Turning The Corner?

It’s probably too soon to know for sure, but it just may be that I have finally “turned the corner” with regard to the course of my pilgrimage over the past five and a half years. If that turns out to be the case, it will be, in large measure, thanks to Arthur Lough. More Pfeil 180 Grad II Iconspecifically, it will be thanks to the soul-restoration I have experienced through the process of writing Arthur’s story.

An interesting phrase, “turning the corner.” In a context like this it means to pass a critical point in a process. It suggests that conditions or circumstances have markedly improved after a period of great difficulty or pain. It means that the clouds have parted and the sun has once again begun to peek through the gloom. Continue reading

An Update: Personal and Professional

On July 11, I sent an email letter to my bishop. In it I asked him to advise me as to the protocol I would need to follow in order to resign my ordination as a priest in the Anglican Church in North America. I knew that becoming an Anglican priest had been a long and complicated process. I assumed that leaving the priesthood might very well be the same.

That request was not an act of desperation. I had not fallen into a deep pit of despair to which I wanted to draw attention by doing something dramatic. I had not been rebuked or embarrassed or offended. I was doing what I believed I ought to do in light of my circumstances. I was doing what I felt my situation required me to do. Here’s what I mean.

My wife and I received the Sacrament of Confirmation as Anglicans in April 2009, after nearly forty years of service in the Free Church tradition. The transition to Anglicanism was difficult and costly. Still, it was necessary, given the convictions regarding worship and the church which God had planted and cultivated in us over the preceding five or six years.

Since God had called me to vocational ministry while I was still in high school, and since I had served in some ministerial role for my entire career, it stood to reason that, if God had led me to Anglicanism, He had also prepared a place for me to fulfill my calling and exercise my gifts within this new communion.

Accordingly, in the summer of 2009, I made my first inquiry into the process I would need to follow if I were to seek ordination as an Anglican priest. I have described all of this in earlier blog posts as well as in the document called “My Spiritual Pilgrimage,” which you can access by clicking on the tab at the top of this post, if you are interested.

In response to my inquiry, the priest who was serving at that time as chair of the Vocations Committee for the diocese assured me that, given my background and experience, he felt sure that I was qualified for ordination. “What I don’t know,” he went on to say, “is where we will find a place for you to serve after you are ordained.”

Again, I have written elsewhere about how foreign this statement was compared to my previous experience in ministry. For forty years, except for the time that I was in school and perhaps one or two other brief periods, I had always been involved in service to the church for which I was monetarily compensated, i.e. paid—not a lot, but paid nonetheless. In short, ever since God called me to vocational ministry, He has always opened doors to areas of ministry where I could use my gifts and, at the same time, earn my living.

That is until now.

The chair of the Vocations Committee had made it clear that I could not be “generically” ordained. In other words, I would need to have in mind some sphere of service, some role or position or slot which my ordination would equip and authorize me to fill. That would be difficult, he noted, since there were precious few ministerial openings among the parishes of our brand new diocese.

In all candor, I was not terribly concerned. For nearly forty years, God had consistently opened doors for me, using different sorts of circumstances to bring me into contact with groups of His people who recognized my gifts and my calling and were eager to have me serve among them. In every case, these same people understood that, if I were to use my gifts in serving them, they would need to help meet my material needs through their faithful financial stewardship. That has been the pattern which has played out in my experience over and over.

Until now.

When I met with the bishop in the fall of 2010, prior to my ordination the next spring, he agreed with me that, given my experience in teaching college-age young people and my special affection for that age group, it seemed only logical that a good “fit” for me would be to serve as a priest in a church near a college campus. There was only one problem. There was no such church in our diocese, at least not one with an opening for a priest on its staff. If such a church were to develop, it would have to be planted.

That problem did not seem insurmountable. After all, I live near Columbus, OH, the home of The Ohio State University with its more than 50,000 students. There is not one, single, orthodox Anglican church within ten miles of the OSU campus. And OSU is by no means the only college located in Columbus or the immediate vicinity. That an Anglican church with a vision to reach out to college students is legitimately needed should be a no-brainer, right? That’s what I thought. And that’s what the bishop believed when he ordained me to the priesthood in May 2011.

It is now more than a year later. The vision for St. Patrick’s Church and Ministry Center (which I have summarized in the Prospectus; you can access it above) has not materialized. God has not brought together a core group of people who are willing to commit themselves sacrificially to see this vision become reality. Nor has He made it possible for Shirley and me to move to the city where we had hoped to plant the church.

Since I have not been able to accomplish, in more than a year, the ministry for which I was commissioned at my ordination, I determined that the only reasonable thing for me to do—an action that reflected integrity and sincerity —was to resign my Orders. That, then, is what prompted my letter of July 11.

In response to that letter, the Archdeacon, a priest who assists the bishop in the administration of the diocese, told me that I cannot resign my ordination since I received Holy Orders from a bishop who had been consecrated in Apostolic Succession. I have been ordained a priest forever in God’s “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.” Truth be told, I was actually glad to learn that. It is altogether consistent with the gravity and solemnity of the process of preparation for Holy Orders and the vows I made when I was ordained.

I was further told that, if I insist that I want to be released from the sacramental authority and responsibility of my ordination, I can request to be “laicized.” In that case I would be relieved of my sacerdotal (priestly) authority. I could no longer, as an Anglican priest, celebrate Eucharist or carry out any of the other sacramental functions which a priest is ordinarily authorized to perform.

On July 25, I met with the diocesan Canon to the Ordinary, another priest who assists the bishop and, in this case at least, serves as something of a “chaplain” for the clergy of the diocese. It was a good meeting, and as a result of that conversation I have agreed to take my request for release from my Orders off the table for the time being.

I’ve now had a couple of weeks to think and pray further about this matter in light of what I have recently learned. If you’re interested, I’ll be addressing some of the conclusions I’ve reached in a future post, perhaps the next one.

For now, I want to emphasize that my inquiry regarding release from my Orders was not an act of desperation nor an ill-conceived emotional eruption. There is nothing in the world more important to me than faithfulness to the calling and gifting which God extended to me more than four decades ago and which have been regularly affirmed by the people of God.

I know that I am likely looking at the last chapter of my active ministry (I am 62 years old). Still, I hope and pray that it will be a long and fruitful chapter. But time is passing, and I seem to be treading water. I’m trying to maintain a spirit of confidence and hopefulness. Thanks for your prayers. I do have more to say on this subject, but I need to save it for another time and bring this posting to a close.

Soli Deo Gloria.

Anglican Ordination: One Year Later

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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