Monday, October 25, 2021

Reflections on "Going to Rome" – a Measured continuing Anglo-Catholic Response

A "Gallican" French Catholic Liturgy - Tension Indeed!

A prelate in the Anglican Communion going to Rome does not, in fact, have much to do with a continuing Anglican, as a continuing Anglican. Nevertheless, it does have to do with him as a continuing Anglican. It is easy enough to feel a bit dejected and ignored when one is a “Continuer” that Bishop Nazir-Ali never looked at the continuing churches seriously – at least hasn’t yet. Bishop Gavin Ashenden did, of course, and became a continuing bishop (of a reasonably obscure continuing jurisdiction) for a moment. So, one assumes MNA must have realized at some point that such an option existed.

The first point to be made is the issue of “institutional” churchmanship, what some might even dare to call “canonical churches.” (World Council of Churches churches is more what one might dare to mean.) One senses from MNA that the dejection that he feels far surpasses the continuing Anglican’s sense of dejection at not have been chosen instead of Rome. First the “institutional” CofE let him down. Then the Gafcon churches let him down (or at least couldn’t figure out how to keep one of their own from consecrating a female “bishop”). The result of a craving for institutional churchmanship is that you will be disappointed. Rome will even let him down, eventually, if it hasn’t already. But that is the nature of the Church and part of God’s plan. To be in denial that the Church is imperfect and will inevitably let one down is to ignore the opportunity for sanctification.

Some who believe they have a grasp on music say that, after a musician marries, the compositions are no good. It’s the kind of subjective general statement that is hard to prove, but one can see the point. The point is this, creative art comes from tension. Music is, essentially, tension. So is theology. Orthodoxy holds things in balance, in tension. The saddest part of MNA going to Rome is the question whether or not his valuable contribution to Rome concerning the Anglican patrimony will actually be valuable at all. It is true that Newman lectured what we now call The Idea of a University after going to Rome and provided some valuable contributions to Christendom. But the tension was different, of a different quality, like the musician who has gotten himself married. Show me a saint and I will show you a man who has trusted Christ’s Church to the uttermost and has remained in tension with the institutional Church. Such was Bernard. Such was Cranmer, stuck between Luther, Calvin, and Catholicism. Such was any Tractarian always before, not always after, they happened to go to Rome. Genius feeds off of tension and relishes it and the Holy Spirit knows it.

I am not at all surprised by MNA’s defection. I do not find it incongruous with his evangelicalism, but rather consistent. I said some years ago to a colleague that an evangelical Anglican is, in a sense, more likely to go to Rome than an Anglo-Catholic. It is an intuitive statement, and one validated once again. Why? I might hazard a guess. Evangelicals love to be right. They love an equation. Sola Scriptura + Faith Alone + Justification = Salvation. Something like that. A certain segment of Roman Catholicism loves to be right too. But an Anglo-Catholic, a certain kind, even (one might dare to say) the best kind, thrives on tension. As we used to say about working as hospital chaplains, you have to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. But in that discomfort, dogmatically and pastorally, things happen at a sickbed that are absolutely phenomenal, which took things that were “by the book” swirled them up a bit, writing in the process brand new “music” “by the book,” that is, in accord with the rules of music theory, but improvised like jazz into a beautiful godly encounter at a sickbed.

What is getting “let down” by an institutional church? A sanctifying moment. As every pastor knows, step into the hot seat in a parish, cease to be a seminarian, and there is a tension with one’s congregation there that, if persisted in, leads on to glory. Why would the same not hold true in the wider church and for every bishop? So, when we think on MNA going to Rome, it should be lamented, to a certain degree, because, while it is certainly the “death” of an Anglican, it has the potential to be the “death” of a theological artist.    

Taking the same metaphor and applying it to the Ordinariate or Western Rite Orthodoxy, we have no doubt that there is creative energy at work, that God is at work, in those ecclesial bodies. We praise God for the recognition by Rome and Orthodoxy that the worship of the Book of Common Prayer is genuine worship – but we knew it all along! Yet these chimeric ecclesial bodies, when it comes to liturgiology and spirituality, we also know both to be truncated systems of the Western tradition. Technically, to be Western Rite Orthodox one must disregard some rules of Orthodoxy or excise everything of the Western Tradition after 1054. Technically, to be Ordinariate one must do the same with everything after 1537 or 1559, or something like that.

Unfortunately, to do so is like cutting out a piece of what one considers bad intestine in the middle and trying to reattach everything. It works, but the stomach isn’t really ever the same. Anglicanism, the good, the bad, the ugly, the indifferent, like any good, bad, ugly, indifferent tradition (which is what they all are) is a living tradition. You can’t skip steps in Math or Living Traditions. 2 + 2 + 2 = 6. 2 + _ + 2  6. To do so is as detrimental to a living society as removing Civil War monuments.

The need for peace and safety is a noble desire, but not perhaps the best and noblest desire. Trollope’s Mr. Arabin had to learn the creative, sanctifying, tension that existed with an institutional church after Newman went to Rome. “It was from a poor curate of a small Cornish parish that he first learnt to know that the highest laws for the governance of a Christian’s duty must act from within and not from without; that no man can become a serviceable servant solely by obedience to written edicts; and that the safety which he was about to seek within the gates of Rome was no other than the selfish freedom from personal danger which the bad soldier attempts to gain who counterfeits illness on the eve of battle.” So Francis Arabin was able to say to Mrs Bold concerning tension in the ecclesiastical society, “More scandal would fall on the church if there were no such contentions. We have but one way to avoid them – that of acknowledging a common head of our church, whose word on all points of doctrine shall be authoritative.” “Had it pleased God to vouchsafe to us such a church our path would have been easy. But easy paths have not been thought good for us.”

Certainly, many who have eventually gone to Rome have read these words by Trollope, and many other words like them, and have gone anyway. But there is something really sad and missed out on in doing so. We might ask, has just enough been offered to those of the Ordinariate and the Western Rite by way of peace and safety that while effective sacramentally, they are, in fact, ineffective as a living tradition? Officiants of the Liturgy and dispensers of the Sacraments are essential to the life of the Church, but continuity in Holy Tradition preserves both the Sacraments and the Divine Life in a way that is most helpful to our sanctification, not simply essential. We have nothing to fear from tensions, even from heresies. Charles Grafton wrote in Catholic and Christian, “these errors lead to their own cure. The divine life of our Church is no more forcibly shown than in her inherent power of self-purification. Christ is in her, and she shares in His indestructible and resurrection life. The faith is preserved in her, not by ecclesiastical trials, necessary as they must be. Extremes lead to their own elimination . . .

Evangelicalism when radical confessionalism (stuck on Articles and Gafcon statements), and Romanism as rabidly stuck on volumes of dogmas and canons, are really two sides of the same coin – a hesitancy to allow the Living Tradition to swallow up the imperfections. This leads to institutional contrivances for the sake of institutional integrity (meaning cohesion and not real integrity), and it appears it can also lead to burnout in good bishops who have served institutional churches in good conscience.  

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Thor’s Hammer in the Pulpit

An album cover for the Swedish death metal band Aman Amarth ~ the name is Tolkien's creation. This article is precisely about the connection between Lewis, Tolkien, Heavy Metal and modern preaching. 

Living in the shadows
Live a life of sins
Now you feel the pressure
There ain't no giving in
Do you ever wonder
Do you ever think
What may lie beyond you?
What's the missing link?
Will you enter the Paradise?
Will you see the Light?
What is your destination?
Your eyes will see - eternal dark.

Is this a sermon? It almost reads like one. It is not until the second verse that the viewpoint becomes clear.

There ain't no use behaving
Life can never change
There ain't no book to guide you
You're desperate to the range
Why do you listen
To the Holy Man?
Sage one will take you
The only one who can

No, it isn’t a sermon. It is a heavy metal song by the band Picture. A number of German names constitute the band lineup. Even more to the point, I discovered the song through a cover by the Swedish metal band Hammerfall. Now perhaps you are thinking this is yet another attempt to justify musical junk. Actually the project is a bit more academic and sociological than that. Strangely enough, something has survived in the old Germanic countries and has resonated or cropped up again in our time and it is a style of rhetoric.

When I first picked up a copy of Anglo-Saxon Spirituality and delved into the sermons of Wulfstan and Aelfric, the Vercelli Homilies and the accounts of St. Guthlac, I thought, except for some sensational miracles of the kind you encounter in Medieval Christianity the world over, it sounded puritanical. It may be my imagination but I started to get a glimpse of areas of England that never lost certain qualities of this rhetoric, especially in places arguably less dominated by the Norman Invasion and closer to the seafaring world of the Vikings; the fen country which historically remained the quiet coves of smugglers and pirates. I am speaking especially of puritanical East Anglia.
Take for example these Anglo-Saxon sermons on the subject of Doomsday:
Then those dead bones called out to him and said, ‘Why have you come here to look at us? Now all you can see here is a piece of earth and the leavings of worms, where earlier you saw fine cloth adorned with gold. Now look at the dust and dry bones where you once saw limbs that were, according to the nature of flesh, fair to look at. . . . (Anglo-Saxon 64)
And again,
Now there is clamor and weeping everywhere. Now everywhere there is wailing and loss of peace. Now there is evil and slaughter everywhere. And everywhere this middle earth flees from us with much bitterness. And we follow it while it flees and love it while it falls to ruin. Listen, in this we can see that this world is ending and passing away. (Ibid 65)
Or this other Judgment Day sermon,
Lo listen! It then will be a grievous sorrow and a wretched separation of the body and the soul if the wretched inner man, that I, the weary soul that is wicked and neglectful of God’s commandments here, will after that separation slide down into the eternal punishment of hell and there amongst devils exist in murder and crime, in torment and sorrow, amidst woe and worms, between the dead and the devils, and in fire and bitterness and filth and in all punishments that devils have prepared from the beginning for which they were created and which they themselves have earned. (Ibid 90)
These are graphic and violent, morbid and dark sermons. They are on Doomsday homilies so perhaps they ought to be. Nonetheless, consider this teaching on Romans from the Vercelli Homilies, “. . . Let us listen to the teaching of the apostle Paul. He said: ‘Make not provision for the flesh in its desires’ [Rom 13:14]. It is worse that one enjoys (food?) against what is right than if one casts it into a dung heap. In that dung heap it becomes manure” (Preaching 213). This is still graphic.

This kind of rhetoric continued in Scandinavia into the modern era. Take for example the sermons of Lars Levi Laestadius, the great preacher to the still heathen Laplanders of northern Scandinavia (still polytheists far into that the 19th century). A sermon of his for the 2nd Sunday in Advent reads thus: “Has God then created man to eat and to excrete, to drink and to fight, to whore and to steal? For what purpose is man created into this world? The lords of the world anoint their throats with flowing devil's dung and the peasants follow their example, So are they living now in the world and with that life they imagine they are acceptable to God” ( On the Second Sunday in Lent, he preaches like unto Viking warriors:

". . . St. Paul writes to the Christians, 'Put on the whole armor of God that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. Stand therefore having your loins girt about with the truth and having on the breastplate of righteousness. Above all taking the shield of faith, whereby ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the spirit, which is the Word of God.' Here that valiant Apostle has shown all those weapons of war with which one brave warrior of Jesus Christ must be equipped. And all these weapons of war are needed now; when the enemy has started to attack the Christians so terribly. Now everyone who wants to become saved and to save his life, needs to be equipped both against the world which has begun to hate and persecute Jesus' disciples and also against one's own flesh, from which the devil shoots his darts. But may that great War Hero, who has won over the power of the devil, support the feeble knees, strenghten [sic] the weary hands, raise up the fallen, put oil and wine in the wounds, and drip blood when wounds come into the heart, and be their Healer to those who lie sick. Hear, you great War Hero, the sighs of all the wretched and oppressed and redeem all prisoners, that they could thank you eternally in that new Jerusalem. Amen" (ibid).

The effect of this salty preaching on those northern tribes of Lapland was nothing short of a spiritual revival, the reverberations of which are still being felt today in Scandinavia as well as the northern regions of the United States.

It is clearly the case that heavy metal bands are overwhelmingly Germanic and from England, the U.S., Scandinavia and Germany. Many of these bands come from industrial towns such as Birmingham, England, where both Judas Priest and Black Sabbath were formed in 1969. Musically, I have argued for some time that the complex guitar melodies of bands like Iron Maiden have similar rhythms and patterns to the English folk music played in the same pubs previous to the invention of the electric guitar. (Recently, my alma mater, Hillsdale College, has offered classes on the music and lyrics of Iron Maiden, which I applaud.) The emergence of these bands as the West darkened carried with them a return to something which is an opportunity for Christianity.

The neo-Pagan folk had nostalgia. Sometimes the aspects of Celtic pre-Christianity is focused upon concerning the Hippy movement in the 1970’s but rarely are aspects of the return to the old Germanic warrior themes considered. Along with Black Sabbath’s song “N.I.B.”, or “The Green Manalishi” by Fleetwood Mac and famously covered by Judas Priest, songs about demonic influence, other songs would emerge about the Germanic warrior ideal in the late 70’s and 80’s. For example, consider Iron Maiden’s pro-Britannia songs such as “Aces High,” about the Battle for Britain, or “The Trooper,” about The Charge of the Light Brigade. The poster picture of Iron Maiden’s “The Trooper” is, incidentally, the emaciated worm-eaten red-coated warrior so well described in a Vercelli Homily, “Although one might shine in the glory of the world, although one might glitter in crimson and gold, although one might tower above, enfolded in precious clothes, although one might be fortified around with a multitude, although one might be protected with an army of sentries, although one might be fortified with innumerable troops of followers . . . nevertheless he is always in torment, always in sadness, always in crisis” (Preaching 131).

Indeed, alongside the Darkness, songs of “Duty, Honor, Country” followed with themes of old chivalry and Teutonic bravery. Contemplate the band Saxon, formed in Yorkshire in 1976, and their hit “Crusader” and its refrain: “Fight the good fight, Believe what is right, Crusader, the Lord of the Realm.” Or consider music by Ronnie James Dio, that New Jersey Italian who latched onto this culture so well, in such albums as he and Black Sabbath’s “Heaven and Hell” and the song “Neon Knights”: “Cry out! To legions of the brave, time again to save us from the jackals of the street. Ride out! Protectors of the realm, Captain's at the helm, sail across the sea of lights.” And more lately, bands like Hammerfall who covered “Flight of the Warrior” by Riot: “Thundering down from the mountain you ride, clutching a sword made of steel. The ones you call friends they all left you for dead, alone on the battlefield . . . Shining into the night, you are riding through the darkness and light. You are flying with the wind in your hair - The flight of the warrior.” And who wrote such songs as the one following, called “The Way of the Warrior.”

Blood-red the steel of our swords shall flow
and by the allegiance we're ready to go
Stout are the foe in warfare so bold
Nothing can stop us, the future we hold . . . .

The saints and the sinners in battle so bright,
As the forces of steel will unite
The way of the warrior, the call of his life,
Shall lead us all into the light

The metal crusade will conquer all
Our bonds will be stronger, see the infidels fall
Surrender your soul to the Gods of steel
In the blood of the fallen the enemies kneel

These are not just lyrics. This is a poem of the style of the old Germanic bards.

As the darkness grew in the West, in 1941 Bishop Bo Giertz of Gothenberg, Sweden, wrote his three novellas entitled Stengrunden, “The Stone Foundation.” His first novella was entitled Herrens Hammare, “The Hammer of the Lord,” and drew upon the imagery of the Hammer of God’s Law mentioned in the Prophets sifted through classical Lutheran sentiments. But it also drew upon an image well-known to the Germanic pagan, Thor’s Hammer. Meanwhile, C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien across the North Sea began to work within Germanic lore as an image of Christian warfare. (In fact, the success of C.S. Lewis' lectures to Iceland on "The Norse Spirit in English Literature" is recently documented. Consult further, Christianity Today's article, C.S. Lewis was a Secret Government Agent.) 

More to the point, before the drug fever of the 1970s produced hallucinations, ravings and demoniacs in the Secular world and many other factors caused grave heresies in the Church, God's Providence had prepared the antidote. The world, perhaps starting with Johnny Cash and picked up by heavy metal bands, began to wear black. Before long, the metal musician was wearing a long black gown, made of leather, and reminiscent of Christian ministers. The stores began to sell black denim robes of an identical cut as clerical cassocks for teenagers to wear.

We hear much of missionary work, often in the Global South, and of working in the Classical idiom of Apologetics – all good things. Yet we hear less about how to face the world of Dungeons & Dragons, Vampires, Werewolves and Hogwarts in the North. It was the same monks who faced the Germanic tribes of England who took it upon themselves to evangelize their cousins in Germany and a similar culture in Scandinavia. Is it any wonder then that the gothic Alice Cooper, from a family of Pentecostal preachers, is now an outspoken Christian or that, more recently, Dave Ellefson, heavy metal bass player for Megadeath (and bearing a Scandinavian name) began studying at seminary, a Lutheran one? There may be a place in mere Christianity after all for the black gown and prominent pulpit and the fist hammering upon it. There may be a place after all for speaking of dung (one of Martin Luther’s favorite words) and worms, of crusades and blood up to the bridle. There may be a place again for the discordant chords and startling music of the organ to match the wailing guitar and warn of the Doomsday to come. There may be a place again for Thor’s Hammer, the straightforwardness of Germanic rhetoric, in the pulpit of Isaiah and Elijah.


Boenig, Robert. Anglo-Saxon Spirituality: Selected Writings.

Zacher, Samantha. Preaching the Converted: The Style and Rhetoric of the Vercelli Book Homilies.

Fr. Peter Geromel is Assisting Priest at Church of the Incarnation, Interim Vicar of St. Elizabeth's Memorial Chapel, Tuxedo, NY and an adjunct professor of Philosophy at Northampton Community College. Educated at Virginia Military Institute, Hillsdale College, Reformed Episcopal Seminary and the University of Dallas, Fr. Peter has authored Sublime Duty: Its Emphasis in The Anglican WayChrist & College: A Guide from The Anglican Way, and Frankincense & Mirth on HighHe manages Traditional Anglican Resources.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

How I Became a Priest

The following appears in the April issue of our parish magazine. It is a very brief history of how I entered seminary and became a parish priest.

Ten years ago on April 22nd I was ordained a priest right here at Saint Alban’s Church by our bishop, the Most Rev’d Walter H. Grundorf, D.D. The church was packed with laity and clergy, friends, and family, all celebrating the momentous occasion. I remember fighting back tears (just as I had to do at my ordination to the diaconate six months earlier) when we began to sing Down Ampney (“Come Down, O Love Divine”). The Rev’d Canon Chandler Holder Jones, SSC (now “Bishop” Jones!) preached, and the Rev’d Raymond Unterburger (now “Rev’d Canon” Unterburger!) presented me for ordination. The bishop’s chaplain was the Rev’d Canon Rob Tregenza, Ph.D.

The story of how I was ordained, however, goes back a lot further than ten years. In high school (a Christian school) it was suggested to me by a few teachers that I might have a vocation to full time Christian ministry. When I went to college (a Christian college) I majored in history with the goal of teaching at a Christian school. I later decided that I wanted to go into pastoral ministry, as that would be a more direct way of “helping” people. (I now know that one should not seek ordination in order to “help” people. But that is a different article!)

While in college I became increasingly frustrated that even though I was paying for most of college I didn’t have the time in my schedule to take an art or music class. Thankfully, I learned from someone that the type of undergrad degree one got had no bearing on being accepted into a seminary. So I switched my major to art (painting) and also began taking a number of music classes (classical guitar) still with goal of attending seminary and becoming a pastor. While in college I participated in off campus ministries such as nursing home visitation and evangelism. At home during the summers I was involved with my local church in various ways. Little by little, though, as I studied art, I lost interest in becoming a pastor. My goal now became to “move to New York City, become an artist, and live a Bohemian lifestyle.

While all of this was happening another important change happened in my life. I discovered Anglicanism. My family was Presbyterian. I was reared at Valley Presbyterian Church in Lutherville… a wonderful church full of great people. My parents are still members. The thing that lead me to explore Anglicanism was my growing interest in liturgy and music, fueled by listening to CDs of the “Tallis Scholars” - one of the world’s premier choral vocal ensembles that specializes in singing Renaissance choral music. Their recording of Robert White’s church music made a big impact on me. The Latin polyphony and Gregorian chanting of the Magnificat, Regina Coeli, and other prayers and motets blew my mind! I had no idea that church could be this sublime. Meanwhile, at the Presbyterian church, our new pastor - a very man - began introducing these sappy and banal Bill Gaither choruses at the end of the Sunday morning service. That, along with the “praise and worship” choruses that began the service (an innovation introduced by his predecessor) was anathema to me. After a while I couldn’t stomach it anymore. I tried visiting other Presbyterian churches in the area but something just did not seem right about them. God was leading me elsewhere… but where?

Then one day I saw an ad in the local paper for Saint Stephen’s Church in Timonium. It was intriguing. It spoke of “proclaiming the historic faith once delivered to the saints” and the “1928 Book of Common Prayer.” I didn’t know what that meant but I thought it sounded good, so I decided to visit. This was back in 1996 or so. The rector Fr. Guy P. Hawtin, was an Englishman, and a really neat person. He is still pastor of the parish to this day, and we remain good friends. The church, which was full of the most fascinating people you’d ever want to meet, welcomed me with open arms, so I began attending regularly. While the music at St. Stephen’s was not very good at that time (now it is tremendous) the liturgy was spectacular. Like most converts to Anglicanism I was astonished at the great beauty and theological and devotional intensity of the classical Anglican liturgy. I was hooked. It wasn’t long before a man named Don Stevens asked me if I’d be interested in serving at the altar.

After attending Saint Stephen’s for almost a year I began to get bored with it. (This happens a lot with people, actually. The initial wonderment of the liturgy and the ceremonies gives way to a boredom with it. I always tell people. “You love the service now, but it will become rote and boring after a while. Stay with it and get over that hump and you’ll be fine.” A priest colleague of mine actually says that it takes 10 years to really become an Anglican!! I would tend to agree with him.) I was just getting ready to move on when I heard that the parish was going to be interviewing a young priest for the position of curate, so I decided to give the church a chance. This man was the Rev’d Chandler Holder Jones. He was young, dynamic, and full of life. After a service where he preached I went to talk with him in parish office. (I remember the conversation including where we were standing, etc. like it was yesterday.) In the course of the conversation it came out that I had once considered becoming a Presbyterian pastor. Upon hearing that Chad immediately said, “Ahh, perhaps God is calling you to be a priest in his Holy, Catholic Church!” I was blown away. I felt like St. Matthew as he is depicted in the famous painting “The Calling of Saint Matthew” by Caravaggio… Christ was pointing at me! The light was on me. I had run from the Lord, but now he caught up to me and wanted me to reconsider becoming a pastor. Over the next few months and years Chad and Guy mentored me, giving me books to read, and getting me involved in the ministry of the church. I was confirmed in 1997 by the Rt. Rev’d John T. Cahoon, Jr. Bishop Cahoon found out that I was interested in possibly becoming a priest, so we met one night for dinner and got to know each other. Nothing really happened though, because I was hemming and hawing again. About that time an opportunity arose with the company where I worked (Keane, Inc. - at the time the nation’s fifth largest IT consulting firm) to go overseas and do consulting on military bases in Germany, Belgium, and Holland. Naturally I jumped at the chance to make tons of money in such a fun way. I lived in Europe for several months traveling from base to base, socking away all of the money. (While working at Rammstein AFB I met the Rev’d Carl Walter Wright, the episcopalian chaplain, and attended his church. How surprised I was, almost 16 years later, to learn that he was a Marylander, and that he’d retired and moved back home. He now serves as archdeacon of the Diocese of Maryland, and we remain good friends, getting together from time to time.)

When I came back home to America I thought, “This is it! The moment I have been waiting for has arrived. I finally have all of the seed money I need to move to NYC and fulfill my dream!” But then I remembered the idea of becoming a priest. I’d been praying about it, and talking to Chad and Guy about it, but never did anything with it. Now I had the chance. But what was it going to be NYC or seminary? I opted for the latter, thinking that if I didn’t like it I could just quit, and then I would never have to worry about the call to full ministry ever again. (Ironically, I would later turned down two job offers in Manhattan with Keane because I was in seminary!)

So, I put in my notice to Keane and applied to Saint Mary’s Seminary, School of Theology. Being a Roman Catholic school they did not want to admit me. I remember having to practically argue with the Jesuit dean of the school and professor of canon law that I had taken lots of undergrad courses in religion and other liberal arts and not just a bunch of art classes. They finally admitted me as a non-resident student in the Roman Catholic seminary. I quickly rented a flat in the Bolton Hill section of Baltimore and got ready to hit the books. Thankfully, Keane decided not to let me go, but rather keep me on as a part time administrative assistant. That enabled me to pay my bills while in school, and eke out an existence. For most of seminary I was impoverished. I barely had enough food to eat… I’d even save the tobacco ends from my cigarette butts to roll into extra cigarettes. At one point I had to steal toilet paper rolls from work because I couldn’t afford to buy any of my own! (Being this poor was good preparation for being a parish priest.) Seminary was an interesting and sometimes alienating experience. The classes were incredible stimulating, and I was impressed with my classmates’ spirituality and intellect. Most of my friends from college abandoned me because I was no longer in communion with their infallible “pope” John Calvin. My parents were not enthusiastic about it and were only marginally supportive. My best friends were people I worked with at Keane, people from church - especially Chad since were around the same age - and some new friends I’d made in the area… Victoria, Dave, Suzanne, Norman, Karl, Gerald, Evan, and some others. The rejection by my closest friends from college had a profound and life changing impact on me. It is amazing how badly Christians sometimes treat each other!

Sometime around 2001 an acrimonious situation had arisen at Saint Stephen’s. Without going into detail, as that is all water under the bridge now, it was very bitter and ugly… enough so that I became disillusioned and left. I stayed on at seminary to finish my degree and graduated in May of 2001. Around this time I converted to the Roman Catholic Church, thinking that would be a safe and wonderful haven. (Little did I know that the sex abuse cover ups would blow up in the national news!) I went back to work for Keane full time on a project with the State of Maryland. Looking back, it is amazing how God always provided for me financially when I needed it. I worked there for about two more years and then just couldn’t take it anymore. The corporate world was making me go nuts. From Keane I went on to teaching art and religion at a now-closed Catholic school in West Baltimore, which proved to be a total disaster. After only a few months I quit and went to work for my old man, who very generously offered me a job. That job was a great experience in so many ways. I learned a lot about the building trade, sales, promotion, and more. But alas, I was not happy. I began applying for jobs in NYC and elsewhere but nothing materialized. Life as a Roman Catholic layman was not very inspiring. While I thought the church looked good on paper, and while I was impressed with the deep spirituality of my classmates at seminary, the reality of life at the parishes was dismal and depressing. The liturgy was insipid and dull at its best, and ghastly at its worst. I was now more miserable than ever before. Everything changed one day when I was driving to Columbia for an interview with American Express Financial Services. During the interview process I began thinking to myself, “What are you doing here, Gordon? You don’t want to do this.” So I got up and walked out. Driving home on 95 I prayed to God, “What do you want me to do with my life, Lord?” He answered me in my heart: “I already told you what I wanted you to. I want you to be an Anglican priest. The only thing stopping that from happening is you!” “Wow.” I thought. “It really is that easy, I guess.” I also though about how much I had sacrificed (a LOT… time, money relationships, and more) to become a priest, and how many other people had helped me along the way, and how I was now doing NOTHING with my degree and training! That did not seem right to me. In retrospect I see how God allowed me to go through that time of “wandering in the wilderness” to test me and equip me for the ministry to which he called me. To this day I use every single thing I ever learned in the corporate world, teaching, sales, and more, in parish ministry!

When I got home I e-mailed my old friend Chad Jones and told him the news. He was delighted and directed me to St. Alban’s Church where he had once served as rector. (Chad was now residing with his family in Florida, and serving as dean of the pro-cathedral.) Obviously this meant leaving the Roman Catholic Church. At the time this was not a hard decision to make, especially because I was so completely grossed out by the sex abuse scandals and cover-ups. I couldn’t believe I had joined such a church! Thankfully they have now straightened all of that mess out.

I returned to the Anglican Church in late 2002/early 2003. Fr. Dic Baskwill, interim rector at St. Alban’s, graciously welcomed me home and got me back to serving at the altar. Other parishioners whom I had known - the Brownes, the Minshalls, and more - were equally welcoming. A month or so later, Fr. Raymond Unterburger came to the parish to serve as rector. Fr. Ray got me back in the process to become a priest. Although I had a seminary degree I had to fulfill certain canonical requirements to be ordained. The bishop had to meet me and approve me, as did various lay and clerical committees. I had to read several books and write papers on them, and then be trained in the art of priestcraft and parish ministry by Fr. Ray and others. It was during this time - in December of 2004 - that I met my future wife, the beautiful Valerie Clemmer. I was ordained to the diaconate at the pro-cathedral one week before marrying Valerie, in September 2010. Ordination to the priesthood came six months later, and took place as I mentioned here at Saint Alban’s. Fr. Ray took up a collection from the parish so I could buy the needed items for my priestly ministry, including vestments, an oil stock, a chalice and paten, and other such items. Ten years on, they show their age, but every time I use them I am reminded of the great love of God and of his people towards me, and of the solemn trust placed in me by the Church.

Looking back on these ten years, there is much for which to give thanks. Celebrating the liturgy and making Christ present on the altar under the forms of bread and wine is a transcendent and mystical experience. Celebrating with families at the big celebrations in their lives - baptisms, weddings, confirmations, etc. - is a great joy. Comforting the sick and afflicted, blessing those who mourn, and burying the blessed dead is a very moving experience.

Being a parish priest is very challenging. I am often asked what it is I like the most about my vocation and that is the answer I almost always give: I like the challenge of it. There is always something new going on. Living on the low salary is certainly difficult - especially if you’re married with kids. It can also be very difficult to minister to a broad cross-section of people (different ages, professions, backgrounds, nationalities, etc.) in a small church setting. The spiritual dimension of the priesthood always keeps you on your toes. Normal everyday conflicts can take on a diabolical dimension when they occur in the church!

I have learned a lot over the years about ministry and myself. I have had to learn to manage my expectations - of myself and of my people. What I think may be a big, successful event or activity for the church may be a total flop because of the dynamics of the parish. In the past I have been crushed when no one shows any interest in a parish activity, or study that I am leading. Now I know not to take it personally, and to channel my energy into figuring out what sorts of activities work to help us grow as Christians and human beings. I have certainly learned what battles to fight, and that it is not worth dying on every single hill. I have learned how important it is to stay grounded in prayer and the study of scripture. The Daily Offices of Morning and Evening Prayer sustain me in my parish ministry and spiritual life.

I want to thank each person at Saint Alban’s, Saint Francis (now Saint Philip’s), and Saint Mark’s Churches for their love and support over the years, for putting up with me and my weaknesses and eccentricities, and for always welcoming and loving me and my family. I want to thank my fellow clergy for their fraternal love support as well. And mostly, I give thanks to our Lord Jesus who, of his own mysterious love, has called me, Gordon Anderson, to serve in his person at the Altar, preach his Holy Gospel, and make him and his matchless love present to people’s lives! Please keep me in prayer as I pray for each of you.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

How is your continuing Anglican parish doing?

There is a a good discussion going on over at the New Liturgical Movement about the challenges that traditional Latin Mass (TLM) chapels and churches face in getting started and staying going. As I read the comments I couldn't help but be reminded of our churches, as we face many of the same problems.

Some of the problems listed that hurt TLM parishes included: cliquish behavior and suspicion of "outsiders;" rude and unfriendly people and clergy with axes to grind; bad meeting times and places; and difficulties from the church hierarchy (i.e. hostile bishops), etc. The last one is not really problem in the continuing church much anymore that I am aware of. (It is certainly not a problem in the APA.) But the other ones are challenges that we sometimes face or have had to face as "traddie" Anglicans.

But there was one thing that was not mentioned - or not mentioned much - that I think is really the main thing that keeps us (and probably them) small. And that is that the culture has drastically declined intellectually, morally, spiritually, and in every other way even since I was a kid. What we do as continuing Anglicans is so incredibly counter cultural that, I think, people just don't know what to make of it or us.

Here are some examples: (Note these are mostly liturgical, but there are many other things that we believe and do [moral teaching, for example] that are just not in step with the culture, and so they think we we are very, very odd.)

Most people today do not even read for enjoyment anymore. Then they come to a church like ours where they find themselves reading Shakespeare-like prayers... and they can barely pronounce the words (or they butcher the pronunciation)! And then they hear the priest exhorting them to read the scriptures, and Morning and Evening Prayer at home! What?? They don't even read comic strips!! Why would they read what we're offering??!

Most people today think that artists like the recently deceased David Bowie were great musicians who created profoundly beautiful and interesting music. Then they come to a continuing church and don't know what to make of traditional hymns, or great organ music, or a great choir that sings chant and polyphony.

Most people today think that dressing up in nice clothes (suits, skirts, dresses, etc.) is strange. So imagine what they think of vestments?!

I could go on, but hopefully you get the idea. The bottom line is that we are more and more speaking an entirely different language from our culture, and the contributes to our small size.

Now I am not advocating that we change these things. But I think we do need to at least be aware of the challenges that face us in these areas. They are not insurmountable. Remember that the Church spread all over the world in the missionary era with what were "strange" liturgies, music, and traditions to those whom they preached the gospel. So these things are not an obstacle to growth per se. We do, however, need to try to figure out how we can reach our world for Christ and his Church given our charisms and traditions, and given the state of people and the world today.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Continuing Church IV: A New Hope

It has been roughly 40 years since the St. Louis Congress, the watershed event that officially began the "continuing church movement." Those of us who call one of the continuing church jurisdictions home are thrilled at the recent news of cooperation among most of the major churches of the movement after years of discord. On one hand the news is not surprising. The move towards unity has been building for a long time: we have been trading clergy, visiting each others' synods, sharing resources, and all the rest of it on some level for quite some time now. On the other hand, what is surprising, is that the acrimony and ridicule leveled upon continuing Anglicans when such events occur is nowhere to be found this time around.

Typically, what are joyous moments for those of us in the continuum are opportunities for some people to insult and degrade us as Anglicans, Christians, and human beings. I remember years ago when FACA ("The Federation of Anglican Churches in the Americas) was formed - a group organized to give orthodox overseas Anglican primates one "continuing/conservative American Anglican Christian body" to talk to you - that a "prominent" (at that time) Church of England (at that time) priest used his once popular blog to trash the entire initiative. Even though he never once mentioned us on his blog he apparently felt he had to do so at this moment... writing condescendingly, "This (FACA) raises more questions than it answers." As I read that I thought to myself, "So does being an 'orthodox churchman' in the Church of England!" What's even more interesting is that this person, when looking for money to finance his doctoral studies in England at the University of Durham asked me in a phone conversation if anyone I knew (in my continuing church connections) would assist him financially! Now he has his degree (for which the Church of England presumably paid) and after serving for a (very) few years in that body he left to become a Roman Catholic layman (his "conversion story" garnering all sorts of "praise") and now he is, of course, a priest in the Roman Catholic Church in England. (Apparently he had a change of heart about his approval of women's ordination and many other issues which, as a priest of the Church of England, he must have agreed with.) But I digress... The point is that continuing Anglicans have almost always driven establishment Anglicans crazy, so anytime something positive happens in our churches it is attacked.

But it is different this time around. No nasty comments that I have seen! Thanks be to God. It is quite nice to be left alone to heal our own wounds and to move on with our ministry, mission, and vocation to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ through our particular charism. I am very happy to work through a slow process to sacramental communion and eventual unity with my fellow continuing churchmen, for whom I have the highest level of respect and admiration. Let us pray for our jurisdictions as we inch closer to together in peace and reconciliation for the greater glory of God!

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Is anyone up for the challenge?

In our consumeristic society no one really wants to be challenged anymore. People want the simplest, schlokiest crap handed to them to devour on a silver platter... or more accurately, a paper plate. Needless to say, this attitude bleeds over into church life. It seems that more and more anything that challenges people in their faith and life is cause for them to leave the church or drift into the "inactive" slot. Anglicans of the "continuing" variety can have an especially hard time with this.

When we wonder why our churches are often so small part of it has to do with the fact that our worship is very demanding. The liturgy of the Prayer Book and related service books, such and the missals, requires a level of concentration, biblical knowledge, and cultural appreciation that is extremely rare these days. Add to that kneeling, saying the responses, standing and sitting, and all of the rest of it, and what I suggest is that a lot of people just don't feel like putting in the effort. It is too much work. And God help you if you try to sing some new hymns and/or service music! It is amazing how many people know almost the entire catalogue of the Beatles and yet they balk when a new hymn or tune is used, or if a Mass setting other than "Willan" or "Merbecke" is used. This is another example of spiritual laziness. Add to that good, solid biblical teaching (whether in sermons, adult studies, or newsletters) and even more people will go. Where do they end up? If they have any level of commitment to Christ and his Church they might migrate to megachurches for a big sloppy plate of "Religious Entertainment." But more often than not they just stay home, proving that they were never converted to begin with.

Our answer to this should be to just keep on keeping on. The worst thing in the world to do in my opinion is alter our worship and traditions so as to appeal to the hoi poloi. This is always a lose-lose proposition. If we challenge people spiritually, those who are up for the challenge will grow in their faith and in knowledge and love of God. I have seen this in my own parish. I have also seen how much the liturgy of the church has improved - the singing especially - when the people have been stretched and challenged to learn new hymns and communion services. (We sing the first, second, fourth, and eighth communion services throughout the course of the year.) From the improved liturgy I have seen a greater level of commitment to the ministry and mission of the church as well. Sure, you will lose some people if you challenge them, but that is between them and God. It is better to be faithful to God than to man.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Dealing With Criticism

Recently I received the following e-mail: (not edited for grammar... name removed)

"I have been away multiple weekends this year and it will continue through the year. so I probably have no right to comment but I find the incense high mass services objectionable and when I mentioned how sad they made me you suggested I go to 8 oclock service. I have to wonder if perhaps the decline in the 10 oclock service is due to the change in high mass services . I do miss singing and what I remember as a low simple service that I associate with St _______. I asked you once what you considered Low Church and you said you'd have to think about it. What have you got against simple services an why cant a service w music w/out incense be offered biweekly to please more people that possible feel as i do.? With hope an respect."

Sigh. How is one to respond to this? Let it be said at the outset that I am very fond of this individual on a personal level. The criticism is the use of incense at our sung Mass at 10:00 a.m. Last year we began using it every Sunday in order to elevate the sense of holiness and beauty in the service. Three people complained... one of whom is this person. At one point she told me that the problem with using incense is that "it brings too much religion into the service." (That's an exact quote.)

The backstory - alluded to in the e-mail - is that this individual and the other two are rarely at church anyway. I know because we are small enough that I can track each person's attendance - and I do so for pastoral reasons. This one - on a year when we had no incense - was only in church 20 times - less than half the time. The others were there even less. One person who, admittedly lives quite far away - was there just 4 times. When I asked where she goes when she's not at our church she told me that she doesn't go anywhere.

What's amazing is that these people come to church so infrequently that they have no idea why the numbers are low. This individual - if she came - would realize that some people have moved, others died, and others have become shut-ins. But they are never here anyway - and were never here much - so they don't know any of that. They hardly know anyone's names for that matter!

So, after ten years of full time parish ministry, I have learned that clergy should not bother responding to e-mails like this. Because no matter the response, people with this attitude are not going to change their ways, and have a spiritual revival, and start coming to church, and supporting the ministry, etc. I've heard of innumerable troubles that clergy invite on themselves by answering people like this... spiritually dead people with hardened hearts. It is best for clergy to focus their energy on the people in their church who are responding positively and build the church from there. When repeated efforts to teach people fail - because they are not around, and don't read anything you send - the only thing that you can do is pray for them, as taking them seriously any other way could put them in spiritual danger.