The Arthur Book: Where Things Stand

The manuscript for the Arthur Lough biography—an autobiographical novel called The Long Road from Highland Springs: A Faith Odyssey—is complete and ready to be printed. I started writing last August and finished the first draft in January. In early February, I Writer at Work (1)submitted that draft to a professional editor for evaluation. Based on suggestions and recommendations from that evaluation, I spent two months revising and rewriting the manuscript. (The excerpts from chapter one that I published last winter as posts to this blog were drawn from the first draft and do not reflect the later re-write, which includes a prologue and new chapters not in the first draft.)

In May, I sent the unedited manuscript to five beta readers. All of them liked the book and encouraged me to publish it. In late May, I began exploring a variety of publishing options, most of which were companies that required me to pay for their services and assume all risks related to sales and marketing of the book. During that process, I consulted a well-known writer who has published several titles using a variety of methods (trade publishers, self-publishers, etc.). In the course of our communications, he advised me to hire a professional copyeditor no matter which method of publishing I ultimately chose. Continue reading

An Update On The Arthur Book And A Primer On Self-Publishing

I’ve known for years that most people who have heard me preach think that I do a pretty good job. I hope that doesn’t sound like bragging. Truth is I’ve always assumed that if God calls you to do a particular work, he will also supply sufficient gifts so that, if you work hard, you can achieve at least a moderate level of proficiency in the task. I would hate to think that God called me to do something at which I would never be any good. Continue reading

A Really, Really Practical Post

Of all the uses to which I have put this blog in the fifteen months I have been writing it, of all the things I have communicated in the previous one hundred thirty-three posts, what I am sharing in this post is the most difficult, most awkward, and most likely to be misinterpreted. Still, I have learned that, when an idea implants itself in my thought processes and intrudes repeatedly into my consciousness over several days, it is likely something I should heed. So, here goes.

For nearly five years, since the door closed on my fourteen years of ministry as an instructor in a small Bible college, I have been asking God to show me what new door He was opening. For a time, I thought I detected a sliver of light through a door slightly ajar. I painstakingly prepared for a ministry within the Anglican tradition. Following my ordination as a priest in May 2011, I spent a year and a half trying to force my way through a door which God was not opening, at least not at this time.

I have written much about my vision for a new church in Columbus, Ohio, near the campus of The Ohio State University. More than a year ago I located a small office for rent Grandview Officein Grandview Heights, the very community in which it seemed that God might be leading us to establish the new church. The circumstances surrounding my discovery of the office’s availability, along with the generosity of the people of St. Augustine’s Anglican Church in assuming the cost of renting the office for one year, led me to conclude that God was in the midst of that enterprise.

The church is not yet a reality. The office did not directly lead to an even greater presence in the community resulting in the formation of a congregation. The vision for the church still lives, but God’s timing, in that regard, is different from mine.

Continue reading

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.”

Continue reading

My Hope Is In The Diocese

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Flag Of Worldwide Anglicanism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Modest Proposal (Part One–The Need and The Plan)

The New Testament book of James is all about the relationship between faith and works. The author was the brother of our Lord and the first ‘pastor’ of the church in Jerusalem. An exceptionally wise man, it was James who, as moderator of the “Jerusalem Council” (Acts 15), brought forward a proposal that averted a rift between leaders of the new Christian movement which could have permanently damaged the church from its infancy.

In the “open letter” which bears his name, James made it clear that true faith always expresses itself in good works. What we believe has to affect the way we behave or there is reason to question the genuineness of our belief. He said it this way in chapter 2, verses 14-17.

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

It is in the spirit of “Pastor James,” then, that I have the temerity to bring forward a proposal to address a potentially damaging rift between our faith and our works in the ACNA.

We have before us a challenge from the Archbishop to plant 1000 new Anglican churches during his five-year term as leader of the denomination. When I was ordained a priest last May, I was commissioned to plant one of those churches. Now, I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed, and I certainly don’t claim to have the wisdom of James. But it seems to me there is something missing from this equation, namely the part that enables the progression from vision to reality.

When I was asked recently how the effort to plant a church in Grandview Heights was progressing, I replied, “We have everything we need for this new church… except money, people, and a place to meet. Oh, and I live thirty miles away, have been unemployed for three years, and have no means to relocate to the community wherein we hope to plant the church.” That attempt to couch my response in humor, as lame as it was, nevertheless illustrates the dilemma we face in ACNA. There is no strategic plan in place to provide the resources necessary to turn the Archbishop’s challenge into reality. At least, if there is, I’m not aware of it.

I’m growing a bit weary of good-hearted people wishing me well and assuring me of their support for my endeavors. (Remember, I told you that sooner or later I would annoy you. Perhaps it’s today.) Frankly, it has begun to remind me of the fellow James described in the passage above. You know, the guy who looked at the naked and hungry man and said to him, “Go in peace; be warmed and fed.” Nice sentiment but practically useless. That’s where my proposal comes in. I believe this could benefit the entire ACNA, but to make my point here, I will frame it in terms of my own diocese, the Anglican Diocese of the Great Lakes.

I propose that every parish in the diocese set aside ten percent of its gross revenues each year for the next several years and deposit those funds in an account, administered by the office of the Bishop and exclusively for the purpose of financing church plants in the diocese.

Those funds would then be disbursed according to a schedule which would underwrite 100% of the new church’s costs for the first year of its existence, two-thirds in the second year, and one-third in the third. The goal would be self-sufficiency, or something close to it, for the new church by the third anniversary of its launch.

I can’t imagine there is any parish in the diocese that is living so close to the edge of insolvency that trimming 10% of its budget for the purpose of supporting church planting would drive it over the brink.

I will address this matter more fully in my next post. (If I still have any readers, that is.)

Time To Reboot

What do cars, cell phones, and computers have in common? They are all products of technology which I use every day but with only the vaguest idea of how they work or how to fix them if they break. Generally speaking, when any of these items malfunctions, I need to turn to an expert in order to resolve the problem. With one exception.

On occasion in the past, when my computer started slowing down, freezing up, showing error messages, or doing other goofy things, I have been able to correct the problem by turning the machine off, waiting a few seconds, then turning it on again—what computer people call a reboot.

A reboot clears out the computer’s memory and otherwise restores the operating system to a condition in which it is free from extraneous data of various forms which accumulate during normal usage. It doesn’t create a blank slate, but it gets rid of “digital detritus” which can electronically gum up the works and prevent the machine from doing its job most effectively and efficiently.

I believe that, for the Anglican Church in North America, it is time for a reboot.

Not a major overhaul. The American Anglican community has experienced that already, beginning around 1999, when the Archbishop of Rwanda consecrated missionary bishops for ministry in the US, and culminating in 2009 with the formation of the ACNA and the investiture of Archbishop Robert Duncan. I applaud the courage and the vision which such a step of faith required. I am an Anglican today because God providentially brought me to this communion at this moment in its history. Had the Episcopal Church been the only portal into Anglicanism open to me, I would never have been confirmed (not to mention ordained) as an Anglican.

I love my new ecclesiastical home. I want to see it flourish and grow. I want others to find what I have found in Anglicanism. For that to happen on a grand scale, however, I believe we need to reboot—to clear out some old thinking which could (and I believe will) impede our progress and distract us from the goal of advancing the Gospel of the Kingdom.

Chiefly, we need to remind ourselves that we are not the Episcopal Church and that the “denominational realignment” of those parishes which were formerly part of TEC must involve more than merely a new name on the church sign. Unlike TEC, which is not known for aggressive church planting and is made up mainly of well-established parishes and a fairly affluent membership, the ACNA is a pioneer movement with a missionary impetus.

Archbishop Duncan has issued a challenge to plant 1000 new ACNA churches by 2014. It is a worthy goal and in the best interests of all of us orthodox Anglicans to see that goal accomplished and to do everything we can to make it a reality. Many new “church plants” have already been undertaken, but the only way those new plants, and others yet to come, will take root and grow into healthy, productive churches is for larger, older, more well-established parishes to help nourish and cultivate those infant churches until they achieve self-sufficiency. This will likely require a sense of stewardship which is willing to trim local aspirations in order to share resources in service to a higher goal, namely advancement of the Gospel.

The Archbishop’s vision will only become a reality when every ACNA diocese adopts a “missionary mindset” and every parish embraces a “growth by extension as well as expansion” ethos. The ACNA must be characterized by cooperation and sacrificial sharing, not by competition and turf wars. We’re all in this together to bring glory to God and to raise up communities of faith that proclaim and embody the grace, mercy, and love of Christ.

It is a new day for Anglicanism in America. The opportunities are great, but so are the challenges. This is not a time for “business as usual.” It’s time to reboot.

Talking Turkey About Giving Thanks

A friend who is very familiar with my pilgrimage of the past few years recently asked me, “Do you think your transition to Anglicanism has been worth all that it has cost… emotionally, socially, materially?” My immediate, less-than-thoughtful response was, “Not yet.” In this post, I want to consider that question a bit more carefully.

By almost every measure, our decision to identify with the Anglican communion has been costly. It cost me my job as a Bible college professor. It cost me relationships with friends and family who simply cannot understand why I exchanged the “simplicity” of faith in the Anabaptist tradition for the “complexity” of Anglican Christianity, especially the “smells and bells” of liturgical worship.

The process of preparing for Holy Orders (ordination) was costly in terms of both time (two years) and money (for tuition, books, and travel). And who knew that clerical shirts and liturgical vestments were so expensive? (Well, all my colleagues knew, but they never told me; they probably feared the shock would be too great.)

Not only did it cost a lot to become Anglican and to prepare for ministry in this communion, it all had to be undertaken with the knowledge that, even after I was ordained, I still would not likely have a “paying job” as a brand new priest in this brand new diocese of the brand new Anglican Church in North America. My new ecclesiastical home, I would soon discover, has tremendous potential but limited resources. If I were to find a context for using my gifts in ministry in this communion, I would likely need to “create” it.

So I shared with my Bishop a vision for planting a new Anglican church in a community just west of downtown Columbus and close enough to the OSU campus for students to be an important part of our ministry focus. With his blessing, I summarized my vision in writing and began sharing this Prospectus with anybody who expressed interest. Then I sat back to wait for the thunderous response. The silence was deafening.

Although it pains me to admit this, I confess that the situation left me neither gratified nor grateful. As recently as three weeks ago, I was up to my armpits in what John Bunyan called the “slough of despond.” In one really, really cynical moment I summarized my circumstances like this. “It seems that the Anglican communion is saying to me, ‘If you want to be part of us, come ahead. Bear the expense, take the risks, pay the price. If you can somehow generate sufficient interest in and support for what you want to do, and if it gains traction, takes root, or otherwise becomes a reality, then, despite the fact that we couldn’t underwrite the endeavor in any way, we’ll still let you be accountable to us.'” (Please note, I said this came out during one really, really cynical moment.)

And then, as He so often does, God intervened. The good people of St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, a brand new work just getting started on the northeast side of Columbus, informed me that they sensed God telling them to underwrite the rental cost for a small office in Grandview Heights so that we can begin to have a presence in that community. Even as I type those words, my heart is so full of gratitude, to them and to God, that I cannot compose a sentence which adequately conveys what I am feeling.

It has been a very long time since a group of God’s people has reached out to Shirley and me in such a tangible, material, and sacrificial way. St. Augustine’s is a small congregation, just getting started. Their commitment to help us lay the foundation for St. Patrick’s Church represents an expenditure which they could readily, and justifiably, put to good use in their own situation, meeting their own needs. And yet they have chosen to make outreach and mission a part of their congregational ethos from the beginning. My admiration, and my gratitude, knows no bounds.

Kingdom Stewardship

During his earthly ministry, Jesus talked a lot about money. More than he talked about heaven and hell combined. Far more than he talked about sex or marriage or even love. More, in fact, than he talked about any other subject except for the Kingdom of God. And much of what he said was a warning about the sinister and subtle ways that money can distort our thinking, pervert our values, and impede our formation as citizens of the Kingdom.

Jesus made three things very clear. One, everything we have, including our money, comes from God. We are stewards, managers if you will, of the resources God puts at our disposal. The idea that we give God a tithe (technically 10%) of our money and the rest is ours to use however we want is simply inconsistent with Kingdom stewardship. Two, money is either our servant or our master. If we do not use it wisely (and for Christians that means in the interests of the kingdom), it controls us. And three, when Jesus referred to “rich” people, he meant not just people who have money, but people whose money has them, whatever their level of affluence. It is in this sense that Jesus used the term when he said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.” And American Christians need to remember that, compared with the vast majority of people on earth, we are all wealthy.

I did not enter the Christian ministry “for the money,” and I have never been generously compensated for my ministry, nor have I expected to be.  Vocational ministry is not a profession.  I have tried to live according to the principle established by Paul in his instruction to Timothy: “If we have food and clothing, with these we shall be content.” (1 Tim. 6:8)  In a culture obsessed with materialism, adopting a frugal lifestyle not only offers an opportunity to exhibit Christian values which counteract the prevailing culture, it also frees up resources which can be used for the work of the Kingdom in other ways.

I am trying to be faithful. God led me into Anglicanism, but it has cost a lot to follow that leading.  For one thing, I lost my job.  As I write this in the fall of 2011, it has been more than three years since I have drawn a paycheck.  During that time, I walked with my wife through her battle with breast cancer, and I completed the requirements leading to Holy Orders in ACNA. Were it not for the sacrificial generosity of some longtime friends, we would be destitute. As it is, my bank account is busted, but my credit rating is still strong, and my spirit, while bruised and downcast by times, remains unbroken. God, too, has been faithful.

I mention all of this for two reasons. First, I want to make it clear that I practice what I preach in this area. Second, God may have brought me to the Anglican communion “for such a time as this.” I believe that my experience and my perspective can be particularly helpful as the ACNA takes on the challenge of finding material resources to underwrite its spiritual vision.

More anon.

M is for Missional… and for Money

The Anglican Church in North America is facing almost unlimited opportunity but with limited financial resources.  If we are to realize our potential and take advantage of that opportunity, we will need to be creative in the use of our finances and willing to sacrifice for the good of the Kingdom.  I know that God is infinite and possesses boundless assets, but I am always amazed that the infinite God has chosen to accomplish His purposes in the world through finite humans and to make the advancement of the Gospel dependent on our faithfulness.

This has been the case since the church’s very beginning. The second chapter of Acts records the story of some remarkable events that took place in Jerusalem just seven weeks after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. Ten days earlier, Jesus’ disciples had watched as He ascended back into heaven, having completed the work for which He had come to earth, and with joy in their hearts they waited to see what God would do next. Then, with Jerusalem teeming with Jews who had come there to celebrate the Feast of Pentecost (fifty days after Passover), the Holy Spirit came upon them, resulting in the conversion of thousands who understood and believed the good news about Jesus the Messiah.

The Christian community faced an immediate dilemma. Many of the new believers chose to stay in Jerusalem, where they could be nurtured in spiritual growth, rather than to return to the lands from which they had come. This was both a blessing and a burden for the church in Jerusalem. The infant church would benefit from the fellowship and enthusiasm of the multitudes of converts, many of whom would eventually return to their places of origin as missionaries for the Gospel of Christ. In the meantime, however, they needed to be housed and fed and cared for.

And the church rose to the challenge. As Luke records in Acts 2:44-45 (ESV)—

All who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.

We have wasted a lot of time over the centuries arguing about whether or not the early church practiced some form of communism. That is beside the point, which is that the early church did whatever was necessary to provide the material resources which their situation, and their calling, required. The ACNA faces a similar challenge.

God has moved among us, His Spirit has descended upon the Anglican communion, and the Gospel of the Kingdom, once again faithfully preached and practiced in the beauty of the historical liturgy, has proven enormously attractive to many, including me. Many of us “converts” bring gifts and talents and enthusiasm and vision to our new “Jerusalem.” We want to live here, to serve here, to help the ACNA realize its potential and to do what we can to make the Archbishop’s vision for 1000 new churches a reality. In this historic moment, however, at the threshold of what could potentially be an “Anglican hour” in American Christianity, too many voices are calling out, “But we just don’t have the money.”

Nonsense. There is always enough money to do what God is calling us to do. Where God guides, He provides. Any apparent shortage of financial resources means either that the vision is not really from God or that the people of God need to rearrange their priorities and reconsider their view of Christian stewardship in order to make sure that their resources (all of which come from God anyway) are not being mismanaged or misused.

The ACNA is not the Episcopal Church (TEC). Especially for those parishes, formerly in TEC, that have been led to align with the new work of the Spirit which God is beginning to do through ACNA, this is a potentially transformative moment. But that transformation involves far more than merely changing the name on the church sign. It requires one of those “paradigm shifts” that so often accompany, or give evidence of, authentic transformation. It may very well be that, for ACNA, one of the most significant paradigm shifts will involve a change in the church’s attitude and practice in the area of financial stewardship.

I have much more to say on this important subject, including some specific suggestions and recommendations, and I will share them in future posts.