My Anglican Journey 6: Back to the Future
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Before going to seminary, I had wrestled with the catholic nature of the Church. It seemed like the early church was very catholic. They had bishops, priests, and deacons. They used a liturgy. They shared Eucharist every Sunday. They baptized infants (most of them, not all). And even the reformational churches retained much of this.
And yet I had always believed that these things were either wrong, or were not biblically mandated. My problem was that I just couldn’t believe that the Church could immediately veer completely away from the Spirit and the Scripture and stay that way for 1900 years. So somehow ‘catholic’ and ‘biblical’ had to go together. I believed in the renewal and the experience of the charismatic revivals (though I doubted much of the theology of it). I believed in what evangelicals believe: the Bible, the gospel, and Jesus Christ as the center of everything. I just didn’t know how all of this could be reconciled.
Anglicanism is not the only tradition that tries to be all of these things at one time. And yet I found here a church that wanted to be catholic and reformational. It tried to be evangelical and liturgical. It was sacramental and missionary.
Here was a church with a prayer book and a priest that was also an evangelical mission – a church plant that was preaching and living the gospel. I remember walking through my first Lent. During Lent, I was reading some of the early Church Fathers. As I read of their thoughts on and experience of Lent, I suddenly realized that I was doing the same thing they did. I was experiencing the same “wilderness”. By following this ancient tradition (instead of always trying to be personal and individual), I was able to share this experience with Irenaus, John Chrysostom, and millions who have gone before me. It wasn’t that I agreed or disagreed with every point they make in their writings. It was that I shared their experience of spiritual formation. It was “back to the future” for me. We were going back to the past in order to be shaped in the present for the future – a mission to help plant new churches.
I was also meeting charismatic Anglicans, evangelical Anglicans, weslyans, calvinists, Roman leaning Anglicans, even Eastern leaning Anglicans. And yet we were all gathered together around the Lord’s table. In fact, our priest announced every Sunday: “This is not the Table of this church, this is the Table of our Lord Jesus Christ and all baptized believers are welcomed by him to his table.” The Holy Meal was a Christian meal that formed a new community around Christ, not just around our particular speculations and experiences.
I finally felt that I was a catholic Christian, just as the Church had always been, and yet I never stopped being an evangelical or a charismatic. Of course, I’ve never been an exuberant charismatic, and I reject much of the speculative theology that has arisen from that movement (e.g. that you have to speak in tongues to be full of the Spirit or that God will always heal us if we just conjure up enough faith). I wasn’t raised in that way of being charismatic, thankfully. But I did believe that charismatic renewal was a worldwide miracle, plain and simple. A miracle that mysteriously brought about a fresh wind to the 20th century church. I didn’t have to leave that at the door to become an Anglican.
I also found it refreshing that I could think through many things as a Christian, without having to be locked in to someone else’s detailed speculations. I had always been suspicious of psychology, because I thought it was in competition with the Bible. As I personally explored this, I came to believe that mental health counseling and the findings of the psychological sciences can be very complementary to Scripture and to the Gospel. It helped me greatly to go to counseling and to be able to get some professional help in dealing with my mother’s death years before, and also just to understand my personality and how I could grow into a healthier emotional and mental state. The Anglican church is a place where I had the freedom and support to follow this personal sense, without feeling that I was out of step with our church. I’ve met Anglicans who are suspicious of psychology, and others who, in my mind, seem a little to uncritical of it. And yet that’s okay.
I also began to sense the healing of the sacraments. Receiving weekly communion, trusting that God will be present, trusting in the guidance of our priest. All of these things were bringing a peace and healing to my mind and heart.
But none of this is to imply that “all of our problems went away.” Every Christian life is challenging. Every life is challenging. All communities are human communities, with our beautiful, divine image side and our fallen side. I was still me, and our parish had the same follies and foibles as any human community (much of which I contributed to, free of charge). And yet here was catholic, reformational, evangelical and charismatic faith in one house. It was healing for me.
So I finally felt at home. I really was planning on either teaching or writing. But after seminary, I was honored to be hired by our church as Parish Administrator and served in that for about two years. During this time our church plant was growing and we were working hard to assimilate people and to find enough classroom space and office space. Through those years, I was reading everything I could read about Anglicanism, and learning about and leading the offices, and helping with planning services and with music. I was privileged to learn from the best. Alongside Fr Aaron Burt (now planting in Seattle), I was mentored by a champion of the Gospel, Chip Edgar. I also had the privilege of learning on several occasions from Bishop Thad Barnum, J.I. Packer (An Anglican Priest if you didn’t know!), and Bishop Fitzsimmons Allison. I knew then that this was amazing, but I would later learn how special it was that these men helped shape and mentor me as an Anglican.
It was a wonderful time, and we felt we would never leave Columbia, South Carolina and our friends there (who would voluntarily leave that wonderful city? That would be madness).
But our Rector had other plans. First, he asked me if I would consider discernment toward priesthood. Through that process, I came to see that my calling to pastoral ministry was still there, and that the church was asking me to take it up and serve. After discernment I was ordained deacon (which is in preparation for being ordained priest).
Next, our Rector encouraged me to “just go out an talk to” a church plant in the Atlanta area that was looking for a full time Rector. “Just talk to them. Just hear what they have to say. Could be its where you need to be. You don’t have to say yes.” Stuff like that. Of course, a few month later we were driving a Uhaul truck to Woodstock, Georgia.
I was ordained priest and become the associate Rector to the church planting Rector, Victor Oliver. After a six month transition under Fr Victor’s mentoring, I found myself the Rector (Senior Pastor) of an Anglican Church. Now it was my turn to reach out in the name of Christ, through the Anglican way. I had a real passion for the ways that this tradition can reach people, and bring gospel healing. We had a strong core group and vestry and a great location. There were about 40-50 people gathering, and I had already helped in one church plant. New tradition. New city. New priest. New church.
What is it like to be an Anglican priest helping to plant a church?
Tune in next week to find out!
Thanks for reading. Blessings to you.
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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