Starting Over… Sort Of

Forty-five years ago, when I was a senior in high school, 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.  I have served in vocational ministry in several of them.  While to some observers, my circuitous journey from Fundamentalism via Evangelicalism and Anabaptism to Anglicanism reflects instability, I prefer to see it as (to borrow the title of a book by Eugene Peterson) a “long obedience in the same direction.”

Many of you know that I was ordained to the priesthood in the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) in May 2011.  You may not realize, however, that ordination in this tradition is not generic; that is, a priest receives Holy Orders for the purpose of serving in a particular ministry.  In the Free Church tradition where I served for thirty-five years, it was common for recognition of gifts and a call to a place of service to precede credentialing, which could be secured later if and when it was deemed useful or necessary.  In the Anglican tradition, at least in my experience, credentialing precedes ministry but with full expectation that a specific ministry, identified at the time of ordination, will soon follow.

I came to the Anglican Church out of a lifetime of vocational ministry in the Free Church tradition.  In all that time, I had never had to look for, much less create, a context in which to use my gifts in service to Christ and the Kingdom.  More often than not, I needed to choose between several opportunities, any of which would have been a productive, fulfilling ministry.  As a Bible college student, I was taught that the greatest ability required for Christian ministry was availability.  “If you are available and willing to serve,” I was told, “God will always lead you into a ministry context where you can use your gifts for His glory.  The need will always exceed the supply of available servants.”

Imagine my surprise, then, when I was told by a veteran Anglican clergyman very early in the process of discernment and preparation which would eventually lead to my ordination in this tradition, “I have no doubt that you are qualified for Holy Orders.  What I don’t know is where we will find a place for you to serve.”  This way of thinking runs counter to the principle by which I have lived my life and carried out my ministry for more than thirty-five years.

I simply cannot believe that the inability to “find a place” for me to serve in the Anglican Communion means that there is an absence of need.  Rather, I take it to mean that there is a shortage of money.  If so, this poses something of a problem for the future of ACNA. I will have much more to say about that in my next few posts.

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Never Half-Hearted (A Bit of Bio, part 1)

I am the oldest of five children.  My father served in the Marine Corps in WWII and worked as a printer for the Charleston, WV, newspapers while I was growing up.  My mother was a homemaker in every sense of that term, a godly, hard-working woman whose example and influence shaped my life during my formative years and continues to affect me to this day.  She died in 2007 at the age of 82, and I still miss her every day.

My parents instilled an ethic in me, the essence of which is captured in the text of a sampler which hung on our dining room wall. It said…

If a task is once begun, never leave it ‘til it’s done.

Be the labor great or small, do it well or not at all.

I have tried to live my life according to that motto.  I have sometimes been wrong-headed, but I have never been half-hearted.  That has characterized my Christian commitment as well.  As a youngster I determined that, if I was going to be a Christian, I would be as good a Christian as it was possible for me to be.  Only later did I come to realize that that was exactly what Jesus intended and expected me to be, and that the biblical term for that kind of devotion was discipleship.

In 1966, while I was a senior in high school, I sensed a movement of God’s Spirit within me which I identified as a “call” from God to devote my life to Christian ministry as a vocation.  My tradition had taught me that, while you could choose to become a doctor or a lawyer or a mechanic, you had to be called to the ministry.  I now believe that those other occupations are legitimate callings too, but I remain convinced that ministry as livelihood should be undertaken as a response to God’s call, truly a vocation and not merely a job.

More than forty years have passed, and I have never doubted the genuineness of that call.  It has been regularly affirmed by the people of God and confirmed through life experience.  With Paul I, too, can say that “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry.”  (I Tim. 1:12 KJV)

Upon graduation from high school in 1967, I enrolled at Appalachian Bible Institute (now College) in Bradley, West Virginia, and graduated with a diploma in Bible and pastoral studies in 1970.  Given my upbringing in conservative, evangelical (read fundamentalist) Christianity, I had seriously considered only colleges in that tradition, and ABI was a logical choice for a variety of reasons, not least of which was its location just sixty miles from my home in Charleston.

At the time of my graduation from Bible college, my career-path was influenced by three basic assumptions.  First, I assumed that my three-year Bible college diploma marked the end of my formal education.  Second, I assumed that the primary context for my ministry would be the pastorate.  And third, I assumed that my commitment to fundamentalism was unassailable.  In each case I was wrong.

More anon.