Back in 2014, Tish Harrison Warren (then a deacon) interviewed Thomas McKenzie (a priest) in an Anglican Pastor blog series called “Everyday Life of the Ordained.” I thought it might be fun to pay it forward, as it were, and interview Tish, who is now a priest, the author of Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life, and Writer in Residence at Church of the Ascension in Pittsburgh, PA.
Tish graciously agreed to answer 10 questions, some of which were submitted by readers via Twitter. We will publish this interview in three parts. A list of questions can be found at the bottom of this post.
When do you wear a collar and when do you not? How do you decide? Is there anything that you wouldn’t do in a collar that you would do otherwise?
I wear a collar any time I celebrate or serve in a Eucharistic service or when I’m preaching or speaking publicly (unless I’m explicitly asked to not wear it by a host community or conference when I’m speaking around the country). In general terms, I wear it anytime I’m in formal “ministry.” I don’t wear it on my average Wednesday unless I happen to be meeting someone to take a confession or going to the hospital or leading the Eucharistic service at our church.
Now that I have transitioned to “writer in residence” at Ascension (from Associate Rector), I wear it less often. My husband wears it basically all the time, as many priests do, so it is a constant debate about if I should wear it more often.
The reason I don’t, for now, is, first, it’s just really uncomfortable and hot and itchy. He wears a Roman collar (with the tab insert), which is more comfortable, but I wear the typical full ring, can’t-really-move-my-neck-well collar.
Also, it’s a completely different experience wearing your collar as a female priest (than as a male priest). Everywhere you go, you get a reaction.
When my husband wears his collar, nearly everyone who sees him assumes he is a Catholic priest, and there is a cultural category for that.
For me, people often look confused at first. Or they get really excited and give me a thumbs up sign, like my very existence in a collar in public is a win for feminism. Oftentimes, people assume that I’m a theologically liberal priest, which can lead to interesting and good conversation. Other times, people go out of their way to let me know that they don’t approve of my priesthood.
Honestly, whether I receive applause from strangers or condemnation, it gets old sometimes. There are many times that I just want to go into a coffee shop and write or return emails without having to make a big public statement that people can agree or disagree with. I just want to introvert and blend, which is impossible as a female priest in a collar in a way that even male priests don’t have to contend with.
That said, I do wear it when I am participating in formal ministry work, so I end up wearing it a couple times a week (give or take, depending on the week).
This past week I was being interviewed on NPR, and even though it was radio and no one would see me, I wore my collar to remind myself as I was speaking that I represented the church and that I was under the authority of the church and that the church was there “with me” in prayer as I spoke.
I can’t think of anything that I wouldn’t do in a collar that I would otherwise do (save go to a coffee shop when I want to be alone and not talk to anyone). I hope to be consistent—I am always a priest whether I wear my collar or not.
In your experience, what do you think is the most important thing for new Anglicans, especially from an evangelical background, to learn?
Great question! In a very real sense, the most important thing that any of us can learn wherever we are in our spiritual journey is that, in the words of the Heidelberg catechism, “our only comfort in life and death is that we are not our own, but belong, body and soul, both in life and in death, to our faithful Savior Jesus Christ.”
But I don’t think that’s what this question is asking; I think this is asking what is the most important thing for beginners to know or learn about the Anglican tradition, specifically.
There are a thousand good answers to this. One is to trust the liturgy. Trust it to do its work in you, whether you totally understand it or not.
When I first began attending an Anglican church, there were things I didn’t completely get or resonate with, like making the sign of the cross. I didn’t have a theological problem or any crisis of conscience about these parts of the liturgy; I just didn’t totally understand them, but I simply began to do them anyway, and I’m now very glad I did. Pick 2-3 new liturgical practices and practice them.
I was a Presbyterian for a long time and one thing that always amuses me is that when many (not all) Presbyterian churches start to be more “liturgical,” they stop before each practice or part of the liturgy and give a long theological explanation for it. But this is not how liturgy works.
It’s like dancing. If you stop to explain each step, you won’t ever learn to dance, much less forget the dance altogether to think about the dance partner (to use Lewis’s analogy). But I think there can be an anxiety about entering into practices if you don’t completely understand each theological nuance.
But rest in the liturgy. You will grow to understand it more bit by bit and, also, there is so much mystery in this life of faith that you won’t ever understand it. We are partaking in “holy mysteries” as the Eucharistic liturgy itself says, so throw yourself into that and be okay with trying new things just because your older brothers and sisters in the faith have done this for thousands of years.
One last thing: ask questions. It’s totally okay (in fact priests love it) to ask, “What does this part mean?” or” Why do we do this?”
If your conscience is clear about a practice, but you just don’t get it, try it anyway. But if you genuinely think something is wrong or if your conscience is ill at ease about something, by all means, ask questions about it!
For the first few months I was in an Anglican service, I felt really conflicted about people genuflecting before the cross in the procession. I thought people were bowing to the priest and I was super uncomfortable with that theologically and otherwise (so I didn’t do it).
Finally I asked, “Why do you do that?” And I found out that they were bowing to the cross (not the priest!) to honor Jesus and remember his sacrifice for us. I thought, ‘Okay, that’s a practice I can get into!”
What advice would you give to people from conservative evangelical and/or Baptist backgrounds who are drawn to Anglicanism but have no ACNA church nearby?
One thing anyone can do is get a Book of Common Prayer and begin using it for morning and evening prayer and Compline. This is a way to begin practicing parts of a historic, global liturgy wherever you are.
You can also, of course, examine your own daily and yearly “liturgies” and begin to take up practices like solitude, scripture reading, the liturgical calendar, and others.
Beyond that, there is not one clear-cut way forward for all people in this situation.
Some may approach their church leadership about introducing more ancient liturgical practices into the life of the church (there are a couple of Baptist churches I know that use the Book of Common Prayer in their service and practice the church calendar. Though this is rare, it can happen). It is helpful to talk to your church leadership about whatever your church’s liturgy is (since all churches have a liturgy of some sort) and try to be as intentional as possible in thinking about how that liturgy forms the congregation (for good and ill).
There are some who should visit a church of a different liturgical tradition. It’s important at any church to ask direct questions about what a community believes about the truth of scripture, sexual ethics, the supremacy and uniqueness of Jesus, and a community’s sense of mission, commitment to the poor, the needy, and the struggling. There is a bit of a movement in some circles to pin doctrine and practice—theology and liturgy—against each other, as if you have to choose one or the other. But both doctrine and practice deeply matter, and you have to explore both as you visit a church community.
Lastly, some will be called to help plant an ACNA church. You can email the nearest ACNA church or the area bishop and ask if any others are interested in a church plant in your area.
In part 2, Tish answers:
- How do you think the ACNA should move forward when it comes to dioceses that disagree about ordaining women? How do we all minister together? What has your experience been like as a female priest in the ACNA?
- What advice would you give to other women called to ordination in the ACNA?
Then, in part 3, Tish answers:
- What challenges do you think the ACNA faces when it comes to ecclesiology, given how many people (myself included) are coming in from non-Anglican traditions?
- What do you see as the strengths of the Anglican Church’s modes of accountability and where do you see the need for change, clarity, or progress? How do we as Anglicans pursue healthy and accountable expressions of power?
- Have you experienced any tension between your roles as author and pastor? How do you put the two together?
- What’s been the most unexpected reaction/result of your (excellent) book, Liturgy of the Ordinary?
- What’s next?
If you’d like to hear/read more from Tish, make sure to check out her book, Liturgy of the Ordinary, if you haven’t done so already! You can follow Tish on Twitter at @Tish_H_Warren, and check out her website at tishharrisonwarren.com.