This is a series written by and for all matters related to Anglicanism. Posts on Anglican liturgy, theology, spirituality, church history, vestments, architecture, discipleship, ethics, music, sacramental theology, pastoral care, etc. etc. which would benefit those in both TEC and ACNA (and beyond to the whole communion).
My boys are growing up. Sure, they’re still little— not even teenagers at this point!—but they are getting older. The bittersweet reality of parenting is that children grow and transform before your very eyes and while you are excited about who they are becoming, you are also left with a sadness over each closing of a chapter.
I vividly remember bouncing each of those babies to sleep from the time they were infants until they were toddlers. My arms can still feel the weight of their little bodies as they curled up against me; I can still smell their sweet breath and feel their hair on my neck. It has been over five years since my oldest was small enough for me to bounce him regularly, but that activity was so normal, so familiar to me, that I know what it feels like. What I wouldn’t give to be able to bounce each of those babies to sleep one last time.
We all have memories stored inside of us which have penetrated our being far beyond cognition. Our muscles have memory, as do our senses.
As churches begin to reopen in phases, our memories will recall the physicality of our liturgical worship. It has been over three months since I have worshipped with other believers in person. I have not partaken of communion; I have not embraced my brothers and sisters during the Peace; I have not passed the offering plate down the pew; I have not processed into nave behind the cross with the weight of my alb and stole on my shoulders; I have not touched the water in the baptismal font and made a slightly dampened sign of the cross, nor held the chalice and paten aloft (“these are the holy gifts of God for you the holy people of God”), nor felt the swell of the organ and the voices of the faithful as hymns of praise are directed toward the heavenly throne room…
I know exactly how each of those things feels across my five senses. I remember their meaning, their touch, their aroma, their sound. I remember them, but things will be different…
How we are supposed to worship when we gather for in person worship?
Things will be different when we begin worshipping together again. Worship will include masks and hand sanitizing stations. It may be months before communion is offered in both kinds instead of just one. Congregational singing might be absent for an extended period of time. Our physical senses will engage in worship that is at once intimately familiar, yet wholly different.
As much as I would like to time-travel and hold each of my boys once more as infants and toddlers, I am forced to hold tightly those memories which have seeped from mind into my heart and muscles. The scene of bouncing and holding tight which was once so familiar to me is now but a tiny (yet utterly essential) component of my relationship with those three boys. We now create new memories and engage in different activities. Some things have changed while our relationship remains the same, totally familiar.
I would invite each of you to acknowledge the ways that worship will look and feel different as our churches slowly reopen from one phase to another. Release any and all expectations that things will “return to normal.” Liturgical life will never go back to precisely the same way it was before because, as a people, we have been forever changed by the events of the last several months. Even if one day things feel more “normal” than they do now, we are still changed. Give thanks for memories you have—those memories which have penetrated your senses beyond just cognition—and hold them tight, but then open yourself up to what the Spirit is doing during this strange season of corporate worship.
As we prepare to re-enter corporate worship together, we are left with our memories of “before the pandemic,” and we have an opportunity to give thanks for all God has done. We can hold in tension the gratitude for worshipping in person and the lament of change, but let’s give the muscle of thanksgiving more space to grow and flourish.
When the church gathers for worship, she does so to offer her sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving upon the altar to the glory of God and for the life of the world. Things may be different, but they are altogether familiar.
This week we have journeyed across the spectrum of human emotion from the joyous song of “Hosanna!” to the command from Jesus to love one another, and ultimately to the crowd crying out “Crucify him!” We find that the emotional progression of Holy Week mirrors the depths of our own hearts; we are confronted with the reality that we too easily and too often vacillate between Hosanna and Crucify him!
The biblical story depicted in the liturgical calendar moves past the murderous crowd and beyond the crucifixion of the Son of God. The next scene in the story takes place on the day after Jesus’ death. The original Holy Saturday.
Holy Saturday invites us into a time of intentional rest.
This is not the first time creation has waited in rest. After God created all things, He rested on the seventh day, setting it apart as Sabbath. Similarly, in John’s Gospel, we learn that the day after the crucifixion was the seventh day. Sabbath, again. Rest after creation was finished; rest after the crucifixion. The rest of Holy Saturday is different, though; it lacks the joy of the Genesis Sabbath rest.
It is a painful silence, an aching rest.
At this point in the biblical account, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus have already taken Jesus’ body, wrapped it in linen, and placed it in the unused tomb. The women have prepared their spices and perfumes for the body but they are waiting to treat the body until after Sabbath when they can work once more. Jesus’ body lies in the tomb and his followers are faced with an existential grief – a longing lament over the loss of their friend, rabbi, and leader. And no answer is provided as a balm for their pain.
On this Holy Saturday, Jesus’ last words echo in our hearts and minds: It is finished. These words should point us, once again, back to the story of creation.
The Passion echoes Genesis and creation because the Passion was God’s plan from before the foundations of the world. In Genesis we find the story of creation, and in the Gospels we encounter the story of new creation. God rested because “By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing.” Jesus rests in the tomb after saying, “It is finished” because his work was complete. God’s rest came after his proclamation that it was “very good”; God was glorified in Christ crucified…it was very good.
It is so easy for us to rush from Good Friday to Easter Sunday without pausing for breath or reflection. We should, however, be convicted by the reality that Sabbath being situated between Friday and Sunday represents a hard stop, an intentional rest, a painful silence for the whole of the cosmos. Christ’s work was finished. Full stop. And we are invited to rest in that completion.
Before we move on to the joyous celebration of Easter Sunday when we ponder anew the Resurrection and new creation, allow yourself to let the fullness of Christ’s complete work on the cross wash over it.
Since the publication of this post, I have updated the liturgy to include an original Collect as part of the closing section. The updated liturgy is the second document provided at the bottom of this post.
One of the beautiful things about liturgy is that it can be used to mark the highest highs and lowest lows of life. The joys of birth, baptism, marriage, and ordination are commemorated with individual rites; the sorrow of death has its own liturgy; we mark time by day, week, and year with various offices.
Liturgy helps us answer the question, How then shall we pray?
As we face this global pandemic of COVID-19, many of us find ourselves full of anxiety. Through social-distancing, self-isolation, and quarantine, how are we to pray? Through states of emergency and government lockdowns, how are we to pray? As our daily lives are turned upside down with school closings, job uncertainties, and economic instability, how are we to pray?
The answer is often, I don’t know. It is difficult to find concrete words to pray in circumstances for which most of us have no context. In an attempt to give us a common language of prayer during this time, I have written a liturgy specifically designed for use during this global pandemic.
In this liturgy, you will find a prayer of general confession devoted to fear, anxiety, and worry; included within the intercessions are prayers for those who are sick, for health workers, for churches, and for all of humanity; I have included the General Thanksgiving because all of prayer (and liturgy) is doxological; finally, I have included some prayers for specific times of the day. You can use this liturgy once or often throughout the day. It has been composed for both individual and family use. Lastly, I have written it in the hopes that it gives us a shared language with which we can approach Almighty God in prayer and supplication, praise and lament, sorrow and hope.
This sermon was prepared for and preached with Church of the Apostles, Kansas City (my home parish) in mind. I offer both the audio link and text here for any who may be inclined to listen/hear. I hope you find it to be an encouragement and blessing — all critiques and feedback welcome.
The human ability to adjust to our surroundings is unparalleled, a byproduct of both God’s design in creation and the faculties developed and nurtured through centuries of survival. The human eye is able to adjust to a dark room within 20-30 minutes. The process, known as “dark adaptation,” occurs as the cones and the rods in our eyes adjust to the lack of light, allowing us to gain a sort of night vision. According to Rafael Caruso, an investigator in the National Eye Institute’s Ophthalmic Genetics & Visual Function Branch in Bethesda, Md., “The human retina can perform its light-detection function in an astounding range of light intensities, from bright sunlight to dim starlight.” Athletes often train in higher altitudes in order to shock their systems with less oxygen, therefore requiring their bodies to adjust to the intentionally imposed stress and forcing them to thrive; this is particularly true for the world’s greatest runners and cyclists.
Similarly, researchers and thought leaders say it typically takes 30-40 days to form a new habit. Our bodies are able to adapt to a new diet, the engaging of regular exercise, or a new sleep pattern. The first 10 days are rough because you are essentially shocking your system by introducing something new. The next 10 days are the normalizing process during which you are learning to walk like a newborn foal; you have your legs underneath you but you are still wobbly, as it were. The last 10 days see you flourishing in your new practice so that by the time you hit that 30-40 day mark, you have put in a significant amount of hours and minutes in adopting the new practice, your body and mind have adjusted to the new thing, and you have now successfully incorporated it into your daily routine,…the success, however, is dependent upon one key principle:
You cannot start-stop your diet or your exercise on a daily basis and still achieve the same weight-loss results. Trust me, I’ve tried. You cannot save money for a season, then spend it all, and then save, and keep it up and still hope to retire with a fat bank account. Again, trust me, I’ve tried. In the words of the imposter Mad-Eye Moody, aka Barty Crouch Jr, you have to practice constant vigilance…you have to constantly be watching, working, pursuing the goal.
Today we celebrate the First Sunday of Advent, the beginning of the church’s calendar, and we begin to prepare our hearts and minds for the birth of Messiah. However, and this is a very big however based on the lessons for today, we cannot adequately reflect upon the First Advent of Jesus without also bearing in mind and thinking about his second Advent, that day when he comes in glory to judge, to reign and rule, to usher in his kingdom fully and finally. The lessons for today are focused on that second advent and thus prompt the question, “What do the two advents have in common and what do they mean for our daily lives?” and beg an answer that is at once both reflective and applicable.
So, we start. The passage from Isaiah is both prophetic and apocalyptic. Here we see an outline of the end times. There will be a day, says Isaiah, when the whole world will come to the city on a hill (Jerusalem) and there they will learn from God. Remember, Isaiah is writing during the reign of the kings of Israel. There have been good kings and bad kings. Before that there was the period of the judges when Israel was push-me-pull-me with her God. One might, just might say, that in the realm of covenantal faithfulness, Israel had not been practicing constant vigilance with any regularity…
This will be a time of peace, a time when the wars shall cease, and the swords are beaten into ploughshares. So powerful is this prophetic image that even the musical Les Misérables references it in its closing song citing the day when, “We will live again in freedom in the garden of the Lord, we will walk behind the ploughshares, we will put away the sword, the chains will be broken and all men shall have their reward.” This is not a temporary cease-fire between warring nations, nor is it the promise of man-made world peace. We also know that Isaiah isn’t describing the first advent of Christ because when Jesus finally does come on to the scene, he both enters and leaves amidst fighting, wars, hostility, and pain. This is the day depicted by John in his revelation when there will be no more tears or crying or sorrow or pain or death, the day when the whole world resides with God…and don’t miss that key fact. This is not Israel’s future with YHWH, but the future of the whole world, the opening of covenant to Jews and Gentiles alike.
The Psalm also depicts this. What you need to bear in mind about Psalm 122 is that it is one of the Psalms of Ascent. Israel made pilgrimage to Jerusalem three times a year for the great festivals. During this pilgrimage, those traveling along the road would sing the Psalms of Ascent. These Psalms ascend in two senses. First, Jerusalem is the city upon a hill, and one must ascend the hill to reach the city. The second is that thematically, these Psalms gradually ascend until reaching final crescendo in Psalm 134 when Israel proclaims:
1 Praise the Lord, all you servants of the Lord
who minister by night in the house of the Lord.
2 Lift up your hands in the sanctuary
and praise the Lord.
3 May the Lord bless you from Zion,
he who is the Maker of heaven and earth.
We can see the theme of ascent from the beginning because Psalm 122 begins with, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the LORD?’” Where is the house of the LORD? Jerusalem! Why would one be glad to go there? Because her life had been shaped and oriented around worshipping God. Israel made these pilgrimages tri-annually because she believed that worshipping YHWH in this manner, on these occasions, was an intimate part of her relationship with him. Despite Israel’s lack of constant vigilance, this festal worship was a regular reminder, a regular call to return to God and to joyful receive his compassion and forgiveness. It was an opportunity to step back into the bright light after days, weeks, months, or years of living spiritually with dark adaptation vision.
We come to Romans and Matthew and we get into this sticky matter of time. Who knows what time it is when the Son of Man will come again? Only the Father! Not even the Son knows the time of his parousia. Don’t worry, Jesus is still seated at the right hand of the Father, reigning and ruling over all things. When we read that the Son of Man doesn’t know the time this is a nod to Jesus’ incarnation and the fact that he was both fully God and fully man. It is in the humility of his humanity, just as the Collect suggests when it says, “now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility,” it is in this humility that the Son of Man does not know the time.
Jesus talks about other events that happened when no one was expecting them…Noah and the flood, two women working and two men working, and one is taken and the other is not. The point of these stories is not a retroactive marketing ploy to boost sales of Left Behind. Most commentators agree here that the point of these vignettes was to highlight the sudden and unexpected nature of Christ’s return rather than the manner of how it happened.
The real meat of these two passages, though, is when they begin highlighting the types of behaviors and actions we should be engaging in and/or abstaining from while we await his coming in glory. We are to give up smoking, drinking, chewing, and dating girls that do…seriously, drunkeness, licentiousness, sexual immorality. What if we added lying, stealing, cheating, dishonesty, judgmental thoughts, portraying a holier than thou persona on social media, hostility in relationships and friendships based on unmet expectations and hurts, pride of position, lack of humility …oh dear, I hope that list wasn’t too specific and uncomfortable 😉
Jesus describes the master of the house who keeps watch when he knows the hour of the thief coming to rob his house. If you knew that the burglar was coming to your house at 1:07am then of course you’d be ready. But what do you do when you don’t know the time or hour, the day or month, the minute or year? How does one adjust one’s life to include constant vigilance when considering an earth shattering even over which you have no control and for which you can only prepare but can never know the exact time?
But now we have finally come to the crux…what are we to do with these lessons about the second Advent when we are in fact gathered to celebrate the first coming of Messiah?
Jesus’ first advent was like a thief coming in the night. After Isaiah’s prophetic-apocalyptic vision of jubilee, Israel was exiled and conquered over and over again. She went 430 years without hearing a word from YHWH and then a little boy was born to parents with royal blood but no real position in the world. In Herod’s and Caesar’s backyards, men who believed themselves to be the sons of god, Jesus is born in the town of Bethlehem and his coming was only known to his poor, unwed mother, his father, the wise men, the shepherds, and of course the paranoid, bloodthirsty, and murderous Herod. He came quietly; the religious leaders expected a military and political leader to come and vanquish Rome, usher in the theocracy, and instead they/we received a humble king who rode into town on a donkey rather than a chariot and warhorse.
This season, we will sing songs about preparing our hearts to make room for Christ. This is not a sweet, poetic it of theological pander…there is actual work to be done here. Constant vigilance! To be vigilant is to be on the watch, to be alert and aware, to be ready and prepared. We cannot be lazy, distracted, slow, or negligent in our care and concern.
So, friends, I would like to take this opportunity to propose that we treat this Advent season as a mini-Lent. In Lent we take on disciplines and practices, while also giving up unnecessary stuff, in order to prepare for Easter Joy. Let us do the same thing during these four weeks as we prepare for Christmas joy. And, don’t worry, I have given you a list of 4 pairs: a discipline alongside something for you to give up. You have 25 days until Christmas to embrace and introduce a new habit to your life.
Take on the discipline of reading the Daily Office and give up worrying about the future. The good news is that God is god and you are not. The bad news is that this will likely hurt your ego. Worrying about the future does nothing other than rob us of joy and energy in the present. The Daily Office will help you trust God by spending your time focusing on him instead of worrying about things outside of your control. This means people, places, things, events, acts of God, traffic patterns, money…
Take on the discipline of abstinence and give up impulsivity. I am not talking about “that” kind of abstinence. Figure out the activities from which you ought to abstain: social media, gossip, speaking critically of others, lying, drinking, overeating, an obsession of self. Instead take on slower habits: reflection, thoughtfulness, prudence. Little good actually comes from impulsivity. Exercise restraint of pen and tongue—that is, don’t like your lips write a check you aren’t willing to cash—and think before you act. The goal is to become slow to anger and quick to love rather than quick to anger and slow to forget…
Take on the discipline of daily confession and give up judging others. We cannot adequately prepare our hearts, minds, imaginations, and lifestyles if we have been unwilling to look into the darkest corners of our hearts. We typically judge others when we have unconfessed sin in our own lives. Set aside time every day to reflect and confess your sins to your Heavenly Father, not because he is a despot or task master, but because you truly desire absolution and remission of sin. Focus on yourself here and thereby stop focusing on the sins and shortcomings of others…
Take on the discipline of sacrifice and give up self-serving endeavors. Let’s be honest and admit that the next month feels like Christmas instead of Advent, a focus on me instead of he. We will be pressed for time, money, and energy. This is the moment to shift our focus to others and give more than we have before. Find people to serve in discrete ways. More than anything, think on others instead of yourself. If you think about what you can achieve or get out of something it’s not the right thing.
We are not awaiting the thief to come in the night. While the second coming might be compared to a thief coming in the night, please remember that we are actually talking about the return of the King, the coming of the One who has a rightful claim to the throne and who will judge all things and put the world to rights. Jesus is coming, both King of kings and Lord of lords, and our call is to prepare our hearts for his return, even as we reflectively prepare to celebrate his birth once more. May we be found faithful and vigilant.
Collect: Almighty God, who inspired your servant Luke the physician to set forth in the Gospel the love and healing power of your Son: Graciously continue in your Church this love and power to heal, to the praise and glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
The evangelist and physician, Luke, has provided the church with a wealth of detail, historical context, and beautifully articulated depictions of God’s love for His people and His world. The feast commemorating St. Luke is a wonderful opportunity to explore and celebrate his writings and the collect for the day captures two central themes worthy of deeper examination: “the love and healing power” of Jesus. Year C of the Lectionary, the liturgical year which ends next month, has included a lengthy trek through Luke’s Gospel which will culminate on Christ the King Sunday with the scene of Jesus proclaiming forgiveness from the cross (“Father, forgive them”) and the promise of life after death to the repentant thief. Surely, there can be no better depiction of healing and love than this.
The images of Jesus’ parables in Luke 15 are particularly poignant when considering these twin themes because through the stories we see a God who seeks after the least, the last, and the lost. We find a father running to meet his wayward and rebellious son while he was still a long way off and then throw a party for him, complete with fatted calf and signet ring. Love personified in such a way is overwhelming, it is scandalous; it restores, redeems, and heals.
It would be easy to relegate references of healing in Luke’s gospel to stories of physical being ailments reversed, overturned, and wiped away. However, the deeper layer of truth to Luke’s telling of Jesus’ story is the power of God’s love to heal His people, their land, and His world. Early on in the gospel, we encounter Jesus in the synagogue where He stands up to read a scroll from the prophet Isaiah. The passage depicts the year of the LORD’s favor (jubilee) and Jesus read aloud to those gathered:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
The steadfast, unrelenting, covenant love of YHWH for His people can be tangibly and palpably seen through the hope-filled promise of jubilee. Luke’s gospel shows what this healing love looks like in action: friends lowering their lame companion through a roof; a shepherd searching for the one sheep; a woman looking for a lost coin; a Father restoring his son; Jesus dying on the cross and yet forgiving those who were killing him.
The love of Jesus heals more than just the body; it affects the heart, mind, and soul. Our call, as Christians, is to then love God with all our heart, mind, body, soul, and strength and to love our neighbors as well. Through this type of love, we praise God in the fullest and purest sense. Luke’s Gospel invites us into such a loving relationship, it beckons us to die to self, to hear Jesus’ absolution from the cross, and to receive His promise of new life. Luke’s story continues in Acts as we discover the gospel bursting forth into the world through the power of the Holy Spirit and the faithful witness of the disciples, apostles, martyrs (Wednesday was the lesser feast commemorating Ridley, Latimer, and Cranmer who were martyred for their faith in the 16th century), and the early church. This heritage is what should inform us and urge us on toward sharing the love of God with neighbor and stranger alike, just as God has done, is doing, and will continue to do for us.
Graciously continue in your Church this love and power to heal, to the praise and glory of your Name.
(Note: The Eastern Orthodox Church recognizes St. Luke as the original iconographer. Here’s an interesting article attributing several icons of Mary to him.)
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.
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?
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.
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
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.
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.”
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?”
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.” Surely the sacrament of confirmation
also ought not be reduced to merely confirming what someone knows.
little ressourcement goes a long way, let us consider a catechetical method
from the early church. In De
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.
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. The goal of catechetical instruction
is “love proceeding from a pure heart, good conscience, and unfeigned faith.” 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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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. 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.
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
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.
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.” 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.” 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.
 Cavanaugh, William. “Eucharistic Bodies
in an Excarnated World.” Lecture, The Intersection Conference, Atlanta, May 17,
 Personal unpublished translation by Dr.
Andrew Alwine, Associate Professor of Classics, College of Charleston.
 See Dr. Sarah Coakley’s understanding of
systematic theology. Coakley, God, Sexuality, and the Self, 41.