Upended Expectations

Almost nothing about life after sixty (I’m nearly sixty-three) has turned out the way I expected it would when, as a youngster in my thirties and forties, I would occasionally look ahead to what I might experience when I became a senior citizen.

I expected that I would spend these years well established in some ministry setting, enjoying the fruit of a lifetime of faithful service to the church. I ex- pected that I would be in demand across the country—and maybe around the world—as a conference speaker and itinerant preacher, having built a reputation for effectiveness and impact as a teacher and a pastor.

I never expected to lose my job as a Bible college instructor at age fifty-eight and, consequently, to join the ranks of the long-term unemployed. I never expected to retire. In fact, I don’t really think that retirement is a biblical concept. I certainly never expected to be forced into an early retirement, for which I am woefully ill-prepared, both economically and psychologically.

I never expected that my only daughter would enter her thirties as a single mother, nor that my wife would enter her sixties as a cancer survivor. And I never expected that, forty-two years after I was ordained a minister at Elkview Baptist Church near Charleston, WV, I would feel so spiritually homeless and estranged from organized religion.

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What Are The Odds?

At the dawn of this new year, what are the odds that the vision for a new church, called St. Patrick’s Anglican, located in or near Grandview Heights, OH, just west of downtown Columbus and easily accessible to the campus of The Ohio State University, will become a reality before the year ends? How likely is it that a diverse group of people will come together around the common goal of forming a community of faith, in Ohio’s largest urban area, that identifies with a local neighborhood and yet intentionally seeks to reach college students? Well, let’s see.

First of all, is the vision worthy and the goal reasonable? Yes. Is it consistent with the kind of efforts that God seems to bless in other settings? Yes. Is the motive for undertaking this endeavor wholesome, unselfish, and Christ-honoring? As far as I can discern, yes. Is the proposed location suitable to accomplish the stated goals? Yes. Are there other orthodox Anglican churches already in existence in that area with a vision for mission and ministry similar to that of St. Patrick’s? No. Are there any obstacles to be overcome? Yes; see next paragraph.

Has anybody who actually lives in Grandview Heights expressed a desire to see a new Anglican church planted there? No. Has a core group of people been identified who share the vision for St. Patrick’s, who desire to be part of this new work, and are willing to commit time, energy, and money to the effort? Yes and no. St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, itself a fledgling congregation on the northeast side of the city, has pledged to cover the cost of renting a small office in Grandview in order to give St. Patrick’s its first presence in the community. Scores of people have said they are praying for this effort. But so far, no core group of people, energized by their common commitment to the vision, has come together.

So, where does that leave us? Well, let’s consider, first of all, some other resources which have already been committed to this endeavor. We’ll call this…

Things We Already Have

First, we have a clergy-person and spouse (Shirley and I) who are ready and eager to move ahead with this vision. This may seem relatively immaterial to some of you who are reading this from the free church tradition, but for us Anglicans, it’s a pretty big deal. We need an ordained priest to celebrate the Eucharist, which is the focal point of our coming together for corporate worship, and to administer other sacraments.

Second, in addition to those I’ve already mentioned who pray regularly for this undertaking, we have a small but growing network of people, with expertise in a number of areas, including how to use the internet effectively and efficiently, whose primary attribute is their common desire to glorify God, to lift up Jesus Christ, and to follow Him faithfully as devoted disciples. They provide wisdom, counsel, encouragement, and accountability. This, too, is a pretty big deal.

Third, we have the blessing and endorsement of the leadership of the Anglican Diocese of the Great Lakes (of which St. Patrick’s will be a parish), including Bishop +Roger Ames, Archdeacon Fr. Mark Scotton+, Canon Fr. John Jorden+, and Diocesan Missioner Dcn. Tom Hare+. This is a very big deal. This is not a rogue operation. We are pursuing this vision under the watchful eye of these leaders who provide spiritual counsel and covering for me and to whom I am accountable for my stewardship of the gifts and authority which I received through ordination.

Fourth, we have a carefully articulated summary of our vision (soon to be accessible online through our website, which is under development), an office, and a tentative schedule (mid- to late January) for a short series of meetings/classes designed to explore the relationship between the gospel, the church, and the Kingdom of God. The goal of this series is to present the specific vision for St. Patrick’s in a way that links it to the larger purposes of God for His church and His Kingdom.

This is a start, but there is much more required to plant a church. Let’s consider some things in this category, and we’ll call this…

Things We Don’t Have (And, Therefore, Need)

First, we need a core group, an “inner circle” of people who share the vision, want to be part of this effort, will commit energy and finances to the task, are willing to meet regularly to pray about what we need to do, and then do it. Second we need an “outer circle” of people who may not feel God calling them to be part of this new work, but will pray regularly for it, providing spiritual and material resources as they are able and feel led.

Third, we need a place in Grandview or near the OSU campus, larger than my office, where we can hold meetings, such as the classes I mentioned above and the Eucharist on occasion. Fourth, Shirley and I need to move to Grandview or someplace close by. We currently live thirty miles away from that community. We cannot plant a church via long-distance.

Now, some of you are saying, “Where does God figure into all this? Haven’t you overlooked the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit in this overview?” Up to this point in this blog post, yes. Deliberately so. I have wanted to frame these questions in practical terms from a human perspective. In all of this, however, I understand fully that, if God wants St. Patrick’s to become a reality, He will provide all the resources—spiritual, human, and financial—that we need. If, for whatever reason, and it may be known only to Him, God does not want this vision to materialize, He will not provide the resources. My concern, of course, is that we wait carefully and patiently on God. Once again I reiterate: I don’t want to undertake a project and demand God to bless it; rather, I want to find out what God wants to do and join it.

So, back to my original question. What do you think? What are the odds that St. Patrick’s will be a reality by this time next year? I would welcome your response, your counsel, and your questions. You can communicate with me by leaving a comment below, but if you’d like to share more personally and more specifically, then I encourage you to write me at this email address: stpatricksgrandview@gmail.com.

Thanks for reading this. I look forward to hearing from you. And have a blessed and productive year in 2012.

A Broader Vision

On May 10, 2011, The Rt. Rev. Roger Ames, Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of the Great Lakes in the Anglican Church in North America, laid his hands on my head and prayed a prayer of dedication over me as he ordained me an Anglican priest.  The Bishop was aware of my 40-year pilgrimage from Fundamentalism to Anglicanism and of the gifts I had exhibited and the ministries I had been involved in along the way.  In his prayer, Bishop Ames asked God to use all my gifts and to draw upon all of my experience in directing me to the area of ministry in which He wants me to serve as a priest.

I have been a pastor, a broadcaster, a ministry executive, and a college professor.  While I am perfectly willing to spend the rest of my life and ministry as a parish priest, I’m also aware that I come to this moment in my pilgrimage with a different perspective on life and ministry, and with far broader experience, than most newly-ordained priests.  It occurred to me that it might be possible that God had brought me to this place in this time to give voice to a vision somewhat broader and bolder than simply the planting of a new church (the value of which I do not mean to diminish in any way).  Is it possible that God might want to use me to articulate a vision for a ministry which could meaningfully serve our diocese and even meet a genuine need that could benefit the entire ACNA?  Since I believe God has put such a vision into my heart, I am going to devote the next several blog posts to giving it verbal expression.  I will leave it to God to use it as He will in the minds and lives of those who read these posts.

I am convinced that, in the economy of the Kingdom, no institution or organization is more important for the advancement of the Gospel and the growth and nurture of Christians than the church.  We err, however, if we perceive the church exclusively as a local assembly or even a denomination.  Throughout its history, the church has recognized that its effectiveness could be enhanced and its purposes served by the cultivation and development of ministries with more specialized and focused areas of concern than those which could be profitably and economically pursued by a single local church, particularly in the era before the megachurch.  Monasteries, schools, hospitals, mission agencies, and social service ministries are examples of endeavors which have been developed by the church, with accountability to the church, in order to serve a broader constituency than a single congregation and to provide services and meet needs which few local churches would have resources to accomplish on their own.  In this vein, then, I propose the development of a ministry I am calling The St. Patrick Center—A Place for Worship, Study, and Spiritual Formation in the Anglican Tradition.

Over the next few posts, I’ll “flesh out” this vision in more detail. Stay tuned.

Is God In It?

As far as I can tell, there is only one orthodox Anglican parish in the entire Columbus, OH, metropolitan area of sufficient size to qualify as self-supporting (i.e. generating revenue adequate to provide full-time salaries for clergy and other personnel, purchase and maintain one or more buildings and surrounding property, and underwrite a program of worship and other activities for its membership.) This is St. Andrew’s in Lewis Center, OH, a growing suburban community located north of Columbus in southern Delaware County. St. Andrew’s began in 2008 when the majority of the membership of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Westerville, OH, voted to sever their ties with the Southern Ohio Diocese of the Episcopal Church and realign with what would become the Diocese of the Great Lakes in the Anglican Church in North America. The congregation purchased a building and several surrounding acres in Lewis Center from a church of another denomination which wanted to relocate farther north. St. Andrew’s Anglican Church came into existence when the group which had left St. Matthew’s, along with their clergy, occupied their new property in June 2008.

On the one hand it seems unconscionable to me that an urban area the size of Columbus should have only one self-supporting orthodox Anglican parish  (although I am sure there are Episcopal churches which would challenge that appraisal).  On the other hand, church growth and the advancement of the Gospel of the Kingdom are, in the final analysis, products of the sovereign will of God.  Too many “projects” are undertaken because they seem like a good idea at the time, but they are not part of God’s plan, and they eventually close down when their human organizers run out of time, money, or energy.  I once heard someone say (and I fully concur), “I don’t want to undertake a project and ask God to bless it; I want to find out what God is doing, or wants to do, and join it.”

As an evangelical Christian, I want to see the church grow through the baptism of its children and the conversion of those who have not yet believed.  And I believe that one of the most efficient means to that end is to plant new churches.  New churches grow much faster than established parishes, and their conversion-to-transfer ratio is generally far higher.  New churches are the most economical method to achieve significant growth for the Kingdom of God.  I would be happy to be involved in such an effort in Grandview Heights, and I think I bring a gift-set to the endeavor which would contribute to the likelihood of its success.  But I will not force something to happen when I am not convinced that God is in it.  I do not want my legacy as an Anglican priest to be “failed church planter.”

Two Scenarios

When I consider the possibility that a church like the one I described in my previous blog post might actually come about, I envisage two separate scenarios, either of which could give rise to such a church.  In the first scenario, a church planter takes up residence in the neighborhood or community where the church’s meeting place will likely be located.  Over the course of time, the church planter comes to know, and be known by, the community.  A basis for trust is established, and gradually a core group forms, eventually achieves “critical mass,” and grows into a vibrant fellowship.  The key elements in this scenario, of course, are time and a personality suited to the task of developing a community of faith from the ground up through the cultivation of personal relationships.

In the second scenario, the vision for planting a new church is taken up by a church already in existence.  The established church commissions a number of its members who are excited about the prospect of the new church to form the core group for the new church and to devote themselves, for a specified period of time, to the development of the new work.  Some, including the founding pastor, actually move to the location of the new church; many would likely commute.  Some will become permanent members of the new church; many would likely return to the original “mother” church once the “daughter” church was established and growing.  In this scenario, the new church “hits the ground running,” so to speak, and, owing to the positive effect of both people and money from the “mother” church, achieves critical mass, and thus the likelihood of success, much sooner than in the first scenario.

A good friend of mine attends a church in a Columbus suburb which was planted a few years ago following the pattern of scenario two. An evangelical church on the northeast side of the city commissioned a group of its members, many of whom lived on the west side, to establish a church closer to where they live. The mother church also sent one of its pastoral staff to serve as pastor for the new church, and the church was substantially self-supporting from the beginning. The church meets in a high school auditorium and has tripled in size in five years.

I am not a missiologist, but I have been a church member all my life and a servant of the church for most of that time.  The scenarios above do not derive from textbooks on church planting or sociology but from life experience and common sense.  I don’t know if one of these scenarios is preferable to the other.  I do know that both of them can succeed, and both of them can fail.  I also know that, of the two, the second is more attractive to me since, at age 61, an introvert by nature, and unemployed for the past three years, it is difficult to believe that scenario one is at all a possibility.  For one thing, I currently live thirty miles from the community most often considered the likely location for the new church (Grandview Heights), and I am in no financial position, on my own, to relocate at present.

At the same time, scenario two seems equally unlikely at present, since there is apparently no parish in the Columbus area in a position to own the vision I have summarized here in a tangible or substantive way.  Despite that, I am confident I could provide effective leadership for such a venture.  I am further confident that, if this vision is from God, He will raise up the support necessary to make it a reality.