My Anglican Journey 4: Church Limbo
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When we moved to Columbia, South Carolina for me to attend Seminary, our first son was 6 weeks old. Eventually we found an evangelical church plant that we loved, in a slightly different tradition than our own. But after about a 8 months, I had to admit that “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for” in the words of the great Bono.
Don’t get me wrong, our church was Christ-centered, gospel oriented, missional, and we had great friends. We attended a fantastic small group let by good friends and we loved it. But when I finally met with the pastor to talk with him, this is what I said (kind of ironic looking back on it):
“Pastor, we love this church, the people, the gospel, the music, the mission, everything. There is nothing here that we aren’t thankful for. But for some reason that we can’t describe, and we really aren’t sure what it is, we feel that for us, something is missing. We don’t want to lose any of what this church has, but we feel like we are being called to add something to it.”
Having been a pastor, I hated saying that to our pastor. We had never been “church hoppers” and I literally hated leaving that church. But we were in what we called, “church limbo.” We knew that somehow we were to move into something else, but we had no idea what that was. We loved Jesus, we loved the gospel, and we loved the church. But we both had an internal sense that we should move out into something else.
I wish I could say that this part of the journey was intellectual or that I found some insight. No, not really. We literally stumbled onto an Anglican church plant. Here is how that happened:
We decided that we had no idea what we were doing. I was over-analyzing everything (including over-analyzing). I was so burned out on trying to find “the exact right answer” that I just wanted to quit. So we decided to visit 12 different churches in 12 weeks. We forced ourselves to visit different traditions. Lutheran, Presbyterian, Non-Denominational, Church of God, Baptist, Nazarene, etc, etc, etc. But we only had 11 traditions listed when we started this. The 12th tradition was a blank, so we started anyways.
As the 12 weeks were progressing we had fun. We were welcomed almost everywhere we went. We met some great people and learned a lot. We snuck out of one church through the basement exit door (long story). We visited the small group of one church and had a wonderful connection. A crowd tried to help me “fall out” in the spirit by pushing my forehead in another church. In one church we sat in a 200 year old balcony surrounded by some of the wealthiest and more powerful people in South Carolina. The next week were in an inner city church with a ministry to the poor and homeless. We heard great sermons, good ones, and bad ones. We sang hymns, choruses, and other unknown music types that would defy description. And yet we just kept going, and going and going. But we were getting closer to week 12.
During that time, the seminary president announced that a man named Thad Barnum would be preaching at our chapel for the week. Thad preached on the glory of Christ in the Book of Revelation all week. On the very last day, the seminary President got up and announced that Thad was actually Bishop Thad, an Anglican Bishop. And that he, the president, had begged Bishop Thad to tell us about a church plant that was starting in Columbia. Bishop Thad briefly shared that there was a plant, that Anglicans love Jesus and the Bible, and that if you wanted more information, please sign up and give us your email.
I needed to find that 12th tradition to visit, so I signed up. I literally had no idea what Anglican was, except that I knew it was “catholicky” and somehow related to England and the Episcopal Church. But I was desperate.
The Anglican group was meeting in a clubhouse on Wednesday nights. We decided that I should visit first, to see if it was weird or anything. Plus, the baby would be sleeping at night. So I went to the meeting. When I walked in, our next door neighbors were playing music. They were in seminary with me, so I immediately felt that it must be somewhat okay to be here.
That night, and in the next few weeks as we continued to visit, we had a kind of epiphany. We didn’t know what exactly this Anglican thing was. But we knew that we were exactly where we were supposed to be. The group was welcoming and our neighbors (he is now a priest) were helpful in telling us their story. But the main thing was that we both knew that we had found our home. Intuitively. The sounds and rhythm of the liturgy were comforting. The order, the solemnity, the reverence, and the joy were subdued and yet very real. The sign of the cross, the use of a prayer book, were stunning. The people seemed really normal, and they talked about the Gospel and Jesus, and read a whole lot of the Bible during worship. In fact, many of them read it everyday as the Daily Office. Yet infant baptism and priests with collars were literally abhorrent to me. And they seemed to have a lot of names for things, and patterns and orders that they all knew about, but I didn’t. This wasn’t off putting for me, it was great. It forced me into the position of a catechumen, a learner. For a big know-it-all, this was good medicine. I had so many questions, and yet I knew that I was called to enter into this tradition experientially. This was to be a transformative, humbling experience. I wasn’t supposed to think my way in, I was supposed to submit to the tradition and be formed by it.
I did have an old prayer book (I had previously kept it in my “cultish” book collection). Walking through the woods to work, I would read morning prayer. I can say that for the first time in my life, I finally felt like I was learning how to pray. I always knew I should pray, and I had always tried, and had done a lot of praying. I had sensed God’s presence most of the time. But now I felt like I was being given good words. I was holding a book that contained many prayers from the Bible, from other believers, and from history. It gave my prayers words and it re-shaped my sense of prayer and devotion. I loved it. I was literally speechless if anyone asked me about it, during that time (I’ve obviously since become anything but speechless about it).
Victoria loved it too. She had had some previous experience at an Episcopal church, and for her it felt familiar. She loved the people, and the Eucharist. She is a sensate person, and so the symbols and the tactile experience was soothing and attractive.
We had found our home. Now we just needed to figure out what exactly the heck this Anglican thing was.
Next time around I want to share how I began to ask questions and learn about Anglicanism, and how it helped me resolve, release, or continue in many of the questions I had previously left in limbo.
Thanks very much for reading. I hope that sharing my journey enriches your faith, regardless of what tradition you worship in.
My Anglican Journey by Greg Goebel
- Pastor’s Kid
- Grief, Prayer, and Love
- Pastoral Ministry
- Church Limbo
- The Plunge
- Back to the Future
- Church Planting
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