Raised in a squarely evangelical culture, I grew up without conscious knowledge of liturgical denominations—and probably a degree of suspicion toward them.
I still remember the first time I heard the word “Anglican.” It was halfway through college, and to my Southern Baptist imagination it sounded esoteric and vaguely celestial. (Recalling this gives me compassion for the many insurance agents and otherwise who have spelled back my workplace to me as the “Angel-ican” Church.)
My first real engagement with Anglicanism was about four years later when I was halfway through seminary. My husband and I had been worshiping at a Baptist church, but we were growing hungry for a more embodied, sacramental expression of worship.
We had become convinced of the centrality of the Eucharist in forming people whose end is to know God—not just to know about Him, but to commune with Him. And we felt personally called to minister to skeptics through the language of beauty, mystery, and liturgy.
My husband’s own faith journey had followed a similar pattern. Born and raised a chorister in the Episcopal Church (TEC), his personal faith in Jesus did not activate until college; but what sustained his curiosity about God during his years of agnosticism—the thread that God had woven through his heart—was the transcendence he experienced through the beauty of church music.
So we visited an Anglican parish at the invitation of a friend, and from that first Sunday we knew we were home.
It expanded our paradigm to encounter, in one worship service, elements of my charismatic evangelical upbringing alongside the beautiful liturgy of my husband’s childhood. And it was like a drink of fresh water to find all of church history suddenly available and open to us.
With friends and family members who identified as Baptist but also Episcopal, Catholic, and beyond, entering the Anglican tradition felt like coming to a broad place from which we could learn to love the whole Church.
So when we began to discern a call to ordained ministry, we were fairly open to any iteration of Anglicanism.
In Dallas where we lived at the time there were vibrant, orthodox parishes in both the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) and TEC. There was a collegial spirit there and we attended a number of gatherings for young pastors and scholars that were co-hosted by Anglican and Episcopal leaders.
Indeed, while we were grateful to enter the “Anglican conversation” without the painful memories of many in the older generation who had lived through the schism, we felt to some degree like victims of divorce: forced to make a choice, to stand with one denomination or the other.
It was, in some ways, an ironic time to convert to Anglicanism. Many of our seminary friends were drawn to the Anglican tradition precisely because they had become disenchanted with the independent, autonomous mentality of their previous church traditions. So to join a global ecclesial community at the time of a schism—a fracture so disorienting that people sometimes now jokingly refer to “Anglican alphabet soup”—created a cognitive dissonance that we still wrestle with today.
But in other ways, I am thankful to have discovered the Anglican Way when we did. It helped us to acknowledge at the outset of our ministry that this church, like every church, is fractured and broken. There is no perfect denomination.
This realization somewhat depressurized our decision to join the ACNA. It happened, like most things do, partially on purpose and partially by accident.
The purposeful part was the result of a conversation we had with an Episcopal leader in Dallas. After sharing with him our desire to minister in the northeastern United States, he suggested that we would likely be too conservative to be ordained (or hirable) in the specific geographic regions that we were interested in exploring. An evangelical Episcopalian encouraged us to pursue ministry in the ACNA, so we followed his advice.
The accidental aspect of our decision to join the ACNA was primarily about opportunity. During seminary in Dallas, we attended an AMiA (Anglican Mission in America) church and participated in a number of events hosted by a local Episcopal ministry; but upon graduation both of us were hired by an ACNA church outside of D.C. Five years later, we were ordained there as priests.
I am grateful to have had the experience we’ve had of knowing godly Christians in so many expressions of the Anglican tradition. I am equally grateful to have ministered for five years in a church that embraced irenicism and humility in relationships with others who disagree with us. These people and experiences have taught me that my posture is just as important as my position. Specifically:
I hope to support orthodox ministry and parishes of any denomination, especially the Episcopal Church.
What has been modeled for me is that to the degree that Anglicans and Episcopalians can work together, bless each other, or learn from each other in Christian truth, we should seek to do so. We were hewn from the same spiritual rock, and any movement toward true reconciliation or unity is worth making.
To assume “all Episcopalians believe X” or “everyone in the ACNA does Y” is untrue and unhelpful. Each church in every place is a complex mixture of heretics and believers; and every church is full of people who need to hear the gospel.
In my moments of discouragement about the state of the Church—and even in my excitement about the good fruit here and now—I resolve to take the long view.
The issues in my denomination are not likely to be resolved in my lifetime. How much less likely then will I live to see the Church become one as Jesus prayed? However, I can live and minister in my small corner of time and space knowing that I am part of a much larger, much longer story than I even comprehend.
So it is enough for me to do the small things He calls me to do in service to His name, sometimes not knowing if or how those things will come to fruition. It is enough for me to be an imperfect priest in an imperfect denomination in an imperfect world, and to wait with hope for His return.