I Heard The Voice Of God

Last Friday I published a blog post in which I announced that the Bishop of my diocese had granted my request to be released from my ordination vows. Although I remain, technically, a priest in God’s One, Holy, Catholic (i.e. “universal”), and Apostolic Church, I have been “laicized.” That is, I can no longer carry out sacramental duties—such as celebrating Eucharist—in any church which is part of the Anglican Church in North America.

I will, most likely, be saying more about the events and circumstances which produced this result, but not today. Today I want to share with you something of inestimable value which I came to appreciate more deeply as a result of this recent experience. God has blessed me with something so incredibly precious that I simply cannot keep it to myself.

I’m talking about friends, but not just any friends. Friends who know God and allow themselves to be the channel for a word from God to me. Friends through whom I hear the voice of God.

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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.

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.

Come On, Anglicans—Catch The Vision

I have been an ordained minister for more than forty years. I have actually been ordained three times in three different theological communions: first as a Baptist in 1970, then as a Mennonite in 1982, and finally (and I do mean finally) as an Anglican priest just over a year ago.

As a minister in three communions who has served in a variety of ministry settings and in several different ministry roles (as a pastor, a broadcaster, a parachurch executive, and a college professor), I’ve seen it all—the good, the bad, and the ugly of evangelical church life in America. In fact, I have very few colleagues in ministry whose experiences within and among the American evangelical community are as varied and touch as many different traditions as mine. There are both assets and liabilities associated with that, but they are not the subject of this post.

What is the point of this post? I’m glad you asked.

My wife is away for a week or so, visiting her family in another state, and on those rare occasions when we are separated for more than a day or two at a time, in addition to missing her like crazy, I always seem to wax nostalgic and spend some time thinking back over the course of our life together.

I am writing this on a Sunday evening, at the cIose of a day in which I preached in the worship service of the church we attend, sat in on a meeting of the church’s leadership team in the afternoon, then came home and fell asleep while nursing a pounding headache (altogether unrelated to the earlier events of the day… I think). All of those elements have contributed to the direction my thoughts are taking me tonight as I reflect on where God has brought me after four decades of vocational Christian ministry.

I am a teacher. That is my primary ministry gift. As a pastor, my preaching ministry was marked by a distinctive teaching style. As a broadcaster and a parachurch exec, much of my ministry consisted of carefully prepared public presentations in which I was explaining something or advocating on behalf of something or issuing some sort of challenge—and all of this made use of my strengths as a teacher and communicator.

I am also an introvert. When I was in seminary, my faculty advisor looked at the results of some personality type-indicator test I had taken, sort of shook his head a bit, looked at me over the top of his glasses, and said, “Hmmm. An introvert in an extravert’s job.”

“Should I look for another line of work?” I asked. (Of course he knew I had no intention of forsaking my very clear call to vocational ministry.) “Not at all,” he replied. “Just be prepared for the toll that your ministry will take—physically, emotionally, and spiritually.” He was right.

Because I am an introvert, and because I have gifts that are more suited to a classroom or some other context where the environment is conducive to thoughtful interaction without a lot of fanfare or excitement, I have never looked seriously at a ministry like church planting, which, I have always believed, requires a more outgoing, aggressive personality than mine and involves the use of entrepreneurial gifts which I don’t possess.

Ever so slowly, however, I am observing an evolution in my thinking and my perception of my own gifts as well as the possible shape of the final chapter of my active ministry.

Much of this new thinking is the product of simply facing reality. I am entering the Anglican priesthood at the very moment that the orthodox Anglican communion with which I am identifying is coming into existence. While the leadership of the Anglican Church in North America wants to highlight the proactive character of its mission, and rightly so, it cannot be denied that most of the parishes which comprise the new communion were formerly associated with the Episcopal Church.

I applaud the courage and fortitude which leaders at every level have shown as they have undertaken this necessary, but often gut-wrenching, act of conscience. I fully support and endorse the vision and program of the ACNA. Among the consequences of this decision, however, is the unavoidable reality that numerous parishes have been forced to abandon buildings they had paid for and assume new financial obligations which are made more substantial by the fact that, in the move from TEC to ACNA, most parishes retained all their clergy but not all their members. So the heavy costs are being borne by a smaller giving base. Thus, the hard fact is that there are almost no opportunities for ministry in established parishes to which people like me, new to the communion and with gifts not traditionally associated with church planting, can be called.

So far as the future health and vitality of the new communion is concerned, this is not a bad thing at all. Christianity has always thrived under pressure. It has been said, in fact, that “the blood of the martyrs was the seed of the church.” Evangelical Christianity, especially, is marked by a pioneering spirit that flourishes when it is required to face new challenges, break new ground, blaze new trails, or move into uncharted territory (pick the analogy you prefer).

That’s precisely where orthodox Anglicanism is at the moment. Mainline churches in the liturgical tradition are in steep decline. As painful as the experience of separation has been for ACNA, the liturgical tradition in the United States and Canada has actually been given an opportunity for spiritual renewal. The rich heritage of this communion proved irresistible to me, and I believe it can do the same for many others.

This post was sparked by an email from the rector of the church I am currently attending. In it he forwarded an email he had received from the pastor of one of the largest evangelical churches in central Ohio, if not the nation. The subject was church planting. The association of churches to which that large super-church belongs comprises about 550 congregations nationwide. That group of churches has taken up the challenge of establishing 750 new churches within the next decade.

In order to reach their goal, the national leadership of that association of churches is calling on each of their current member churches to assume a portion of the responsibility, commensurate with their size and setting. The large local church in our community has taken upon itself the task of planting twenty new churches as its contribution to the overall goal. They are marshalling resources, both human and material, and unapologetically calling for the kind of commitment and sacrifice that a venture of that magnitude will require. I applaud their zeal, and I wish them well in that endeavor.

The vision for church planting which is energizing this network of churches is not simply a desire to increase their numbers or enlarge their influence. Their vision was prompted by facing some disheartening, even disturbing, facts about the state of Christian faith in contemporary America. Here is a quote from this prominent church leader’s email.

It may seem odd, at first glance, to spend much time or money planting new churches in the U.S. when it seems to the casual observer that “there is a church on every street corner in America.” But when one scratches below the surface, one discovers some very troubling trends in American church life. Four out of five churches are either plateaued or are in steep decline. Put another way, research reveals that 80-85% of churches in America are on the down-side of the growth cycle, moving from plateau to decline to death.

The decline is particularly steep among Anglo-Roman Catholics and among mainline Protestants. Research demonstrates that just about the only thing that is keeping Roman Catholicism afloat in America right now is the massive influx of Latino Catholics. In terms of actual people in the pews, the Catholic Church has lost roughly one-quarter of its strength over the last 35 years. And attendance at mainline Protestant churches has simply fallen off the table. Whereas about 11% of Americans attended a mainline Protestant church service in 1973, today there are only about 4% (and the majority of these are over 65 years old).

But there is still more depressing news on the American church front. When researchers examined the World War II generation, they found that only about 5% of that generation claimed no religious affiliation when they were young adults. That doubled to more than 10% among the Boomers (those who came of age in the late 1960’s through early 1980’s). But it doubled again to about 20-30% among post-Boomers (those who came of age in the 1990’s and 2000’s). In other words, with each succeeding generation, Americans are becoming less attached to organized religion (primarily Christianity), and less inclined to attend church.

So why do we need to plant new churches in the United States? Simply put, we need to plant new churches in order to fulfill Jesus’ Great Commission. Churches that are in decline or are dying are not likely to fulfill the Great Commission, and there is an increasing number of people (primarily young) who are utterly detached from church. There is a desperate need, therefore, to plant innovative, entrepreneurial, highly evangelistic, and Christ-centered churches to reach the increasingly unchurched population of the U.S.

I wish every church leader at every level of the ACNA, from the Archbishop to the parish priests, could read this email. This is a vision and a challenge which we orthodox Anglicans can and must embrace. And we need to do it with the same kind of sacrificial commitment of resources which this nationwide network (the Vineyard churches) recognizes will be required to see the vision become reality.

I’m going to stop there… for now. But I have much more to say on this important subject. Stay tuned.

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

Anglican Fever: Catch It!

Late last week, the Christian Broadcasting Network posted on its website, CBN.com, a report titled, “Anglican Fever: Youth Flock to New Denomination.” The denomination at the heart of the story was the Anglican Church in North America! (If you’ve not yet seen the report, you can read it and watch the video here.) My thanks to all the folks who forwarded the link to that story to me with their expressed hopes that it would bring me encouragement. It did!

I was actually not surprised by the report. I studied at Wheaton  (IL) College back in the ’80s, and over the years I became well-acquainted with the impact on that campus of the late Robert Webber and his emphasis on “ancient-future” faith. As a direct consequence of Webber’s influence, several orthodox Anglican churches were established in the vicinity of Wheaton, and a sizable percentage of Wheaton’s student body attends one or another of them. Last September, Shirley and I went back to Wheaton for the purpose of visiting the Church of the Resurrection, one of those Anglican churches near the college campus, where 200 Wheaton students attend worship services weekly. It was a wonderful experience!

I also taught college undergrads for fourteen years at a small Mennonite Bible college, and as I was being drawn to Anglicanism from the free church tradition, I began to incorporate references to the value of liturgy into many of my lectures. In my course in Spiritual Formation, each class session started with the Daily Office. Most of my students responded positively to that exposure, and I fully expect some of them to join me on the Canterbury Trail. I feel sure that such a prospect hastened the termination of my contract there, but I have no regrets. I love my new ecclesiastical home, and if God wants to use my example as a way of enabling others to find the spiritual satisfaction and fulfillment which Shirley and I have experienced in Anglicanism, I am both willing and eager to serve His purposes in that way.

The CBN report reinforced my belief that, if the vision for St. Patrick’s Anglican Church ever takes root, it will grow for all the reasons highlighted by that news story. Young people who have come of age in a postmodern American culture are looking for spiritual reality in the context of a tradition which connects with every era of the church’s 2000-year history. Anglicanism offers rich tradition, vibrant liturgy, and cultural relevance, along with a structure for worship which is both formal and flexible. It is tailor-made for postmodern seekers. When all of that is combined with the quality of authenticity which the break with the Episcopal Church has revealed, the prospects for the ministry of ACNA, particularly among college-age young people, ought to be encouraging.

In light of that potentiality, then, this little story may be instructive. I had breakfast this morning with one of my former students who will soon graduate from an evangelical seminary in the free church tradition. (I have tried to encourage him to bring his brilliant intellect and his multiple ministry gifts and join me on the Canterbury Trail, but so far I have not been sufficiently persuasive. I have not given up, however.) Following our meal, he accompanied me to Grandview Heights to see the new office, which he referred to as our “outpost” for the Kingdom in that place.

At one point in our conversation, he asked me, “Why hasn’t the Anglican community in Columbus embraced the vision for St. Patrick’s in a practical and substantive way… with the people and money necessary to establish this church?” I told him of the generous provision from St. Augustine’s Anglican Church to underwrite the cost of renting the office for the first year.  Beyond that, I had no response.

With his question in mind, then, here’s what I think God is telling me to do. (For the germ of this idea I am indebted to my dear friend, Dean Wilson. I once heard the word mentor defined as “a brain to pick, a shoulder to cry on, and a kick in the pants.” That describes Dean to a tee, and yesterday he kindly and graciously administered a gentle and altogether timely boot to my derriere. I am in his debt.)

I had been lamenting that, while it seems that most textbook descriptions of church planters assume an outgoing, entrepreneurial personality, I am more of an introverted academic. Dean reminded me that, if God has called me to be involved in planting St. Patrick’s Church, He expects me to be who I am and use the gifts He has given me. I wish I were more gregarious, I wish there were more people involved with me in this endeavor, I wish I were taller and thinner (just thought I’d throw that one in there). But, as they say, “if wishes were horses, then beggars would ride.”

I’m not an entrepreneurial extravert, but I am a really good teacher. So I need to use my gift as a teacher to help lay the foundation for St. Patrick’s Church and Ministry Center. Here’s how that is going to happen (I hope). Sometime after the first of the year, I am going to announce the dates, time, and location for a series of four sessions of 75 minutes each on the topic of “The Gospel, The Kingdom, and The Church.” The format will be a 40-minute lecture with the rest of the time devoted to Q&A and discussion.

Jesus came preaching “the gospel of the Kingdom,” and a generation after His ascension, that was still the focus of the preaching of Paul. These four sessions will explore the relationship of the “gospel of the Kingdom” to contemporary Christianity and the role of the church in continuing to proclaim and embody the heart of Jesus’s message. They will also give me a chance to present my vision for St. Patrick’s in a setting where I can answer questions and make concrete suggestions for how people can help the vision become reality.

I have much more to say about how St. Patrick’s can help to spread the Anglican fever (along with the gospel of the Kingdom), but this is a first step. Stay tuned, and I hope you’ll be able to attend some or all of the sessions. I’ll keep you posted.

A Modest Proposal (Part Two—Benefits and Excuses)

Archbishop Robert Duncan’s 2009 challenge to plant 1000 new Anglican churches by 2014 was a bold but necessary act of strong leadership. Many, if not most, of the congregations which made up the ACNA at its founding were formerly parishes of the Episcopal Church. New denominations comprising churches formerly aligned with an established church body can fall prey to a pattern of thinking that focuses more on recovering from the trauma of separation than on moving ahead with a new identity. The tendency to concentrate more on where they’ve been than on where they are going can stymie a new group and delay any real progress for a generation or more.

By issuing a bold challenge to plant new ACNA churches, Archbishop Duncan shifted the new denomination’s focus from the past to the future. As I watched the streaming video of the Archbishop’s address, I was a newly-confirmed Anglican, two years away from ordination as a priest. It was an historic moment, and I was both happy and proud to be a part of it.

In recent months, that initial euphoria has given way to cold, hard reality. Upon my ordination to the Anglican priesthood last May, I was commissioned to plant one of those 1000 new churches. As I began to consider all that would be required to accomplish this task, it soon became clear that something vital was missing from the conversation. There was, and is, no strategic plan in place to supply the necessary resources, both human and material, to enable the transition from vision to actuality. In my last post I laid out a proposal for addressing this situation, framing it in terms of my own diocese but believing firmly that it merits application to the denomination as a whole.

In case you have not yet read that post, here is the pertinent line. 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.

I have already begun to hear from naysayers—ranging from those who resonate with the idea in principle but doubt its practicality to those who flat out reject the idea as wrongheaded and misguided. Before I speak to the objections, I want to outline some of the benefits to be derived from my proposal.

First, it ties the entire diocese together in the support of a common vision for advancing the Kingdom through church planting. Each time a new church is planted and takes root anyplace in the diocese, all the member parishes rejoice because they all contributed to its success. Second, by drawing support from all parishes in the diocese, it enables the planting of churches in areas where nearby existing churches may lack either the means or the vision to underwrite a new congregation. Third it gives all diocesan parishes a practical way to be actively involved in responding to the Archbishop’s challenge. Without such a mechanism, it will be all too easy for parishes to profess support for the vision without any concrete participation in bringing it to pass.

Finally, the diocese will know what kind of resources it has available to use for church planting each year and can plan accordingly. As a prospective church planter, knowing that I could count on a specific amount of funding from the diocese would help to overcome one of the many obstacles which contribute to a failure rate of around 80% for new church plants (or so I have read). It would be far better to support four new churches in the diocese each year and see three of them succeed than to attempt to plant ten new churches and have eight of them fail for lack of resources.

As Anglicans committed to an episcopal polity, the primary ecclesiastical identity for clergy is the diocese, not the parish. I would never belittle the importance of the parish as a setting for worship, community, and service in a specific neighborhood or locality. But I come to Anglicanism from a lifetime of service in the Free Church tradition where the tendency, too often, is for local church pastors to get so wrapped up in their unique agendas that they lose sight of the “one, holy, catholic and apostolic” church while becoming myopic, territorial, and competitive. Diocesan identity and episcopal polity should help to reduce that tendency among Anglicans. We are all in this together. Ideally, when one parish suffers, we all share the pain, and when one parish flourishes, we all rejoice.

What about the objection that a ten percent, off-the-top contribution to a church planting fund would wreak havoc upon parish budgets and force the reduction or curtailment of local programs or ministries? Baloney. It is a matter of priorities. I am willing to wager that there is no parish in our diocese that could not carry out its mandate for ministry and service effectively and efficiently simply because its available revenues were reduced by ten percent in the coming year. It might take some creative planning and implementation, but I know God would honor the effort if that ten percent reduction were going to spread the Gospel of the Kingdom through church planting outreach.

Eleven years ago I left a position with a parachurch ministry to assume a teaching post in a small Bible college. Our family income dropped 30% in one year. Three years ago my position at that Bible college was terminated when I followed my convictions into Anglicanism and the liturgical tradition. Our family income dropped 60%. I have been unemployed since then. Still, God has taken care of us. We are solvent, virtually debt-free, and our credit rating is exceptional. Don’t tell me that a parish cannot afford to contribute ten percent of its revenues to a fund for church planting. I don’t buy it.

So, there you have it—my proposal for helping to underwrite the Archbishop’s vision so that his challenge has a greater likelihood of becoming a reality. Of course, God may want to do it some other way, but I think we are supposed to use our sanctified minds whenever we can. In that way, we can often become the answers to our own prayers.

Now, truth be told, I doubt that my proposal will be adopted. The forces of pragmatism and cynicism are too vast, the power of rationalization too great to give me much hope. Still, I hope… and pray.

Soli Deo gloria.

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.