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Leaving the Trail, Looking for Canterbury
By autumn 1990, I began my final year at Ozark. I was a much different person than when I’d begun four years earlier, in 1986. Having been raised in the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement churches, in April of 1986 I had made my first adult commitment to those churches, and later that summer had decided to pursue a vocation in ministry. I had explicitly owned the Restoration Plea, and served various student ministries as part of my training and education. But by the start of my final year, I’d begun to question the Restoration Plea, had come to new theological and philosophical convictions, had owned the legitimacy and normative standard of the Church’s historical liturgy for worship, and had begun to come to an understanding of the sacramental nature of Christian faith. I longed for some sort of tangible connection to the historic Church, the New Testament Church which I was in the process of concluding had never disappeared nor ever had its faith diluted or changed. I had been introduced to the Book of Common Prayer, and had begun to make connections between my evangelical heroes of the faith, C. S. Lewis, T. S. Eliot, and Dorothy Sayers, and the Anglican church of which they were faithful members. At the same time that I was reading a biography of T. S. Eliot, I was also reading Robert Webber’s Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail.
The process of leaving Cane Ridge for Canterbury was a long one, and was not accomplished in one single decision. Part of that dynamic was the period of pain and disappointment I was about to enter during this final year at Ozark and that would last for another five years. Part of it involved a constitutional inability to come to a quick decision. But not to be discounted was the strong and supportive relationships I had formed in my time at Ozark.
I owed a lot to the men who mentored me, professors and ministers. From Kenny Boles I gained my knowledge and love of Greek. I also learned from Brother Boles not to take the solemn pronouncements of various Restoration Movement leaders too seriously, given that time often brings new perspectives and understandings. From Mark Scott, I learned my love of Scripture and the utmost respect we are to pay it. But I also learned that the core of Christian living was a heart and mind surrendered to the Lordship of Christ. From J. K. Jones, I learned to see ministry from the standpoint of cooperating with the work God is already doing in a person’s life. I learned to be a midwife to the Spirit, to cooperate with the grace working itself out in the individual heart, not to assert my own agenda. I learned from Brother Jones to wait, to listen, to pray, and then to act. From Kyle Gardner, I learned that loving God with all my mind was not optional but was central to discipleship. But I also learned that loving God with all my heart, soul, and strength involved suffering, that no Christian life was exempt from suffering, and that only through it can Christians be given integrity.
There were the many friends and parishioners who supported me, and to whom I had, and have, a great responsibility. I owed it to them, and still do, not to lead them astray from the faith of the Church, and to embody in myself the life that God desires to live in me. At that time, during my last year of Ozark, and for the next several years, I was not always sure that heading away from Cane Ridge was a good thing. My mind and heart told me one thing, my sense of obligation told me another. I was sure of the things I was learning. But as is always the case with me, to make such a momentous decision takes a level of certainty not usually granted us this side of heaven. I would have to take the steps which I was convinced God was demanding of me, and to trust to him the outcomes and consequences.
But more to the point, certain events began to unfold which took my attention away from these decisions, and gave me a focus on mere survival.
During my last two years at Ozark, my parents’ long-troubled marriage began to unravel, and during the Thanksgiving holiday break of my fourth year, my father told me one on one in our kitchen that he would be separating from my mom, and moving out. The long months from that point till their eventual divorce was an unforgettable period of the pressure to take sides and the dealing with the dissolution of the only meaning “home” had ever had for me. Forever forward, the peace and joy of family holidays would be destroyed in lieu of competing allegiances. Weddings would be marred by various conflicting demands. And even the celebration of the arrival of children would be always colored by the darkness of divorce.
Not only was I fighting the demons on the homefront, the solace I hoped to find in dating and vocation was soon shown to be misplaced. I made horrible decisions with regard to dating, and endured the consequences. At one point in my final semester, I simply hibernated and recluded myself in my dorm room. I emerged to fulfill my student ministry obligations, but for little else. Friends kept me up to date on class assignments, or brought “health food” to keep me bolstered.
I eventually emerged from blue funk, preached my senior sermon, graduated as salutatorian (including giving an address at graduation), and was eventually installed as a campus minister after graduation. More suffering was to come, but this is better told in the account of my journeys along the road to Canterbury. At this point, I was till a Restorationist Christian. I enrolled in a semester at seminary, while serving as a campus minister. But I had found liturgy and the historic Church, and nothing would dissuade me from pursuing it till I found it in its fullness. That would first mean leaving the Cane Ridge trail for the Canterbury road.