A poem by Chad Bird. “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.

Lord, Thee I Love with Half My Heart
 
Lord, Thee I love with half my heart.
The world has claimed the other part.
I pray Thy name be hallowed, Lord,
But want my name to be adored.
Thy kingdom come, Thy reign extend,
And rain on me wealth without end.
Thy will be done, my lips shall pray
And curse when I don’t get my way.
I thank Thee for my daily bread,
But cakes and steaks I crave instead.
My million sins forgive, forget,
While I collect a one-cent debt.
From tempting evils keep us free
Unless I find they pleasure me.
Lord, Thee I love with half my heart.
Destroy, reclaim, the other part.

Chad Bird holds master’s degrees from Concordia Theological Seminary and Hebrew Union College. He draws upon his expertise as a former professor of OT and Hebrew to cohost the podcast, “40 Minutes in the OT.” Chad has authored several books, including his latest, Upside-Down Spirituality: The 9 Essential Failures of a Faithful Life. He has written for Christianity Today, The Gospel Coalition, and elsewhere. He and his wife, Stacy, have four children and two grandchildren.

By Porter C. Taylor

The liturgical year presents the Church with many opportunities to reflect upon Christ’s work on the cross. On Good Friday we are invited to meditate upon the agony and pain, the love and obedience, the silence and awe of His crucifixion. One typically leaves the Good Friday liturgy full of sorrow and torment mixed with thanksgiving for God’s unrelenting love. We then return to the cross, in a way, on Easter as we come to flower the cross with our own blooms and blossoms, celebrating that what was intended for evil by man was ultimately used for good by God for the life of the whole world.

The cross is everywhere around us, and yet I wonder if we, both culturally and as a church, have become blind to its meaning and power. Is it possible that we have simultaneously become both desensitized to the brutality of Jesus’s execution and overly personalized/privatized the crucifixion (i.e. saying “Christ died for me”) that we have neglected the redeeming work accomplished on Calvary? We throw around the idea of “taking up our cross” and following Jesus as though we have forgotten what that meant for Him, and for His disciples, and ultimately for us. As with many things in our faith, the cross presents us with a paradox, for it is at once both a symbol of death and life, of agony and glory, of defeat and victory. The Feast of the Holy Cross is therefore an opportunity to think, reflect, and celebrate this paradox.

The Collect provides us with the guidance we need to read our lessons and understand the meaning of the Feast: “whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ was lifted high upon the cross that he might draw the whole world to himself: Mercifully grant that we, who glory in the mystery of our redemption, may have grace to take up our cross and follow Him.” Here we find both the universal and the particular co-mingling in the same sentence; Jesus is drawing the whole world to Himself, and we are called to take up our cross and follow Him. There is a connection here between the once and for all nature of Jesus’ passion and our invitation to live as a cross-shaped people.

Lifted High

The Bible is teeming with references to the Son of Man being lifted high for all to see. Our lessons for this Feast include Isaiah 45 and John 12 as examples of this, but we might also remember Moses raising the bronze snake in the Exodus story and then Jesus echoing this story when he said that he must be lifted up in the same manner. Jesus said, “And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” John’s gospel is richly imbibed with a theme we might summarize as “God is glorified in Christ crucified” and these passages point to the power Jesus’ crucifixion holds for all who believe.

As Paul reminds us in his epistle to the church in Philippi, Jesus went to the cross willingly, obediently, and faithfully. He did not end up on the cross as some sort of accident or coincidence; He was neither outsmarted by the religious leaders of the day nor caught while trying to escape. Jesus set His gaze like flint toward Jerusalem and then journeyed directly to the cross for the sins and life of the whole world. The cross is both the reminder of humanity’s wayward desire to life apart from God and the fullest expression of God’s self-emptying love for His creation. In order to view the cross as a symbol of discipleship, we must first see the cross as the place where our Savior willingly died that all might know God; that is, we cannot have an empty and clean cross without first embracing the cross with Jesus dying upon it.

Taking Up Your Cross

The invitation to take up your cross is not cheap. Culturally we have become so flippant with our references that it is common to equate a personal disagreement or verbal attack with the crucifixion. And yet, the apostles carried their crosses unto death; the martyrs and saints of the last 2000 years have done the same. To take up our cross is to similarly set our gaze like flint toward whatever your horizon the Lord is calling us and to journey there intentionally and with God’s love, compassion, mercy, grace, and mission overflowing from our hearts. As they say in AA meetings, “It’s simple, but it isn’t easy.”

A Christian who has been shaped by the cross is a person ready to lift that cross even higher that others might see Jesus and turn to him, as well. The cross we are called to bear is not an inconvenience or annoyance to which we can say, “We all have our crosses to bear…” as though putting a theological bow on it will somehow make it more palatable. The cross we are called to bear is the cross of Christ, nothing more, nothing less, and nothing else. Think about Simon the Cyrene who carried the cross for Jesus when He could no longer do so himself: Simon had to follow Jesus all the way to Golgotha with the cross on his back…how far are we willing to carry the cross?

Challenge

Here at COTA we have been blessed by the beautiful processional cross created for us by our own Tom McDonald. We bow when the cross processes past us as the verger carries it into the nave and again out into the world. If you are intentionally attentive, then you will notice the handle on the cross changes based on the liturgical season, a visible symbol of the tenor and theme at hand: penance, glory, ordinary time, etc. Allow yourself to be drawn in by the colors as you meditate upon Christ’s work. Allow yourself to be arrested by the image of Christ upon the cross, forcing yourself to gaze upon Him a second longer than you would normally do. Let the Feast of the Holy Cross be both a reminder of Jesus’ passion and of your invitation to take up the cross and follow Jesus daily, wherever He might lead you.

This was originally written for and published by our parish blog – Church of the Apostles, Kansas City – where I serve as Assisting Priest and Theologian in Residence. You can read it here.

“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.

A poem by Clinton Collister.

“The Gospel According to Mary Magdalene”

“I see you’re reading Origen,” he said, 
And asked me to go out with him for lunch. 
A coder in ball cap, who spoke in blocks, 
He told the tale of when his grandma kept
Him Cooped up in her home for three long months. 
“I loathed her wooden cross and her old prayers, 
So I sought out the ghosts on my same side.”
They possessed me like light and cosmic truth
And when they left, I never felt the same.”
The pool balls cracked as Neil confessed and drank,
And my thumb moved from knot to knot in shock. 
“I could not make them speak to me again,
But I now felt the need for death or joy.
You call men like us players or artists.
Well, it’s a numbers game, and I asked hundreds.”
I sipped my beer and schemed to leave the hall.
“Yes, if there is lead in the air, you’re dangerous.”
I offered, paraphrasing my uncle’s
Go to advice for hunters and for basement
Dwellers. Then I put down cash and escaped
Outside into the cool September breeze. 

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.

“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.

Poems by Chad Bird

Hope Unveiled

As sure as the sun’s rise dispels sable night,
With plow-like rays, unearthing dawn’s light,
When yesterday’s darkness enshrouds today’s face,
Hope shall unveil tomorrow’s bright grace.

O Swaddled God

O swaddled God within a manger throne,
Blood of my heart and marrow of my bone,
Suffuse all you are in all that is me,
That I become what you’ve made me to be.

Chad Bird holds master’s degrees from Concordia Theological Seminary and Hebrew Union College. He draws upon his expertise as a former professor of OT and Hebrew to cohost the podcast, “40 Minutes in the OT.” Chad has authored several books, including his latest, Upside-Down Spirituality: The 9 Essential Failures of a Faithful Life. He has written for Christianity Today, The Gospel Coalition, and elsewhere. He and his wife, Stacy, have four children and two grandchildren.

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.