The Clarifying Effects of My Journey in the Episcopal Church (ECUSA)
Looking for the Historic Church
From my final semester at Ozark till my confirmation in the Episcopal Church was a period of some six years of exploring and living, as best I could in my circumstances, what I was discovering about the Anglican tradition and the Episcopal Church in the United States of America (ECUSA). But although, as will be told, my exploration took place within the Anglican tradition, what I was searching for was the historic Church, a connection to the New Testament Church that I had not found in my heritage churches.
During my final semester, I was ordained in the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement Christian churches on 7 April 1991 at my home congregation, Countryside Christian Church. It was a powerful and moving experience for me. I felt the heavy weight of the responsibility to which I’d been charged, as well as the powerful support that God was giving and would give me through his Spirit.
In May, I then presented the salutatorian address of my college graduating class, and submitted a plethora of resumes to secure a local ministry with a church as near as would facilitate me studying at Lincoln Christian Seminary, in Lincoln, Illinois, where I intended to continue my education and training. Though the process was a lengthy and anxious one, I eventually secured a ministry as a full-time minister to a fledgling campus ministry in Vincennes, Indiana.
The area in and around Vincennes was very strongly Roman Catholic, and as one might guess, while in Vincennes, I intently, though only briefly, explored the Roman Catholic Church. In studying the Anglican tradition, to the extent that I had at that time, I knew enough about Anglicanism’s history, and the emergence of the Anglican Church in its present identity from the spousal troubles of King Henry VIII to know that there was a difference between the pre-Reformation catholic Church of England, and Church of England after the Reformation. I knew that as a result of the act of King Henry, among other factors, the Anglican Church was not in communion with Rome or the Orthodox Churches.
It was clear to me, then, that the history and connections to the New Testament Church that the Roman Catholic Church had, were deeper than that of the Anglican Church. So I purchased several apologetical works on the Catholic Church, attempting to explore its major doctrines, its liturgies, and its life.
It was during this time that I took up the practice of praying the Rosary, and began to better understand and accept the realities of the Sacraments and of the intercessions of Mary, the Mother of God, for us.
However, I don’t think I ever held any serious thought of converting to Rome. My Protestantism was too deep to accept such dogmas as the primacy and infallibility of the Pope, the Immaculate Conception, and other distinctly Roman Catholic beliefs. Instead, I continued to turn more fully to the Anglican tradition. I wasn’t much troubled by apostolic succession at the time, or of the validity or invalidity of Anglican orders and sacraments. I was simply looking for a church that had a history that connected it to the New Testament Church, and one in which I could keep the central convictions that I had. And it seemed the Anglican Church, specifically the Episcopal Church, would both give me what I wanted and allow me to keep my core beliefs. But though there was an Episcopal Church in Vincennes, I could never summon the courage or sense of comfort, given my circumstances in the campus ministry, to attend.
My short life as a campus minister was a great experience overall. I divided my time between campus ministry, my classes at seminary, and my personal exploration of the historic Church. Being single and a minister magnified my solitude, but it was a necessary discipline, and gave me time to think, study, write, explore my vocation and to pray.
During that first semester at seminary, one of the books I read was The Way of a Pilgrim, and I began to pray the Jesus Prayer with some regularity. But though I had, by this time, read Peter Gilquist’s Becoming Orthodox, I did not begin to seriously think about or pursue Orthodoxy until much later. For now, I simply enfolded these discoveries into my Anglican search.
From the first few days of my arrival, it was clear that the husband and wife founders of the campus ministry, who were still integral parts of the daily operations of the ministry, had a different conception than did I of how the ministry was to take shape. One of the early disagreements was about whether I should have a series of lessons on the specific Restoration Movement understanding of baptism. I took up a position that focused on discipleship to Jesus first, and after that would come specific doctrinal understandings, so I did not present the lessons they had in mind. Indeed, I made clear to them that my intent on the ministry was one of encouraging and enabling serious commitment to Jesus Christ. I was not out to turn this into a “glorified youth ministry” with a focus on social activities and field trips. Nor was I intending on turning the campus ministry into a recruiting tool for the local Stone-Campbell churches. Most of the students came from other church groups, and it was my responsibility to minister to them where they were at, and not conform them to a predetermined denominational slant.
For the first several months these differences were largely kept out of sight of the students. But in early spring a ministry trip with the students was planned without my knowledge. Within about a week of the beginning of the trip, one of the founders called me to inform me of the travel schedule, travel dates, and what my participation was to be. Needless to say, neophyte that I was to “full-time” ministry, I knew this was a watershed event. Tensions escalated between the founders and myself, albeit beneath the surface, until finally the founders and I met for dinner and we had a face-to-face discussion. I think they were surprised by my frankness and bluntness, since they assumed me to be inexperienced and “fresh out of Bible college.” I was polite and respectful, but firm in my convictions and my stand. Though we left without unity of purpose, I think we left with greater mutual respect.
Within a month of that meeting, it became clear that the funds for the ministry, and my salary, were not coming in as expected. In hindsight, the campus ministry board had moved too fast and too aggressively in attempting to fund a full-time minister so early. Despite my disagreements with the founders, and the lack of full communication on the part of the board with regard to the finances, I was and am grateful for the experience, and thankful to them for taking a chance on a newly-graduated candidate.
With no salary to pay the bills, I left Vincennes just short of a year of having arrived. Shortly after arriving in Vincennes, I had hooked up with a local congregation which was associated with the campus ministry board. The minister took his faith seriously, and was focused on a ministry of discipleship. This was out of the norm for the area churches whose ministry
paradigm was more a “traditional” one of Sunday sermons and lessons and weekday pastoral calls. But whatever faults this congregation may have been alleged to have had, the one thing they were big on was love. They paid for a moving van for me, so I could get my belongings home. And it’s no coincidence that the last faces I saw on leaving Vincennes were those of these church members and a handful of students from the campus ministry, who threw me a going-away picnic.
After a long, ten-hour, late-night drive, I arrived home. Within a few months I had relocated to Lawrence, Kansas, ostensibly to study English at Kansas University. Instead, I would begin the first steps toward becoming Anglican.
My First Worship in an Episcopal Church
When I first got to Lawrence, I looked up a couple of the 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 Church 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.
I knew, coming into the Episcopal Church, that many priests were quite a bit more “liberal” than was I. Some of my then primary “diagnostic tests”–literal six-day creation, traditional authorship of biblical books, infallible inspiration of the biblical texts–revealed quite a bit of ambiguity on the part of many of the clergy, though not all, whom I encountered. But the words of the 1979 prayerbook were orthodox as far as I could tell, the creeds were said, and there were still many orthodox priests and laity in ECUSA. I simply assumed that both could exist together; that I would be free to live and practice my faith as I’d always done. We could, in short, agree to disagree. But just a little more than one year after I’d been confirmed, I began to see the warning signs that others, unbeknownst to me, had pointed out for quite some time.
The General Convention of the Episcopal Church, its national legislative body, in 1997 did two things that gave me pause: it called into question the nature of apostolic succession by loosening the traditional requirements for the consecration of a bishop–as part of an ecumenical agreement proposed with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America–and mandated women’s ordination.
I was far from a strict legalist on apostolic succession, having come to a new appreciation of it in just the previous few years. But I knew instinctively that for the Episcopal Church to loosen its requirements on one characteristic that found its way into that church’s very name, was to forecast its willingness to forego other essential aspects in other ways.
Similarly, though at the time I was in favor of the ordination of women and knew little concerning how it had come about in the Episcopal Church, I knew that mandating a doctrinal matter on which there was not complete agreement was an issue that spoke more in terms of political power-grabbing than it did in terms of serious theological reflection and discussion. It also gave the lie to the broad-minded, liberal, inclusive reception that ECUSA claimed to extend to any and all who entered her services.
Even the liturgy for which I’d developed such an appreciation, was rapidly changing and innovations were proliferating. Make no mistake, I had been far from “traditional” when it came to liturgy. I had never subscribed to the notion of a return to the 1928 prayerbook. Indeed, I had appreciated the variety apparent in the 1979 prayerbook itself, not to mention other so-called “supplemental liturgical texts” which had been made available. I made use of as much variety as I could.
But in spring of 1999, I became aware—with the purchase of Enriching Our Worship, the the then-newest forms of approved supplementary liturgies—how the variety actually weakened the intent of the prayerbook tradition of “common” liturgy. It was primarily in the texts for use in the daily office that this realization came home to me. I found that the proliferation of opening versicles, the increasing numbers of canticles, and so forth, actually began to distract from the recitation of the daily office. Indeed, the apparent sociopolitical agenda behind the inclusion of some canticles was patently obvious. I was becoming aware that liturgical reform was potentially another name for sociopolitical causes. Variety was apparently little more than propaganda.
As the next few years would show, this was just the tip of the iceberg as far as my growing realization of the state of affairs in the Episcopal Church. The very next General Convention in June 2000 would see the passing of a motion that made non-marital sexual relationships pastorally equivalent to holy matrimony. It would also see the setting up of a national task force to ensure compliance with the canonical change requiring agreement with and implementation of women’s ordination. I became increasingly aware of the unwillingness or inability of the orthodox clergy in ECUSA to denounce, depose and/or excommunicate avowed heretics such as John Spong, I. Carter Heyward, and William Swing–persons who publicly renounced the beliefs the Church has always held regarding the Trinity, the person and work of Jesus, the Virgin Birth, the bodily Resurrection of Jesus from the dead, and so forth.
Even all this, aware of it as I was, may not have done much other than to trouble my mind about the national church “out there” somewhere. My home parish, rector and bishop, were all orthodox in faith and practice, and similarly were critical of the direction the national church had taken. My parish priest had encouraged me in seeking ordination in ECUSA, reasoning that if I had been called to ministry in the Stone-Campbell churches, I might well have a vocation to the priesthood in the Episcopal Church. I at first ignored his encouragement.
At the end of the summer in 1998, my wife and I moved to Baton Rouge so she could pursue her library degree. While there, we frequented the nearest Episcopal parish, which happened to be the chapel on campus. But even in the deep South, I could not forget my former priest’s encouragement to seek ordination. So in early 1999, I sought out the local parish priest to inquire about ordination to the priesthood. Beginning there in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, then transferring back to my “home” parish in Lincoln, Illinois, I spent the better part of three years slowly working through the processes of discernment as to whether I had a vocation to the priesthood in the Episcopal Church. I decided to move to Chicago to go to seminary—and pursue other doctoral studies.
That move to Chicago at the beginning of 2000 was almost immediately the end of my time in the Anglican Church. Though I had largely ignored the troubling developments in the Episcopal Church nationally, given the orthodoxy of the parishes in which I worshiped, when I moved to the Chicago area to explore my possible vocation to the priesthood in the Episcopal Church, there was no way I could bury my head in the sand, as it were. I attended a seminary that endorsed same-sex relationships by allowing same-sex partners to cohabit. All the liturgies were systematically denuded of as many references to God the Father as possible. I was seeing day by day the living out of what were formerly only “news items” about national church.
I think most devastating of all, was the sharp contrast between my previous Bible college experience and my experience at the Episcopal seminary. Previously at my other schools, almost nothing was ever said about community, inclusiveness and diversity. Yet I quickly and easily formed a generous circle of acquaintances who were genuinely concerned with my welfare. The schools had their cliques, to be sure, but no one was ever shunned, and one would as often dine and hang out with one’s friends, as with those with which one generally had little in common. And the diversity in terms of minorities and ethnicity was far greater than the largely anglo, upper middle class, and Democrat seminary to which I had come.
At the seminary, my experience was just the opposite. I was shunned by most due to my willingness to publicly announce my traditional beliefs. I actually had one female seminarian approach me after class one morning, following a discussion on abortion, and ask me, point blank, when I would be leaving the Episcopal Church, since it was obviously a denomination with which I was out of step. In another instance, after writing a paper criticizing bishops for advocating for same-sex blessing rites instead of laying a foundation of solid Christian teaching from which Christians could address questions of sexuality, the professor gave me a B and largely avoided speaking to me in any way outside of class—even to the point of ignoring my greetings as we passed one another in the hallways. Diversity was a slogan to be sure, but not a reality, as the fundamentalism of belief (albeit liberal belief) was so much stronger than any I had ever experienced at my previous schools.
Adding to the painfulness was the growing realization of the futility of the search in which I’d been engaged. I’d come to the Anglican tradition looking for the connection to the historic Church, for its adherence to Tradition (in the sacraments and liturgies, and apostolic succession, as well as the creeds) and its monastic ethos. I found instead the mere structures of these things; inside all was empty. For a church to erode its adherence to apostolic succession for the sake of an “ecumenical” pact, calls into question its claim to the designator “episcopal.” For a church to unleash its individual bishops as the sole ecclesiastical interpreters of the canons in their dioceses calls into questions its synodality and therefore its viability as anything larger than specific dioceses or even congregations. For a church to so clearly ignore the rampant heresy evident in pronouncement after pronouncement from leading clergy, calls into question its retention of the name “Church”–the body to which the faith has been once for all delivered. Indeed, long before I had taken up the road to Canterbury, the adherence to Tradition had begun to erode. I was merely witnessing a church’s public, divisive and consequential fall.
The Fork in the Road
During all this growing struggle, a clergy friend of mine expressed that one way to approach these concerns is to remind myself that adulthood is rife with continual negotiation. There are no easy answers or infallibly clear alliances. Everyday we are faced with various compromises through which we negotiate our faith. So while this moral and theological fragmentation which is occurring in the Episcopal Church is regrettable, it is nonetheless part of the realities of adult life: we pick and choose our battles and our allies, hopefully and prayerfully with the guidance of and in obedience to the Holy Spirit. Conformity to an ideal might not be so much a sign of orthodoxy as it is a sign of immaturity.
But the actions of the Episcopal Church’s national leadership and other laity and clergy were deeply troubling to me nonetheless. Furthermore, it could be responded that a sign of adult maturity is to recognize one’s limitations and obligations. This willful disregard for catholicity and tradition in which the Episcopal Church is engaged may not be so much a sign of relevance and sophistication as a sign of regression to adolescent rebellion and lack of a formed identity. An “adult” church would then be one which realized that one had an obligation to be faithful to the Tradition, and that limits are not always signs of oppression but signs of protection and of responsibility.
I also had it expressed to me that the Episcopal Church is still orthodox: the Creeds are recited, the faith is proclaimed, the sacraments are administered. The other matters going on in ECUSA are important, but ultimately not the reality that is the Church. In some ways, this made sense to me. Just because a bunch of folks are behaving foolishly, doesn’t mean that all are foolish. Jesus, himself, said that the wheat and the tares would grow together. But it was clear to me that in ECUSA de jure orthodoxy is not a guarantor of de facto orthodoxy. A creeping nominalism of theological word games had become the political tool in recent decades. One could say certain words, but what did one mean by them? More to the point, one must ask the question: Where is the demarcation between faithfulness and apostasy in a denomination? When could one say that ECUSA had become apostate? Must it only be when it officially pronounces a heresy? And how many heresies must it officially pronounce to be “really” apostate?
It is rather ironic to reflect that among my hesitations in being confirmed in the Episcopal Church were my beliefs about baptism and the orientation from my heritage regarding the Lord’s Supper and church polity. Similarly, the breadth and via media style of thought regarding theology and doctrine in the Episcopal Church was at that time refreshing as compared to a more monochromatic reading of Scripture with which I’d grown up. Now, however, it was just that lack of clarity regarding the wide range of the Church’s orthodox and traditional beliefs that made such things as pouring versus immersion, real presence versus memorial, and elders versus bishops seem, not unimportant, but at least less critical. It was symptomatic of a greater disease.
But the conflicts mentioned above continued to grow in intensity. Furthermore, I was becoming increasingly aware of my passion for and abilities in philosophy. It began to appear to me that my vocation lay not in the priesthood, but in the teaching and writing of philosophy. I had hesitations about ordination I couldn’t shake. In early 2001, a friend from Lincoln
Christian Seminary encouraged me to listen to those hesitations. Then in late 2001 I did so.
On Christmas Eve morning, 2001, I spent some time listing the various matters which had occurred or were occurring in the Episcopal Church that were of deep concern to me. These were all developments that occurred, or things about which I became aware, after my confirmation. In my naiveté, I might still have been confirmed had I known of them, reasoning that prayer and strong witness would result in repentance, renewal and reform. Having witnessed the unchecked downward spiral of the few years since my confirmation (and the couple of decades before that), however, I was not optimistic. Not because I doubted the power of the Holy Spirit, but because I doubted the willingness of the major players to place themselves under the conviction of God.
As the new year 2002 rolled in, I found I could not reconcile what I knew to be happening on the national and diocesan levels in the Episcopal Church with the whole set of reasons I’d been confirmed in 1996. So, with heavy heart, on 7 January 2002, the day after Epiphany, I composed and sent a note to my priest informing him I was withdrawing from the ordination process. I would no longer seek to be a priest in the Episcopal Church. I followed up with a note to my parish discernment group and one to my bishop. Their responses were compassionate. Nor were they surprised, as I’d wrestled with these issues ever since beginning study at the Episcopal seminary I had been attending.
The aftermath of my decision was pretty much anticlimactic. Since arriving at the seminary, I had only been to a couple of Episcopal parishes in the area on a few occasions. Despite the prayerbook service I loved, the parishes were so anti-traditional, and so opposite what I’d come to Anglicanism for, that I just couldn’t force myself to go. Here I was, at seminary, seeking a vocation to the priesthood, and I couldn’t bring myself to even attend the churches I might one
day be serving. So, since we’d arrived in Chicago in 2000, my wife and I had essentially not gone to church or had a parish home for those two years at seminary.
Having left the ordination process, I also silently, but resolutely left ECUSA and Anglicanism. Other than a couple more visits to a local non-ECUSA Anglican parish, and to my one-time home parish in central Illinois, I walked away to never set foot in an Episcopal Church again. A year and a half before—just a few months after having started seminary—I had discovered an Orthodox parish, and had visited it a handful of times. I had already been reading and investigating Orthodoxy, and talking to the Orthodox parish priest. I had also already begun my PhD program at Loyola University in Chicago. So I simply turned my attention to Orthodoxy and to my philosophy studies (which are described in
the next essay “Journey to Antioch”).
So, for the first six months of 2002, my wife and I had no church involvement whatsoever. We moved into the city—and out of seminary housing. Within about a month of relocating, I began to openly and seriously investigate the Orthodox Church.
My experiences to that point on my spiritual pilgrimage had brought home to me some important truths: 1) Not to trust my own wisdom and experience as an infallible guide to faith; 2) To remember that it isn’t about me or my needs or self-fulfillment, it’s about what’s best for my family and my descendants; and 3) There are only two important questions worth asking when it comes to faith: “What think ye of the Christ? Whose son is he?” and “What is the Church?”
I grew up with a healthy dose of American individualism and personal autonomy. I had huge reservoirs of thought which said essentially “Only you can ultimately determine what’s right for you.” Well, that was proven to be untrue. I quite clearly did not determine what’s right for me. More to the point, if I am the ultimate criterion on which to base my determinations of right and wrong, good and evil, not only will I never be able to discover what’s right for me, the best I will ever be able to do is to determine what it is I prefer—most of the time. This is not to say I did not have good reasons for exploring Anglicanism, nor that I did not have good reasons for being confirmed in the Episcopal Church. Furthermore, it wasn’t as though I didn’t take other contrary views into account in my decision. But rather, if my own judgment was the be the ultimate criterion of faith, then I am bound to go wrong. Mine, after all, is a very limited viewpoint, untested by the vast centuries of time open to the Church and her Tradition. And I found that weakness only exacerbated by my adopted church who seemed utterly intent on throwing off the inherited life and doctrine of the historic Church.
I remember clearly how easily I acclimated to and how deeply I resonated with liturgical and sacramental worship. I could see the benefits it accorded me, and how those things would benefit my wife and our family. But this was still just my preference. It was hardly grounded in anything more significant. This preference, of course, was tested when it was brought up hard against manifest heresy and the advocation of immorality. There clearly had to be more to worship and my Anglo-Catholic preferences. More to the point, what would I be handing on not only to my own family, but to my grandchildren, and their children? Could I, in all good conscience, promote the Episcopal Church to later generations of my family? I found that I could not.
But the final and concluding resolve came from the awareness of the primary two questions one must ask oneself in investigating the Christian Faith: “What think ye of the Christ? Whose son is he?” and “What is the Church?” If one is a Christian, there is only one answer to that first question: Jesus is the Incarnate God. But already in my experience in the Episcopal Church I not only found those who publicly denied this bedrock Christian dogma, but more to the point, were not held accountable for that heresy. I could not recommend to myself, my family or my descendants a church who failed to call to account those who denied the central tenets of her faith. In my judgment, no matter how many faithful there were in the pews on a given Sunday honestly confessing the Nicene Creed, if the highest levels of clergy and church governance both denied this faith and could not enforce adherence to this simple bedrock of the common Faith, then that church had, in essence, denied the Faith. How could I recommend such a church to my grandchildren’s children?
Furthermore, it was clear that the ecclesiology of the Episcopal Church was deteriorating to such a point that it no longer resembled a Christian Church. Bishops were set up as mini-popes over their own dioceses, untouchable by any outside agency. Collegiality—the sine qua non of Church governance since Pentecost—had been gutted as innovating bishops went ahead with their own sociopolitical agendas despite warnings from the greater national church and the worldwide Anglican Communion. Even the very Sacrament itself, which constitutes the Church, was denigrated by those who mocked its essence substituting their own “elements” (in substitution for the bread and wine) and replaced the Traditional and canonical words with political agendas—in effect, making the Holy Eucharist part and parcel of the kingdom of this world, and divorcing it from its rightful King. How could I recommend such a church to my descendants?
I have spoken in ways that some will see as harsh and judgmental. It is not my intent to judge the hearts and thoughts of those whom I’ve criticized. But it is my place, indeed my responsibility, to speak about public behaviors to my family, to say to them, “What you are seeing is not of the Gospel.”
If my words seem harsh, it is doubtless because I had come to the Anglican tradition with very high hopes. The picture of the church I saw there was winsome and inviting. Unfortunately, that church had ceased to be some decades before I came on board. I filtered all my experiences through this image I had built, until finally, my experiences showed to me that it was nothing more than an image. An image that no longer matched the reality of the church I was in.
With those two questions in my mind, and my resolve to find a Church that answered them rightly, I turned my attention to the Orthodox Church.
© 2004, 2007 Clifton D. Healy