Still Waiting

Forty-six years ago, when I was a senior in high school, (I’m 63, in case you were doing the math) God and I entered into a pact, a covenant, if you will.  More accurately, God set some terms, and I agreed to them.  He told me that, if I would use my gifts, talents, and abilities to advance the Gospel of the Kingdom of God and to help Christians “grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ,” then He would take care of me.  He didn’t speak to me in an audible voice, but the reality of God’s call on my life would not have been greater nor more certain if He had.

My pilgrimage has been (to borrow the title of a Beatles’ song) a “long and winding road.”  I have been exposed to and influenced by a number of Christian traditions.  Each step of my pilgrimage has required me to jettison some elements which I determined to be inconsistent with authentic faith, but I never abandoned my commitment to orthodox doctrine or salvation through faith in the work of Jesus on the cross.

Along the way, I have come through some periods of time, some circumstances, where I notion du temps Headman conceptcould not clearly see what step I was supposed to take next. At those times, in those circumstances, I had no choice but to wait on God.

I’ve never been good at waiting. I get restless and fidgety. During those times, my prayers have probably sounded a lot like the guy who prayed, “Lord, I need patience, and I need it NOW!”

Until fairly recently, the periods of waiting were measured in days or weeks, and only very rarely, in a few months. I’m in another period of waiting right now, and this one is already nearly five years long… and counting.

Five years ago I was in my fourteenth year of teaching at a small Bible college in the free church tradition. I loved my job, and if the testimony of my former students and colleagues can be believed, I was pretty good at it.

About five years before that, my soul had begun to hunger for something which my pilgrimage up to that point had not provided.  I began to read the early church fathers and to explore the character of Christian worship in the first centuries of church history.  I gained a new awareness of the place of mystery and reverence in worship.  I found meaning in the Daily Office (morning and evening prayers), and in the seasons of the church calendar.  I gained a fresh appreciation for the importance of the Eucharist in the church’s worship, and I began seeking an experience of more holistic spirituality.

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The Vision Abides

It has now been exactly one year since I set up shop in a small office on 1st Avenue in Grandview Heights, an urban community just west of downtown Columbus, OH. The locals call it simply Grandview, and it is a legal jurisdiction separate from Columbus. It has its own mayor but not its own identity so far as the Post Office is concerned—our mailing Grandview Officeaddress is Columbus, not Grandview; go figure. We chose the community as a potential location for a new church since it is not far from the south-most reaches of the main campus of The Ohio State University. (It also didn’t hurt that my favorite coffee house in all of Columbus is an easy walk down the street from my office.)

The office is simple, even spartan—just one room and a tiny bathroom—on the first floor of a two-story building. (In the picture shown, our office is in the southeast corner, just to the right of the entrance.) Our only neighbor downstairs is the office of the lawyer who owns the building. Upstairs are four small residential apartments. Nothing fancy, but altogether suitable as a place to work, to meet, to think, to change my shoes before walking through the neighborhood. It is a minuscule presence in the community, but it is a presence nonetheless.

The other day my landlord asked me how things were progressing toward our goal of establishing a church in the neighborhood. I told him things were going slow, but I was still there (in the office) and still hopeful. In an entire year, he had never said a word about the potential for St. Patrick’s Church becoming a reality. On this particular day, nearly a year after I moved in, he said, “I wish you well in your efforts, and I hope it really does happen.”

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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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Going Silent… For A While, Anyway

This is my 114th blog post. That comes out to more than ten posts per month since I started this blog last October. More than 150,000 words, which is about the same number as in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer combined. Before I started the blog, some friends had encouraged me to write a book, but I didn’t know if I had that much to say. I couldn’t believe that I could write that many words. Now I know that I can.

As I said, this is my 114th blog post. It is also my last… for a while, at least.

It isn’t that I have run out of something to say. Anybody who knows me well will tell you that I almost never run out of things to say. It isn’t that I am finding it difficult to put my thoughts into words. I haven’t developed a case of “writer’s block.” It also isn’t that I have fallen into a pit of despondency and am too depressed to write. I’ve written about my tendencies in that direction, what Abraham Lincoln called “a misfortune, not a fault.” Actually, writing this blog has helped me deal with dark days like that, and I almost always feel better after I have published a blog post.

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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.

Anglican Ordination: One Year Later

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One Heck Of A Ride

On May 12, Shirley and I will celebrate our thirty-ninth wedding anniversary. Over the course of my life, many things have turned out differently from what I might have expected, and by “differently” I mean “less than expected.” My marriage, however, has exceeded my expectations in every way, thanks mainly to the grace, forbearance, and loving character of the woman it was my good fortune to marry back in 1973.

She is the most tirelessly selfless and self-giving person I have ever met. I have never heard her speak ill of another person, and her capacity for compassion and empathy knows no bounds. She is consistently kind and generous to everyone she meets and constitutionally incapable of holding a grudge.

Shortly after I enrolled in seminary many years ago, one of my professors described Shirley as “the stereotypical pastor’s wife” (and he meant it as a compliment). Whenever we have left one field of ministry in order to move on to a new area of service, people have routinely said, “We’re going to miss you, Eric… but we’re really going to miss Shirley.”

Before moving to Ohio twelve years ago, we lived in Virginia nearly twenty years. Before that, during the early years of our marriage when I was completing my college and seminary degrees, we lived in five other states in seven years. We have never owned property, which is one reason we have lived in twenty-seven different houses or apartments over the course of our married life. In all of this moving, from house to house and from state to state, I have never heard Shirley complain about not having “a place of our own.” She may very well be the least materialistic human being ever to walk on God’s green earth.

My grandfather always counseled me to marry “above myself.” I think he had in mind relative wealth and social standing. Both Shirley and I come from lower-middle class, blue-collar homes. So with regard to money and status, neither of us married “above” the other. In terms of personality traits and those characteristics which combine to make someone a “good person,” however, I hit the jackpot when I married her, and I know I made Gramps proud.

I have been in vocational ministry all of our married life, except for the years I was a full-time student and a few brief periods between ministries when I took a “secular” job to help tide us over. In that regard, Shirley knew what she was getting into when she married me. We never expected to be generously compensated for our ministry, but then again, we didn’t choose this line of work “for the money.” In fact, we didn’t choose this line of work at all. God called us into it, both of us together, and Shirley has never uttered even one syllable of dissatisfaction or regret—she has never lamented over “what might have been.” In fact, when our circumstances have been particularly grim, and I have been tempted to change fields and pursue some other occupation, it is Shirley who has consistently reminded me, “Remember your calling.”

Faithfulness to my calling and sensitivity to the leading of the Holy Spirit have not always resulted in positive outcomes or satisfying situations, at least not according to the standard by which professional success and accomplishment are usually measured. We began our ministry pilgrimage in Fundamentalism nearly forty years ago. Soon after we were married, we moved to the “kinder and gentler” environment of more mainstream Evangelicalism. Some years later, in response to the “nudging” of the Spirit toward a more radical expression of Christian discipleship, I enrolled in an Anabaptist seminary, and that led to more than twenty-five years of ministry among Mennonites. Eventually we were drawn to the mystery and beauty and reverence of the liturgical tradition in worship, and we sensed a need to identify with a communion which valued contributions from all twenty centuries of church history. That’s when we became Anglicans.

Transitions of this sort are not easy. In our case they have often been traumatic and emotionally painful. Each transition has resulted in damage to relationships with those who could not understand why we were “abandoning” them for something new. Those who had most warmly received us when we first joined them were often the most critical when we left. And of course, it took (and is taking) considerable time to feel at home in the new communion. Confidence had to be won, networks had to be rebuilt, feelings of suspicion and doubts about motivation had to be overcome.

We are in the middle of a period of adjustment and finding our place in a new communion right now. It is very, very difficult—more difficult than similar experiences in the past. Without Shirley, I would not make it. I am too old, too tired, too cynical. I don’t suffer fools gladly. I have little patience with those who waste my time, and I constantly chafe under the perception that my current situation is mainly “treading water” until God opens a door for active ministry once again. In all of this, Shirley has been, and remains, a rock to lean on, the one sure and unchanging human presence in my life.

I have been unemployed for four years, ever since my position on the faculty of a Mennonite Bible college was terminated owing to my turn in the direction of Anglicanism and the liturgical tradition. Two weeks after I lost my job, Shirley was diagnosed with breast cancer. Since my health insurance ended with my employment, Shirley had to continue to work full-time through the months of her treatment (including surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation) in order to maintain insurance coverage for our astronomical medical bills. I could never have done what she did, and all without one word of complaint, even when she was so sick that death seemed almost preferable to the side effects of treatment.

This is the woman that God, in His great mercy and grace, gave to me. And to my dying day, words will be inadequate to express my gratitude to Him and my love and respect and appreciation for her. It’s been one heck of a ride, and it’s not over yet.

Not Necessarily A Priest

I love being an Anglican priest. I’ve only been ordained about ten months, and I have not served in regular parish ministry, so there are many aspects of the job which I have not yet experienced first-hand. But I was an ordained minister in the Free Church tradition for forty years before I took Anglican Holy Orders, so I am not a neophyte. Since I love the parts I have been involved in (preaching, celebrating Holy Communion, etc.), I can say that I love the other facets of the work in anticipatio (an ancient Latin phrase I just made up).

Nothing I have ever done as part of a public worship service compares with the pure joy I feel every time I elevate the consecrated bread and wine during the Eucharist and announce, “The gifts of God for the people of God. Take them in remembrance that Christ died for you, and feed on Him in your hearts by faith, with thanksgiving.”

Moreover, the liturgical tradition offers a minister so many resources for use in providing pastoral care to parishioners. I have been saying prayers since I was a child, and I am perfectly capable of composing a prayer in and for most any situation. I have found, however, an abundance of riches in the collection of “set” prayers for all occasions in the Book of Common Prayer, one of the great gifts of God to the Christian community. And during this Lenten season, I have been learning to use the Anglican Rosary, shorter and less complicated than its Catholic counterpart but immensely rewarding and comforting in its own way. I can only imagine the blessing and encouragement that it must be to those who are bedfast or homebound. With resources such as these at my disposal, I feel much more equipped as a pastoral caregiver than I ever did before.

Yes, I love being an Anglican priest. But I don’t necessarily have to be one.

Forty-five years ago, God called me to devote my life to Christian ministry, but He did not stipulate what form that ministry should take. I have been a pastor, an itinerant preacher, a radio broadcaster, a parachurch executive, and a Bible college professor. In each of those roles I have fulfilled my calling, and God has blessed my efforts. When I followed my convictions out of the Mennonite Church, where I had served more than twenty-five years, and into Anglicanism, I naturally assumed that, in time, I would find another context for ministry in which I could be faithful to my calling.

I soon learned that vocational ministry in this tradition most generally requires ordination to the priesthood. (There is an Anglican ministry known as “vocational deacon,” but I have met very few who have chosen to devote their lives to that role.) Administration of many of the sacraments, such as consecration of the bread and wine at the Eucharist, requires the ministry of an ordained priest. And when you think of “vocational ministry” in the Anglican tradition, you most generally assume that means parish ministry, as a rector or vicar. For a variety of reasons, I’m not at all certain that such a role is going to develop for me, yet I am committed to fulfilling my calling in some way.

When I was ordained a priest last May, I was commissioned to plant a new Anglican congregation in the vicinity of the campus of The Ohio State University in Columbus, OH. I have written much about this venture in these blog posts over the past few months. I have shared both my dreams and my frustrations. At this writing, both the dreams and the frustrations continue, undimmed in the first instance and unabated in the second.

I am committed to the discipline of spiritual formation, the variety of ways and means that God employs to “form” us into the image of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. I taught a course by that name in Bible college, my pastoral ministry was characterized by an emphasis on spiritual formation (although I wouldn’t have used that term to describe it in those days), and for the past four years, my life has been caught up in an experience of personal spiritual formation of a specific and intense nature. During that time, God has been “forming” me mainly through the discipline of waiting.

I have reason to believe that the time of waiting is coming to an end and may, in fact, already be over. Here’s the way I see it. Sometimes we get so tired of waiting that we venture out, on our own, without guidance. If God has not directed us to move, we will invariably become lost, exhausted, and discouraged. Then, before we can make further progress, we have to return to the place where we were waiting and continue that holding pattern until God gives us marching orders. Movement on our part, if God has not directed that we move, will never succeed in “forcing God’s hand.” He cannot be compelled to guide us if we move before He signals us to move.

Sometimes, however, that signal comes without specific direction. All we know is that God has indicated it is time to move. In that case, we venture forth, sustained by the confidence that God will direct a moving vehicle if He has let it be known that it is now time to move. I think I have come to that place.

I don’t think my ministry is over. In recent days, I have sensed that more keenly than I have for months, maybe years. I am beginning to feel comfortable talking about ministry opportunities in terms of when God will open those doors, not if He will open them. At the same time, I’ve come to the place where I can accept the possibility that the final chapter of my active ministry may not be as an Anglican priest.

Would that mean that all of the work I did to meet the requirements for Holy Orders would be wasted? Not at all. I learned a lot during those two years of preparation—a lot about God, about ministry, about God’s way of working in the world, and about myself as a pilgrim on a relentless pursuit of authentic faith. I am fully and unequivocally committed to the liturgical tradition. I’m fairly certain that some, perhaps much, of my future ministry will be dedicated to sharing the blessings and benefits of liturgy—for worship, for spiritual formation, and for faithful discipleship in general—with those who are not familiar with that tradition but are interested in learning. And I could not have experienced a more effective or efficient immersion in the tradition than that which has accompanied my preparation for Holy Orders and my experience as a priest since my ordination.

I’m a teacher, by calling, training, and disposition. I’m convinced that, somewhere in the world, my gifts, my experience, my single-minded commitment to the service of Christ and the church can be of use to the Kingdom of God. For that reason, I am exploring every possibility for ministry that God makes me aware of. The time for waiting is past. The time for movement is at hand.

I still believe that the dream of planting a new church near the OSU campus is a worthy goal. The more I ponder it, the more I believe in it, and the more I sense that, someday, it will be a reality. I hope and pray that orthodox Anglicans in central Ohio will not allow this opportunity to slip through their fingers, since I feel certain God will accomplish it through somebody else if the Anglican community doesn’t meet the challenge.

In the meantime, I have started moving again, and that, in itself, is a good feeling.

There Is No Plan B

It might appear to the casual observer that the course of my vocational pilgrimage has been a rather orderly trajectory. Leaving aside the obvious difference that, forty years ago I started my career as a Fundamentalist and am today an Anglican, it could be noted that I started as a Christian minister, and today I am still a Christian minister. In that regard, I will acknowledge some measure of consistency and continuity in the course of my vocation. So you might assume that my employment history would reflect a steady, if sometimes incremental, progress. You would be wrong.

I have been a pastor. I was a good preacher, but I struggled with other aspects of pastoral ministry; I now believe it was primarily because I was simply too young for the job. Pastoral care requires an ability to empathize which I did not develop until I had experienced the kind of pain and loss my parishioners were going through. I will be a much better pastor if I ever have the privilege of serving in that role again. Until recently, however, I never considered the possibility that the last chapter of my active ministry might be the pastorate.

I served for nine years (1992-2001) as the staff person and spokesman for a parachurch ministry which sought to raise a voice for evangelical orthodoxy within contemporary Anabaptism. After the first couple of years, I hated it. I did it because my peers asked me to do it, I believed it needed to be done, and there did not seem to be anybody else willing or able to take it on. But it was brutal. I was always challenging denominational positions on doctrinal and cultural issues, and I gained a reputation for being divisive and doctrinaire. And even though I believe that regret is mainly a useless and futile emotion, in many ways I do regret those years. I have addressed all of that in a blog post which I called “Correct Doctrine Is Not Enough.”

Along the way I traveled many thousands of miles, across most of the US and into Canada, as a Bible conference speaker and a teacher in short-term institutes and seminars. That is difficult work, especially for an introvert, but I enjoyed it. Also, from 1989-93, I wrote and produced a five-minute daily radio broadcast, which aired in Virginia and Pennsylvania, in the days before podcasts and YouTube.

In 1994, my second year as Executive Secretary of Evangelical Anabaptist Fellowship (the job I disliked intensely), I was asked to serve as adjunct faculty at Rosedale Bible College. When EAF closed in 2001, my teaching load was increased to full-time. The pay was lousy, but the intangible benefits were, as it turned out, immeasurable. I loved teaching, and by the time I had been doing it fourteen years, when the administration offered me a long-term contract, I concluded that I had found my niche.

What I had not foreseen was the incompatibility which the governing board of the college perceived to exist between that Anabaptist institution and my growing convictions in the area of liturgical worship. And so, since I could not be a Mennonite Bible college instructor with liturgical leanings, I have become an Anglican priest with Anabaptist sensibilities. The transition has been difficult but necessary. I never thought about pursuing another line of work. You see, I have no Plan B.

That is, I have never considered doing anything with my life except vocational ministry for Christ, the Church, and the Kingdom. That’s what God called me to do in 1966, and He has never rescinded the call. I could no more consider another line of work, assuming such was even a possibility for a man of my age and limited marketability, than Yo-Yo Ma could walk away from his cello or Paul Prudhomme could lay aside his chef’s hat.

When God called me to vocational ministry (and by that I mean full-time commitment to Christian ministry, from which I would derive sufficient financial compensation to pay my bills), He never stipulated what form that ministry would take. I assumed it would be the pastorate, since that’s really the only form of compensated “church work” I knew anything about as I was growing up. As this summary of my work history has shown, however, I came to realize that vocational ministry could, and would, take a variety of forms.

I have deliberately avoided using the term “professional” in this review of my career. I don’t dislike the term, and it definitely has an appropriate usage. Just not as part of the description of my pilgrimage. I am not a professional minister. I am a servant of the church. I didn’t set out to achieve a level of competence in a profession. I set out to serve wherever God made it clear that my gifts would contribute to the spiritual growth of the body of Christ and to the advancement of the Kingdom of God.

Like most young people, I never gave much thought to retirement during my 20s and 30s and even into my 40s. When I reached my 50s people began asking about my plans for retirement, and my standard reply was that I had no plans to retire. And I didn’t. I still don’t.

It may be that my active ministry is over. I have not received a stipend for ministerial service in almost four years. During that time, I have prepared myself for ministry within the new communion (Anglicanism) to which I now relate. I could do nothing else. My call is for life. At present, I don’t know if I will ever be financially compensated for ministry again. That is not my concern. It is God’s.

If my active ministry is over, you will soon receive word that God has called me home to glory. That is not a throw-away line. I am altogether serious. Many years ago I identified with the quote attributed to David Livingstone: “I am immortal until my work is done.”

In 2007, while I was still teaching at Rosedale Bible College, one of my students (you know who you are, Josh Graber) paid me the highest compliment I have ever received. At the bottom of the last page of a written assignment he wrote these words:

“Mr. Kouns, with much respect and thanks. I hope to fulfill my calling as well as you have yours.”

If his observation is true, then God be praised. Because, you see, for my life, there is no Plan B.

I’m So Tired

I wasn’t planning to do another blog post this weekend, but it is very early on a Saturday morning, I’ve been awake for hours, and since I can’t sleep anyway, I decided to write. Which brings me to the subject of this post.

I’m so tired. For the first time in my life I am going through an extended period of insomnia. Here is the way I spend most nights. Exhausted at the end of the day, I fall asleep almost immediately. I wake up after two or three hours’ slumber, however, and I simply cannot get back to sleep. I toss and turn for an hour or so. Then I get up and read until I think I am sleepy, but as soon as I lie down and turn out the light, I am wide awake again. I get up again, do my Morning Prayers, perhaps listen to some music or read a few selections from the hymnal. By this time, the first crimson glow of dawn is breaking on the eastern horizon, and I am finally about to fall asleep in my chair. Of course, on most days, I don’t have the luxury of going back to bed at that hour, so I do my ablutions, get dressed, and head into a day during which I know that I will say, a dozen times or more, “I’m so tired.”

I know that I am not alone. If we can believe the press reports, much of the American population is sleep-deprived, and many people live their lives in a zombie-like state brought on by excessive tiredness. My generation, the “boomers,” have even given this phenomenon a name: chronic fatigue syndrome. While health-care professionals debate whether the symptoms warrant classification as a legitimate medical disorder, there is no denying that lots of people feel worn-out most of the time.

My guess is that our lifestyles and our culture contribute mightily to this trend. We simply have too much to do. There are simply too many demands on our time, too many activities in which we need to be involved, or at least think we do. And on top of work and family responsibilities and the things we feel we have to do, no previous generation has been confronted with so many kinds of “leisure” and recreational activities. So our waking hours are given over, not only to obligations and responsibilities, but to the ever-expanding menu of things that are fun and cool… and exhausting.

So, I’m not the only person to complain about being tired. In fact, way back in 1968, John Lennon wrote a song, which the Beatles recorded, called… wait for it… “I’m So Tired.” The song was about unrequited love (what else?) which produced insomnia resulting in the lament, “I’m so tired.” The final line of the chorus was particularly plaintive: “You know I’d give you everything I’ve got for a little peace of mind.”

My insomnia is not the product of unrequited love. Nor is it the sole, or even the main, cause of the persistent tiredness which has plagued me for months. You see, I’m not just tired, in a generic sense. I’m tired of some things, because of some things.

I’m tired of waiting for God to do something… to change my circumstances, to give me some clear direction for my ministry, to bring some people into my life who will share my vision and help to bring it to reality, to provide the material resources we need to meet our expenses, both personal and in relation to our ministry.

I am not a hyperactive personality. I enjoy solitude and reflection. I do not need always to be doing something. Some of the wisest and most fruitful decisions I have made have come out of extended periods of reflection, meditation, and “waiting on God.” I would have made a good monk.

Or maybe not. I may be a contemplative at heart, but there comes a time when I want, or perhaps need, to act on the fruit of my contemplation. To put into practice what I have carefully considered during my time of reflection and meditation. I don’t need to be doing something all the time, but I do need to be doing something some of the time. And it seems it has been so long since I have used my gifts in a genuinely substantive way, in a particular setting, for an extended period of time. Some days I fear that God has put me on a shelf, and the next time He takes me off the shelf will be to call me home to heaven.

One of my college professors used to say that we do not waste time while we wait on God. He also said that, if we are awaiting “marching orders” from God, we should not be troubled about doing nothing until the orders arrive. And how many times lately have I heard some version of this aphorism: “Don’t be eager to do something and then ask God to bless it. Wait until You see what God is doing and then join it.”

All of that counsel to wait was fine when I was thirty-five and the waiting periods were seldom more than a few weeks’ or months’ duration. But I’m now sixty-two years old, and I’ve been waiting for things to change for nearly four years. I’m doing what I have always done in situations like this—I’m waiting, I’m reading, I’m praying, I’m consulting wise counselors. Forty years ago, God told me to follow this pattern. He said, in effect, “I called you, I gave you the gifts you need to serve Me. Now you sharpen those gifts and make yourself available. I’ll provide the opportunity for you to use those gifts, and, when the time is right for a particular ministry, I’ll open the door.”

So, that’s what I’m doing. In response to God’s direction, I used my time “on the shelf” to prepare for Anglican Holy Orders. I was commissioned to plant a church, and although the movement in that direction is incremental, there does seem to be some movement. I only wish it could be more. Because I’m not getting any younger. And I honestly believe that the persistent weariness and near-malaise which characterize my circumstances would dissipate if only I could move a bit more vigorously toward a clear and definable goal.

Still, God is faithful. I’ve had a good life. I’ve served the Lord and the Kingdom with all of my energy and resources for four decades. Maybe I needed some “shelf time” more than I realized. And maybe the shelf is, for me, the vestibule to heaven. I certainly hope not. I truly believe there is more for me to do. I know, however, that the work of the Kingdom will proceed whether or not I ever get “back in the harness.” But I would truly love to be back in the harness for a few more years. For now, though, I continue to wait. And I am so tired.