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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A New Direction

I am using today’s post to introduce something new. In a blog post which I wrote a few days ago, I reported that God has apparently decided that right now is not the time for the vision for St. Patrick’s Church to become a reality. In that same post, I indicated that I have not given up on the vision and, in the meantime, I plan to stay busy. That’s what I want to talk to you about in this post.

God has blessed me with some wonderful friends, and I don’t take them for granted. One in particular has been a trusted advisor and counselor for more than thirty years. I’ll call him “Dean” (because that’s his name). Everyone should be so fortunate to have a friend like Dean.

Dean has walked with me over the past four years as I have made the difficult transition from the Free Church tradition to Anglicanism. He has heard all my gripes and lamentations and has responded to them with just the right combination of empathy, encouragement, and the verbal equivalent of a “dope slap” on occasion. I often think that Dean cares more about my ministry and the effective and productive use of my gifts than I do. It was his persistence, in fact, that persuaded me to begin writing this blog. And it is Dean to whom I am indebted for the concept which has given rise to the new ministry which I am introducing to you today.

I was a Bible college professor for fourteen years. I never set out to pursue a career in academics, but when God led me into that ministry, I found that I loved it. My students kept me honest by forcing me to think critically, write carefully, and speak cogently. I miss the classroom, and I am grateful that many of my former students stay in touch.

My burden for young adults energizes my vision for planting a church in Columbus near the Ohio State campus. It also contributes to my disappointment that the realization of that vision will apparently be delayed. That frustration is compounded when I read a book like You Lost Me, written by David Kinnaman, which explores the trend among twenty-somethings to abandon the church and Christian faith in droves.

“That breaks my heart,” I told Dean. “I can relate to these young people. I understand their disillusionment with the church. In large measure, I share it. I know why they mistrust Christian leaders. So do I. That’s why I want to plant a church near the university—to provide a safe, non-threatening, non-judgmental environment where young people can voice their concerns, share their doubts, and ask their questions.”

Instead of simply commiserating with me, Dean reminded me that, although I don’t yet have a church community to which I can invite these disaffected young people, I can still relate to them. I have the internet, and I know how to write a blog. It’s less effective than face-to-face interaction, but it’s a valuable tool in its own right. I should make use of what I have, Dean told me. I should use the gifts and the tools which God has put at my disposal at present. The future we must leave in God’s hands.

And so, I am today announcing the inauguration of my second blog. It’s called “That’s A Good Question,” and I am including a link to it at the end of this post. The new blog’s subtitle summarizes its purpose: A frank conversation about Christian faith and contemporary culture.

It will be frank. I’m too old to beat around the bush, and I have never been very good at it anyway. My new blog will be just as forthright and transparent as this one has been, only moreso. That may be too much for some of my current readers. That’s why I am warning you now.

It will also be a conversation. Here’s the way I put it in the “about me” page of the new blog.

When it comes to the interface between Christian faith and contemporary culture, I don’t know all the answers. But I’ve been around long enough to have heard a lot of the questions. I am a teacher, and so I believe that every honest question deserves an honest, straightforward answer. You don’t have to agree with me, but I hope you will conclude that I respect my readers, and I am eager to enter into a spirited discussion within the limitations of this platform. In the end, I think it will be clear that, although I am a committed Christian, I am not an ideologue, and I am not too old to learn. Ask your questions. I don’t suffer fools, and I have a very low tolerance for BS. But I try not to be presumptuous or overbearing. I look forward to our conversation.

This blog will continue as well. I hope to publish at least two or three posts each week on each blog. Only rarely will the content be the same. The blogs serve two different purposes. The new blog will offer serious answers to serious questions, but it will not take itself too seriously. This blog will continue to be a place for me to reflect on my pilgrimage, to express some of my own questions and frustrations as well as to share the joy and fulfillment that comes from following Jesus, irrespective of the circumstances. Again, the blog’s subtitle says it all: One pilgrim’s quest for authentic faith and some reflections on the journey.

My thanks to all of you who read this blog, either regularly or only once in a while. I always welcome your comments. Let me hear from you. And I hope that you will give the new blog a try as well. Click here if you’d like to take a look at it right now.

Grace and peace.

A Very Important Meeting—Cancelled

We’ve all heard the question, “If a tree falls in the forest, and there’s no one around to hear it, does it make any noise?” Here’s another one of that sort: Can you cancel a meeting which nobody planned to attend anyway? I suppose that a cancellation isn’t technically necessary, since no one will be inconvenienced by showing up. Still, when there is a room-reservation fee involved, it is not good stewardship to pay the fee for the use of a room which will not be used.

Therefore, I am using this blog post to make the following announcement. The “very important meeting,” scheduled for Thursday, April 12—a meeting which I announced and described in a blog post back on March 26—has been cancelled, owing to the fact that no one, apparently, plans to attend.

I realize that, in the earlier post, I noted that an RSVP was not strictly necessary. That was to encourage participation by those who simply could not make a commitment in advance. It assumed that some would let me know ahead of time, and thus the meeting would be held anyway, so last-minute walk-ins would of course be welcome. In the absence of any advance notice from anyone, it does not seem prudent to pay the room reservation fee on the off-chance that someone might show up.

Am I disappointed? Yes and no. I won’t pretend that I’m not a little disappointed. I had hoped that this event might be the first really substantive step in the development of St. Patrick’s Church and Ministry Center. As I’ve said many times, a new church, in the liturgical tradition, rooted in a local community with an intentional outreach to the university campus would seem to be a no-brainer. The need really exists. But, as I’ve also said many times, I do not want to devise a project and then ask God to bless it. I want to discover what God is doing, or wants to do, and join it. The need, however great, neither constitutes the call nor assures success. And Psalm 127:1 reminds us—

Unless the Lord builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
the watchman stays awake in vain.

The landscape is littered with “worthy” projects that had to be abandoned when their founders ran out of money or energy or both. At age 62, and with a limited number of years remaining to be devoted to active ministry, I do not want my legacy as an Anglican priest to be “failed church planter.”

As disappointments go, particularly when I reflect on my life over the past four or five years, this one is not debilitating. I know my strengths and my liabilities. I am a churchman, a pretty good preacher, and a pastor who attempts to make up in dedication what he lacks in innate gifting. I am not an entrepreneur. I am not a charismatic leader. I am an introvert who loves God, loves the church, and wants to see people find a spiritual home in a caring, nurturing church family which recognizes its role and responsibility as an agent of the Kingdom of God. In the right setting, I can make a genuine and positive contribution to the life of a local parish and to the ministry of the “one holy, catholic, and apostolic church” which we affirm with the words of the Nicene Creed every Sunday.

If planting a church were likened to the opening of a restaurant, my job would be in the kitchen, preparing the food, and I would be good at it. I would not be good at making the other business-type decisions which a new enterprise of that sort requires. In the long run, the quality of the food would be an important factor in the success or failure of the restaurant. But it would be only one of many. In the birth and development of a church, as in the restaurant business, success requires the mixing and melding of a variety of gifts and abilities. In my case, I have some of the necessary competencies, but not nearly all of them. I need help.

I am an Anglican. In the Anglican tradition, the fundamental unit of organization and church structure is the diocese, not the local congregation. The primary authority in the diocese is the bishop, not the local priest. Local congregations, or parishes, exist to serve the spiritual needs of a specific community, but ideally all the parishes of a diocese view themselves as integral elements in the work of the diocese, under the leadership and authority of the bishop, and not as independent entities in competition with other parishes in the diocese.

This is especially true for the Anglican Diocese of the Great Lakes, a brand new diocese in the brand new Anglican Church of North America. If our diocese is going to thrive, particularly in the area of multiplying the number of new parishes which it plants, or births, to serve local constituencies and advance the Gospel of the Kingdom of God, it will have to show a greater sense of unity and cooperation and shared commitment to outreach and growth than has been the case up to now. When unity and cooperation overcome territorialism and competition, the result will be a more fertile soil in which new church plants can take root, a healthier environment in which they can thrive and grow.

The cultivation of St. Patrick’s Church and Ministry Center awaits the day when those conditions become a reality. Until then, I believe the response of God to those who are praying for the birth of St. Patrick’s will be, “Not yet, children. Not yet.”

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

Will Somebody Help Us?

First, some statistics. The Ohio State University enrolls nearly 57,000 students at its main campus in Columbus. Of that number, 29,000 are men and 28,000 are women; 43,000 are undergrads while 14,000 are graduate or professional students. More than 12,000 come from outside Ohio; and 5,600 (or 10% of the total) come from outside the US.

Most OSU students do not come from Columbus, and most will not live and/or work in Columbus after they graduate, although many will. Most will return to other parts of this state, or to other states, or to their home countries. All will take with them the effects, influences, and benefits of their experience while they were students at OSU.

For many, perhaps most, the effect and influence of their university experience will be almost completely secular, and the benefits will be almost entirely intellectual and social. For a few, their university years will be a time when their Christian faith was nurtured or the time when they encountered, and embraced, the Christian gospel for the first time. There are some Christian ministries doing a good work in relating to university students, sharing the gospel with those who have not yet believed and providing encouragement and fellowship for Christian students in the midst of an environment that can be hostile to faith.

In this regard, more—much more—can and should be done. For Christians in the Columbus area, and for Anglican Christians especially, this is the mission field on our door step. And this is the context for ministry at the center of the vision God has implanted in my heart for St. Patrick’s Anglican Church.

To my knowledge, there is, at present, no evangelically orthodox Anglican church in the Columbus area whose ministry is targeted toward university students. In some ways, I can understand that. It’s a difficult field. Students can be brash, arrogant, and thoughtless. Their passions and enthusiasms, whatever they might be, have not yet been tempered by real-world experience. They can be idealistic (or ideological) to a fault. They generally have little money. And they are a transient population.

Many of their liabilities are potentially their greatest strengths as well. If their energy can be harnessed and their idealism guided into productive expression, they can make tremendous contributions to a community (including a community of faith) even if they leave after they graduate.

I believe that, among those 57,000 OSU students, some are looking for precisely what orthodox Anglicanism offers. They would like to explore questions about religion, faith, and ethics in an environment that respects their integrity, allows them the freedom to explore, and encourages all of this in a setting that is non-judgmental while still committed to the authority of Jesus Christ and the Holy Scriptures as the Word of God. There are many students, I believe, who would prefer to attend a worship service marked by reverence and rejoicing, where tradition is respected while every effort is made to communicate in a way that recognizes the character of the culture out of which they come and amid which they live their lives.

A church aimed at college students will face enormous challenges from the get-go. It will not be financially self-sufficient, so it will need to depend on some kind of subsidy from some other source(s). It will need to recruit members from the local neighborhood while acknowledging, up front, that, more often than not, decisions will likely be made which favor the student constituency over the locals.

But the potential rewards are limitless. In what other setting does a church have the opportunity to impact a young life with the gospel, for the Kingdom, knowing it is likely that that young person will return to his or her home community, or a new community, or a foreign country, as an ambassador for Christ and the Kingdom of God because of what they experienced in a church that cared enough to devote its resources to reaching out to them?

When I first shared the rudiments of a vision like this with Bishop +Roger Ames about a year ago, I have to admit that I was most concerned for describing a place where I could use my ministry gifts. The more I have nurtured this vision, however, the more I desire to see it become a reality, whether I am involved in it as a primary leader or not.

How can this not be a worthy vision? How can this not be a vision around which the entire Anglican community in central Ohio can (and should) rally? How can this not be worth the sacrificial commitment of time, energy, and money to help make it a reality? Can somebody… anybody… help us?

What do we need? We need everything. The first thing we need is a core group of people who will own the vision, in response to the call of God, and commit themselves, their energy, and their money, to bringing it to pass. Out of this group one person needs to emerge who will serve as treasurer, a necessity before we can incorporate or begin to receive contributions from those who are willing to help in that way. This is also essential since I resolutely refuse to be involved with the finances of St. Patrick’s, except in the most general ways. I will not control the church’s purse strings, nor will I be aware of who does or does not contribute on a regular basis to work of the church. That is between them and God… and, of course, our reliable, ethical, and competent treasurer, whoever that may turn out to be. (See, I told you we have very basic needs.)

I was having coffee last week with a good friend at Stauf’s Coffee Roasters, one of the best coffee shops in the Columbus area (and it just happens to be located right in the heart of Grandview Heights, around the corner from our office). We were discussing the vision for St. Patrick’s, and at one point he leaned forward, across the table, and said, “Do you want to know why I am so eager for St. Patrick’s to become a reality? Because my son lost his faith as a university student, at least in part because there was no orthodox Anglican church, in the vicinity of the campus, to which he could turn for worship, fellowship, and an answer to his questions.” I have played that exchange over and over in my mind in the days since we had that conversation, and each time it moves me more. We Anglican Christians in the Columbus area need to do everything we can to prevent that from happening again. When a student wants to seek answers to questions about faith in an Anglican context, let’s do everything we can to see that there is a place to which he or she can turn.

I have very limited gifts and talents to bring to this venture, but they are all on the table. As they say in poker, I am “all in.” So is my dear wife. So are a few others whose circumstances prevent them from joining us in person. You’ve heard my vision; now here is my heartcry. Will somebody please help us?

If you’d like to follow up on anything you have read here, you can leave a comment below, or contact me at stpatricksgrandview@gmail.com.

What Are The Odds?

At the dawn of this new year, what are the odds that the vision for a new church, called St. Patrick’s Anglican, located in or near Grandview Heights, OH, just west of downtown Columbus and easily accessible to the campus of The Ohio State University, will become a reality before the year ends? How likely is it that a diverse group of people will come together around the common goal of forming a community of faith, in Ohio’s largest urban area, that identifies with a local neighborhood and yet intentionally seeks to reach college students? Well, let’s see.

First of all, is the vision worthy and the goal reasonable? Yes. Is it consistent with the kind of efforts that God seems to bless in other settings? Yes. Is the motive for undertaking this endeavor wholesome, unselfish, and Christ-honoring? As far as I can discern, yes. Is the proposed location suitable to accomplish the stated goals? Yes. Are there other orthodox Anglican churches already in existence in that area with a vision for mission and ministry similar to that of St. Patrick’s? No. Are there any obstacles to be overcome? Yes; see next paragraph.

Has anybody who actually lives in Grandview Heights expressed a desire to see a new Anglican church planted there? No. Has a core group of people been identified who share the vision for St. Patrick’s, who desire to be part of this new work, and are willing to commit time, energy, and money to the effort? Yes and no. St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, itself a fledgling congregation on the northeast side of the city, has pledged to cover the cost of renting a small office in Grandview in order to give St. Patrick’s its first presence in the community. Scores of people have said they are praying for this effort. But so far, no core group of people, energized by their common commitment to the vision, has come together.

So, where does that leave us? Well, let’s consider, first of all, some other resources which have already been committed to this endeavor. We’ll call this…

Things We Already Have

First, we have a clergy-person and spouse (Shirley and I) who are ready and eager to move ahead with this vision. This may seem relatively immaterial to some of you who are reading this from the free church tradition, but for us Anglicans, it’s a pretty big deal. We need an ordained priest to celebrate the Eucharist, which is the focal point of our coming together for corporate worship, and to administer other sacraments.

Second, in addition to those I’ve already mentioned who pray regularly for this undertaking, we have a small but growing network of people, with expertise in a number of areas, including how to use the internet effectively and efficiently, whose primary attribute is their common desire to glorify God, to lift up Jesus Christ, and to follow Him faithfully as devoted disciples. They provide wisdom, counsel, encouragement, and accountability. This, too, is a pretty big deal.

Third, we have the blessing and endorsement of the leadership of the Anglican Diocese of the Great Lakes (of which St. Patrick’s will be a parish), including Bishop +Roger Ames, Archdeacon Fr. Mark Scotton+, Canon Fr. John Jorden+, and Diocesan Missioner Dcn. Tom Hare+. This is a very big deal. This is not a rogue operation. We are pursuing this vision under the watchful eye of these leaders who provide spiritual counsel and covering for me and to whom I am accountable for my stewardship of the gifts and authority which I received through ordination.

Fourth, we have a carefully articulated summary of our vision (soon to be accessible online through our website, which is under development), an office, and a tentative schedule (mid- to late January) for a short series of meetings/classes designed to explore the relationship between the gospel, the church, and the Kingdom of God. The goal of this series is to present the specific vision for St. Patrick’s in a way that links it to the larger purposes of God for His church and His Kingdom.

This is a start, but there is much more required to plant a church. Let’s consider some things in this category, and we’ll call this…

Things We Don’t Have (And, Therefore, Need)

First, we need a core group, an “inner circle” of people who share the vision, want to be part of this effort, will commit energy and finances to the task, are willing to meet regularly to pray about what we need to do, and then do it. Second we need an “outer circle” of people who may not feel God calling them to be part of this new work, but will pray regularly for it, providing spiritual and material resources as they are able and feel led.

Third, we need a place in Grandview or near the OSU campus, larger than my office, where we can hold meetings, such as the classes I mentioned above and the Eucharist on occasion. Fourth, Shirley and I need to move to Grandview or someplace close by. We currently live thirty miles away from that community. We cannot plant a church via long-distance.

Now, some of you are saying, “Where does God figure into all this? Haven’t you overlooked the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit in this overview?” Up to this point in this blog post, yes. Deliberately so. I have wanted to frame these questions in practical terms from a human perspective. In all of this, however, I understand fully that, if God wants St. Patrick’s to become a reality, He will provide all the resources—spiritual, human, and financial—that we need. If, for whatever reason, and it may be known only to Him, God does not want this vision to materialize, He will not provide the resources. My concern, of course, is that we wait carefully and patiently on God. Once again I reiterate: I don’t want to undertake a project and demand God to bless it; rather, I want to find out what God wants to do and join it.

So, back to my original question. What do you think? What are the odds that St. Patrick’s will be a reality by this time next year? I would welcome your response, your counsel, and your questions. You can communicate with me by leaving a comment below, but if you’d like to share more personally and more specifically, then I encourage you to write me at this email address: stpatricksgrandview@gmail.com.

Thanks for reading this. I look forward to hearing from you. And have a blessed and productive year in 2012.

The Heart of My Vision

More than two years ago, at the very beginning of the process which culminated in my ordination to the Anglican priesthood, I came to realize that I should not expect to be placed in or appointed to a ministry position which already exists, especially in the Diocese of the Great Lakes, since there would likely be no vacancies among the relatively few compensated positions in the diocese.  Thus, if I were to find a place in which to use my gifts in vocational ministry, I would need to “create” a position, devise a ministry, if you will, and the most likely area in which that might happen would be church planting.

At the time of my ordination, I was commissioned by Bishop +Roger Ames to plant a new Anglican church to the west of downtown Columbus, OH, with a ministry focus on both a local neighborhood (probably Grandview Heights) and the Ohio State University campus community.  In many ways, planting a new Anglican church within these demographic parameters is a “no-brainer.”  In the first place, it is unthinkable that there is only one orthodox Anglican parish of any size in all of the Columbus metropolitan area, St. Andrew’s in Lewis Center.  In addition, while it is likely that a church which intentionally focuses on university students will experience considerable turnover in attendance, it is equally likely that the influence of this new church, particularly if the experience is positive, will go with these students into their professional and family lives, even if they move away from Columbus upon graduation.

I am suitably gifted for a ministry of this sort.  In the first place, I taught at the college level for fourteen years, and with considerable success if expressions of appreciation from former students are any measure of accomplishment.  Granted, a Bible college classroom is not a university lecture hall, but there are similarities, both in the classroom dynamic and in the 18-21 year-old students in both settings.  I am not intimidated by this age group, neither by their probing questions nor by their brash self-confidence which often is merely a veneer over some deep-seated uncertainties.  I know how they think, and I can relate to their doubts.  In my preaching, teaching, and informal conversation, I can respect their points of view without surrendering or compromising my commitment to Jesus Christ and to the Christian scriptures as the ground of all truth.

In addition, I am not a novice.  I come to this new challenge out of a lifetime of experience in ministry.  I have been a pastor.  I firmly believe that the heart of pastoral ministry is Spiritual Formation—exhibiting, encouraging, and enabling Christlikeness in people’s lives.  Moreover, and perhaps more pertinently, as a pastor at this stage of my own pilgrimage, I am committed to the idea of the church as both the agent of the Kingdom of God and as a compassionate community in which people feel loved and accepted and where they are enabled to heal and encouraged to grow.  This emphasis arises from my own experience in the recent past, when my wife and I went through some of the most difficult and painful experiences of our lives, largely without benefit of pastoral care or a compassionate community to which we could turn and by whom we could be embraced.  We both intend to work hard, in our future church endeavors, so that those in similar circumstances can have a positive and life-affirming experience in relating to the church in their time of need.

More to come.