have not yet arrived.

If you have interest in a trip like this or would like to be included on a list to receive email updates with more details as they become available, drop me a line and include any questions you may have. My email address is relentlesspursuitblog@gmail.com.

Have a safe and enjoyable Fourth of July. And join me in this prayer which comprises the fourth stanza of the familiar hymn, “America,” by Samuel F. Smith (1808-1895).

Our fathers’ God, to Thee, author of liberty, to Thee we sing;

long may our land be bright with freedom’s holy light;

protect us by Thy might, great God, our King.

 


Not Necessarily A Priest

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.

The Saint Patrick Center

A Place for Worship—Liturgical worship in the Prayer Book tradition is at the very heart of what it means to be Anglican.  I was not very far along the road from Evangelicalism to Anglicanism when I learned the Latin maxim, “Lex orandi, lex credendi,” which means “the law of praying is the law of believing,” or more colloquially, “as we worship, so shall we live.”  For Anglicans, our “theology,” i.e. the most basic elements of our belief about God, Christ, humanity, sin, and salvation, are contained in, and communicated through, our worship—notably the liturgy of the Daily Office and, especially, the Eucharist.  The St. Patrick Center (SPC) would be a place of regular worship.  Morning and Evening Prayers would be said daily, and the Eucharist celebrated often.

In addition, the Center would host special events, such as retreats, conferences, and seminars, where the importance of worship, both communal and individual, would be explored and experienced within the context of other aspects of Christian discipleship such as apologetics, evangelism, charismatic gifts, spiritual warfare, and inner healing.  SPC would also be a place where individuals or small groups could come for silent retreats, focused prayer, and spiritual direction.  Anyone seeking a place to get away from the frenetic pace of modern life in order to be spiritually renewed in a setting dedicated to worship, and anyone looking for a place to explore and experience what it means to be an Anglican Christian would find it at SPC.

A Place for Study—While it is true that the genius of Anglican theology is its connection to the experience of worship, that does not mean there is no place in Anglicanism for serious study and the cultivation of the life of the mind.  SPC would be a place where earnest Christians with intellectual curiosity could engage in the thoughtful examination of subjects such as Biblical history and content, church history, apologetics (defense of the Christian faith), moral theology (ethics), liturgics, and the interface of Christianity with contemporary culture.  The Center would provide a setting for individual study (both directed and non-directed) and reflection as well as periodic (or regular) classes and seminars designed to explore “cutting edge” issues with a view to equipping believers to be more responsible, sensitive, and effective as disciples of Jesus Christ in a postmodern culture.

In addition, the Center would offer a curriculum specially designed to serve as the “Anglican component” for Anglican students doing their seminary study in a non-Anglican school or to supplement the theological training of persons from other Christian traditions who are pursuing Holy Orders with ADGL-ACNA.  While neither competing with nor replacing similar programs already available through Anglican seminaries, the SPC curriculum would be more limited, less comprehensive, more flexible, and less expensive than those programs.  I could have benefited from a program like this as I was preparing for Anglican Holy Orders.

A Place for Spiritual Formation—As I wrote in an earlier post, I believe the primary focus of pastoral ministry should be Spiritual Formation, by which I mean exhibiting, encouraging, and enabling Christlikeness.  The Anglican Diocese of the Great Lakes, and indeed the entire Anglican Church in North America, could be well served by a place where pastoral leaders (especially deacons, priests, and those in training) could come to experience, and be equipped to facilitate, genuine Spiritual Formation.  This might involve participation in some of the programs, opportunities, and emphases available through the Center and already discussed above under Worship and Study.  It would also include a specialized learning environment comprising, as desired, spiritual direction, individual and group retreats, as well as courses, seminars, and conferences on themes related to Spiritual Formation.

More anon.

A Broader Vision

On May 10, 2011, The Rt. Rev. Roger Ames, Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of the Great Lakes in the Anglican Church in North America, laid his hands on my head and prayed a prayer of dedication over me as he ordained me an Anglican priest.  The Bishop was aware of my 40-year pilgrimage from Fundamentalism to Anglicanism and of the gifts I had exhibited and the ministries I had been involved in along the way.  In his prayer, Bishop Ames asked God to use all my gifts and to draw upon all of my experience in directing me to the area of ministry in which He wants me to serve as a priest.

I have been a pastor, a broadcaster, a ministry executive, and a college professor.  While I am perfectly willing to spend the rest of my life and ministry as a parish priest, I’m also aware that I come to this moment in my pilgrimage with a different perspective on life and ministry, and with far broader experience, than most newly-ordained priests.  It occurred to me that it might be possible that God had brought me to this place in this time to give voice to a vision somewhat broader and bolder than simply the planting of a new church (the value of which I do not mean to diminish in any way).  Is it possible that God might want to use me to articulate a vision for a ministry which could meaningfully serve our diocese and even meet a genuine need that could benefit the entire ACNA?  Since I believe God has put such a vision into my heart, I am going to devote the next several blog posts to giving it verbal expression.  I will leave it to God to use it as He will in the minds and lives of those who read these posts.

I am convinced that, in the economy of the Kingdom, no institution or organization is more important for the advancement of the Gospel and the growth and nurture of Christians than the church.  We err, however, if we perceive the church exclusively as a local assembly or even a denomination.  Throughout its history, the church has recognized that its effectiveness could be enhanced and its purposes served by the cultivation and development of ministries with more specialized and focused areas of concern than those which could be profitably and economically pursued by a single local church, particularly in the era before the megachurch.  Monasteries, schools, hospitals, mission agencies, and social service ministries are examples of endeavors which have been developed by the church, with accountability to the church, in order to serve a broader constituency than a single congregation and to provide services and meet needs which few local churches would have resources to accomplish on their own.  In this vein, then, I propose the development of a ministry I am calling The St. Patrick Center—A Place for Worship, Study, and Spiritual Formation in the Anglican Tradition.

Over the next few posts, I’ll “flesh out” this vision in more detail. Stay tuned.

Starting Over… Sort Of

Forty-five years ago, when I was a senior in high school, God and I entered into a pact, a covenant, if you will.  More accurately, God set some terms, and I agreed to them.  He told me that, if I would use my gifts, talents, and abilities to advance the Gospel of the Kingdom of God and to help Christians “grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ,” then He would take care of me.  He didn’t speak to me in an audible voice, but the reality of God’s call on my life would not have been greater nor more certain if He had.

My pilgrimage has been (to borrow the title of a Beatles’ song) a “long and winding road.”  I have been exposed to and influenced by a number of Christian traditions.  I have served in vocational ministry in several of them.  While to some observers, my circuitous journey from Fundamentalism via Evangelicalism and Anabaptism to Anglicanism reflects instability, I prefer to see it as (to borrow the title of a book by Eugene Peterson) a “long obedience in the same direction.”

Many of you know that I was ordained to the priesthood in the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) in May 2011.  You may not realize, however, that ordination in this tradition is not generic; that is, a priest receives Holy Orders for the purpose of serving in a particular ministry.  In the Free Church tradition where I served for thirty-five years, it was common for recognition of gifts and a call to a place of service to precede credentialing, which could be secured later if and when it was deemed useful or necessary.  In the Anglican tradition, at least in my experience, credentialing precedes ministry but with full expectation that a specific ministry, identified at the time of ordination, will soon follow.

I came to the Anglican Church out of a lifetime of vocational ministry in the Free Church tradition.  In all that time, I had never had to look for, much less create, a context in which to use my gifts in service to Christ and the Kingdom.  More often than not, I needed to choose between several opportunities, any of which would have been a productive, fulfilling ministry.  As a Bible college student, I was taught that the greatest ability required for Christian ministry was availability.  “If you are available and willing to serve,” I was told, “God will always lead you into a ministry context where you can use your gifts for His glory.  The need will always exceed the supply of available servants.”

Imagine my surprise, then, when I was told by a veteran Anglican clergyman very early in the process of discernment and preparation which would eventually lead to my ordination in this tradition, “I have no doubt that you are qualified for Holy Orders.  What I don’t know is where we will find a place for you to serve.”  This way of thinking runs counter to the principle by which I have lived my life and carried out my ministry for more than thirty-five years.

I simply cannot believe that the inability to “find a place” for me to serve in the Anglican Communion means that there is an absence of need.  Rather, I take it to mean that there is a shortage of money.  If so, this poses something of a problem for the future of ACNA. I will have much more to say about that in my next few posts.