This is Andrew Russell’s third installment in his mini-series on Anglican Spiritual Formation for our “Ecclesia Anglicana” series.

“There is a certain resemblance between the unity of the divine persons and the fraternity that men are to establish among themselves in truth and love. Love of neighbor is inseparable from love for God.”

Though this comes from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, it rings true for Anglicanism as well. Christianity has always been communal, and the depiction of the Church in Acts confirms this: “The whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common.”  Christ is to be found on earth in his body, which is the Church, and there are no Christians who exist apart from the Church (though it is true, of course, that in some cases a Christian may not have physical access to a local body of believers).

Practically, Christian community is important for the building up of fellow believers and for providing loving instruction and, when necessary, correction. Anglicans are committed to caring for their brothers and sisters, even when it is uncomfortable. This comes from a long tradition that began in the monasteries, communities in which Christians submitted themselves to the loving authority of the abbot. St. Benedict’s Rule, the golden standard of Christian communal structure and a deeply influential one in the English monastic tradition, highlights this function of community in its preface: “Therefore we intend to establish a school for the Lord’s service. In drawing up its regulations, we hope to set down nothing harsh, nothing burdensome. The good of all concerned, however, may prompt us to a little strictness in order to amend faults and to safeguard love.”  Anglicans believe that submission to ecclesial authority is beneficial for spiritual formation.

The unique contribution of Anglicanism to spiritual life, however, is the emphasis on the spiritual director-directee relationship. Not only is a right relationship to the community at large necessary for the Christian life, but an intimate relationship with an older, wiser mentor is also invaluable for the development of Christian character. The English monastic tradition understood the importance of this, as even many of those who dedicated themselves to the solitary religious life served as spiritual directors for the laity in their area (St. Julian of Norwich is probably the most famous example).

Spiritual directors help parishioners with their individual struggles, encourage them in their individual victories, and provide for their spiritual needs. Their primary role, however, is to guide the parishioner in her understanding of Christian doctrine and to help her integrate her theology into her prayer life (see my first post for Martin Thornton’s definition of spiritual formation). This, of course, includes theological education—and this must never be downplayed in a discussion on spiritual formation! In a day and age when people are looking for immediate “practical application,” we do well to remember that all theology is practical. What we believe deeply impacts how we live our lives.

One of the most significant ways this theological instruction will express itself in the life of the faithful is an encouragement to practice spiritual disciplines—the Daily Office, personal reflection on God’s character and activity throughout the day, silence, solitude, fasting, confession of sin, etc. It is the role of the spiritual director to hold those under her care accountable for practicing the disciplines, to help them practice the disciplines fruitfully, and to assign or suggest appropriate disciplines for them at times in which they may benefit most from their practice. In this way, Anglicans assure that each member of the congregation receives appropriate and beneficial care and further “equip the saints for the work of ministry,” as Paul describes in his letter to the Ephesians.

Though the implementation of this vision has not been perfect in the local church, the Anglican vision of spiritual formation via spiritual direction is consistent with the biblical witness and most effectively contributes to parishioners’ growth and ministry in the Church. Robert Mulholland, author of Invitation to a Journey, has described spiritual formation as “a process of being conformed to the image of Christ for the sake of others.”  Anglicans agree with this, but we also insist that this definition does not go far enough. Spiritual formation is not only an individual enterprise; it is intimately connected to the work of the Church and must not be separated from the liturgical and sacramental worship of the Body of Christ (as I discussed in my last post).

It is only through participation in the Mystical Body of Christ that the Christian grows in godly love, wisdom, and holiness. We need each other—our spiritual brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers, and all the faithful who have gone before us—to live the Christian life. If you do not have a spiritual director, I strongly encourage you to seek one out. I can personally attest that it is one of the most important relationships I have had in my life as a Christian. God made his Church to be a community—a family of adopted sons and daughters who support, guide, and encourage each other on their path to final union with God in the new heavens and the new earth. Without our community, we cannot live as God intended us to live, but perhaps even more importantly we cannot fully express the image of the God who created us, the one God who exists as a community of three persons.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Next time, we will discuss why the Trinity is central to an Anglican understanding of spiritual formation. Until then, I’ll leave you with a collect that helps us thank God for our Christian community and ask him to help us strengthen each other:

Almighty God, by your Holy Spirit you have made us one with your saints in heaven and on earth: Grant that in our earthly pilgrimage we may always be supported by this fellowship of love and prayer, and know ourselves to be surrounded by their witness to your power and mercy; for the sake of Jesus Christ, in whom all our intercessions are acceptable through the Spirit, and who lives and reigns with you for ever and ever. Amen.

Andrew Russell is an M.Div. candidate at Beeson Divinity School. He is an ordination candidate in the Anglican Diocese of the South and hopes to serve the Church as a parish priest. He lives in Birmingham, Alabama, with his wife, Anna. Follow him on Twitter: @andrew_05.

This post is part of “Ecclesia Anglicana,” a series devoted to all topics pertaining to Anglicanism. This contribution is by Trystan Owain Hughes, Tutor in Applied Theology at St Padarn’s, Cardiff, Wales, UK. Stay tuned for more!

In recent years, the identity and distinctiveness of priesthood has been questioned. In functional terms, it has long been recognized that priests require certain gifts and talents to minister effectively. Vocations advisors and directors of ordinands will suggest texts to candidates that list these functions. Such lists can seem daunting to those exploring a call to ordination. In John Pritchard’s The Life and Work of a Priest, one of the principal texts given to candidates exploring ordained ministry in the Church of England and in the Church in Wales, sixteen distinct functional roles are presented, including “creative leader”, “faith coach”, “wounded companion”, and “spiritual explorer”. Traditionally, theological models of priesthood have grown out of a consideration of such functions. By doing so, such models often forged an ontology of priesthood.

During the twentieth century, in the UK at least, the model growing in prominence was the priest as, primarily, a pastoral care giver. In some ecclesial and theological circles, though, there was a sense of uncertainty about this model, with the question posed how much its functional roles actually differ from counseling and social work. By the time I went through the discernment process in the late 1990s, Anglican Churches had moved to regarding the principal role of a priest as an empowerer – a nurturer of the gifts of others. Before my own selection board, one priest even said to me: “as long as you slip in the word ‘enabler’ at least six times, you’ll sail through”! The concept of enabler certainly fits neatly into the contemporary emphasis on collaboration and the flourishing of lay ministries. However, questions should still be asked about the primacy of this model. It is, after all, weak in terms of its sacramental rooting and it could lead to priests becoming glorified creative administrators or, worse still, simply talent-spotters. As such, it is difficult to forge an ontology of priesthood from this model alone.

Towards a New Model

With such uncertainties in theological and ecclesial circles surrounding models of priesthood, it is little wonder that so many candidates struggle to articulate why they feel called to ordained ministry, despite the fact that most of them have read the classic texts of discernment and vocation. The purpose and nature of priesthood certainly needs more thought and clarity. In an issue of The Furrow in 1995, the Roman Catholic Auxiliary Bishop of Los Angeles, Robert Barron suggests a model that is both culturally relevant and spiritually uplifting, as well as firmly rooted in tradition and scripture. It is also a model that could appeal to the plethora of churchpersonships and traditions that make up the Anglican Communion. It can be summed up as the priest as “a bearer of mystery”.

Barron begins his exploration of this model by describing the fundamental loss of confidence within the priesthood in recent years. He attributes this to an underdeveloped and negative theology of ministry. As a result, priests have lost confidence in themselves and their identity, leading to a lack focus and orientation. While he is writing from his own particular ecclesial context, the loss of joy and hope, along with the increase of pessimism and cynicism, is reflective of some areas of our own denomination. Rooted in that same loss of priestly identity is the superior, and sometimes arrogant, attitude that is found in other areas of our Communion, which looks down condescendingly on what is perceived as the lack of zeal and spiritual fervor of other clergy.

To counter the loss of priestly confidence and identity, Barron therefore presents an image that he believes captures the unique and indispensable quality of a priest. The term “mystagogue” was used in the early church with relation to bringing catechumens into the faith. Barron chooses this word to flesh out the priest’s role in bringing the mystery of God’s being to people’s troubled lives. In other words, the priest’s role is to notice, to announce, or to bring God’s love, hope, peace, and compassion to individuals and communities. He roots this in Thomas Aquinas’s analogia entis, whereby we come to know and experience God through his creation – we experience the otherly-other Being through the very tangible being of this world.

In this model, the overriding call of priesthood is to explore and grasp the mystery and then initiate others into it – opening eyes to God’s presence, ears to God’s call, hearts to God’s love, and ways to God’s will. It is in this context that Theilard De Chardin described the priest as a “border walker”, bringing those on earth closer to the kingdom. They stand at the boundaries between the commonplace and the sacred, thus offering the possibility of relationship with the divine. Priests are, therefore, interpreters of Manley-Hopkins’s “grandeur of God”, Von Balthasar’s “patterns of grace”, and Philip Yancey’s “rumours of another world”. They hold, to use William Blake’s phrase, “infinity in the palm of their hand and eternity in an hour” and offer this to those to whom they are ministering.

Incarnation and Mystery

This model is profoundly incarnational in its scope. Paul Tillich describes preaching as “holding up a picture of Christ”. The mystagogue’s task is related to this image – it is the art of bringing Jesus down to earth by displaying of the wonder, inspiration, and complexity of his icon. We do this through our words, but also through our lives. Meister Eckhart pointed out that the incarnation is worthless and pointless if the Word is not also born in Christians. By stating that “the Word was made flesh” (John 1.14), the Gospel writer uses the inceptive aorist Greek tense which implies an action that has started in the past but is continuing into the present. The phrase might rather be translated as ‘the Word started to become flesh’. Thus, the Word continues to become flesh, even today, as Christians acknowledge that “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). The priestly calling is rooted in this and, in this sense at least, all church traditions will be able to affirm the priest as “in persona Christi”. The model of the bearer of mystery therefore allows us model ourselves on the Jesus of the gospels, bringing to our congregations as many questions as we provide answers, telling as many stories as we affirm facts, and challenging as much as we give comfort.

Yet, more than this, this ministry is a paradoxical process of being Christ to people we already regard as Christ. Cistercian Charles de Foucault regarded the recognition that all people are “the greatest treasure of all, Jesus himself” as integral to the priesthood. Likewise, in light of the radical incarnational call of Matthew 25, Alan Ecclestone went as far as to challenge his fellow priests to consider where they bow at the end of each service. They should, he suggested, be bowing where they truly believe Christ is. Rather than bowing to the altar or the host, he urged them to consider bowing to their congregations, where the real body of Christ resides and where the physical real presence is found. With the model of the priest as a bearer of mystery, then, we are compelled to see Christ in both ourselves and others, whoever they may be and however different they are to us.

Sacraments and Mystery

This model of priesthood is also sacramental to the core. On one hand, priests become witnesses to the wonder of the traditional sacraments, leading others beyond physical matter to spiritual beauty and benefit – to see beyond bread and wine to Christ’s body and blood, beyond the font to the transformational water of life, beyond the temporary joy of a wedding day to a spiritual covenant, and so on. On the other hand, priests become living sacraments themselves. They do this by, firstly, demonstrating, through words and deeds, God’s excessive and unreasonable love and compassion. To use Philip Yancey’s words, priests need to show people “what’s so amazing about grace”.

Secondly, though, priests become living sacraments by bringing others into engagement with the beauty and wonder of the whole gamut of human experience – theology, literature, film, music, nature, laughter, ecology, spirituality, art, architecture, poetry, and so on. G.K. Chesterton wrote that to see the world properly one must stand on one’s head. The priest’s role is to stand on her or his head, beckoning others to do the same and so to share this distinct, awe-inspiring, and life-giving vision of the world around. It is helping others to recognise the pearl of great price in their seemingly ordinary everyday routines. Karl Rahner, himself often referred to as a ‘mystic of everyday life’, pointed out the importance of leading Christians to God’s active grace in creation, his self-communication in the midst of our everyday lives. This is, to use the words of R.S. Thomas, “the turning aside like Moses to the miracle of the lit bush, to a brightness that seemed as transitory as your youth once, but is the eternity that awaits you”. Furthermore, there is also a healing aspect to this call to, in the words of Alan Billings, “make God possible”. After all, love, compassion, wisdom, and beauty are not only mystery bearing, but also profoundly healing. Barron employs the ancient term doctor animarum (doctor of the soul) to develop this aspect of priesthood and relates it directly to the priest’s pastoral calling.

To truly live out this model, though, priests themselves need time and space to connect with God and to engage with, and theologically reflect on, wider culture. The pace of modern ordained ministry, much of which is either non-stipendiary or encompasses the demands of diocesan or provincial roles alongside parish work, rarely allows enough time for study, contemplation, and prayer, thus making St Paul’s command to pray continually (1 Thessalonians 5:16) seem a mere aspiration to most clergy.

Bearer of Mystery

With Anglican Churches embracing the healthy process of commissioning and licensing lay people for various roles, it is imperative that we ensure that the priestly role is not devalued. Embracing the model of the bearer of mystery may help give further life and purpose to priestly ministry, as well as to our ordinands and ordination candidates. Priests should certainly never be placed on a spiritual pedestal or elevated over and above the laity. No parts of the body should be elevated above the body itself (1 Corinthians 12). However, there has to be something unique and distinctive about priestly ministry. The concept of priesthood of all believers (1 Peter 2:5) reflects that all Christians share something of the role of Mystagogue, but to the priest this is more than a role or function. Through ordination, it becomes a way of being.

While there is, then, no ideal model for which we can forge an ontology of priesthood, Barron’s work does provide us with a model that is both relevant to our times and rooted in the past. It also has the potential to inspire those who may feel the oars of priesthood have been lost on the shores of our rapidly changing culture. Furthermore, this model has the benefit of being accessible to all backgrounds and traditions. John Wesley once described himself as a preacher who set himself on fire and allowed people to watch him burn. This is at the root of this model of priesthood. The primary function of the priest, writes Barron, is not to preach, minister, or counsel. In fact, no function can define or confine priesthood. Rather, a priest is someone who is set on fire to the depths of their being by the mystery of God and then beckons others to draw near and be warmed or set alight by the flame.

Trystan Owain Hughes is Tutor of Applied Theology and Director of the MTh (Theology) at St Padarn’s Institute, Wales, UK and priest-in-charge of Christ Church, Roath Park, Cardiff, Wales. Previously he has been Chaplain at Cardiff University, Director of Ordinands at Llandaff Diocese, and Head of Theology at Trinity University College, Carmarthen. His theological training included extended placements in an asylum seekers deportation centre, an Oxford University college, and a large episcopal church in Washington DC. Trystan has attained an MTh from Oxford University and a PhD in church history from the University of Wales, Bangor. He is the author of Winds of Change: The Roman Catholic Church and Society in Wales 1916-1962 (UWP, 1999), Finding Hope and Meaning in Suffering (SPCK, 2010), The Compassion Quest (SPCK 2014), Real God in the Real World (BRF, 2014), and Living the Prayer (BRF, 2017). He has also been a regular voice on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Prayer for the Day’ and BBC Radio 2’s ‘Pause for Thought’ and was on the theological commission that assists the bench of Welsh Bishops for over 10 years. He is presently a member of the Church in Wales Evangelism Fund Committee, appointed as a cleric who has seen considerable growth in his parish in the past five years.

“Poignantly Poetic” is the section of the blog devoted to the promotion and curation of poetry. Anglicanism has a long, rich history of poetry, far beyond the development of the Psalter and Book of Common Prayer. This new series seeks to offer a platform for Christian poets interested in sharing their work.

The five of us intended to commune.
Shoulder to shoulder in my godson’s car,
We rolled down Jefferson and swerved around
A grey haired man jaywalking, eyes far off.
We hung a left into the view of guards.
The long haired one alarmed the men with guns.
Under storm clouds, beside the tunnel, we stood,
As bells rung out from Mariners’ Cathedral.
They frisked us in case we were doing drugs,
And searched the car for weapons and for guns.
The crooked nosed guard gave us back our papers.
We felt suspicious eyes as we walked late
Between choir members in white robes and I lost
Excuses to refuse the weight of glory.

Clinton Collister studies theology and poetry at the Institute for Theology, Imagination, and the Arts at The University of St. Andrews and edits the Poets’ Corner at The North American Anglican. His articles have appeared at Forward in Christ, Front Porch Republic, and Solidarity Hall. He and Sarah live in Guardbridge and attend All Saints. You can hear them share their love of poetry on their podcast, Poetry for the People.

This is Andrew Russell’s second installment in his mini-series on Anglican Spiritual Formation for our “Ecclesia Anglicana” series. You can read his introductory post here.

The Christian life is fundamentally a life of worship. More than growth in holiness, proclamation of the gospel, or working toward social justice, the Christian Church exists to sing praises to God, offer her gifts to him at the table, be nourished by the Scriptures and sacraments, and commune with him in worship (though holiness, evangelism, and social justice are all natural outgrowths and consequences of that worship). This article is concerned with an Anglican view of spiritual formation and the central role worship plays in the formation of an Anglican Christian. However, Anglicans have often found help for explaining the importance of worship—and the world’s value for assisting human beings in their worship—in the writing of the great Orthodox liturgical theologian Alexander Schmemann:

All that exists is God’s gift to man, and it all exists to make God known to man, to make man’s life communion with God. It is divine love made food, made life for man. God blesses everything He creates, and, in biblical language, this means that He makes all creation the sign and means of His presence and wisdom, love and revelation. (For the Life of the World)

This means the entire world is a temple in which worship of the triune God is eternally being performed. Humanity’s decision to love the world more than God—to love the world for its own sake—caused the death of the world. But Jesus Christ, in his life, death, resurrection, and ascension, has “taken up all life, filled it with Himself, made it what it was meant to be: communion with God, sacrament of His presence and love” (Schmemann). The cosmos again worships God, as it was originally created to do.

It is the joyous responsibility of Christians to take part in this grand cosmic worship service. This is done, of course, by daily living, but also—and perhaps most meaningfully—in the liturgy of the Eucharist.

Liturgy is essential in worship. The Church inherited liturgical worship from the Jews. It is as old—and perhaps even older!—than the Scriptures themselves, and it follows a pattern because the God of Israel is a God of order. This, along with the conviction that liturgy creates an atmosphere of beauty and reverence, is summed up nicely in the catechism of the Anglican Church of North America: “Anglicans worship with a structured liturgy because it is a biblical pattern displayed in both Testaments, and because it fosters in us a reverent fear of God.” In the liturgical traditions, the command to “worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness” is taken seriously.

Though Anglicans differ amongst themselves on Eucharistic theology, it is universally accepted that the Eucharist strengthens believers and communicates the grace of God to them. More specifically, the Eucharist unites believers with Christ. It is the means through which we repeatedly receive the benefits of his atoning work and sacrificial death. In the Eucharist, we enter into the joy of the resurrection and sit at the festal table with the triune God in the Kingdom. The world to come is brought to this world, and we are able to see that all of creation is shot through with the presence of God. The world [again] becomes sacrament.

In the Anglican tradition, the Daily Office is also central to spiritual formation. The Daily Office is more than a time of prayer; it is a time of praise, confession, study of Scripture, intercession, and thanksgiving. Furthermore, the Daily Office claims the time of the day for God and recognizes that time itself benefits from the redemptive work of Jesus Christ. American society tells us to frame our days with rush and relaxation, but the Scriptures tell us to frame our days with worship and prayer: “From the rising of the sun to its setting the name of the Lord is to be praised.”

As far as what makes up Anglican worship, Anglicans are in keeping with the vast majority of the Christian tradition: Word and sacrament. The Word of God is the foundational witness to the saving work of God in the world. It is the source of our belief and practice, and because of this it is one of the most precious possessions entrusted to the Church. This is why, every day, Anglicans sing psalms and read passages from the Old and New Testaments, with the end result of reading the entire Bible once a year (or once every three years, depending on which lectionary you use). Not only does the Bible provide the raw materials for our worship and doctrine, it also recounts our history as the people of God. Gerald Sittser is worth quoting here:

The Bible tells a story of human resistance and God’s persistence. The story is full of flawed heroes and strange twists of plot, of the wretchedness of evil and the triumph of good, which was accomplished in a way that no one could have predicted, namely, through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is a wonderful story; it is also a true story that speaks to the depths of the human condition. This story provides us with the truths we need to make sense of our own stories. What God accomplished then he can accomplish now because he is the same God who works in the same way. Even more, we come to realize that our stories are given meaning not because they are our stories but because they are located within the story of salvation history. (Water from a Deep Well)

Sacraments are the other element of worship in which Anglicans undergo spiritual formation. We believe that the incarnation of God in the person of Jesus Christ signifies not only the union of God and humanity, but also the resanctification of matter itself.

As we discussed earlier, all of creation may in some sense be seen as sacramental. There is no location where God is not present, and there is no activity in which God is not working. Jesus Christ is the perfect demonstration of this as the quintessential sacrament. He is the place where heaven and earth meet. He is the foundation and proof that God works with human beings in ways they can most easily understand. Thus this world is not a necessary evil; it is, for humanity, a necessary good.

Anglicans believe that God forms human beings spiritually through material things, in keeping with the Great Tradition going back to the ancient Church. Through mundane things like bread and wine, human beings are united to God and transformed into who they were made to be. However, it is important to remember that the sacramental nature of reality is only made possible and sustained by the Word of God (both the personified Word, Jesus Christ, and the written Word). It is both together that form the basis of an Anglican view of worship and, consequently, spiritual formation.

Andrew Russell is an M.Div. candidate at Beeson Divinity School. He is an ordination candidate in the Anglican Diocese of the South and hopes to serve the Church as a parish priest. He lives in Birmingham, Alabama, with his wife, Anna. Follow him on Twitter: @andrew_05.

This post is part of “Ecclesia Anglicana,” a series devoted to all topics pertaining to Anglicanism. Stay tuned for more!

            I did not grow up in the Anglican church. My teenage years were split between a Messianic Jewish synagogue and a Grace Brethren congregation. So, at a distance, the sacrament of confirmation looked like a cool rite of passage for my Episcopalian friends. But on February 11th, 2018, I received the laying on of my Bishop’s hands with this blessing: 

“Defend, O Lord, this your servant, Hunter, with your heavenly grace, that he may continue yours for ever, and daily increase in your Holy Spirit more and more until he comes into the fullness of your everlasting kingdom.”

            This same confirmation prayer occurs in every iteration of the Book of Common Prayer, always emphasizing mature perseverance as an intended fruit. I received this sacrament as an adult who, at that point, had served as a youth minister for six years, yet I experienced a new vigor in receiving the Eucharist and participating in parish life. Perhaps my own confirmation experience makes me acutely aware of a common disparity between the theology of confirmation and the practice of confirming youth in the Anglican church. It seems to be the case that parish catechesis risks merely preparing youth confirmands for the rite of confirmation while the liturgy and theology of confirmation treats the sacrament as an initiation into life-long, Holy Spirit-filled perseverance. The result of this disparity is a generation of youth fully initiated into a Body they are unprepared to participate in long-term. Thus, the Church risks perpetuating another achievement for youth to attain without life-long practices and perspective. So, the question, “Are you initiated?” may not be as helpful for confirming youth as, “What are you initiated into?”

            Now, there is no ecumenical consensus on the timing of confirmation. Our Eastern Orthodox friends do not separate baptism and chrismation, while Anglicans, like our Roman Catholic friends, withhold confirmation until a child or adult may take reasonable, mature ownership of their faith. However, the question of what youth are initiated into remains for every Christian tradition. In what follows, I will explore the way a strong method and theology of confirmation moves youth beyond the words of a catechism and the works of piety into a persevering desire for the Triune God.

Words, Works, and Desire

            What prepares a young person for confirmation? The numerous catechisms written since the Protestant Reformation seem to answer: systematic content. The Apostles Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments, and the Sacraments become jumping off points into a didactic process whereby the catechumen ought to know what these teachings mean and why they occur in the Church’s liturgical life. Now, it may be unfair to diagnose this method as overly cognitive in its scope, yet youth confirmands experience that, in order to be confirmed, you must learn what these words mean. Under this view, catechism concerns the meaning behind the words and works of the Church. William Cavanaugh addresses a similar problematic method at work in the Eucharist. “The problem is that the Eucharist has been reduced to the message, to a piece of information for the mind to grasp. … The key is not what the Eucharist means, but what it makes. And it makes the Church.”[1] Surely the sacrament of confirmation also ought not be reduced to merely confirming what someone knows.

            Since a little ressourcement goes a long way, let us consider a catechetical method from the early church. In De Catechizandis rudibus, St. Augustine responded to Deogratias, a deacon in Carthage, regarding how to deliver a proper catechism. This deacon, celebrated in doctrinal knowledge and eloquence, struggled to deliver the scope of the Christian faith without boring his catechumens. What is Augustine’s advice?

The narration is complete when the candidate has received instruction from that first passage in Scripture, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” all the way up to the present age of the Church. But this does not mean that those of us who have memorized the whole Pentateuch, all the books of Jewish kingdoms and Ezra, the whole Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles, should rehearse them verbatim. … Rather we should offer a brief and general summary, selecting particular passages that occasion wonder and pleasure in the hearer and also form the sinews of the story.[2]

Certainly, Augustine is not implying that parts of the Biblical narrative are unimportant. His narrative method is intentional, knowing that where one starts affects the whole and must fit together with all other pieces.[3] The goal of catechetical instruction is “love proceeding from a pure heart, good conscience, and unfeigned faith.”[4] Much like the hermeneutic instructions in De Doctrina Christiana, Augustine emphasizes the desire for and enjoyment of the Trinity as the ultimate end of all instruction.

            So, how does Augustine’s narrative method answer what catechumens are initiated into? A catechism beginning with a selective biblical narrative (1) shows that the catechumen/confirmand is part of and participates in the public story of God’s redeemed people and (2) assumes this story will inspire wonder and pleasure for a life-long pursuit of God. If I might expand Augustine’s illustration, the sinews of the biblical narrative are sufficient for the catechism because they prepare the confirmand to be a full part of the Body of Christ, rather than an individual initiated solely on their mature knowledge.

            Confirmation gives young people something to long for beyond the moment of initiation: a daily strengthening by the work of the Holy Spirit. The theology of confirmation points to this very reality. In baptism, the Church is united to Christ’s death and resurrection. In the Eucharist, the Body is united to Christ and one another through receiving His body and blood. In confirmation, each believer participates in Pentecost. A narrative catechism emphasizes a young person’s participation in a public story; initiation is participating and receiving that act of God which initiated and constituted the Church.

            Throughout De Catechizandis rudibus,Augustine exhorts the listener to consider what they really rest their hope upon. If you place it upon your personal character, you will not persevere. If you place it upon the character and piety of others, you will not persevere. Augustine’s interest in the chaff among the wheat takes a pastoral turn towards perseverance and the purpose of Christian practice.

This is fulfilled by no one save the man who has received the other gift, the Holy Spirit, who is indeed equal with the Father and the Son, for this same Trinity is God; on this God every hope ought to be placed. On man our hope ought not to be placed, of whatsoever character he may be. For He, by whom we are justified, is one thing; and they, together with whom we are justified, are another.[5]

Here lies the mysterious hope in the sacrament of confirmation: that, by grace, we will persevere in our desire for the God on whom, alone, our hope truly rests. Christian practices form persons who daily put their hope in God, awaiting the fullness of His everlasting kingdom.

A Practitioner’s Perspective

            Discipling teenagers is not an easy task. I studied youth ministry at a Christian college, served in youth ministry a non-denominational church for six years, and now I am a student ministry director at an Anglican parish. I write as a practitioner seeking clarity and conviction for my own students, more like Deogratias than Augustine! Yet I find that the Anglican tradition offers a uniquely helpful perspective and practice for forming youth.

            First, Anglican youth ministry is free to learn from any Christian tradition and practice. Youth ministry, at least in the United States, began from a larger sociological shift when the institution of public education functionally created a distinct people group: teenagers.[6] The Anglican Church can learn from every kind of response to this phenomenon, from movements emphasizing family-driven faith to methods presupposing teenagers are largely unchurched. I have every reason to study the Bible, the Book of Common Prayer, Orange’s “It’s Just A Phase” curriculum, Hillsong Worship, St. Augustine’s understanding of the Imago Dei, and missiologist Leslie Newbigin in order to catechize and disciple students well.

            Second, the Anglican tradition can be locally adapted for a variety of post-Christian contexts. I serve a diverse, urban parish in the heart of a city nicknamed the Holy City for all the church steeples on the skyline. Yet my students attend schools, have jobs, and form friendships in spaces that relegate religious beliefs to private preferences. Thus, the methods of reaching teenagers and equipping parents will look different in a diverse, urban setting compared to a suburban, like-goes-with-like context. The Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Table will form parishioners in a Kingdom reality, but parish catechesis must adapt to the spaces where parishioners will go in peace to love and serve the Lord.

            Third, the Daily Office is an ideal rhythm for worship and discipleship. It is relatively easy for young persons to read Scripture with the multitude of Bible apps and reading plans one download away. Yet the Anglican tradition gives youth ministry a true gem: a pattern for how to hear, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest Scripture as a Body. Our parish now requires all confirmands, youth and adults alike, to learn and practice the Daily Office as a rule of life.

            Finally, Anglican youth ministry benefits from strong sacramental theology and practice. On one morning of a youth service weekend at a nondenominational church, I struggled to teach Christ’s words, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”[7] I realized I could not teach this passage without treating the Eucharist as a true sacrament and not just a memorial ordinance. Christ’s words surely go beyond daily devotions and into the constitutive reality of a Church united to Him in the sacraments. Youth ministry, at least in the United States, risks merely moralizing Christian practices without a historic sacramental theology, a risk still present even in Anglican parishes. The challenge of parish catechesis will always be to pierce beyond the meanings of a catechism into the mysterious initiation into a Body united to Christ, “from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.”[8] May our youth always persevere in their desire for God and participation in the Body.


Hunter Myers is a Student Ministry Director at the Cathedral Church of St. Luke & St. Paul in Charleston, South Carolina. He earned his BA in Youth Ministry & Philosophy at Columbia International University. He is from a small town called Golden, Colorado. 

[1] Cavanaugh, William. “Eucharistic Bodies in an Excarnated World.” Lecture, The Intersection Conference, Atlanta, May 17, 2019.

[2] Personal unpublished translation by Dr. Andrew Alwine, Associate Professor of Classics, College of Charleston.

[3] See Dr. Sarah Coakley’s understanding of systematic theology. Coakley, God, Sexuality, and the Self, 41.

[4] De Catechizandis rudibus, Chapter 2.6.

[5] Augustine, De Catechizandis rudibus, Chapter 27.55

[6] John Berard, Rick Bartlett, James Penner, Consuming Youth: Leading Teens Through Consumer Culture.

[7] John 15:5, ESV.

[8] Colossians 2:19, ESV.

This contribution is part of the new series, “Everyday Ecumenism.” This collaborative project will be a compilation of contributions from women and men seeking to engage theology from an ecumenical perspective for the benefit of the Church.

“Poems, parables, and paradoxes! That’s all the Bible is!” At least that’s how one cynic described it. His crass reductionism aside, he did bump up against something that is worth exploring: there are a lot of poems, parables, and paradoxes in the Bible. There are also many precepts, principles, and promises in there too, but we will leave them for a more convenient season.

God gifted us with poems and pleasant prose so that we might be able to fully express ourselves. He spoke to us by way of parable and paradox because we learned to express ourselves all too well. Parables are God’s way of stupefying those who reject plain speech. Paradoxes are God’s way of mystifying those who are stupefied by plain speech. Poems require eyes to see world around us; parables and paradoxes both require ears to hear the Word before us.

This is never more true than when Jesus speaks to us concerning his kingdom. Either we don’t understand his rather obvious statements, or we just don’t like their implications.

To one group of Jewish followers he makes it plain that the Kingdom is much broader than they think. He takes crumbs from the table of Israel to feed a feeble, Syrophoenician pup. The Kingdom has gone to the dogs! He astonishes yet another group of Hebrew hearers by clearly stating that the Kingdom is much narrower than they think. (Admittedly, even his plain dealing is somewhat paradoxical.) He openly chides those who think that they can identify their spiritual lineage by pointing to their birth certificates. A faithful heathen gains admittance and faithless Hebrews are shut out. Such is the Kingdom of God.

Jesus was saying that the Kingdom was, at once, both inclusive and exclusive; it was to be marked by unity and purity. It’s little wonder that such plain speech was too hard for them to hear. We still haven’t warmed to the idea.

So he opened his mouth in parable and paradox. “The Kingdom of Heaven is like wheat and weeds. The Kingdom of Heaven is like an arboretum, and a woman baking bread, and gold in a garden, and a sailor searching for pearls, and a pile of dead fish.” Perhaps the only thing that is clear from the words of Jesus is that the Kingdom is clearly not what we have thought it was.

If we could be permitted to speak the way that the Bible speaks, we might say that the Church is, at once, a river and a redwood. These seeming opposites are in no way opposed.

A river begins all over the place. A small spring up in the hills; a distant lake, itself fed by streams; a glacier that has seen one too many summers—all of them and hundreds more contribute to the babble and rush of water, the smooth flow here and the swirling rapids there. Gradually other streams, even other whole rivers, pour forth and make their contributions. Out of many there emerges the one.

On the other hand, a tree begins with a solitary seed. An acorn into the soil: tiny, vulnerable, alone. Through the administration of water and light, it sprouts and puts its roots down into the dark earth. Simultaneously it raises a shoot upwards into the sunshine and air. The roots quickly sprawl out and probe all over the place, looking for nourishment and water. The small shoot becomes a large trunk, again a single standing stalk, but this, too, quickly diverges. It will spread far and wide in all directions. Whereas the river flows from many into one; the tree grows from one into many. Such is the Kingdom of God.

The Church is like a rolling river. In the Apocalypse, John the visionary sees a huge throng of people from every nation, kindred, tribe, and tongue coming together in a great chorus of praise. Like a river, they all started in different places, but they have now brought their different streams into a single flow. The image of the river forcibly reminds us that, though the Church consists by definition of people from the widest possible variety of backgrounds, part of the point of it all is that they belong to one another, and are meant to be part of the same powerful flow, going now in the same single direction. Diversity gives way to unity.

But at the same time the Church is like a sprawling redwood. The one seed, Jesus himself, has been sown in the dark earth and has sprang forth in resurrection power. Easter branches have set off in all directions, some pointing almost directly upward, some reaching down to the earth, some heading out over neighboring walls. Looking at the eager, outstretched branches, you’d hardly know they were all from the same stem. But they are. Unity generates diversity.

The plain teaching of the Scriptures is that the Church of the Living God bears the image of the One who formed her: unity and diversity. She must never be forced to choose between the two. Likewise, there is no disparity between unity and purity, or between exclusivity and inclusivity.

C.S. Lewis, following Richard Baxter, admonished the people of God to rally under the banner of “Mere Christianity.” That is, we should prioritize what we are instinctively as Christians who affirm the same creeds above what we may be distinctively as Christians affirming different confessions. To this I add my hearty, “Amen!” But common orthodoxy should lead to a common orthopraxy. Eventually it has to put on boots and do something or this “Mere Christianity” just becomes mere talk, or what the apostle Paul once called, “vain jangling.”

“Mere Christianity” should lead quite naturally to “Mere Catholicity.” This answers the problems of postmodern multiculturalism as well as the lingering racism of modernism. In the Church, fragmented humanity is put back together. So, we must be about the business of putting the Church back together. If Christianity embraces “one Lord, one faith, and one baptism,” then we must learn to embrace one another. And must should happen without jettisoning purity and unity. It can be done. Those wise sages, Loggins and Messina, once mused that “Momma don’t dance and Daddy don’t rock and roll.” Yet, here we are. They were able to cohabitate in spite of such glaring liturgical diversity.

Since there is only one, holy catholic Church we have to act like it. Or else those two words proclaimed at the beginning of our creeds just add up to one big fat lie. How’s that for plain speech?

The present fragmented state of the Bride of Christ would put to a shame even a certain Levite who once shipped bits of his late wife in the mail. At least they were able to come together as one man. Enough of our “holy huddles” and “Me-and-my-son-John-us-four-and-no-more” ecclesiological insanity. The one Church is both holy and catholic—that includes both holiness and wholeness.

Genuine catholicity may require telling some brethren that the Kingdom is broader than they think. If God has welcomed people to His table what right have we to bar them? It may also require that we tell some brethren on the other side of the Tiber that the Kingdom is narrower than they think. What is certain is that we will never tell them if we don’t talk to them. But be careful if you do…you might just learn something.

It isn’t altogether clear how we are to get from scattered and fragmented bodies to a single army, marching lock-step with one another. Lord, Thou knowest. But the least that we can do is prophesy to the wind and speak to the divided and strewn bones. God has breathed on such things before.

We should probably start with the bones in our own backyard. Stop looking at your brethren with sidelong glances. Be more eager to offer the tender hand of fellowship than the tightened fist of controversy. Pray for their ministries…by name…on Sundays. Stop thinking of “them” and start thinking of “us.” After doing such things, I have a sneaking suspicion that soon we would hear the sound of joyful singing coming from the cemetery. “Hip bone connected to the thigh bone, thigh bone connected to the knee bone, knee bone connected to the shin bone. Now hear the Word of the Lord!”

Then we might be ready for poetry once again…

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’

J. Brandon Meeks is an Arkansas native laboring as an aspiring poet, studio musician, and Christian scholar. He received his PhD. from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland. He is also a fan of Alabama football, the blues, and cheese. He is a regular contributor for The North American Anglican and he also blogs regularly at The High Church Puritan.

This post is part of “Ecclesia Anglicana,” a series devoted to all topics pertaining to Anglicanism. Stay tuned for more!

Modern Protestants have always had a troublesome relationship with the Virgin Mary. Seeking not to stumble into the pitfalls of their separated Catholic brothers and sisters, Protestants have put a sort of ‘de-emphasis’ on Mary as to not be associated with anything which could be confused as ‘Catholic.’ However, the Anglican tradition consciously avoids the pitfalls of the nuanced hyperdulia of Catholicism and also the modern de-emphasis on Mary. Rather than seeing Mary as a theological ‘bump in the road’ to the Gospel narrative, Anglicanism emphasizes Mary’s role as the Theotokos: the God-bearer who carries the fullness of God’s grace in her womb and delivers him into the world. Anglicanism also pulls from the rich and beautiful Marian dogma of the Catholic Church, but centers Jesus, rather than Mary, in the place of sole honor.

Anglicanism remains as that branch of the Protestant tradition which holds fast to the rich traditions of the church and can be, both historically and liturgically, tied to the Roman Catholic Church.[1] While other Protestant traditions emulate these characteristics, none do so like the Anglican tradition. That being said, one can see the rich Mariology of Catholicism present within Anglican liturgy. This is where Anglicanism receives its popular slogan: “too Protestant to be Catholic and too Catholic to be Protestant.” Although a blanket statement which may be misleading at times, pertaining to Mariology it does fit well. Truly, Anglican Mariology is far too Catholic for most Protestants to be comfortable with it, but also far too Protestant for Catholics to agree.[2] 

The first reason that Anglicanism holds a high view of the Blessed Virgin, namely her role as the Theotokos, is because throughout the history of the Church, Mary has always been held in high regard. The ecumenical councils of the Church and the creeds which came from them are foundational to the Anglican tradition.[3] These councils and creeds are filled with deep and rich Mariology which supports an orthodox Christology. For example, the Nestorian controversy of the Council of Ephesus led to one of the greatest formations of early Marian dogma. According to Nestorius, Mary did not carry in her womb the Son of God, the second member of the Holy Trinity. Rather, she carried a mere human child; one who would be united to the divinity of God – something apart from the humanness of Jesus. Nestorius argued that the Godhead joined with the human in the same way a man enters a tent or puts on clothes. In short, Nestorius believed he could “hold the natures apart, but unite the worship.”[4] In response to this, Cyril of Alexandria, one of the most fierce, ruthless, and respected Fathers of the Early Church, sought to resolve this heresy. In the crucible of this theological fight for orthodoxy the language of Mary as the Theotokos was affirmed.

Secondly, in the past century there has been an even greater emphasis placed on Mary within the Catholic tradition, and a reactionary de-emphasis from the majority of the Protestant tradition(s). However, Anglicanism continues to look back to the tradition of the Reformation which did not react in opposition to Catholicism, but rather took what was good and beneficial and reformed it through a Protestant lens. 

An example of this is found in Martin Luther’s writings on Mary. Luther brings to light themes of justification and high-Christology without sacrificing genuine belief in Mary as the Theotokos and without losing a high sense of respect and veneration towards Mary, the Mother of God. In his reinterpretation of Gabriel’s declaration in Luke 1, “Hail Mary, full of Grace,” he ‘reforms’ the Catholic interpretation that this is a declaration of Mary’s achievement of this status. In Luther’s understanding of the righteousness of God, he interprets Gabriel’s proclamation to be a gospel proclamation. “Blessed are you Mary, because you are full of the grace of God, which is Jesus Christ! He is within you, and he is coming!”[5] 

A more recent example of this may be found in Protestant versus Catholic interpretations of Mary’s “Yes” to Gabriel’s proclamation.  While the Catholic tradition understands the narrative of Luke 1 to affirm the purity of Mary insomuch as she is then able to bear Christ into the world, Anglicanism follows Luther’s interpretation and emphasizes her declaration of servanthood alongside her unworthiness. In this we model after Mary – we are unworthy to be used by God, yet we daily surrender to him and in our unity with Christ we are given the power to be used by God.[6]

Furthermore, beyond various interpretations of Scripture, Anglicanism also continues this spirit of reforming Catholic dogma spoken ex-cathedra.[7] For example, Catholics believe in the bodily assumption of Mary (declared by Pope Pius XII, 1950).[8] According to Catholic theology, this singular participation in her Son’s resurrection anticipates the resurrection of other Christians. In Anglicanism, the emphasis is placed on Mary only insomuch as she goes before us as all other saints, sharing in the divine glory of the eternal kingdom.[9] 

Another example may be found in the nuanced Catholic doctrine Hyperdulia. Doulia is a Greek term which theologically describes honor paid to Christian saints. Latria, also a Greek term, designates supreme honor and is used to connotate worship given to God, the Trinity. Between this general honor (doulia) and the exclusive worship given to God (latria) is hyperdoulia, which is veneration and honor given distinctly to the Blessed Virgin Mary because of her unique role in the mystery of redemption, her exceptional gifts of grace from God, and her pre-eminence among the saints. While this may remain within the boundaries of orthodoxy, Anglicanism remains true to the Protestant tradition in avoiding such nuanced terminology which often is lost at a local level. Instead, the Anglican tradition understands Mary as the model of humanity redeemed by Christ, and the principal type of the Church (this also is tied deeply into Catholic Mariology). Any adoration or contemplation of Mary and the Saints is beneficial insomuch as it is an expression of the unity of the whole family of God in Heaven and on earth, a unity rooted ultimately in the believer’s unity with Christ.[10]

In short, Anglican Mariology is rooted in a continued ressourcement and reforming of Catholic doctrine. Further, it is an embrace of the unique position the Anglican tradition holds within Protestantism. It continually seeks to avoid the pitfalls of Catholic dogma and of modern Protestantism in order to stand as a bridge between these traditions. Deeply rooted in the traditions and history of the early church, Anglicanism calls believers to look back and remember the saints before, to stand in our moment now and continue to redeem and reform that which is around us, and lastly to look forward to the return of Christ in the fullness of his glory. 

Amar Peterman is Associate Director of Neighborly Faith and currently studies at Princeton Theological Seminary. He completed his BA in Theology at Moody Bible Institute where he was also President of the Student Theological Society and Teaching Assistant to Dr. Ashish Varma. 


[1]  Mark Chapman, Anglicanism: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006).

[2]  For more on the boundaries of communion for the Anglican Church, see The Chicago Lambeth Quadrilateral

[3] Editor’s Note: hence the name of this very series, “Ecclesia Anglicana.” The Church of England was born from the church in England.

[4] For an expanded narrative, see Bryan Litfin, Getting to Know the Church Fathers: An Evangelical Introduction (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2007).

[5] Bridget Heal, The Cult of the Virgin Mary in Early Modern Germany: Protestant and Catholic Piety, 1500–1648 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007).

[6] See the Feast of Saint Mary the Virgin in the Book of Common Prayer (August 15)

[7] Literally translated to: “from the chair.” This is in reference to the chair of Saint Peter which, according to the Catholic Tradition, represents the line of apostolic succession which the Pope is a part of. That which is spoken “from the chair” is a declaration made by the Pope through his apostolic authority.

[8]  For the full declaration, see http://w2.vatican.va/content/pius-xii/en/apost_constitutions/documents/hf_p-xii_apc_19501101_munificentissimus-deus.html

[9]  See The Book of Common Prayer, p. 192, 391.

[10] The Anglican Service Book, http://justus.anglican.org/resources/bcp/Anglican_Service_Book/addl_devotions2.html#angelus

This post represents the inaugural contribution to the new series, “Ecclesia Anglicana.” This series will focus specifically on any category or topic related to Anglicanism. Here you might find posts about liturgy, worship, vestments, theology, ethics, spirituality, Bible, architecture, history, polity, and much more.

Perhaps one of the most overlooked aspects of the contemporary Church’s mission is the development of sound doctrine and practice in the realm of spiritual formation. While there has been renewed interest in Christianity “on the ground” among the general population, this interest has come at a cost. Many ecclesial leaders, in focusing solely on the lived experience of their parishioners, have given up theological reflection as the main source of spiritual formation, with the implicit claim that doctrine has no import for the life of the Christian. We see this in our bookstores, with titles emphasizing self-discovery, self-help, and self-sufficiency, and more people than ever are choosing to leave the Church in favor of pursuing their own visions of religious life.[1]

We face this crisis in the contemporary Church because, to put it somewhat reductively, many have separated Christianity into the spheres of “theological” and “practical.” This false dichotomy harms people, not only because its result is an insufficient understanding of the nature and character of God, but also because it fractures the human person by relegating religious experience to the emotional realm. It divorces the head from the heart. We have forgotten that orthodoxy does not really mean “right thought,” but “right glory.” It is a word concerned primarily with seeing God for who he is and worshiping him in accordance with that vision. Orthopraxy is actually an unnecessary word because, without it, you cannot have orthodoxy.


Anglicanism is a tradition that, at its best, successfully bridges the divides between “thought, word, and deed.” Martin Thornton, a twentieth-century Anglican priest and spiritual director, claimed that the great strength of our tradition is its holistic approach to spiritual formation, an approach that engages our minds, our hearts, our need for community, and our inherent inclination toward worship. In his classic English Spirituality, he presents a concise and profound definition of the Anglican approach to spiritual formation: “Christian doctrine interpreted and applied by a teacher of prayer together with the mental and physical disciplines which nurture and support it.”[2]

So spiritual formation is not only a product of the spiritual disciplines; in fact, the benefits of the spiritual disciplines lie in the fact that they are embodied expressions of Christian theology—that they enable us to live as if what we believe were true. The Anglican approach to spiritual formation may then be summed up as the speculative-affective synthesis. Christian formation happens at that place where doctrine (speculative or theological knowledge) and prayer (affective or devotional knowledge) meet. And for Anglicans, a vital part of this formation has traditionally taken place in the context of spiritual direction, one-to-one relationships in which parishioners are lovingly guided by a person with more theological training and life experience than they possess at that time.

The concept of spiritual direction isn’t completely foreign to Protestant or evangelical circles, where it is more commonly called “mentorship.” However, there is a key difference in the Anglican approach: the spiritual director-directee relationship must be held in tandem with participation in the communal and liturgical life of the Church. The Christian life is not an individual endeavor. Those who are in Christ are members of a covenant community, a family of believers who worship the triune God as one body and work together to advance his kingdom on earth. We are not only formed spiritually by our own practice of the spiritual disciplines or by private Bible reading; rather, the corporate gathering of the Church for the reception of the Word and the sacraments is the primary locus of spiritual formation.

For Anglicans, then, there is much more to spiritual formation than “quiet times” and the occasional fast. Over the next few weeks, we will discuss three principles that are fundamental to the Anglican vision of spiritual formation: (1) spiritual formation is grounded in worship; (2) spiritual formation is communal; and (3) spiritual formation is trinitarian. Doctrine and prayer, minds and bodies, individual meditation and corporate worship, theology and discipline: all of these are necessary and beneficial for the Anglican Christian. All of these are good gifts from God. Thus, spiritual formation is the place where doctrine meets prayer, both in the individual’s participation in the life of the Church and in the spiritual director-directee relationship.

Andrew Russell is an M.Div. candidate at Beeson Divinity School. He is an ordination candidate in the Anglican Diocese of the South and hopes to serve the Church as a parish priest. He lives in Birmingham, Alabama, with his wife, Anna. Follow him on Twitter: @andrew_05.

[1]  One look at the Twitter hashtag “#exvangelical” gives all the evidence one needs to confirm this.

[2]  Martin Thornton, English Spirituality: An Outline of Ascetical Theology According to the English Pastoral Tradition (Cambridge: Cowley Publications, 1986), 24.

I wrote this blog post for our parish blog (Church of the Apostles, Kansas City). You can find it here; you should also read the fabulous contributions from far more talented writers in your community, too.

The Feast of the Transfiguration (celebrated August 6) is one of my favorite feasts in the entire church calendar. While other holy days merely commemorate a person or an event, this one is powerful because it is very easy to imagine the palpable glory and majesty which the disciples saw displayed atop Mount Tabor. The Feast of the Transfiguration is a high and holy day (pardon the liturgical pun) because we are invited to ascend the mountain with Jesus and the disciples and there “behold the King in His beauty.”

As with any passage of Scripture, we are invited to dig a little bit deeper and remember other mountain-top and glory-filled encounters. Our minds ought to wander to two scenes in Exodus: first, when YHWH descended upon Mt. Sinai with cloud and smoke before consecrating His people and giving them the law; second, when Moses ascended Sinai and met with YHWH and beheld His glory so much that Moses himself radiated it and had to veil his face from Israel. Moses’ appearance was transfigured because he had been in the presence of the Holy and yet journeyed back down to the people each and every time in order to live out his calling. The awe-some power of God inspired both “the fear of the LORD” and a sense of reverence and worship.

We might also think of Elijah atop Mount Carmel battling the prophets of Baal in the name of YHWH and calling down fire from heaven. Elijah had feared for his life, running from Jezebel, yet ended up proclaiming YHWH’s victory and power against 800 prophets. Elijah did not stay at the summit once he was done, though. He moved on and poured himself into his disciple, Elisha, before being caught up to heaven in a chariot of fire. He encountered God both in the silence and the terrifying display of fire, and his life was devoted to calling Israel back to her God. One does not find God and keep the experience private…

Moses and Elijah: prophets and leaders; mountaintop experiences with power and glory; YHWH victorious over all things, reigning over all people. Do you see why our minds wander here? Jesus takes His closest disciples – Peter, James, and John – up to the top of a mountain, and there He appears transfigured, radiant in white, between Moses and Elijah. These holy three discussed Jesus’ impending death and the voice from heaven affirms and validates Jesus’ identity, charging the witnesses to listen and obey. Jesus then sets His face like flint toward Jerusalem and begins His intentional trek toward the cross.

As we read the assigned lesson from Peter’s second epistle, the document he wrote decades after this experience, you can almost feel the emotion pouring forth from Peter’s memory; you can almost see the scene he is recalling. The Transfiguration shaped and transformed Peter in a mighty way. Peter may have descended the mountain with Jesus only to betray Him three times before the crucifixion, but Jesus reinstated Peter and his ministry was faithful unto death. You cannot remain unchanged, unphased, unaffected when you encounter the glory and majesty of the Living God.

The invitation before you today as we celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration is an invitation to behold the King in His beauty, to taste and see the Lord’s majesty and glory, and to move forward from that holy place into a more faithful expression of obedience. When we focus exclusively on the glorious majesty of God, we are freed from the disquieting distractions of this world; when we look to Christ, we are no longer consumed with external pressures, influences, and burdens which tell us that we need to accomplish/achieve more. I pray that we can all find God in the silence and the awe-some vision of Jesus’ transfiguration and let that encounter spur us on from one degree of glory to the next.

This is the first contribution to the new series, “Everyday Ecumenism.” This collaborative project will be a compilation of contributions from women and men seeking to engage theology from an ecumenical perspective for the benefit of the Church.

The topic of disability has recently opened itself in Biblical scholarship and theological studies. The conversation stems from a larger societal movement concerning both the personhood of the disabled and their role in society. Since the topic is fairly new, however, the reach of scholarship has just begun to bring the discussion into the ethical dialogues. In the world at large, ethical treatment and consideration of the disabled is lacking. The United States suffers from underfunded and understaffed care facilities, largely run on unethical and questionable models of caregiving. In the United Kingdom parliamentary debates rage in regard to Down’s Syndrome, which has almost been “eradicated.”[1] Thus, the caregiving quality and personal value of those with disabilities is a needed dialogue.

            The alternative to maltreatment and devaluing of the disabled is primarily the Church. In particular, such societal protections and values of the disabled necessary for an alternative stem from the Old Testament’s specific stipulations of the priesthood (Leviticus 21:16-24). The Levitical priestly considerations not only provide a contrasting value for the disabled from that of surrounding societies in the ANE, but also provide a framework for how the modern church can integrate and care for the disabled today. By exploring these priesthood laws of disability, new perspectives on religious treatment of the disabled and integration should become clear.

ANALYSIS OF DISABILITY IN LEVITICUS 21

            One of the more difficult and perplexing passages of the Old Testament in the conversation of disability is Leviticus 21:16-24. The entire chapter is dedicated to the regulations of priestly duty and holiness. Derek Tidball clarifies the priestly role and holiness by explaining, “one of the major responsibilities of the priests was to distinguish between these categories [holy, clean, etc.].”[2] Holiness indicated the consecration of an object or person, while cleanliness seems primarily concerned with the state of things.[3] The exclusions found in the text include regulations about where priests can go (v.12), who they can marry (v.7), and general hygiene rules (v.5). Verses 16-24 contain the only exclusion of a people group, those with disabilities such as blindness, lameness, deformities of limbs, and other defects, from preforming offerings and entering the holiest place. For the modern reader these regulations seem discriminatory.

            Some scholars consign these seemingly discriminatory regulations to the idea of holiness: that the disabilities were simply seen as unholy. Tidball argues that “like the sacrificial victim itself, only perfection could be brought so close to the presence of a perfect God.”[4] However, there seem to be fundamental flaws in Tidball’s placing the lack of holiness on the person with disability. First, Tidball’s reading of the text seems to be limited to a presuppositional ideal image. As Kerry H. Wynn argues, this “normate reading” of ancient Yahwist texts assigns categories and meanings with modern social norms.[5] Tidball makes an error in assuming that the text’s regulations concerning the profaning of the sanctuary indicate a lack of holiness altogether in those with disabilities, and this reasoning ignores the text’s indication otherwise. The beginning of the discourse on disability regulations prevents the disabled from offering the bread of God (v.17), but it does not disqualify the disabled from the priesthood as a whole. As Sarah J. Melcher notes, physical standards are fundamentally different than holiness since “the writers of the Priestly Torah never refer to a person as holy unless that person has been consecrated to priestly service.”[6] Thus, the exclusion from certain acts within the priestly role does not equate to a lack holiness on the part of the disabled individual.

            From what are the disabled being excluded? Melcher argues that “the primary intention of Lev. 21:16-24 is to prohibit a priest from officiating in the sacrificial cult…”[7] Melcher rightly acknowledges that the disabled person is not disqualified from the priesthood, and that the only major prohibition is the officiating of offerings. The regulation is not primarily concerned with God’s presence as a whole, but rather the action of offering itself. Neither does this exclusion mean that the disabled individual is ritually impure, as v.22 explains that the priest is able to eat of the priestly bread. Amos Yong further clarifies that “contemporary disability readings would obviously want to note that this text doesn’t exclude people with disabilities as a whole from their priestly vocation.”[8]

            Yong, however, continues by noting that the main issue becomes the idea of profaning the sanctuary (v.23). Melcher acknowledges that the profaning is “a very serious violation,” because this act puts both the disabled individual and the sacrifice at risk.[9] Tidball argues that these regulations indicate that the body signifies “the totality of the person.”[10] In this interpretation, the disability becomes a symbolic model for the modern reader to understand spiritual impurities and defects. This approach to the regulatory texts once again fails to provide an adequate answer for the disabled reader concerning the exclusive nature of the regulations, perpetuating a stigmatizing view of the disablement and failing to give proper room to the disabled reactions to the text.

            Two major interpretative options thus present themselves to the modern reader.[11] The first, presented by Yong, is a Christological reading. This interpretation first presents the idea of Christ being the perfect High Priest, alleviating the restrictions placed on the disabled individuals and indicting “neither disabilities nor people who have them.”[12] In order to prevent further stigmatization in this interpretation, Yong argues that Christ’s crucifixion fulfills the priestly function with a disabled and wounded body, thus alleviating the disabled reader from alienation.[13]

            A second interpretive approach is to allow for the tension of the text and a deconstruction of the stigmatization in the regulative codes. This approach does not “de-sacralize” the text but rather interprets the regulations through the larger paradigm of Leviticus 19:14: “You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall fear your God, I am the Lord.”[14] Using this passage paradigmatically, one can begin to read the text within the larger ethical context of Leviticus. A paradigmatic cultural comparison of the Levitical ethics to that of Mesopotamian treatments of disablement allows for an expanded attempt to draw ethical conclusions in the modern context.

MESOPOTAMIAN VERSUS LEVITICAL TREATMENTS OF DISABLEMENT

            Mesopotamian ethics were rooted in mythological understandings of creation narratives. According to Neal H. Walls, the Mesopotamian creation myth included the idea that humanity’s purpose was primarily labor and alleviation of labor from the gods.[15] In said mythologies, sometimes the gods created disabilities in order to prevent the overpopulation of humanity. In Mesopotamian social contexts, families bore most of the responsibility of caring for those with certain disabilities and were excluded from most temple service.[16] Thus, the value of the disabled was consigned mostly to productivity. The first distinction between the Yahwistic regulations and the Mesopotamian practices lies in the idea of productivity. The Levitical laws seem to centralize care within the temple context, as indicated in the role of disabled priests.

            It is worth noting how Mesopotamian societies remedied disabilities. Walls argues that infanticide and euthanasia were rare, but still occurred. He provides the first example, from the diagnostic handbook (sakikku) which discusses a certain ailment (considered to be Werdnig-Hoffman Disease) resulting in the family throwing the child alive into a river.[17] Similar texts point to the practice of live burial of infants with similar syndromes. The second clear distinction between the Yahwistic regulations on disability and some of the Mesopotamian ethics is the practice (however rare) of infanticide. No such practices are known to have been allowed in the Yahwistic stipulations, thus the value of the disabled individual is not consigned to their productivity.

            Hector Avalos, in his analysis of healing liturgies in the ANE, explains that the framework for disability was largely influenced by the contrast between polytheistic and monolatrous drives. The Mesopotamian treatment of disability was largely centered in the home (which valued productivity) in contrast to the temple centrality of the Yahwistic practice. Here, Avalos fails to draw from the inclusion seen in Lev.21. Rightly, he argues that the temple centrality prevented direct treatment for some of the disabled, but this ignores the larger provision of temple inclusion.[18] The disabled individual is provided with food (holy food at that), sacred duties in the temple, and societal protection. Edgar Kellenberger notes that “the temples had the greatest economic power” (behind the royal palace of the ANE), a dynamic certainly necessary to acknowledge in order to see the importance of disabled inclusion in these contexts.[19] Though Mesopotamian treatment of the disabled is varied, the Yahwistic inclusion of the disabled into the very priesthood of the temple displays an integrative model ahead of its time.

DISABLED PRIESTHOOD AND MODERN ETHICS

            The modern conversation surrounding the place of the disabled in the larger society is not new to the human experience. The Yahwistic provision for those who are disabled, regardless of productive level is in direct contrast to the Mesopotamian ethic. Driven by the Genesis narrative of creation and the paradigm of Leviticus 19, cultic practices and regulations not only value the disabled with provision (shelter, food, etc.) but secure them socially by enabling disabled Levites to be consecrated priests. Among these many social provisions is the eating of the showbread and the direct route to sanctification (v.15), as well as a restored dignity and level of autonomy seemingly absent from the Mesopotamian ethic.

            Dominant within the modern conversation surrounding disability seems to be an exaggerated version of the Mesopotamian ethos, regulating stigma and social position of the disabled to a larger myth of productivity and economic stability. As previously noted, current so-called “eradication” efforts of Down’s Syndrome in Europe are contingent on the idea that abortion will not only ease the suffering of the child but lift the potential economic suffering of the family. Due to the larger bifurcation of the disabled individual between emotional capacity and rational, social provision and participation of the disabled seems low (especially if death is seen as a better option). It seems that a challenging, yet holistic approach is the alternative of the church. In parallel with the Levitical model of disabled priesthood, the church not only could integrate the disabled into the church but potentially ordain or allow clerical participation. Though a case-by-case model, the idea of “sacred disability” upholds the dignity of the disabled but also provides a “liberating power” from the world’s conscriptions of value to wealth and productivity, a power found in the friendship of the church.[20] Using the model of close friendship, churches not only can help carry the burdens (financial, physical, spiritual) of those with disabilities but also further integrate them within the very tapestry woven in the Body. What would it look like if the Eucharist was administered by those with disabilities? In similar fashion to the Levitical priesthood, what does it tell us about God? In the United States, where many churches have separate services for those with disabilities, what would it communicate to the country as a whole to have fully integrative services? The provision, societal protection, and sacred participation found in the Israelite temple can be mirrored by the modern church, in which participation in the liturgies and practices provides the window of provision and dignity. Said participation also provides representation not only within the congregation but even in the clergy. The hardships faced by those who are disabled are hardships that the church should take up as its own, working and living alongside the afflicted in both provisional and participatory ways.

Cody Bivins holds a B.A. in Biblical Studies & Biblical Languages from Evangel University and is currently pursuing an M.A. in Historical Theology from Wheaton Graduate College. His areas of interest include philosophical theology, theological ethics, political theology, and theology of disability. Cody’s work is driven by a desire for the Church to live Incarnationally and to see others love their neighbors as themselves. 



[1]Alison, Gee.  https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-37500189

[2] Derek Tiball, The Message of Leviticus (Downer’s Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2005), 27.

[3] Ibid, 27.

[4] Ibid, 265.

[5] Kerry H. Wynn, ““The Normate Hermeneutic and Interpretations of Disability Within the Yahwistic Narratives”  in This Abled Body, ed. Hector Avalos, Sarah J. Melcher, and Jeremy Schipper (Atlanta: SBL, 2007), 92.

[6] Sarah J. Melcher, “Visualizing the Perfect Cult: The Priestly Rationale for Exclusion” in Human Disability and the Service of God, ed. Nancy L. Eisland and Don E. Saliers (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1998), 57.

[7] Ibid, 65

[8] Amos Yong, The Bible, Disability, and The Church: A New Vision of the People of God (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2011), 19.

[9] Melcher, ”Visualizing the Perfect Cult,”  66.

[10] Tidball, The Message of Leviticus, 265,

[11] It should be noted that neither option totally alleviates the tension in the text by eliminating it completely.

[12] Yong, The Bible, Disability, and The Church, 26.

[13] Yong, The Bible, Disability, and The Church, 29.

[14] Melcher, “Visualizing the Perfect Cult,” 69.

[15] Neal H. Walls, “The Origins of the Disabled Body: Disability in Ancient Mesopotamia” in This Abled Body: Rethinking Disabilities in Biblical Studies, ed. Hector Avalos, Sarah J. Melcher, and Jeremy Schipper (Atlanta: SBL, 2007), 16.

[16] Walls, “The Origins of the Disabled Body,” 16.

[17] Ibid, 21.

[18] Avalos, “Disability and Liturgy”, 41.

[19] Edgar Kellenberger, “Children and Adults with intellectual Disability in Antiquity and Modernity: Toward a Biblical and Sociological Model,” Cross Currents 63 no. 4 (2013), 460.

[20] John Swinton, Resurrecting the Person: Friendship and the Care of People with Mental Health Problems (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2000), 139.