There’s a movement happening—a movement of followers of Jesus rediscovering ancient forms of worship in a way that ignites fresh love and zeal for Jesus and His Church. Robert Webber described this movement more than thirty years ago in his book Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail. In the thirty years since Webber released his book, more and more Christians have journeyed the Canterbury Trail, as Winfield Bevins helpfully and encouragingly reports in his recent book Ever Ancient Ever New: The Allure of Liturgy for a New Generation.
I’m proud to be part of this movement, and I, like many others, have found my heart stirred with a fresh love for Jesus and His Church as I’ve journeyed into this old (but new to me) church. No matter how many Anglican journey stories I read, they never grow old. So I’ll add my own story to the mix. Like many of your stories, mine is a story of burnout and new hope in the Anglican tradition.
I spent some incredibly formative years in the non-denominational church-planting movement in the early 2000s, and I’m filled with gratitude to God for these churches. This is the church where I was married, where our children first worshiped, where I first served as a pastor.
However, it’s also in this context that I came to an important crossroads a few years ago. While I was serving as an Executive Pastor at a young church plant, stories of pastoral moral failure were flooding the news. These stories that initially felt distant began to hit closer and closer to home until my own church experienced its own story of pastoral moral failure.
As I journeyed this devastating and difficult season with my church family I was increasingly burned out and disillusioned. Could I trust again? Was pastoral ministry just a sham? Those were just a couple of the many questions floating around in my head.
It was at this moment that I stumbled into the Anglican tradition and unknowingly began taking my own steps down the Canterbury trail. At this critical crossroads in my pastoral ministry (and more importantly in my personal faith), practices that have been embraced by Anglicans around the world and throughout time became tangible means of grace, healing, and hope.
Here are just a few of the elements of Anglicanism that helped me (and continue to help me) experience this grace, healing, and hope.
During my season of burnout, I was at a point of real dullness in my life of personal prayer and Bible reading. I didn’t know how to connect with God in my pain, with the real emotions that I was experiencing. That’s when I discovered the Book of Common Prayer.
I didn’t know anything about Anglicanism, but I somehow discovered that the Book of Common Prayer is central to this tradition. So I went to Amazon to purchase my own Prayer Book, and that led to even greater confusion! Fortunately, I managed to navigate the blur of Amazon search results and had my very own Prayer Book a couple of days later (thanks, Amazon Prime).
When I first opened the Book of Common Prayer, more confusion set in! But I made my way to the Daily Office and, without knowing what I was doing, I began to pray Morning Prayer.
Immediately something happened…my heart was stirred up in worship and devotion like I had not experienced in a long time. In the midst of a dark and dry season, I found these old prayers leading my heart to light and life. In the midst of a lonely season, I found company with the saints around the world voicing these very same prayers. As I immersed myself in the confession and Psalms and collects, I found language for my lament. I found rest and healing in connecting with God through the Daily Office.
As a pastor, I was ashamed to admit how dull and fruitless my prayer life often felt. I had tried dozens of iterations of a “daily quiet time,” but they never gripped both my head and my heart for very long. But as I continued to pray the Daily Office, I found both my head and my heart engaged. My Bible reading was taking on new life through the Daily Office Lectionary, and my prayer life was more robust and fruitful than it had ever been.
J. I. Packer writes, “One way of judging the quality of theologies is to see what sort of devotion they produce.” Here was a tradition that was producing genuine devotion in me.
I was exhausted by my non-denominational church background. This certainly isn’t a critique of all non-denominational churches, just my personal experience.
In my experience, we were constantly reinventing the wheel, spinning our wheels to keep up with the latest cultural trend. I was tired. If this was church ministry, I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a part of it for the long haul.
Then I found my place in the Anglican tradition, and it was a place that felt safe. It’s certainly not a perfect place. But it’s a place that’s securely rooted in hundreds and hundreds of years of tradition that spans both time and space. It’s a tradition that transcends cultural fads. It’s a tradition that embraces daily, weekly, and yearly patterns that become a stable and constant rhythm in the Christian’s life.
At first glance, such a structured tradition may appear to be stuffy. But I’ve had the exact opposite experience. In structure, I’ve found freedom. In consistency and stability, authentic worship has welled-up in my heart. In the Anglican tradition, I’ve found a rootedness where I can flourish as a follower of Jesus.
Anglicanism introduced me to the contemplative tradition, a stream of the Church that I had been unaware of until finding my place in a broader, more “catholic” tradition. As I journeyed through my own “dark night of the soul,” I found real help from the church’s mystics.
As I waded into these new waters, I was initially skeptical. After all, I was formed in a tradition that emphasizes theological-precision and theological “rightness,” so when I began learning from these Church mothers and fathers who initially sounded foreign and strange, I wondered cautiously, “Is this okay? Am I allowed to go here?”
That’s when I realized one of the most appealing things about Anglicanism: at its best, it’s a broad and generous tradition. It’s not exclusive to those who hold to a Calvinistic or Wesleyan view of salvation, or egalitarian or complementarian views of men and women leading together. It’s a large tent filled with diversity. It’s a table where mystery is welcome, where there’s space for theological humility—where “I don’t know” is not necessarily a sign of intellectual weakness but instead an invitation to deeper worship. Where there’s unity around the essentials and lots of diversity around non-essentials.
This is Anglicanism at its best, and it was recently modeled beautifully at Anglican Pastor by the Rev. Dr. Emily McGowin, Fr. Lee Nelson, and Fr. Blake Johnson (at the Theopolis Institute) kindly and generously discussing various views on Women’s Ordination.
There are a hundred more aspects of Anglicanism that drew me into this tradition—like the episcopacy, sacramental theology, the Eucharistic liturgy, and so on and so on. But these are three elements that initially attracted me to the Anglican Church, three elements in which I found healing and rest and health when I desperately needed it. So I stumbled down the Canterbury Trail and look forward to continuing to journey in this tradition that stirs up such deep devotion in me, that roots me in the Great Tradition, and that gives me space to enjoy real relationship with fellow followers of Jesus who love each other even in the midst of disagreement.