Goodbye to GWILT, at Least for Now

In conversation over lunch one day last winter, a friend and I agreed that there might be some interest, out here on the prairie just northwest of Columbus, Ohio, in a worship service that would combine a focus on serious Christian discipleship with liturgical worship forms. We had both served Mennonite churches and institutions, where we had embraced that tradition’s emphasis on faithful service as the mark of genuine faith. At the same time, we were both drawn to the beauty and mystery that are at the heart of the liturgical tradition in worship. I had even been ordained an Anglican priest in 2011. Continue reading

Could It Happen Again?

I had never heard of the term “epic fail” when I went through one in 1986.

At age 36, I was in my second year as pastor of a large Mennonite Church in Harrisonburg, VA. I had joined the church’s staff as an associate pastor in 1982 and was 2called, by unanimous vote of the congregation, to succeed my popular predecessor, who had served in that role for nearly twenty years, when he moved on to a church in Pennsylvania in 1984. Two years into my term, things were not going well. I was exhausted—physically, emotionally, and spiritually—and discouraged. In early January, I resigned, fairly sure that I lacked the gifts necessary for effective pastoral ministry and maybe for vocational ministry of any sort. Continue reading

Introducing The Community of H-O-P-E

Let me be very clear. The Gathering for Worship in the Liturgical Tradition, which meets every other Saturday night in Plain City, Ohio, is not a church. The people who attend have not been recruited to participate in a church planting effort, nor is their association with an endeavor like that in the future either assumed or expected. Continue reading

The Limits of Liturgy

Regular readers of this blog and people who know me personally are well aware of my strong affinity for liturgical worship. I love it so much that I have not been willing to compromise my relatively new-found convictions in this area, not even to save my job. That’s why I can’t wait to see what God might have in store for us through the “gatherings for worship in the liturgical tradition” which begin in Plain City, OH, on February 21. (Facebook users, click here for more information. Others can click on the “Gathering” button under the banner at the top of this page.) Continue reading

The Liturgy Saved Me

Six years ago, on the Sunday before Thanksgiving 2008, while sitting at a corner table at Panera Bread in Dublin, OH, I wrote an essay, later posted as a note on my Facebook page, which I called “I Quit.” I remember the date because I was on my way to the I Quit (1)hospital to spend time with my wife who was undergoing treatment for breast cancer. Actually, she was in the hospital because the chemotherapy she had been undergoing for three months had made her so sick, she needed more care and attention than I was able to provide for her at home. Continue reading

Announcing Next Steps

I am using this post to bring you up to date on where things stand regarding the vision for a new church in or near Columbus, Ohio. When you finish reading, you may conclude that there is still a lot more to this vision that is tentative rather than definite. That’s true. These skyline (6)“next steps” are not yet anchored in concrete. In fact, what I am sharing here is more like the wooden forms into which the concrete has yet to be poured. But it is a start.

By the way, I am pleased to be able to write much of what I report here in the first person plural, as “we” rather than “I,” since I am serving as the voice for at least two other brothers who share this vision with me. This is a small “core” group, I know, but it is three times as large as it was just a few months ago. And one reason for reporting developments this early, where so much remains tentative, is to encourage others to identify with the vision in its formative stage. I want to provide sufficient information to show that the vision is developing in a thoughtful manner, with no desire on anybody’s part to impose a personal agenda on the process. We are, as much as we know how, waiting on God to direct our path every step of the way.

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Podcast No. 8

Vector Button PodcastPodcast No. 8 is now available. It is called “The Liturgy Saved Me,” and it is about 7 minutes long. To download it as an mp3 file, click here. To listen to the podcast now, click on the button below. This podcast is also archived on the “Podcasts” page of this blog. Thanks for listening.

Another Conversation With Arthur

Last Monday, I had lunch with a good friend. Our wide-ranging conversation included references to mutual acquaintances, most of whom neither of us had heard from in some time. When the name of Arthur Lough came up, however, I was quick to mention that I had just spent an hour or so with Arthur on the previous Saturday afternoon.Obnoxious Senior Man

“And how is the old curmudgeon?” my friend asked. “Arthur and I are the same age,” I reminded him.

“Oh, I wasn’t referring to his age so much as his irascibility,” he replied, smiling. “Don’t you think that Arthur has gotten a bit, well, crusty in recent years?”

“I hadn’t really noticed,” I said. “But if he has, I think he might have good reason. Life hasn’t been easy for Arthur the past few years.”

“Life hasn’t been easy for any of us,” he shot back. “But Arthur seems to have the knack for making a bad situation worse. He has made some choices that alienated him from his peers and colleagues, so I’m certain he feels isolated and cut off from the circles he used to move in.

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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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Gene Herr Was My Hero

I don’t think I ever met Gene Herr, although our paths may have crossed many years ago, before I knew who he was and when I was even more of a nobody than I am now. Gene was a Mennonite, born and raised, who became a Roman Catholic in 2005 when he was in his seventies. Perhaps that sentence alone is enough to tell you why he is a hero of mine.

My wife assures me that I first learned of Gene Herr sometime in the late ’80s or ’90s, while he and his wife were living in Michigan where they had founded a ministry called The Hermitage. Located on 50+ wooded acres, The Hermitage was (and still is) a place for spiritual retreat and formation. When I included a description of the St. Patrick Center in the ministry prospectus which I wrote a year ago, The Hermitage was one of several similar endeavors which provided inspiration and a model for that vision.

Gene Herr died on January 1 this year, although I did not learn of his passing until today. The June issue of The Mennonite, the monthly organ of Mennonite Church USA, published a major article which assessed the impact of his life and ministry. Gene Herr actually was what I have aspired to be—a sacramental and liturgical Anabaptist.

The only personal contact I ever had with Gene Herr came about nearly two years ago, in August 2010. I had written a letter to the editor of the Mennonite Weekly (now World) Review. Gene read my letter and sent me a handwritten note of encouragement in response.

Here is part of what I wrote in that letter—

I joined the Mennonite Church in 1982 and for 26 years served in a variety of ministry roles, including 8 years as a pastor and 14 years as a teacher in a Mennonite Bible college not affiliated with MCUSA.  While teaching there, I came to appreciate the beauty and richness of liturgical worship.  Since I was unable to find a Mennonite congregation in that area which shared my convictions, I began attending an Anglican church, but I never abandoned or compromised my nonresistance convictions nor my commitment to kingdom living and radical discipleship. Still, because I no longer attended a Mennonite church, my teaching contract was terminated in 2008.

I am now preparing for Holy Orders in the Anglican Church in North America, not so much because I have uncritically embraced Anglicanism but because there seems to be more room for my Anabaptist convictions in the Anglican communion than for my liturgical sensibilities in Anabaptism.  I am less an Anglican than a liturgical Anabaptist.

Here is part of what he wrote in response—

My wife and I had a retreat place in southern Michigan. We began with strong Mennonite support with a goal of working at a spirituality to make possible what we have as a call to peace and justice. Our work became wonderfully ecumenical. …

In ’05, the 50th year of my ordination (as a Mennonite minister) at Scottdale, PA, I became a Roman Catholic. … I identify with your struggle and quest for a home. … Blessings to you as you live and serve between the traditions. I have many (Mennonite) friends and still am able to do some teaching in Mennonite settings.

And then, this from the article in The Mennonite, which I mentioned above—

In response to God’s call,… Gene, a lifelong Mennonite, was received into the Catholic Church (in 2005).

This step wasn’t a rejection of his Mennonite roots but the fulfillment of a lifelong faith as an Anabaptist, says Ivan Kauffman, who with Gene and others helped develop Bridgefolk, a movement of sacramentally minded Mennonites and peace-minded Roman Catholics who come together to celebrate each other’s traditions, explore each other’s practices and honor each other’s contribution to the mission of Christ’s church.

“Gene did not turn his back on his Mennonite heritage or on the Mennonite church,” Kauffman says. “He continued to serve the Mennonite community in various ways to the end of his life. What he did do was find ways to make the riches of the pre-Reformation spiritual tradition, out of which the 16th-century Anabaptist movement emerged, available to 20th-century Mennonites.

“He and … Mary did so in ways that were helpful to hundreds of other Mennonites. In the end, however, Gene came to believe he should not just borrow from the Catholic tradition [but] become a full participant in it.”

Gene testifies to this perspective in an essay he wrote: “I am a Roman Catholic not because I have a file folder full of arguments to prove this is superior to all other ecclesial groups but because this is a way of living into a tradition that connects me to God’s people in a fullness of faith, hope and love across millennia.”

That is very similar to the testimony I could give regarding my own pilgrimage from Anabaptism to the liturgical tradition of Anglicanism.

I did not grow up in Anabaptism, as Gene Herr did. And for nine years I was the face and voice of a group called Evangelical Anabaptist Fellowship, which pointed out areas within contemporary Anabaptism (especially MCUSA) where we saw evidence of “doctrinal erosion” and a slipping away from the orthodox heritage of historical Anabaptism. For both of those reasons, my transition from Anabaptism to Anglicanism resulted in greater alienation between me and my former associates within MCUSA than was true of Gene Herr in his relationship with Mennonites after his conversion to Catholicism.

Still, even in his case, as the article in The Mennonite observes—

As (Gene and his wife, Mary) pursued their visionary calling, the wider church did not always understand or affirm the new territories they explored. Eventually, however, many pastors across the church came to appreciate the pastoral nurture they received from the couple at The Hermitage…

I was not fortunate enough to have benefited from the kind of face-to-face mentoring and spiritual support from Gene Herr which so many others experienced, but I was enriched and encouraged by my limited contact. That brief encounter was enough to let me know that, in Gene Herr, I had found a “kindred spirit.”

I have no idea what, if anything, will develop, in my case, as far as a significant ministry among Anglicans is concerned. So far, the landscape looks fairly bleak in that regard. But it may very well be that, through this blog and in other ways, I can still share with my friends and acquaintances in Anabaptism the reality which I have experienced through my encounter with liturgical Anglicanism.

I am not out to make Anglican converts of Anabaptists. In all of my life and ministry, my goal is to encourage believers to take seriously the call of Christ to be faithful citizens of His Kingdom. The rich heritage of the liturgical tradition has been a great help to me in my personal pursuit of that goal. Gene Herr was an encouragement sent to me from God, and one of these days I will be able to tell him that in person.

RIP, Gene Herr.