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. 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.

church-painting-1206933_640

This is a guest post from Dr. Eugene Schlesinger, lecturer at Santa Clara University, a Rev. John P. Raynor, SJ Fellow at Marquette University from 2015-2016, author, Missa Est! A Missional Liturgical Ecclesiology with Fortress Press. It was originally posted on my former blog, The Liturgical Theologian. Dr. Schlesinger is also contributed a fantastic essay on Fr. Alexander Schmemann and ressourcement in my edited volume, We Give Our Thanks Unto Thee.

Editor’s Note: This is the inaugural post in the new series, “Everyday Ecumenism.” Stay tuned for more fantastic content like this!

Ressourcement or Reinventing the Wheel

Perhaps the most significant event in my theological development was getting fired from the church I’d helped plant, whose culture I’d helped to shape, and to which I’d devoted three years of my life.[1] For the five years between my seminary education and the beginning of my doctoral studies, I served in pastoral ministry. Most of it was at an Evangelical church plant. We were a missional church: seeking to live out a missionary vocation in all areas of life as individual Christians and as a congregation. One of the ways this played out in the church’s life was in a drive to try new things and find better ways of “being the church.”

During my time at this church, I fell in love with the liturgy,[2] and found it to be an incredible source of renewal in my life. As I experienced liturgical renewal, I sought to share this with my congregation, bringing liturgical elements into our worship. While some parishioners found this a source of refreshment, plenty of others found it unacceptable. I was consistently told that we couldn’t adopt liturgy because we were a missional church. Liturgy was “Catholic” (in a negative sense) and probably “legalistic,” and certainly not missional. I could never figure out why liturgical worship and missional ecclesiology were incompatible. Eventually it became clear that my theological convictions and my vision of the church were no longer compatible with this church, and the ministry relationship ended, and I found a new ecclesial home as an Anglican.

Evangelicals and the Reinvented Wheel

As I delved deeper into the liturgical tradition, I realized that so much of Evangelicals’ efforts at finding new ways of being the church were really just reinventing the wheel. For instance, what were multi-site churches with a head pastor if not dioceses overseen by a bishop? But there was a crucial difference, the Evangelical reinvention of the episcopate lacked a coherent theological rationale, and a connection to the historic succession that grants Catholic, Orthodox, and Anglican bishops their validity. Beyond this, a historical ignorance had kept us from recognizing what we were doing, and kept us flying blind. We didn’t realize that the church had long ago figured out about bishops, and might have wisdom about how this aspect of the church’s life should be ordered. Instead, we were stuck making things up as we went along.

The impulse for renewal, and even novelty, was a good thing. As Irenaeus wrote, so long ago, Christ brought all newness when he brought himself (Against Heresies 4.34.1). Genuine encounter with Jesus Christ will always result in renewal, and so when church life grows stagnant, something is badly wrong. This lies behind the call for a new evangelization that has arisen within the Catholic Church over the last several decades. But apart from some sort of historical awareness and engagement with the tradition, the impulse towards renewal quickly devolves into novelty for novelty’s sake, and winds up being a shallow renewal indeed.

An Alternative: Ressourcement

And so I thought: What if instead of just making stuff up, we looked to the church’s traditions to find the answers for how we do things? Without realizing it at the time, I was setting out on the path of ressourcement. At its heart, ressourcement is a strategy of retrieval, returning to the sources that lie at the heart of the church’s heritage: Scripture, the liturgy, and the church fathers. In the first half of the twentieth-century, several French Catholic theologians sought to perform such a retrieval in order to breathe new life into the somewhat dry and dusty theological life of the church. Their approach was not well-received at first. It was dismissed as la nouvelle théologie (the new theology), and Henri de Lubac, a key proponent of “the new theology” was censored and forbidden from teaching theology for nearly ten years. History has vindicated him, though, at the Second Vatican Council, he served as a peritus (theological advisor to the bishops), and was eventually made a Cardinal.

Here the point isn’t with the history of ressourcement, though, but the instinct that drives it: a turn to the past, in light of current problems, with an eye to the future.

Eventually I undertook doctoral studies, intent on resolving this question of whether or not a liturgical church could also be a missional church. Certain missional theologians warn that a focus on the church’s liturgical life will distract it from its missional identity and vocation.[3] Faced with this criticism we have three options: we can ignore them, go the dead-end route of wheel reinvention (get rid of the liturgy and find new ways of being the church), or the way of ressourcement, returning to the sources at the heart of traditional ecclesiology and find in them a source of missional renewal.

If we ignore their criticisms, we miss an opportunity for renewal. Even Pope Francis has called for a pastoral and missionary conversion of the church, and called for a re-evaluation of every aspect the church’s life to be sure that we are living faithfully to our missionary vocation.[4] Rather than ignoring these missional criticisms, we need to see them as an opportunity to more faithfully articulate who and what the church has always been.

My book with Fortress Press, Missa Est! A Missional Liturgical Ecclesiology takes this route of ressourcement and uses traditional sources: Scripture, the church fathers, and the liturgy, to construct a missional ecclesiology. By returning to the sources, I show that a missionary understanding of the church has always been implicit in them. The presenting problem of missional criticisms of the liturgy proves to be an opportunity to make this implicit understanding of the church more explicit.

The thing I want us to see here, though, is not just the liturgy-mission conundrum I resolve in my book. I think that’s an important problem to address, but I raise it to show the ongoing importance of ressourcement for the church. The church is in need of continual renewal. But the way to that renewal is not by abandoning the past as something “old,” and “irrelevant.” Instead, it’s a turn to the past, in light of our current problems, with an eye to the future. I’ll say frankly, ignoring or rejecting the past is the way for churches to lose their Christian identity, and be subject to whatever cultural whims, personal predilections, or ideological forces they happen to encounter. At the same time, ressourcement is not a call to just “do what we’ve always done,” instead, it’s a return to the past to rediscover things we’ve forgotten, but desperately need to remember

We are not slaves to the past, uncritically repeating what’s come before. But if we ignore the past, we’ll simply be slaves of the present moment, to the spirit of the age. A proper engagement with the church’s tradition brings renewal through the Holy Spirit, who has breathed life into Christ’s body for the last two millenia.

[1] I wasn’t formally “fired” from the position, but I was, essentially shown the door. None of what I’m writing here is by way of complaint against that church. I’ve made my peace with what happened. Instead, the events that led to my departure from the church also set me on the path to discovering the importance of ressourcement.

[2] I’m going to go against my own preference here and use “liturgy” in a more restrictive sense: namely formal, set liturgies grounded in particular texts (such as a Breviary, Missal, or the Book of Common Prayer). Every church has a liturgy, though. There aren’t liturgical and non-liturigcal churches. Some of us are just honest about it. However, it makes for really clunky writing to belabor this.

[3] E.g., John G. Flett, The Witness of God: The Trinity, Missio Dei, Karl Barth, and the Nature of Christian Community (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010); Nathan R. Kerr, Christ, History and Apocalyptic: The Politics of Christian Mission (Eugene: Cascade, 2009).

[4] See his Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii gaudium.

altar-22206_640

This was originally posted on my Patheos Blog, “The Liturgical Theologian” in April 2016. You can read the original post here.

You can easily begin a deep theological and liturgical debate across ecumenical lines with one simple question: how should the Celebrant be oriented in the Eucharist? Maybe it’s based on the fact that I am an Anglican, but this simple question has churned up many strong feelings and convictions.

My main goal, here, is to provide some fodder for thinking about our Eucharistic orientation. Perhaps we (those who are the inheritors of the Reformation(s)) have gotten it wrong…

For the children of the Reformation(s) the answer is clear: the priest (if you have one) should face the people. This is known as versus populum and it supposedly encourages or facilitates corporate worship around a common table. The logic continues that only when gathered around a common table can any sense of “clericalism” or medieval superstition be avoided.

The other tradition is known as ad orientem. In this celebration of the Eucharist the priest faces the altar, i.e. East, and has back turned to the people. I want to unpack the thinking behind this in a bit, but right now it’s important to note arguments against ad orientem. Naysayers will suggest that this orientation separates the people from the priest; that this is impersonal and cold (back turned); that the people become spectators; etc. The list goes on ad infinitum.

I think the main issue is that we haven’t taken the time to understand ad orientem. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI, Emeritus) wrote about this in his book The Spirit of the Liturgy. I encourage all to purchase this timeless classic!

Why Ad Orientem?

Ad orientem makes a great deal of sense when you understand that the entire practice is based on orienting oneself toward the East. Why? The assembled church faces East in the eschatological expectation of our Lord’s return. The Sun rises in the East and facing toward the East, in ancient times, meant facing toward the New Jerusalem—the heavenly city for which we wait and hope. Remember that the Lord’s return has always been imminent, for we know not the time or the hour, and therefore the Eucharistic people are prepared to greet their Risen Lord.The priest is seen as a member of the assembled church. In versus populum, one might say, there is a table separating priest from people but in ad orientem there is nothing separating them. All are equal, all are turned toward the East, all are anticipating the Lord’s parousia. When the priest faces the people it may feel, so goes the logic, as if the priest is the central figure of the celebration. In ad orientem it is clear that God is the chief actor: everyone is looking toward the triune God rather than at the priest.

Please here this: I am not suggesting that versus populum is wrong or invalid. The overwhelming majority of the time I am celebrating in this style. I simply think that we need to reconsider our stance on ad orientem.

If our liturgical worship is whole-bodied, and if what we do in worship matters as much as what we say, then perhaps our posture and orientation says and does something theologically. What if we attuned ourselves to eschatological hope and anticipation and prepared to great the Risen Lord? What if we have gotten it wrong and we’ve thrown the baby out with the bath water?

In the Eucharist we, both clergy and laity, are concelebrants. We join our prayers, praise, and voices together with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven before the triune God. When we face East together we participate together, we pray together, we offer together. This is the Eucharistic vision–the Church offers herself and her gifts unto the Giver of Life.

I could go on for pages—and perhaps I will later—but for now let us suffice it to say that our bodies, hearts, and minds should all face the same way. Even in celebrating versus populum may we look Eastward and expect the Lord’s return. Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again. Jesus is our Great High Priest and the Celebrant of the Eucharist, may we look to him and see him.

This was originally posted on my Patheos Blog, “The Liturgical Theologian” in April 2016. You can read the original post here.

A friend recently shared that a young woman in his parish explained that she hates the Creed. He subsequently requested that something be written about the importance of teaching the Creed(s) to young people. There are likely to be many, many articles, books, and blog posts on the topic but here’s my attempt at an answer:

As part of the liturgy every Sunday, the assembled Church proclaims the words of the Nicene Creed (or Apostles’ Creed if connected with the Sacrament of Baptism). I have often heard this liturgical practice described as dull, rote, and boring. For many this is but a chance to stretch the legs after the sermon and to shake off the preacher’s (in)effective words before Eucharist. But why is the Creed viewed this way? Weren’t there councils and centuries of heresy and disagreement that ultimately gave birth to these statements of faith? Is the Creed relevant to my faith today? Keep reading…

The Creed (and I am using a generic “Creed” at this point but by it I mean Nicene-Constantinopolitan, Apostles’ or Athanasian) is far more than theological precision or the fruit of a council some 1700 years ago. The Creed is first and foremost part of the living expression and Tradition of the one holy catholic and apostolic church. The Creed recalls our baptismal covenant and Eucharistic joy, it is Scripture exegeted and digested, it is our corporate memory and shared faith, it is active, and it is certainly theologically robust.

In the Early Church, the Bishop gave the Apostles’ Creed to members of the catechumenate. These men and women were meant to learn, mark, study, and inwardly digest the Creed as part of their preparation for baptism at the Easter Vigil. They were taught and instructed based on the Creed as part of their catechesis. Nothing has changed to this day—at least, nothing needs to have changed.

The catechumens would then be responsible for “handing the Creed back” to the Bishop. That is, these God-fearing men and women would demonstrate their reception of the Creed by proclaiming its words and power to the Bishop. In modern liturgies, the Apostles’ Creed is part of the Liturgy of Baptism because it is the earliest baptismal statement in the Church. To this day we proclaim the Apostles’ Creed because it is the “faith once delivered” to the Church and carried on faithfully throughout generations.When you say the Creed you are not simply reciting ancient words. Side note: I think it would be wise for clergy to cease saying, “Let us recite the words…” No, the Creed is a proclamation of God’s faithfulness and work throughout history; it is an affirmation of the triune God; it is the recognition that Jesus is both fully man and fully God; it is embrace of the person and work of the Holy Spirit; it is a charge to and for the Church. The Creed signals our participation in salvation history because our very act of believing is evidence of the Creed’s efficacy and validity.

The normative creed in the midst of the Eucharist is the Nicene Creed, the words of which were hammered out by two great ecumenical councils in Nicaea and Constantinople. The councils were held as a result of heretical teachings spreading throughout the nascent church. The Nicene Creed is Trinitarian, it is doxological, it is theological, it is rich, and it is robust. One thing that it is not: complete. No creedal statement will ever be a complete capturing or encapsulation of theological reality and thought. The Creed is embedded within the liturgy and it is here that it finds its greatest significance. As part of the liturgy the Creed adds to our worship as it moves from a statement of assent and becomes a statement of praise and thanksgiving.

Is the Creed relevant to your faith? It is perhaps one of the most relevant things you can say! It is a reminder that while your faith is the faith of an individual it is also not your faith. It is a faith that was handed down to you, a faith that you received, and a faith that you are called to pass along. The Creed helps us hone in on what we believe as the one holy catholic and apostolic church and it also helps us get outside of our own heads and holy huddles.

Just to recap: the creeds are therefore used in intimate connection with two sacraments of the Church: baptism and Eucharist. The creeds allow us to participate liturgically and sacramentally in the witness, Tradition, and ministry of the Church. We join our voices with myriads of saints who have gone before—and many who will come after—in the praise and worship of Almighty God. Our faith is formed as Trinitarian, doxological, theological, baptismal, and Eucharistic.

I don’t know about you, but based on the all the above I have an extreme need for Creed…don’t you?