"Send out Your light and Your truth, that they may lead me, and bring me to Your holy hill and to Your dwelling." Psalm 43:3

Monday, March 4, 2013

A Conversation at the Hall of Men, and Reflection on the Same

(The Hall of Men is a bi-monthly fellowship of men who gather for food and drink, and to encourage and challenge each other in the faith.  It's a diverse group of Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholics, and Protestants, who all find unity in Christ, and who always express sincere love for one another.  I discovered the group about a year ago, at a time when I was feeling a deep need for just such a community of fellowship and formation.  It has been a great blessing to me.)

My brother and I were talking with S and C after most of the crowd had gone.  W mentioned that I was planning on becoming a priest.
'Oh, really?  What church?'
We talked a bit more, just getting to know each other.  S and C asked if we were both raised in the Episcopal Church.
C asked, 'So, do you not feel out of place here?  I mean, since everyone is so conservative?'
I don't really think of the Hall of Men as a typically conservative gathering.  Rather, I think it's pretty uniquely open-minded, which I'd say is necessary for a truly ecumenical fellowship, which the Hall of Men certainly is.  I told him I didn't feel out of place at all, but that I would probably be considered pretty conservative myself, at least by current Episcopalian standards.  C asked how I managed this, staying in an increasingly liberal church when I don't self-identify as a liberal.  I told him I hadn't really worked all that out yet.  But that I very much do want to be a part of the Anglican Communion, and TEC remains the official Anglican church in North America, as far as Canterbury is concerned.  I explained that the Communion is very important to me, since I think of myself as an ecumenist.  It's this church that has always been home to me.  And as regards our official doctrine, i.e. the BCP, it remains thoroughly orthodox, despite the recent decisions and trajectory of General Convention and various vocal leaders in TEC.
C, as I knew, was previously a Methodist pastor.  His experience in seminary was extremely disillusioning, and that frustration continued after his ordination and during his time as a minister.  He has since been received into the Orthodox Church as a layman.
C said he felt positively ostracized in seminary.  'Man, they made me feel like I was George W. Bush or something.  And I'm not that conservative.  I mean, I didn't support the war or anything.'
He continued, 'My one piece of advice to you: don't invest all that time and money in seminary if you're not sure about it.'  I told him that I was at the very beginning of a process that I hoped would help me to learn much and discern more fully what God would have me do.  I said that I intended to be honest throughout the process.  Honest about what I believe and what I am seeking, what I envision for my future, as well as my concerns about TEC.
'Yeah, definitely be honest.  Because that's what I didn't do early enough.  I mean, I was raised in a great church.  Wonderful people, solid doctrine, man -- John Wesley would've been proud.  And I thought that was the church.'  He said he hoped the best for me, but he didn't envy me.  I thanked him for his concern and honest advice.  I know it was sincere, and I know he's really struggled.  I think C's situation is not unlike my own.  And in my more fearful moments, I can see my own path mirroring his, one of painful disillusionment.

So, why am I continuing to pursue holy orders in TEC?  It's a question worth pondering, and I do confess C's advice/warning has been occupying my thoughts lately.  To answer simply: I feel called to the priesthood, and the Episcopal Church is my church.  It is where I feel at home, despite my concerns about the future, and my grief over the schisms of the recent past.
I've only very briefly flirted with the idea of swimming the Tiber or the Bosphorus.  It's true that my knowledge of both Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy is not extensive, by any means.  God knows what the future holds; perhaps if I did know more, I would feel differently, but I rather doubt it.  I'm aware even now of certain doctrines and practices in both churches with which I don't entirely agree.  There is no perfect church.  I'm sure faithful Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox would themselves acknowledge this.  But they would also maintain that, despite its faults, their church is the one true Church, and therefore everyone else is on the outside, heretics in varying degrees.  I don't believe that.  It's simply one reason why I feel so strongly that I am indeed home as an Anglican Christian.
Of course, I'm also something of a loyalist by nature.  And really, I don't know many people who relish change and the severing of longstanding ties.  So, I'm aware that this could be just so much noble-sounding rationalizing on my part.  But I do feel that if I were once to make that break, and to set out on my quest for 'the true Church', I would never truly find myself at home, never feel entirely at peace.  Along with the question of being in communion with Canterbury, this is a primary reason why I don't see myself joining one of the 'continuing Anglican' churches.  How many are there?  It seems like a new one springs up every year or so.  Once schism for the sake of purity is embraced, it seems to have no end.  Would not the pasture always look greener on the other side, until I got there and realized upon closer inspection that it was more or less just as prickly and weevil-invested as the one I just abandoned?  And I don't think I'm simply making excuses when I say that where I am is where I believe God has placed me.  I intend to do what good I can in this place where He has seen fit to establish and raise me. I want to serve God as a priest in His Church, and I do believe this is a desire that He has placed in my heart.

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