An Anglican Spider Bite: My Journey into the Anglican Way
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An Anglican Spider Bite
My Anglican journey began in a class about the theology of the early Church – specifically, with a particular article. Before we read J.N.D. Kelly’s Early Christian Doctrines, our professor wanted us to read a short biographical article on him by H.E.J. Cowdrey.
Now, Kelly himself went to Oxford a Presbyterian. However, according to Cowdrey,
“he was later confirmed in the Church of England. He was influenced in this by the chaplain of the Queen’s, E.C. Ratcliff, the liturgical scholar; it was to Ratcliff that Kelly owed his lasting understanding that Christian doctrine should not be studied apart from the forms of worship in each age and from the current belief and practice of ordinary Christians.”
This detail – the connection between theology, worship, and practice – stuck out to me as strikingly obvious, yet obviously absent in my own faith. The ground was being tilled for the coming seed.
Towards the end of the article, I read something that struck me. It didn’t strike me like lightning. It struck me like a spider bite in the night, while sleeping. I noticed it, but it didn’t really become a problem until later.
Kelly persisted in academic ministry until he was an old man. Here is what Cowdrey reports of Kelly in his later years:
“There were signs of an inner malaise, and even sadness, which had an outward symbol in his new solitary and sedentary holidays, always in Florence and Athens. Yet, to the end of his life, a well thumbed office book by his study chair silently testified to his continuance in the daily duty of a priest, and he did not allow physical disability to bring to an end his attendance at Sunday eucharist in St. Mary Magdalen’s church.”
As I said, that passage of the biography bit me like a spider. It only bothered me at first but began to grow and grow until it was such a large nuisance that I actually had to go figure out what was happening to me!
I did as much snooping around as I could to figure out the identity of this “office book” through which Kelly had dutifully thumbed all his life. I discovered this was a reference to the Book of Common Prayer, which contained, among other things, the orders of worship for the “offices” of Morning and Evening Prayer.
The Spider Bite Grew
My search eventually placed me outside a chapel in Dallas at 7:58am on a Wednesday. I couldn’t figure out how to get in, or which door I should try. At 7:59, a little girl opened the chapel door. She was more surprised to see me standing there than I was to see her open the door outside.
I asked, “Um. Hi. Are you having Morning Prayer?”
“Yes,” she answered me simply.
I followed her in and eventually I was invited to sit up in the choir loft with the rector, his three children, and the music director. We were the only ones there.
And we had Morning Prayer. Chanted, not said.
You could say from that morning on, I was basically on a road towards something I couldn’t explain and in a way I couldn’t explain. Over time, I read numerous books and articles, had numerous conversations with friends and priests, and after several years, my wife and I are now in the Anglican Church, and will be confirmed this Fall, Lord willing.
My Top Three Draws of Anglicanism
There are many more numerous details that shaped my personal journey into the Anglican Way, but I think I can distill down and highlight a few of the main reasons I was eventually drawn in.
1. The Book of Common Prayer
The quintessentially “Anglican” element of life in the Anglican Church is the Book of Common Prayer (BCP).
Now, the BCP contains other orders of service, but most fundamentally, the orders of Morning and Evening Prayer provide the backbone of Anglican spirituality. Unbeknownst to me before I saw them for myself, these orders for daily worship are almost entirely derived from the Scriptures, and include the actual reading of long passages of Scripture.
The original goal of Morning and Evening Prayer, if observed faithfully, was for the Christian to read the whole Bible every year, to confess his or her sins daily, and to offer holistic prayer to God. Those people I’ve known who have faithfully observed the offices are unquestionably marked by the discipline, and are some of the most admirable people I’ve encountered.
Long gone are the days of trying to figure out what to do for my devotional time with God. I’ve been invited into a proven rhythm of devotion to God that is deeply rooted in the Scriptures themselves and in the spirituality of the historic Church.
2. The Anglican Ethos
As I journeyed through seminary, I began to develop a keen radar for recognizing others’ different circles of involvement in the Church based on their actions, posture, tone, vocabulary, and subject matter for discussion.
Of course, not everyone fits neatly into their church’s cultural box. But, inevitably, we are all shaped and formed by the culture of the communities we inhabit.
As I began to recognize these differences, I was continuously drawn to the way-of-being I could sense in my Anglican brothers and sisters, as well as those Anglican theologians and ministers I observed and learned from at a distance. I began to find myself desiring the Christian life and spirituality that shaped these men and women.
The further I’ve journeyed into the community, the more I’ve found this ethos at a deep, deep level. And when I find it, I think, “These are my people.” This is something felt in the gut; it’s intuitive. There aren’t three premises and a conclusion that you can put under logical analysis. It’s a feel. I wanted to feel historically and traditionally Anglican.
3. Church Authority
There exists in the Anglican Church an authority structure as old as the Church itself. When the Apostles of Christ began to age and die, there was a push to appoint faithful men as bishops of churches in various places, geographically bound, who probably oversaw the numerous house churches in a metropolis.
To this day, the bishops lead the Anglican Church, a group of faithful men who oversee, shepherd, and guard the congregations committed to their care. Their task is a great responsibility, but so is everyone else’s. That is, my great responsibility as an Anglican parishioner is to submit to those whom God has put over me, especially the bishop. Despite initial reactions to this prospect, it really is good news.
When I began to ask about the details of ordination, a potential curacy, church planting, development, etc., I was gently informed, “the bishop will let you know.” Now, that could be terrifying to some, especially if you come from a culture where you have to “make your way” if you want a job in ministry. But for me, it came as a healing balm, a cool cloth to a feverish head.
Submitting to the bishop in this, and many other matters, is one example of a way of life under the covering of the Anglican Church.
Do you need to plan the worship service for this weekend? Don’t worry; the Church has given you a liturgy. Do you need to put a statement of beliefs on your website? Don’t worry; the Church has already worked that out and given it to you. Do you have a tough pastoral decision to make? Don’t worry; the bishop is there to walk you through it.
As a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ, I don’t have to be an especially creative, talented, high-capacity leader, or anything else of the sort. I need to be humble, faithful, and obedient. Comfortingly, these latter qualities sound more like Jesus than the former.
These three characteristics of Anglicanism are the beginning of a litany (pun intended) of others I could give you to describe a beautiful tradition, which drew me into a way of being Christian that ultimately gave me more of Jesus Christ.
I think it is important that we name this here: Anglicanism doesn’t exist for its own sake. It exists as a tradition which seeks to faithfully obey the Lord Jesus Christ in accordance with the Scriptures and the historic witness of the Church. This is what draws me.
Hear me, I didn’t run, and I am not running from another church. In fact, the church I left is a beautiful, vibrant, gospel-preaching, God-exalting, healthy church. I love that church and I am so indebted to the people there who invested in me and helped me become a more Christ-like man.
However, I have come to believe that the Anglican Church is my church home, and that God has sovereignly led my wife and me to labor in this Body for the rest of our lives, for His glory and our good.
David C. Smith (@_DavidCSmith) is married to Kendalyn Brooke, his life-long friend. They desire to follow God’s call to ministry in the local church back home in Columbus, Ohio. He is a student at Dallas Theological Seminary, earning a Master of Theology with an emphasis in New Testament and Historical Theology. He loves to read, write, do Crossfit, try new food and drinks, play video games, and meet new people in new places.
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