For me, my “Anglican story” is intimately tied up in the desire to be anchored both in the tradition it represents and the calling to plant more churches firmly anchored in that same tradition.
A few years back, my wife and I were Confirmed in the Anglican Church in North America. This is interesting, because at the time, I was already planting a mission (the first stage of a church plant) as a lay church planter in the Diocese of the Mid-Atlantic.
I remember speaking with my Bishop over dinner about what was special to us about our impending Confirmation. I told him how, as a 30-something with a non-denominational/evangelical and charismatic background, the Anglican Church represented a place to dwell. A house and covering in which to live out the Christian life in a way that feels honest and true. In a word, I told him how profoundly thankful I had become for Anglicanism’s catholicity.
Catholicity means “pertaining to the whole” or “universal” and it is an immensely important and relevant concept for all Christians. It was, in fact, a term used by some of the earliest Christian leaders to express believing “the whole faith,” so to speak. I suppose it might sound a bit dusty and antiquated to some, but the truth is, it’s loaded with dynamite.
So, allow me to unpack why and how this word sums up my journey into Anglicanism. I’d like to tell you about how I found the Anglican tradition to be catholic in three important areas: worship, polity (spiritual oversight), and theology.
Without a doubt, my journey in worship is the principal reason I call the Anglican Church home today.
As a Bible college student, I reached a point where I became disillusioned with the particular vein of worship I was getting (and helping to lead) on a typical Sunday morning. At this very pivotal time in my life, I was introduced to historical liturgy and the pattern of worship Christians have shared since the beginning.
I continue to find the liturgy’s simplicity, power, and depth to be unmatched. I love how the worship of our Church bathes us in Scripture, centers our gathering upon Christ in Word and Sacrament, and roots us within the communion of the saints who went before us.
It sounds obvious, but our worship as Christians should focus with startling light and clarity upon the person and work of Jesus. The Anglican Way helps me to love Jesus more and more. It has a spiritual rhythm that is both rooted and vibrant. I am constantly thankful for it.
There is something freeing about not having to “make it up” or “outdo” last week on a Sunday morning. There’s a familiar yet reverent liturgy waiting for me every Lord’s Day, and that sounds like good news to me.
Polity (Spiritual Oversight)
As I mentioned, I come from the non-denominational world, where every church is, in essence, an island unto itself. The spiritual ceiling tends to be the pastoral and governing leadership within each particular body. Sometimes it works out well, and other times not so much. Either way, in terms of mentorship and leadership growth potential, resources are severely limited.
I’ll never forget the first time I was invited to a Clergy Day luncheon in our Diocese. I got to see a team of ministers working and praying together like never before! I got to sit under the godly leadership of a bishop with decades of experience in ministry. It was thrilling and humbling.
Honestly, I didn’t say much during the visit because I was more concerned with soaking up the wisdom. I thought to myself – this is the way ministry is supposed to be. Being within and under the godly three-fold ordering of bishops, priests, and deacons has given me the chance to see catholicity alive. This is how it’s supposed to look!
Lastly, I have found that the Anglican Way has robust and specific theological resources, while at the same time emphasizing essentials and majors over minor and insignificant points.
As has been said before, Anglicanism is not a denomination in the usual sense. We don’t have (or, at least, we don’t strive to have) any particularly “denominational stuff” – just the faith once for all delivered to the saints.
We are rooted in and embrace the Creeds as accurate summaries of Scripture – again, things that tell us what has been “believed everywhere, by all” (Vincent of Lerins). Also, I have found that the Thirty-Nine Articles, in J.I. Packer’s phrase, “Catch the substance and spirit of biblical Christianity superbly well.” They are clear and definitive, but they also reflect a reticence to press beyond Holy Scripture or to become myopic around a certain teaching or area.
The Long Way Home
I remain happily surprised and deeply grateful for what God has done in my life and the life of my wife and kids. We love our Anglican family, and we have the privilege to serve his people as we build up a new parish with the wonderful folks God has sent us.
One last bit of my story. My grandfather was an Episcopal priest. I was baptized in the Episcopal Church as in infant. When I came to faith in Jesus at the age of 15, I certainly wanted to get as far away from Anglicanism as I could. I could not imagine myself having any use for it.
I suppose I took the long way home. But, the Anglican Church is my home within the flock of Christ, and I am deeply grateful for all I constantly receive there. May it always be a rich dwelling place for the Lord and his people.
Justin Clemente is a church planter and parish priest with New Creation Church (Anglican) in Hagerstown, MD. He was ordained to the transitional diaconate in December 2015 and ordained a priest in June 2016. Rev. Justin brings over a decade of experience in parish ministry to his work as a parish priest. In his Gospel ministry of Word and Sacrament, his passion and desire is to see the “amen” and “alleluia” of every person at NCC grow stronger and brighter as they come to know their Savior more and more.