If you’re just joining us, check out part 1 and part 2 of our ongoing interview with Tish Harrison Warren, Anglican priest, author of Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life, and Writer in Residence at Church of the Ascension in Pittsburgh, PA.
People would like to hear from you about Anglican ecclesiology. What challenges do you think the ACNA faces in this area, given how many people (myself included) are coming in from non-Anglican traditions?
Very few become Anglican (from an evangelical background) because we simply love church hierarchy. “Lose your autonomy! It’s rad!” is not going to make evangelicals line up to join!
So, part of what we need is simply to understand Anglican ecclesiology and why it matters. One challenge we face is when priests want to function, more or less, like independent evangelical pastors, but with liturgy. We want to “pick a bishop” like evangelicals pick accountability partners (a personal preference), but this is not how Anglican polity is supposed to work.
A big issue in the ACNA is that, obviously, we have non-geographical dioceses. Right now, this is, in large part, a consequence of the “dual integrities” commitment we hold about women’s ordination. I really don’t know a way forward here, but I recognize that it is not ideal.
I am in a (mostly) geographical diocese now, and I see the value in that. I love my bishop and, when we lost a baby to miscarriage in 2017, he showed up at our house that afternoon, and prayed for us and hung around loving us. It’s such a gift that the man who has ecclesial authority in my life is also a pastor and trusted voice. That’s harder to have (though not impossible) if your bishop is on the other side of the country. But unless we ordain a whole lot more bishops who are in favor of women’s ordination or stop ordaining women (which would likely split the denomination), I don’t know how to solve this.
I think now we wait and we pray.
But, more than that, we need to have a long (probably decades long) and deep conversation about this, which we cannot do unless we really understand the theology and practice of Anglican ecclesiology, so we need to start there.
In connection to your article “Why Evangelicals Should Care More About Ecclesiology,” 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?
I am not exactly a purist when it comes to Anglican polity. I don’t think it is the only faithful way to have ecclesial accountability. I certainly don’t think that Presbyterians are in sin because they don’t have bishops.
However, I don’t think I could be a pastor in any other context. Bishops, at their best, are a total gift to pastors, and my bishops have been a gift to me, both personally and as a leader in the church.
I am not where the buck stops, and there is a lot of freedom in that. At the same time, I have real authority conferred on me by the church and when I teach and lead publically I’m under the institutional accountability of the church, and I think all public teachers (male and female alike) should have that.
Have you experienced any tension between your roles as author and pastor? How do you put the two together?
Yes, very much so.
I read The Pastor by Eugene Peterson a few years ago and he has a lovely chapter on writing and the pastorate and talks about how they seamlessly flow into each other and feed each other in perfect and pristine harmony. It took me years to get over that chapter and the hope it presented because that simply has not been the case for me.
It may just be that I’m no Eugene Peterson (which is certainly true). He’s a master with language and completely brilliant. It may also have to do with my context in ministry or my process in writing, the demands of social media and how that’s changed the vocation of a writer, the fact that I’m a mother of young children or that my husband is also a priest, but it is difficult for me to hold both the work of a pastor and writing together.
When I did campus ministry, it was easier to do both (though my campus group was far smaller than our local church now, and my writing, at the time, was ‘smaller’ as well).
Anyway, a year ago, I attended a panel discussion of pastors at the Festival of Faith and Writing. Of the panel of four people, only one was able to write while she was a full-time pastor; she got up at 4:30 am every morning to do it. Two other pastors did not become writers till they retired from the pastorate. The other wrote in chunks when she was on study leave or sabbatical.
I love writing so very much and I love serving as a pastor in the church, but I love neither one enough to get up at 4:30 am each day to do so.
After a long time of prayer and mentoring, talking to my bishop and other priests, in September, I transitioned to writer-in-residence at Ascension, my church here in Pittsburgh.
I am still on staff; I still preach about every 4 weeks; I still celebrate the Eucharist about as often; I still go to some young adult events and meet occasionally with young adults, and I still, of course, take confessions, pray for the sick, and do other priestly duties.
But I work extremely part-time for the church right now. I mostly spend my time writing or with my kids.
This was a painful step to make because my husband and I really loved sharing the role of Associate Rector, and our parish was tremendously enthusiastic and supportive about us sharing that role. But, for me, it was: parish priest, mom, writer (pick two of three). Taking this step helped decrease the overall stress on our family system, and for now it is working.
I hope to one day step back into more full time ministry, and I’m so very thankful that my church is letting me stay on staff and serve that community as a writer in residence, but we all basically realized that I couldn’t write if I was focused on parish ministry (so I went a while without writing much at all; there was a marked drop in my writing in 2018).
If I was ever going to write another book, I had to figure out a new way to configure our life. I now have a foot in both worlds—the parish and the writing world—which is a great gift.
What’s been the most unexpected reaction/result of your (excellent) book, Liturgy of the Ordinary?
Well, I’m still pretty thrilled that people outside of my immediate family read it! The reception the book has gotten is more than I could have imagined. I’ve received hundreds of letters from readers, and it’s now published in four languages. I got a text from a friend this morning who saw the book in Singapore. This is my first book, so no one was expecting any of this.
I’m writing a second book.
I’m in that really, really hard first draft phase, which is my least favorite phase of writing (it is not unlike first trimester in pregnancy, lots of nausea, lots of fear and doubt, lots of need for ice cream, lots of painful stretching).
I’m not talking much about what the book is about yet because it is still very much in utero and still taking shape. But I’m under contract with IVP, so, God willing, there will someday be another book on something. Stay tuned.
Thanks to Tish for taking the time to answer our questions! 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.