As I reflect on my journey, I realize that there is a lot of interpretation and selection. I hope that readers will see that I’m mostly choosing experiences that somehow later relate to being called to this tradition.
I was called to serve with my Dad at FJF church as Associate Pastor. FJF was a community church that reached out to the surrounding neighborhoods. My work would develop into working with Children’s ministry volunteers and parents, as well as youth ministry. Fortunately, I was also asked to provide pastoral care and to preach sometimes. I say ‘fortunately’ because it helped me gain experience. Those who heard me preach at the age of 23 probably weren’t so fortunate.
The folks at FJF were a loving, supporting community to us as newlyweds. We lived in an apartment on the church campus, and I was able to walk to work everyday.
I gained experience visiting in the hospital, being present with people in need and crisis, as well as organizing and even building a church website (HTML 2.0 using FrontPage). Working with my Dad was good because we are different, and our styles were mostly complementary. I learned a lot from him, and I’ll always be glad to have spent some much time together. I have so many pastoral “gems” that he gave me in those years, that I still remember and use to this day.
My Dad had also remarried, and Anita was and is a delight. We got to know her better during those years, and she became a Mom to us. And Victoria’s family had moved to South Carolina, so we got to visit them in the sunshine during Ohio winters. They are the most accepting people, and so I had no problem fitting in.
During this time the doctor told us that we might not be able to have children. As Victoria and I walked through this, our church community was there for us. After five years, our first son was born. We shared that joy with our friends there.
But I was on an inward journey during those years.
One example was what happened to me as I met with our local pastors for prayer. As the other pastors would share their stories, I often heard them talk about their seminary experience. I had done Biblical and Theological studies by distance education, but I realized that, for me, seminary would be a great help. Our tradition was not anti-Seminary, but it wasn’t exactly pro-Seminary. I often heard seminary called “cemetery.” Most of this came from bad experiences in the past with clergy who had gone to bad seminaries, and people felt that “seminary was the place faith went to die.” But I began to realize I needed that study and training, and that there were some really dynamic, faithful seminaries out there.
During this time I also started studying other Christian traditions. To be frank, I started studying other traditions to “prove them wrong.” Fortunately, my study at Berea College had engrained a habit of first learning what someone is saying, before critiquing it. So I decided to learn about other traditions, to try to really understand them, so that I could then show why they were wrong. I know, I know: Lord, have mercy.
But as you probably guessed, I started to see that there are other ways of being a faithful Christian, and that many of those ways made sense to the people in those traditions. They helped people love Christ and love others. And many of them were rooted in ancient times, and their explanations were also rooted in Scripture. I wasn’t sure what to do with this.
Catholic or Apostate?
I also started studying New Testament Greek in preparation for seminary. As I studied the Greek New Testament and early Christianity, I was becoming aware that Christianity was an ancient faith and that it looked different than I had thought. The ancient Christian practices, and even the reformational practices I was reading about were often very different from what I had previously experienced. I had always believed that the early church was informal and not directly organized by people; I was finding out they were very ordered, even though flexible to cultural need. I had always believed that the early church worshiped in a kind of spontaneous, group led way, and that the Holy Spirit was stifled with too much planning. And yet I was learning that even in the New Testament times they had a liturgy and order, and that all generations followed that basic outline even up to the reformation. And that even many reformational churches still followed that pattern.
It was obvious that the Church was catholic early on. I wasn’t really drawn to those practices at that time, though. But I was wrestling with a conflict. Could Jesus really have founded a church that pretty much immediately became unbiblical and pagan, ritualistic and rote right after Pentecost? Even in the New Testament times. Or is “catholic” biblical? If so, how could it be? I was having a hard time believing that the Holy Spirit had left the church for 1900+ years, only returning during an American revival in the early 20th century. Yet I couldn’t see how the early church and even the reformational churches could be biblical because I thought it was “pagan” or “ritualistic.” I started to feel like you either had to believe that catholic was actually biblical and good, or that the church was apostate for 1900 years. I tended toward the 1900 year apostasy, but was troubled by that. Eventually I just let it sit in my mind and heart.
I also started to doubt the doctrine of “separatism”. While our church was mildly separatist, I had really embraced it even beyond that. This is the idea that we should not identify with any Christians who identify with anyone who is a heretic, or a Catholic, a liberal, etc. Sound complicated? It kind of is. You can’t quote any author, because at some point they may have said something you disagree with. You can’t hang out with very many people outside of the church, because it would look like you are approving of everything they do or say. You can’t go to an interdenominational conference, because what if one of the speakers isn’t quite biblical enough? Then it would look like you agreed with that.
For some Christians who have never been influenced by Separatism, this may seem crazy. And it kind of does make people crazy. And it was driving me crazy. But its really based on a good thought. Its based on the idea that we have to be careful about the truth. We have to make sure that truth is important. But taken to an extreme, it divides people when the whole point of the Gospel is reconciliation. And it forgets that truth is based in love, because God is love.
I began to feel like somehow we can serve together with other Christians, worship together, in the name of Christ, without having to agree on everything. Or that we could work together to bring goodwill to our community, with anyone who also wants to bring goodwill, Christian or non-Christian. I began to be able to connect with mainstream Evangelicals and other Christians. This opened up a lot of new ideas, resources, and friendships. For my own faith, this prepared me to be able to consider, later, that I might be called to a different tradition. But that would be okay, because I now saw that Christians are one Body in Christ, regardless of our different ways of worshipping, thinking, and serving. It wouldn’t have to be a “total change” or a “black and white” decision if I did change traditions. It would just be another room in the house of God, as C.S. Lewis said in Mere Christianity.
Don’t Burn Bridges
Unlike many Anglican converts, I didn’t initially try to find a church like the ancient church. Later, I would kind of stumble upon it and be welcomed into it. But I’m kind of a turtle when it comes to change, so it was a few years before I thought about changing traditions.
When after a while I finally started thinking about finding out which tradition I was called to, a pastor friend advised me to root myself in my own tradition for a while. Just love people and see what God is up to there. Stay put. And when the time comes, God will show you what to do next. Meanwhile, you’ve kept your important friendships and your church will understand. Don’t burn any bridges.
I’m very thankful for that advice. My friends from those years are still my friends. My family and friends have been able to stay connected with us, I think in part because they know we love them and we love Jesus Christ. My Dad and our church community at FJF may have wondered what we were doing when we packed our belongings into our station wagon, loaded up our six-week old son, and headed to South Carolina. But I think they knew that we were following our calling.
I give thanks for that crew and for the five years that we spent there. I know they still love us. And I really know they are graceful people, because they’ve supported and loved me for many years – that takes much grace. My brother Rob and I had the joy of attending the FJF reunion a few years ago, with my two sons. Dad, Anita, and Chris were there. My Dad had retired and begun work for our Association. The church itself had closed. Some have passed on to be with the Lord, some have moved. But we all rejoiced that each person is rooted in a faithful church, and most of the community is still connected to one another in some way.
And to top it all off, the building we were in is now the home of a faithful church. This was a traditionally black church, while FJF was a mostly anglo church. But some folks from FJF were called to stay in that same building, and to join the new church, and were welcomed with open arms. A couple of them were asked to become elders of the new church, forming a racially integrated leadership and church.
In the next step we find ourselves in “church limbo,” an Anglican Bishop preaches the Gospel, and we are invited to a church plant that meets in a clubhouse.
Thanks again for reading!
My Anglican Journey by Greg Goebel
- Pastor’s Kid
- Grief, Prayer, and Love
- Pastoral Ministry
- Church Limbo
- The Plunge
- Back to the Future
- Church Planting