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.”

A Very Important Meeting

I have mentioned several times in these blog posts that I am an Anglican priest. I was ordained on May 10, 2011, by the Rt. Rev. Roger Ames, Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of the Great Lakes, which is part of the Anglican Church in North America. I have also noted that Anglican ordination is not generic. The new priest is ordained, or receives Holy Orders, for a specific ministry. In my case, when the Bishop laid his hands on me in ordination, he also commissioned me to plant a new church near downtown Columbus, Ohio, which would identify with a particular local neighborhood but would reach out to the nearby campus of The Ohio State University as part of its vision for mission and ministry.

For the first few months after my ordination, I gained some necessary experience in serving as a priest by assisting the Rector (the Anglican term for Senior Pastor) at St. Andrew’s Anglican Church in Lewis Center, OH, on the northern edge of the Columbus metro area in southern Delaware County. Then beginning in August last year, Shirley and I spent about three months preparing ourselves for our church planting ministry by visiting a number of other churches in our community and beyond.

We visited Anglican churches in order to observe how other parishes adapted the liturgy for their particular setting. We visited churches in college towns to observe their ministry to students. We had lots of questions. For example, how does a church that values identification with a local community balance that with an outreach to transient college students? How does a ministry to students affect or influence the shape and character of public worship, particularly with regard to styles of music, where tastes and preferences might differ greatly between generations?

Along the way I read lots of books on church planting and attended several conferences and seminars on related topics. In January 2011, for example, I attended the Church Planting Summit sponsored by Anglican1000, the arm of the ACNA which coordinates the denomination’s effort to plant 1000 new Anglican churches by 2014, a visionary challenge issued by the Most Rev. Robert Duncan at his investiture as Archbishop of the brand new denomination in June 2009. I also attended workshops on the use of social media and the value of liturgy, music, and the arts in the work of church planting.

By late fall, I was already tired, and we had not yet begun the hard work of actually planting a church. I was also discouraged. In September I had written a prospectus in which I outlined my vision for a new church, to be called St. Patrick’s, along with a broader, more comprehensive ministry which I sensed God was calling me to explore in conjunction with the church plant. I worked hard on that prospectus, made it as crisp and succinct as I could, and sent it out to about fifty people. Then I sat back to await what I expected would be an enthusiastic response and a chorus of voices calling out questions like “How can I be involved?” and “What can I do to help make this vision a reality?” Instead of  responses like that, however, the silence was deafening.

Just at that moment, the good people of St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, most of whom had never read my prospectus, reached out to Shirley and me. They invited us to consider St. Augustine’s our home until such time as God raised up the kind of support we would need to undertake the ministry of St. Patrick’s. At the same time, purely on their own initiative, they pledged to underwrite the cost of renting a small office in Grandview Heights, a municipality just northwest of downtown Columbus and virtually adjacent to the OSU campus. Their generosity was a godsend and a source of great encouragement.

Still, we are facing some significant obstacles as we consider our next steps. First of all, the broader orthodox Anglican community in central Ohio, which includes the parish out of which I was ordained, has not owned this vision nor rallied to this cause. That is both perplexing and discouraging. In addition, Shirley and I live about thirty miles northwest of Grandview Heights. We know that we cannot plant a church at that distance, but we are powerless to relocate unless or until God makes some provision in that regard. I have not been gainfully employed in almost four years. Our personal finances are depleted, and the diocese is strapped for cash, so it cannot assist us in this endeavor.

I have often said that I do not want to formulate a vision for a ministry and then ask God to bless it. Rather, I want to discover what God is doing and join it. It may be that God does not intend to bless the efforts to plant a new Anglican church near the OSU campus in Columbus, OH. From a human perspective, that is difficult to imagine, since the need is so real and the potential benefit to the work of the Kingdom of God seems so great. Still, the need alone does not constitute a call from God. Even Jesus, during His earthly ministry, did not regard a need, however legitimate, to be the sole determinant for where or how He would exercise His power. He did and said only those things which His Father in heaven directed Him to do and say.

I have done my best to make this opportunity known and to invite participation in this vision. I have made it clear that I am not a “lone ranger” personality. I bring a certain gift set to this endeavor, but I cannot and will not undertake it on my own. So far, response to my plaintive cry has been minimal. I believe I could conclude, based on the lack of response, that this is not God’s time to undertake this ministry of church planting, and I could turn my attention toward other avenues of service without a sense of abandoning this effort prematurely.

I am, however, going to take one additional step before I conclude that God is not in this endeavor. With this blog post, I am announcing an exploratory meeting for all persons who have any degree of interest in the possibility of a new church of the sort that I have described in this post and many earlier ones as well. The meeting will be held at the Rosedale International Center, 2120 E. 5th Ave., Columbus, OH, just northeast of downtown, on Thursday, April 12 at 7:00 p.m.

At this meeting I will review the prospectus I have written,  and I will share my vision for the church in general and for St. Patrick’s in particular. I will address any questions which arise and will encourage all who come to join the conversation with comments, counsel, and suggestions of their own. The meeting will last not more than two hours and will be mainly interactive.

You do not have to be Anglican, nor even exploring Anglicanism, to attend this meeting. In fact, part of the rationale for the meeting is to determine whether God wants to bring this vision to reality through the Anglican community in central Ohio, whether He wants to use others to bring it about, or whether we should conclude that God is not in this vision at all, at least at this moment.

Your attendance at this meeting will not obligate you at all, in any way. You will not be asked to make any commitment to the work of St. Patrick’s at the meeting. It is exclusively for information-sharing and to help determine the viability of the vision.

If you think you might be interested in attending, it would be helpful for our planning if you could let us know ahead of time… helpful, but not essential. Please don’t be dissuaded from coming just because you might not be able to make that determination until the last minute. There will still be adequate seating and enough coffee for everybody. But if you can let us know of your interest ahead of time, please send that information to me at stpatricksgrandview@gmail.com. (You may also contact me via a personal note on Facebook.)

Finally, if you would like to read a copy of the prospectus which summarizes the heart of my vision for this ministry, whether or not you plan to attend the meeting, I will be happy to see that you get a copy, as a .pdf file, by email. (We don’t have a website yet, since it has seemed a bit premature to develop one before we know if there will be sufficient support to get the ministry going.) Use the above email address to request a copy of the prospectus, and I will send it right away.

Thanks for reading this post. Thanks for praying for the meeting on April 12. And thanks for considering this invitation to attend. I hope to see you there.

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

In Over My Head

What do you do when everything you have come to believe about the way God works out His purposes in your life no longer seems to apply? What happens when all the things you’ve taught your Bible college students about the way a church should function with regard to the distribution of spiritual gifts now seem contradicted by your present circumstances? That’s precisely my predicament.

For decades, I believed and taught that God’s purposes for our lives generally involve the exercise of the gifts He has given us. Thus, if we’re looking at two possible directions, opportunities, or courses of action, and one seems far more suited to the use of our natural and God-given strengths and abilities, that is probably the course we should follow. Moreover, if we find our circumstances requiring us, routinely, to extend ourselves in areas for which we are simply not equipped by gifting, temperament, aptitude, or interest, then we probably need to stop, rethink our situation, and very likely make a mid-course correction.

Further, with regard to the life and ministry of the church, I had heretofore believed and taught that God expects us to serve in areas compatible with our gifts, and if He intends the church to pursue a new avenue of ministry, He will provide gifted people to be involved in it. Thus, the most efficient, effective, and harmonious way for a church to operate is for members, including leadership personnel, to function in the area of their strengths, gifts, and interests. When a leader demands, or feels obliged, to take on responsibilities outside his or her areas of giftedness, the results are generally mixed at best and disastrous at worst.

In Ephesians 4, Paul addresses this principle in relation to the kinds of leadership gifts which God has ordained in the church for the purpose of preparing and equipping His people for their various roles of service.

 11 Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. 12 Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. 13 This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.  (New Living Translation)

Most conservative scholars agree that this passage notes four distinct categories of leadership gifts in the church (in bold print in the above quotation), the term “pastors and teachers” most likely referring to dual dimensions of gifting in the same individual. The role of shepherd (“pastor”) in a church will generally involve a ministry of teaching, which requires appropriate gifting for enablement. That is the role I believe I am called to fill in the church, and I have the necessary gifts to enable my effective and efficient functioning in that role. I am a pastor-teacher.

I have exercised my gifts and fulfilled my calling in a variety of contexts and settings over the years. I have sometimes served as a pastor in a local congregation, but I have also used my gifts in a para-church ministry and as an instructor in a church college. In each situation, it has been clear, both to me and to those who called me to serve in a particular role, that my gifts were commensurate with the scope of the responsibility I was assuming.

In my current situation, however, things are different. The gifts required for church planting are different from those required for pastoral ministry, particularly when the effort to plant a church has to be undertaken completely “from scratch,” with no institutional sponsorship of any kind. And frankly, when it comes to caring for the myriad details associated with a church plant, including trying to convince people that the project is worthwhile and viable in the first place, I am just “in over my head.”

A consistent application of the principles I have believed and taught about God’s guidance and effective ministry would seem to require me to stop, rethink my circumstances, and make a mid-course correction. Except that there seems to be no other course available.

Truth be told, I really don’t believe God is going to require me to abandon the principles I have previously believed and taught. My greatest contribution to the work of establishing St. Patrick’s Anglican Church will be seen farther down the road. I’m not going to try to be something or someone I am not. So, for this work to get done, for this church plant to materialize, God will need to send us people with gifts to match our immediate needs. I don’t have them. Do you?

If you do, and if you want to share them with us, contact me at stpatricksgrandview@gmail.com.

An Apology For Anglicanism

Oh, wait. Don’t tell me. You were expecting me to apologize for something I am embarrassed about as an Anglican? Something I need to make an excuse for? Oh no. No, no, no, no, no. This is not that kind of apology.

I’m using the term in its technical sense, the way a philosopher or theologian would use it. Think of it as more of a defense than an act of contrition. More of an argument in favor of something than a confession or request for forgiveness.

Not that Anglicanism, like organized Christianity in general, doesn’t have some things to apologize for. There are certainly some aspects of our beginnings as a formal church entity that are a bit unsavory, if not downright sordid. But that’s not what this post is about.

As I’ve noted many times, I am not a “cradle Anglican.” In fact, I was born into a Christian tradition (Fundamentalism) that is about as far removed from Anglicanism as you can get and still stay under the “Christian” tent. I came to the Anglican tradition gradually, without realizing I was heading in this direction until I was almost there. But now that I am here, I want to encourage as many people as possible to join me.

Hear me out. This is not the giddy enthusiasm of an inexperienced adolescent. I’ve “been there, done that” before, and I have the embarrassing recollections to prove it. This is the earnest entreaty of a seasoned (read “old”) veteran of four decades of vocational Christian ministry. I’ve seen it all… every type of scandal, conflict, failure, personal affront, and schism you can imagine. I’ve seen the “inner workings” of several denominations, institutions, and agencies. I know how the sausage is made. I “know where the bodies are buried.”

And yet I am still here. I have not surrendered to disillusionment. I have not given up on the church (despite some very public threats to do just that). That’s why I think my apology for Anglicanism is valid. I’ve been banged around a bit, but by God’s grace, so far I’ve managed to get back up every time I’ve been knocked down. Ask me for corroborating evidence, I’ll show you my scars. Ask me for proof of credibility, I’ll point you to those who can verify my claims from their own observation.

It took me almost sixty years, but I’m finally home. Or as near to home as I am likely to be this side of heaven. I was born into Fundamentalism, moved to more mainstream Evangelicalism, spent a quarter-century among Anabaptists (Mennonites) before I arrived at Canterbury. But please understand, my pilgrimage has been a cumulative experience, not sequential. That is, I retain some, even many, of the strengths and benefits which influenced and shaped me as a Christian during my years in each of these traditions. I did not come to Anglicanism as a blank slate. Rather, I came as the product of a wide-ranging journey during which I have been exposed to some of the best (as well as some of the not-so-good) that Christianity has to offer.

Still, I am now an Anglican. I am here because of what this tradition represents. I am here because of what I have discovered here. I am here because I was drawn here by the tradition. I did not come here to try to change things that are essential to the character of historical Anglicanism.

I love the liturgy. Where some of my evangelical friends see a stiff and stodgy formality, I see order and beauty which reflect the heart of Christian worship extending back to the early centuries of the church. Where some dismiss the structure of Anglican worship as simply “smells and bells,” I marvel at the careful, thoughtful ways the elements of the service blend together and touch all the senses.

I love the “big tent” which is Anglican theology. While Anglicanism is creedal at its heart (that is, it affirms the foundational assertions of the Apostles and Nicene Creeds) it is not narrow-minded or legalistic. At its best, Anglicanism embodies the heart of the maxim: “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity (love).”

One of the things I am most looking forward to as we anticipate the development of St. Patrick’s Anglican Church is the opportunity to introduce seekers, new believers, and those from other traditions to the beauty and balance, the blend of tradition and cultural sensitivity, which is Anglicanism at its best.

I came to Anglicanism with a high regard for scripture (from Fundamentalism), an appreciation for the gospel of the Kingdom (from Evangelicalism), and a commitment to radical discipleship (from Anabaptism). I found, in Anglicanism, a place for all those elements along with the beauty and mystery of worship in the liturgical tradition. Yep, I’m home.

2013 Should Be A Great Year!

Yes, you read that correctly. No, I am not so addled by senility that I don’t know what year it is—at least not yet. And no, this has nothing to do with the Mayan calendar prediction of the end of the world in 2012. I’m just looking ahead, with eager anticipation, the way a college student looks forward to homecoming weekend just before a Western Civ exam on Friday. There’s a big uncertainty immediately ahead, but there is also a promise of something really great beyond that.

I am making some plans for 2013. Yes, I’ve heard the old saying that, if you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans. I try always to follow the injunction in the book of James…

13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— 14 yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”  (James 4:13-15 ESV)

And so, I readily concede that my plans for 2013 will only come to pass if God wills. Still, what I have in mind will require considerable lead time for preparation, so it is not at all too early to begin planning and preparing.

There is another reason I am looking ahead to 2013. By then, I expect that some of the uncertainty clouding my thoughts in January 2012 will have dissipated and some things that are unclear now will have been resolved, one way or another.

For example, I fully expect that, by this time next year, we will have a pretty good idea whether or not St. Patrick’s Anglican Church is going to become a reality. If, by January 2013, God has not brought together a core group of committed believers to be the “seedling” for this church which we are asking Him to plant in the vicinity of OSU, we should probably take that as a sign that it is not going to happen. In that event, we will need to conclude that God’s plans are the not the same as ours, and His plans trump ours.

On the other hand, 2012 may very well be the year in which God exceeds all our expectations in this regard. It could be that, by this time next year, we will not only have a core group of committed believers, but a lively, growing congregation that is enjoying the blessing of God on its ministry to both the local neighborhood and the OSU community.

It is completely within the power and the providence of God to overcome the obstacles that loom large in 2012. By this time next year, we may be meeting in a location that fulfills our needs for worship, fellowship, and ministry in such an exceptional way that we will simply stand back and declare, “This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.” (Ps. 118:23)

I had hoped that St. Patrick’s Church would be a reality in time to mark that milestone with a celebration on the Feast of St. Patrick, March 17, 2012. I now think that is unlikely, but a year hence, March 17, 2013, we will likely either be celebrating God’s faithfulness to a fledgling congregation, or we will be moving in a new direction, with equally exciting possibilities.

Whatever comes about with regard to St. Patrick’s, God is sovereign, and His will is perfect. May His name be praised forever.

As for my other plans for 2013, I am looking forward to undertaking two pilgrimages next year. The first, tentatively scheduled for May, will be a pilgrimage to Ireland, to sites related to the ministry of St. Patrick and Celtic Christianity. I want to climb Croagh Patrick in western Ireland and sail out to Skellig Michael off the southern Irish coast. I want to walk in the footsteps of St. Kevin in Glendalough, of St. Brigid in Kildare, and visit the Rock of Cashel, Saul Church, and the Hills of Tara and Slane, sites that figure prominently in Patrick’s evangelistic mission in Ireland. And then, of course, I want to go back to Iona, that little island in the Hebrides off the western shore of Scotland. It is truly a “thin place,” where the boundary between heaven and earth is barely discernible. I hope some of you reading this will be able to make this pilgrimage along with me.

The second pilgrimage, which I hope to undertake in the fall of 2013, probably October, is El Camino De Santiago, the Way of St. James, in northern Spain. I won’t say more about that now, but my heart races as I anticipate the spiritual benefit of both of these ventures, especially el camino. I am not in physical condition to embark upon either of these pilgrimages at present, and that is a major reason why it is not too early to begin a regimen of walking in order to prepare for these challenges.

When I was a boy, my family lived on a small “farm” near Charleston, WV. We called it a farm, and there was enough arable land amid its 75 hilly acres to enable us to plant a large garden, raise a few chickens and a couple of hogs, along with a milk cow and a steer or two for beef. We weren’t self-sufficient, however, and my dad worked full-time as a printer for the Charleston newspaper. Our property lay just over a mile beyond the end of the paved road, and the rutted dirt road that connected our farm to the main road crossed a meandering creek four times. There were no bridges; we had to ford the creek at each crossing.

This meant, of course, that when rainfall (or snow melt) caused the creek to rise, which happened several times a year, we would need to cover that mile on foot, since the creek would be too deep to ford with a vehicle. So, on those mornings when the creek ran high, my dad and I would set out, generally while it was still dark, to walk that crooked mile between our house and my grandparents’ house, located near the end of the paved road.

I hated that long, dark walk at 5:30 in the morning. In my memory it is almost always raining and I am being slapped in the face by a wet tree branch as I try to stay close behind my dad, who is leading the way. The only thing that sustained me on those dark mornings was the anticipation of what awaited me at my grandparents’ house… a cozy fire in the living room stove, the smell of coffee brewing in the kitchen, and my grandmother’s cheery greeting. I could get through almost anything on my way to that expectation.

Along the way, my dad carried a lantern which illuminated a circle about ten feet in diameter. Far enough ahead to be able to take the next step, but no farther… until, of course, he took that step, then the glow of the lantern enabled us to take the step after that. And so it would go. One step after another. Just enough light to take one step at a time. Then another. Until finally, we could see the lights of my grandparents’ house, twinkling their welcome in the distance.

That’s the way I see the future. 2012 looks like it might be a rainy walk. So far, the light is sufficient for one step at a time, no more. But 2013 holds the promise of good things to come. I can smell the coffee already.