Thursday, November 21, 2013

A Canterbury Tale

Gone Anglican


(With apologies to Bob McDill and Alan Jackson)

He’s gone Anglican, believes in common worship 
He’s gone Anglican, now he has a bishop
He’s gone Anglican, loves that Thomas Cranmer
He’s gone Anglican, there he goes

 He’s gone Anglican, tired of innovation
He’s gone Anglican, kept his ordination
He’s gone Anglican, believes in 39 Articles
He’s gone Anglican, there he goes

He’s gone Anglican, not a Presbyterian
He’s gone Anglican, but still is Augustinian
He’s gone Anglican, with English Reformers
He’s gone Anglican, there he goes

“Who’s the baritone in the bass section?” asked a choral director at the Westminster Choir College. His disingenuous question was a comment directed to my high school chorus director, whose voice lacked the depth and richness of the ideal bass. 

After 66 years as a Presbyterian, I am now an Anglican. However my voice is not sufficiently trained and practiced to avoid having at least some of my new brethren asking, “Who’s that Presbyterian singing in our Anglican choir?” On the other hand, some of my Presbyterian brothers were likely beginning to think my voice was sounding like an Episcopalian singing in a Presbyterian choir. Which required me to "sing low."

Thomas Cranmer
I had a "history" with Anglicanism long before I became an Anglican.

(1) My father was baptized and confirmed as an Episcopalian at the historic Christ Church in Pensacola, Florida. My parents were married in that church. I might have been brought up in the Episcopal Church had my mother not balked at the common cup. After the War my parents settled on the Presbyterian Church, where my father served many years as elder. It was the Presbyterian church that baptized me, admitted me to the Lord's Supper, and ordained me to ministry.

It was probably a combination of family, church, and school ethos that resulted in my thinking that there were not many Christians in the world. Presbyterians of our sort and, of course, the Baptists could be saved. But not many Methodists, very few Episcopalians, and not the sort of establishment Presbyterians who attended the First Presbyterian downtown. So, while my "roots" were Episcopalian, my view of Anglicanism was fundamentally negative.

(2) However, I also experienced Anglicanism, or at least Anglicans, in a positive way thanks to the Pensacola Theological Institute. From Great Britain James Packer and Philip Hughes, from Australia Leon Morris, and from the Reformed Episcopal Seminary in Philadelphia Fred Kuehner. These were not only Christians, but faithful exegetes and theologians. Once I got to seminary there were others historical and contemporary - the English Reformers, Bishop J.C. Ryle,  John Stott, Peter Toon, C.S. Lewis. And, though I did not know it at the time, by being introduced to the Presbyterian Book of Common Worship by Dick Bodey, I was introduced to parts of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. My exposure with the exception of Lewis was, I know, limited to the evangelical and low church traditions within Anglicanism. (Evangelical and low church are not of necessity the same, as some evangelicals appreciate certain emphases of the High Church movement.)

Hugh Latimer

What I have written so far explains my previous awareness of, contact with, and appreciation for Anglicanism, but it does not explain how I have come to my present affiliation. Why then the change? It comes down to two things, the second the stronger. (1) I no longer felt an attachment to the PCA. Except for an old friend or two, there was next to no fellowship.  (2) I experienced a growing attachment to The Book of Common Prayer

I purchased my first Book of Common Prayer, the 1559 edition, a number of years ago. We were in Virginia to attend the retirement ceremony of one of our students who had served in the Army, and with time to use we visited an old Episcopal Church with a gift shop.  I loved it!

I came to experience it in a new way just after Easter 2012. No longer
feeling at home in the PCA, and desiring soul refreshment, I began to attend services at the St. Andrews’ Cathedral in Jackson, Mississippi. I felt at home with with the quietness, reverence, and kneeling prayers of the people before the liturgy began. My soul found expression in most, though not all, of the liturgy of the 1979 Prayer Book. I also got to know a Canon who believed the historic Creeds of the church. I found that, though he had no obligation to do so, he gave a rip about me. He was accessible, willing to meet, to listen, to talk, and became a friend.

I also experienced two other congregations in the Anglican tradition. The Canon, knowing my conservative convictions, suggested a congregation with an orthodox rector. Then, on my own, I  attended the services of a Reformed Episcopal Church. Again I found the liturgies to be soul refreshing and the priests genuinely friendly.

Nicholas Ridley
This exposure to Anglican services reminded me that I had an old friend who is a Bishop of the Reformed Episcopal Church, Dan Morse. I had met him first when I was a freshman and he a senior at Belhaven College. We were again together when he returned to teach at Reformed Seminary my senior year. As a young minister, I would stop in to see him when I was in Jackson for committee or other meetings, and he was always friendly, sometimes inviting me to supper at his house on very short notice to his wife, Marianne.

I used the Internet to find and re-establish contact with Bishop Morse. I expressed to him my interest in Anglicanism. From time to time we discussed questions I had. Last spring we began to discuss the possibility of my transferring my ministerial credentials into the Reformed Episcopal Church. He has been forbearing and patient with me and friendly to me through the entire process which has included email, telephone, and face to face discussions. To make a somewhat longer story short, on November 4 Bishop Morse received me as a Presbyter into the Diocese of the Central States. God willing, my orders will be regularized on December 8 in Cincinnati. 

I hesitate to say much, given my newness to Anglicanism. But, my thoughts to a great extent echo the statement available at Dr. David Gordon's website where he explains why he and has family attend an Anglican congregation. (1) I appreciate being part of a tradition is part of  historic catholicity (with a little "c") that includes both the ancient creeds and an historic liturgy,  (2) I am happy with the 39 Articles as a Protestant confession and as a statement that expresses my own Christian faith. (3) I love the "commonness" of The Book of Common Worship, a welcome relief from liturgical chaos. (4) I have found the Daily Office and the Sunday liturgies of The Book of Common Prayer to be soul-vivifying not deadening, freeing not confining, leading to not away from Christ. (5) It is a relief to be an observant, practicing Christian, which does not mean the heart is not engaged but rather that I can worship without being asked or being obligated to ask myself what is really transpiring internally. (6) Thus far I have experienced episcopal government not as judicial (courts) but pastoral (bishops). 

Yes, I know something about the challenges facing and the diversity of The Reformed Episcopal Church. My concern was and is not whether everyone agrees with me but whether there is room for me. I told the Bishop that I am a Protestant, evangelical, Cranmerian, Prayer Book Anglican. Assured I could enter as and remain such, I was happy to find he was willing to have me. 

I found Presbyterians were hearing me say "sibboleth" rather than "shibboleth." But I  managed to ford the river without getting killed. In time I trust I'll be immersed (if I may borrow a Baptist term) in the vocabulary and pronunciations of my new (old) home country.

The Bishop and the Bishop's Wife
Dan and Marianne Morse


Eutychus said...

Way to go, Bill!

David D. said...

Sounds like there is a lot more to the story that could be shared. I hope to read about it some time.