My First Worship in an Episcopal Church
When I first got to Lawrence, I looked up the two Restoration Movement churches in town, and settled on the Disciples Church. In late September, I began to think again about the Anglican tradition and decided to look up the local Episcopal Church. There were two listings and I chose Trinity, which, as it happened, was the church across the alley from the Disciples Church. On the feast of St Francis, 4 October, I worshiped for the first time in a prayerbook service. It was the early service, which in many Episcopal churches, as it was in this one, is the Rite I, or traditional language, service. As is also often the case, there was no hymn singing or other music. It was a spoken liturgy. When I entered the nave, all was silent and around me several parishioners were kneeling in prayer. The service began abruptly with the entry of the rector and immediately we were in the midst of the liturgy. I had read and attempted to use the Book of Common Prayer for a couple of years, and here was the living embodiment of it.
For one who had been reading Scripture daily since the junior year of high school, had spent five years at Ozark Christian College in several exegetical classes studying the Scriptural texts, and had heard countless expository sermons over nearly a decade, the words and cadences and the rhythms of the Rite I service swept over me like a flood. I detected a verse from a psalm here, a verse from an epistle there, not to mention the large sections from the Old Testament, Psalms, Epistle and Gospel that make up the Sunday lectionary readings in the Episcopal Church. I cannot adequately describe the joy I felt in the drenching in the written Word that I experienced in that service. And coupled with frequent and deep silences, I knew that this was the sort of worship with which I most deeply resonated.
I noted in the church bulletin that there was an Episcopal campus ministry that held daily Morning and Evening Prayer, and the very next day, I went to be part of that as well. I also had discussions with the rector and associate rector, as well as with the campus minister. Additionally, I read more and more on the history and worship of the Anglican tradition and the Episcopal Church, and I felt myself very much wanting to be a part of it.
I also happened to read Bishop Kallistos (Timothy) Ware’s The Orthodox Church
, and learned even more about Orthodox theology and life. I knew that compared to Roman Catholic belief, I could more comfortably accept Orthodox doctrine. But ironically, Bishop Ware’s book only served to underscore how foreign Orthodoxy was to my own religious frame of reference, and it confirmed me in the direction of looking at Anglicanism.
My journey continued over the next several months, but I then left Lawrence in early 1993, returned to Wichita, Kansas, got engaged and was soon married. At that point all thoughts of joining the Episcopal Church were placed way down on the list of my priorities. I also continued to appropriate Orthodox items. I purchase a couple of Orthodox prayerbooks, which I used infrequently. I also purchased some icons, but these were mostly religious art, and not a significant part of my daily life.
A few months after my wife and I had returned from our honeymoon, I began to rethink my vocation to ministry. I was at the time working outside the church in other employment. But after a lengthy process of relocating with my company to the Springfield, Illinois area, sending out resumes and supply preaching, I found myself again called to serve as a minister of a local congregation among the independent Christian churches.
I should pause and give some indication of where I had come to with respect to the Anglican tradition and the Episcopal Church. Though I had not been confirmed in the Episcopal Church, and indeed had only worshiped for a handful of months in a local parish before leaving Lawrence, nonetheless I had taken on several of the disciplines that the Anglican tradition of spirituality fosters. I was daily observing Morning Prayer according to the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. As best I could I was also observing the Church calendar and the ecclesiastical seasons of the year, including observing the commemoration of various saints. While in Wichita, I had worshiped a couple of times at Episcopal parishes, but this was largely an infrequent practice. I also began conscientiously to orient myself toward an embrace of the universal Church throughout history and throughout the world. This meant for me an embrace of the theology of the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds, and many of the aspects of the Church Tradition. It will come as no surprise that I also tried to incorporate these into my ministry in the local congregation, though in a very oblique and general way.
As it turned out, I had agreed to serve a church which I later learned had a history of troubled relationships with their ministers. My wife, Anna, and I ended up being yet one more couple in that list of ministers. After a year and a half, and on the tail end of a protracted, if subdued, conflict with the local leadership, I resigned my ministry. Anna and I relocated to the town where I was finishing my seminary degree. Within the month I began worshiping again at the local Episcopal Church.
This time began one of the darkest and most fractured periods of my life. My wife and I had been deeply wounded by the church. Our own marriage, not even a full year old when I started at the parish, had been effectively put on hold as we both tried to survive the dysfunction of the parish. We emerged bloodied and broken, with a marriage not yet strong enough and mature enough to handle the devastation. We both entered a time of mental and spiritual darkness. By God’s grace, we survived individually, and somehow God’s mercy, the prayers of our family and friends, and our love held us together when it would have been so easy go our separate ways.
It was in the midst of this darkness, instability, and financial poverty that my Anglican journey came to an official point. After a few months of study and counsel with the rector—some six years after discovering liturgy and the Book of Common Prayer through a required devotional book in my Practical Ministry class—on 14 April 1996 I was confirmed in the Episcopal Church by the Rt. Rev. Peter Beckwith, Bishop of Springfield (Illinois). As the following next few years unfolded, my love and appreciation for the historic Church, for liturgy and sacrament, for monasticism, all grew stronger and deeper. Sadly, very soon, the intimation that in the Episcopal Church things were not all as well as I had thought they were also began to grow, so that almost six years after being confirmed, I found myself on the brink of leaving.