I’m typically not a “let’s look back at the past year” kind of guy, but I must admit that 2017 was a big year for me. Last January I was happily working in a church with people that I had known for almost a decade and a half and living in one of the most beautiful cities on earth. And then God said, “Time to shake things up a bit!” So in March, off I went to southwest Missouri to begin a new adventure as the Rector of All Saints Anglican Church. I’ve discovered that being a rector is like being a parent. You really don’t know what you are getting yourself into until it is too late. Nevertheless, it has been a wonderful experience and I have learned a great deal in the past year. So please indulge me for a minute as I get nostalgic and look back at the things I learned in 2017.
Always listen at least twice as much as you talk
Despite what anyone might think, being in charge is not about doing what you want or getting your own way. Quite the opposite, in fact. As a leader, your priority should never be what you want, but rather what is best for those you serve. To figure out what that is, you need to take time to listen. It is important to find out where people are coming from. What are their fears? What are their challenges? What are they excited about?
Since coming to All Saints I have been blessed with some wonderful guides and counselors such as Fr. Doug, Darla, our vestry, and many others. My prayer for the coming year is that the Lord might give me the ears to hear what his people are saying, the heart to understand it, and the hands to put words into action.
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas! I love Christmas lights on houses and Christmas wreaths in store windows. I wait anxiously every year for Christmas music to start playing on the radio and there is something delightfully peaceful about sitting in my living room with only the Christmas tree lights to illuminate the house. So why isn’t the church getting into the Christmas spirit? Are we just a bunch of Scrooges? Not at all! The church loves Christmas. We also love Advent.
Just like the song says, there are 12 days of Christmas, but these days don’t begin until December 25th. The time leading up to Christmas is a separate season called Advent. The word “advent” refers to a coming into being and it is a special time of preparation in the life of the church. However, we often get confused as to what we are preparing for. Many Christians assume that Advent is a time to prepare for Christmas. I can’t tell you how many “Advent” devotional guides I’ve looked at over the years that talk about Christmas, and baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph and the shepherds. And while there is nothing particularly wrong with that, it misses the real point of the Advent season.
Someone asked me recently, “If your church disappeared tomorrow, what impact would that have on your community?” In other words, what does All Saints offer to the community that is unique? As I pondered that question one thought kept coming to me: We offer to the community a view of the beauty of God. Three hundred years ago, the most beautiful buildings in the world were churches, the most beautiful pictures were painted using Biblical themes, and the most beautiful music was written to the glory of God for use in the church.
So where has beauty gone in the American church? We have traded our organs and choirs for rock bands and light shows, our altars and pulpits for tables and bar stools. Rather than stunning cathedrals that took decades to build we now have pre-fab steel buildings that go up in a weekend. We have rejected beauty and called it ostentatious or garish. We have cut corners on houses of worship in order to have more money for "ministry." But did we ever stop to think that perhaps things that are beautiful can actually be ministry?
Years ago I had a woman approach me after a Sunday morning service and ask, "Don't these young people know that we have a place for their children?" I replied, "Yes, they do. That place is right here worshipping with their parents." I was't being snarky. Nevertheless, this comment is symptomatic of what I see as a huge problem in the 21st Century Church. We are silo-ing ourselves to death! Many churches today operate on what I like to call a "silo mentality" of ministry. You come into church and are immediately placed in a group with other people just like you, where everything is custom designed for your little niche. Our favorite group to separate out is the children. Of course, every church should have an exciting children's program with an active Sunday school and an inviting nursery. But we should always strive to make worship a family event.
Over the past 10 years I have witnessed a pretty steady stream of Evangelical Christians coming into the Anglican Church. These men and women have a desire for liturgy, tradition, and a connection with the historical Church while at the same time wanting to retain Biblical teaching and preaching, and thus Anglicanism is a perfect fit for many of them. And while many are ready to embrace the Anglican theology of the Eucharist, there is often reticence when it comes to infant baptism. For many Christians today, baptism is about making a public affirmation of belief, about dying to the old self and being raised with Christ. How then, can the Anglican Church justify baptizing infants who are unable to make such a profession of faith?
Ministry is not always easy. A number of years ago, my congregation and I were forced to take a stand for Biblical truth, and the consequences of that stand were all too real. After a lengthy and expensive court battle with our previous denomination we were forced off the property our congregation had paid for and maintained for years. In many ways it was a devastating blow. We had been a large, thriving church with many different programs and resources for the people we served, and with the stroke of a pen we lost everything. As we sat with our Vestry trying to plot a way forward, our senior warden spoke some very wise words that have stuck with me. He said, “As a church, our primary duty is to worship God. If that is all that we do, it is enough.” He was absolutely right. A church’s primary responsibility is always the worship of our Lord, and All Saints has always done that, and done it well.
On June 10th, D.J. Johnson and Robert Little were ordained to the Sacred Order of Deacons in the Anglican Church of North America. But what exactly does that mean? Many denominations use the term "deacon," but what they each mean can be vastly different. Since so many folks at All Saints are new to Anglicanism, I thought that perhaps a quick primer was due.
What is the Diaconate?
As Anglicans, we view the Diaconate as one of the three orders of ministry along with the Presbyterate (i.e. priests) and the Episcopate (i.e. bishops). Every priest is first ordained as a deacon, and every bishop is first ordained as a deacon and then a priest. In the Anglican church, we view ordination as a sacramental act. Thus, the result is not simply functional, but also ontological. A person is ordained as a deacon not simply for a local congregation, but rather for the entire church, and he remains an ordained deacon for the rest of his life. This is because the deacon is under the authority of a bishop rather than a local congregation. In the ordination service, the new deacon confesses, "And I do swear by Almighty God that I will pay true and canonical obedience in all things lawful and honest to the Bishop of ___________ and his successors: So help me God." So even though most deacons serve in a parish, their ministry to that parish is through the Bishop. Thus, a deacon must always be under the authority of a bishop.
My wife and I had Ephesians 5:21-33 read at our wedding. From our perspective, there is no better description of practical marriage than these verses. But some of our friends were taken aback by this choice. They wondered how we could possibly believe such an outdated, patriarchal, male dominated view of marriage? Twenty-two years later and this section of Ephesians often provokes a similar, if not even more heated, response. However, when we take time to really read and understand what Paul is saying we realize that what may appear at first glance as oppressive is in actuality life giving.
For starters, we need to make sure we don't ignore verse 21, which gives us the full context of what is to follow. Paul says, "Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ." Paul is about to describe a number of different household relationships (husbands and wives, parents and children, slaves and masters), but the underlying principle for all of them is mutual submission. Now this may sound like an oxymoron. When we hear the word "submission," we automatically think of a power differential, of one person imposing his or her will on another person. That was the world Paul lived in, and it is the world we live in today.
One of the themes that I heard repeated time and again during the interview process in January was that All Saints was experiencing growing pains. It is pretty amazing to see how far the parish has come since those early days in John Simmon’s living room, and while growth in the church is always a wonderful thing, it usually presents new challenges as well. During my first month as Rector I have tried to sit back and get a sense of things, and I have discovered that while All Saints is really moving into the “large church” category, in many ways we are still operating like a small church. It reminds me of a teenage boy who keeps hitting his head on things because he is trying to figure out how to move around in this larger body. Sure, it may hurt at times, but it is all part of the process of growing up.
The Rev. Eric Zolner
Father Eric is a 3rd generation Anglican and the Rector of All Saints Anglican Church in Springfield, MO.