A Really, Really Practical Post

Of all the uses to which I have put this blog in the fifteen months I have been writing it, of all the things I have communicated in the previous one hundred thirty-three posts, what I am sharing in this post is the most difficult, most awkward, and most likely to be misinterpreted. Still, I have learned that, when an idea implants itself in my thought processes and intrudes repeatedly into my consciousness over several days, it is likely something I should heed. So, here goes.

For nearly five years, since the door closed on my fourteen years of ministry as an instructor in a small Bible college, I have been asking God to show me what new door He was opening. For a time, I thought I detected a sliver of light through a door slightly ajar. I painstakingly prepared for a ministry within the Anglican tradition. Following my ordination as a priest in May 2011, I spent a year and a half trying to force my way through a door which God was not opening, at least not at this time.

I have written much about my vision for a new church in Columbus, Ohio, near the campus of The Ohio State University. More than a year ago I located a small office for rent Grandview Officein Grandview Heights, the very community in which it seemed that God might be leading us to establish the new church. The circumstances surrounding my discovery of the office’s availability, along with the generosity of the people of St. Augustine’s Anglican Church in assuming the cost of renting the office for one year, led me to conclude that God was in the midst of that enterprise.

The church is not yet a reality. The office did not directly lead to an even greater presence in the community resulting in the formation of a congregation. The vision for the church still lives, but God’s timing, in that regard, is different from mine.

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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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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 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.)

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.

M is for Missional… and for Money

The Anglican Church in North America is facing almost unlimited opportunity but with limited financial resources.  If we are to realize our potential and take advantage of that opportunity, we will need to be creative in the use of our finances and willing to sacrifice for the good of the Kingdom.  I know that God is infinite and possesses boundless assets, but I am always amazed that the infinite God has chosen to accomplish His purposes in the world through finite humans and to make the advancement of the Gospel dependent on our faithfulness.

This has been the case since the church’s very beginning. The second chapter of Acts records the story of some remarkable events that took place in Jerusalem just seven weeks after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. Ten days earlier, Jesus’ disciples had watched as He ascended back into heaven, having completed the work for which He had come to earth, and with joy in their hearts they waited to see what God would do next. Then, with Jerusalem teeming with Jews who had come there to celebrate the Feast of Pentecost (fifty days after Passover), the Holy Spirit came upon them, resulting in the conversion of thousands who understood and believed the good news about Jesus the Messiah.

The Christian community faced an immediate dilemma. Many of the new believers chose to stay in Jerusalem, where they could be nurtured in spiritual growth, rather than to return to the lands from which they had come. This was both a blessing and a burden for the church in Jerusalem. The infant church would benefit from the fellowship and enthusiasm of the multitudes of converts, many of whom would eventually return to their places of origin as missionaries for the Gospel of Christ. In the meantime, however, they needed to be housed and fed and cared for.

And the church rose to the challenge. As Luke records in Acts 2:44-45 (ESV)—

All who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.

We have wasted a lot of time over the centuries arguing about whether or not the early church practiced some form of communism. That is beside the point, which is that the early church did whatever was necessary to provide the material resources which their situation, and their calling, required. The ACNA faces a similar challenge.

God has moved among us, His Spirit has descended upon the Anglican communion, and the Gospel of the Kingdom, once again faithfully preached and practiced in the beauty of the historical liturgy, has proven enormously attractive to many, including me. Many of us “converts” bring gifts and talents and enthusiasm and vision to our new “Jerusalem.” We want to live here, to serve here, to help the ACNA realize its potential and to do what we can to make the Archbishop’s vision for 1000 new churches a reality. In this historic moment, however, at the threshold of what could potentially be an “Anglican hour” in American Christianity, too many voices are calling out, “But we just don’t have the money.”

Nonsense. There is always enough money to do what God is calling us to do. Where God guides, He provides. Any apparent shortage of financial resources means either that the vision is not really from God or that the people of God need to rearrange their priorities and reconsider their view of Christian stewardship in order to make sure that their resources (all of which come from God anyway) are not being mismanaged or misused.

The ACNA is not the Episcopal Church (TEC). Especially for those parishes, formerly in TEC, that have been led to align with the new work of the Spirit which God is beginning to do through ACNA, this is a potentially transformative moment. But that transformation involves far more than merely changing the name on the church sign. It requires one of those “paradigm shifts” that so often accompany, or give evidence of, authentic transformation. It may very well be that, for ACNA, one of the most significant paradigm shifts will involve a change in the church’s attitude and practice in the area of financial stewardship.

I have much more to say on this important subject, including some specific suggestions and recommendations, and I will share them in future posts.