Growing up, words like “Jesus” and “Church” were commonplace. My parents raised me and my siblings in a Christian household, and I cannot remember a time where I did not know about how Jesus died for my sins and rose again. In my Baptist upbringing, the Gospel was shared almost every Sunday. I knew the lines, and by the time I was five years old, I had begun to make this faith my own.
To be clear, my journey on “the Canterbury Trail” (into the Anglican tradition) is not out of a distaste for my Baptist roots. I love God and am thankful for my upbringing under loving Christian parents.Nevertheless, I have undertaken my Anglican journey because I desire to reconnect with the early church and to be fueled by that connection as I serve the soldiers that God has called me to minister to as an Army chaplain.
Marching Orders and Holy Orders
I always knew I wanted to be in the military, seeking to keep up with the family tradition. When I enlisted and then ultimately enrolled into Army ROTC at the University of Akron, the intent was to serve in Infantry. I really bought into that “be all you can be” stuff from the commercials.
However, I was reminded less than a year into my Army career that God’s ways are not my ways. On a training exercise in Greece, I found myself in intense conversations with my peers about life, death, and what happens next. Growing up in a Christian family, and going to church three times a week meant I had a lot of cliché answers for them. Yet it was not the answers I had, but the conversations I experienced in which the Holy Spirit began to convict me and to call me into ministry.
When I returned from my training exercise, I informed my then-girlfriend-now-wife, Bethany, that I believed God was calling me to be an Army chaplain. After a lot of prayer, seeking of wise counsel, and discernment from my church, this calling was affirmed. I commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Chaplain Candidate Program a few years later. At this time, I was endorsed by a small, contemporary evangelical denomination and enrolled into seminary.
Over the last two years in seminary, I became drawn to liturgy and to the patristics (the early church). Having experienced a lot of emotionally charged “megachurch” services, I lost the taste for what I felt was an entertainment-oriented worship.
“Surely this is not what church is”, I began to think. As I served in a pastoral internship where hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent for entertainment, I became sick to my stomach that perhaps the church was nothing more than a spectacle.
Then, by God’s grace, I encountered Anglicanism.
The Anglican way of theology was and is so refreshing to my soul. A daily rhythm of prayer, a liturgical year, and prayers where I am not dependent on emotionalism but rather am buried within the timeless truths of the church showed me that the Holy Spirit is still at work today.
I also found nourishment in the Eucharist on a weekly basis, and fell in love with the contemplative existence associated with a liturgical lifestyle. There is beauty in the simplicity of Anglican worship, and in the ecumenical spirit of its generous orthodoxy.
Bringing Christ to Soldiers
This journey to becoming Anglican does not just have implications for my wife and I. As I pursue my endorsement by the Jurisdiction of Armed Forces Chaplains for the Army Chaplaincy, and continue my studies, I am already seeing the fruits of the Anglican tradition in my ministry.
For example, when I pray with my soldiers over any situation, I am able to pray the prayers of the church. Far from just saying emotionally charged phrases with the intent to encourage the soldiers, praying liturgical prayers allows me to speak appropriate truth in prayer faithfully given to God, and this prayer is a source of comfort and encouragement to the soldiers.
Furthermore, the sacraments make a difference. Sacramental theology is a significant appeal of the Anglican church, and certainly was part of what brought me to this tradition. Understanding Baptism and the Eucharist as “outward signs of inward and spiritual grace” reminds us of the spiritual work that is happening in the believer.
Now, Baptism is certainly something to be thankful for but I especially see the Eucharist as something that can truly nourish Soldiers in dire circumstances. When Eucharist is faithfully given to baptized believers in the military, they experience this spiritual nourishment in circumstances far more intense than most in the civilian world can imagine. What a difference it makes to know that Christ is with them even in those dark times.
Also, understanding my life as a believer as a “living sacrament” has framed my view of ministry as I pursue Holy Orders to be simultaneously an Anglican priest and a Soldier, an Army Chaplain. My whole existence is set apart by God as an outward sign of an inward and spiritual grace. All believers have this holy calling. It is a blessing to be able to remind Soldiers of this reality in the hectic and stressful lifestyle of the Army.
Holistically Worshiping in Spirit and Truth
I’ll say it again: I am thankful for my Baptist upbringing. I learned Scripture and was taught to hold fast in the faith. Yet, as my wife and I experienced the Anglican tradition, we saw this faith expressed more holistically.
Standing and kneeling throughout a service makes worship a full-body experience. Morning and Evening Prayer form a rhythm for Christian living where our lives are centered on worship. Compline (prayer before bed) has been an enriching habit for my wife and I as we grow closer to Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit.
When I was at Army Chaplain School, I met an Anglican priest who summed up the Anglican tradition like this: Mere Christianity (who doesn’t like C.S. Lewis, amIright?). As someone who has been seeking a return to mere Christianity, worship as the early church saw it, I see Anglicanism as the right direction.
The closer worship gets to entertainment and emotionalism, the further worship gets from spirit and truth. The Anglican tradition is centered on spirit and truth, and in following Christ’s example seeks to be a source of unity in the church. My wife and I are thankful and excited to be a part of what God is doing in this generation as more people discover the Canterbury Trail.
Zach Jones is a 1st Lieutenant in the US Army Chaplain Candidate Program and is finishing his Master of Divinity at Ashland Theological Seminary. He is married to the love of his life, Bethany. You can follow Zach on Twitter at @zwjones93 and read his blog at zwjones.wordpress.com.
Disclaimer: Opinions stated in this article are that of the author and do not represent the opinions of the US Army, Department of Defense, or US Government.