I grew up in an Anglican home. My mother comes from several generations of Anglicans, in Singapore and Sri Lanka. As a baby, I was christened at St. Hilda’s Anglican church in Singapore. When my parents were introduced to the move of the Holy Spirit in the mid-1980’s in Malaysia, however, their parish wasn’t quite sure what to do with all of it. So eventually, we began attending a non-denominational Pentecostal church. I was 8 years old.
What followed has been almost three decades of a rich and meaningful spiritual life in churches within the non-denominational, Pentecostal or Charismatic streams. I have experienced and continue to experience profound “encounters” through the Spirit in times of prayer, praise and worship, and Bible reading. I have been a witness to and a participant in the good and proper use of the gifts of the Spirit. I love the spiritual vitality that comes from believing that God is at work within His world today!
So when I tell you that I am on a journey to become an Anglican priest (I was ordained as a deacon on February 17, 2014, and, God-willing, will be ordained as a priest in August), it can seem like I have either taken a sharp turn off course or have come home at last. I think there is a sense in which both are true.
Let’s say this is a sharp turn off course…Imagine that you are about to embark on an adventure and you suddenly realize that you do not have what you will need when you get there. You will surely turn around to go and get it.
Over the past few years, I have become more aware of how our practices—what we do and say and sing—shape our faith. While our expression in worship has become more vibrant, our formation as the people of God seems to have become more anemic. As a pastor in a non-denominational church, I cannot help but feel that we do not have the resources that we need for the future that awaits us. We have been too easily swayed by the cult of personality, too quickly enticed by trends and innovations. We need an anchor amidst the waves, a rope that guides us home in a blizzard, roots strong enough to hold up in a storm.
Anglicanism has stewarded many practices from the early Christians, cultivating them and re-setting them in beautiful ways. One might even say that the Anglican gift to the wider Body of Christ is their prayer book. As I’ve visited and participated in other historic Christian worship practices, I’ve gleaned something from each, but have found something special within Anglicanism.
But let’s be clear: this turn in my journey is not a rejection of the non-denominational church; it is—I hope—a contribution to it. I am called to work within the non-denominational church for a renewal that may come from re-establishing our roots. This is, in fact, a bit of what we are witnessing at New Life. What this ordination gives me is perhaps a bit of credibility and legitimacy in borrowing from the rich treasury. Maybe now I’ll be less like a liturgical thief and more like that wise steward Jesus spoke of who brings out treasures both old and new!
Let’s say this is my coming home… I have learned and continue to learn from the diverse and beautiful Body of Christ. But there is something about how the Spirit weaves the details of our story together. I sense that this ordination, first as deacon, and later—God-willing—as a priest, is something of a capstone to what God has been building in me. It feels like my vocational identity as pastor and priest has been named and confirmed. The very best parts of my spiritual heritage are being brought together. The life of the Spirit, the richness of Scripture, and the mystery of the Sacrament are a threefold cord—not easily broken—that I hold onto (or is it holding me?) as I follow Jesus.
But let’s say this is something more… Could this be a bit of a bridge to help us realize how much we have in common in our worship of the triune God? If we become convinced that our little corner of the world is the whole world, we will see any bridge as an invasion not an invitation. But what would happen if we trusted that the Spirit is at work, carrying out Jesus’ prayer that the Church would be one? How might the Spirit help us transcend our traditions in ways that allow us to borrow freely and be enriched by each other’s practices, even if we remain distinct in other ways?
Questions and Clarifications
1. Is new life downtown becoming an Anglican Church?
No. New Life Downtown is a parish of New Life Church. Your giving goes 100% to New Life Church. I am “sent” as an Anglican priest to serve New Life Church. As such, I continue to be under Pastor Brady’s covering and authority, along with the elders of New Life Church. While New Life Downtown does not come under any Anglican authority, I personally hold a “dual citizenship” of sorts, with Bishop Ken Ross as my covering in the Anglican world.
2. What do Anglicans believe?
Anglican theology is, to put it simply, Protestant theology. Their central document is the Bible — they are committed to the Bible as the Word of God — it is God breathed and it is the truth by which we order our lives. They also believe that Jesus is the unique Son of God — that salvation is found only in His sacrificial death and resurrection. This faith in what the Bible reveals is summed up in the historic statements of belief such as the 39 Articles and the Nicene Creed.
Because Anglicanism is not a denomination with a solitary authority figure—it is a communion of bishops—the diversity within Anglicanism worldwide is rich and varied. The majority of Anglicans are in the global south—in Africa and Asia— where Christian orthodoxy and missionary zeal are combined in ways reminiscent of the early church. The majority of them are Evangelicals who affirm the authority of Scripture and embrace the work of the Holy Spirit.
3. Is this the same as the Episcopal Church?
No. Anglicanism has grown out of the missionary expansion of the Church of England over the past 500 years – spreading to 164 countries, with tens of millions of members. This global fellowship of churches is experiencing tremendous growth in the Global South, where these churches are known for their vibrant faith in God and their passion for Mission. The Episcopal Church is one of the “provinces” of Anglicanism worldwide. Because of their departures from the authority of scripture (though there are certainly many bishops and priests who remain faithful to Scripture and are trying to work for reform from within), Anglicans in the Global South decided that there was a need for a biblical and missional Anglicanism in America. The Anglican Church of Rwanda was the first to plant churches in the US as missionary outposts of the Anglican Church of Rwanda in 2000. The name for Rwanda’s Missionary District in America is PEARUSA, and my ordination is through PEARUSA. In 2009 Anglicans in the Global South also established the Anglican Church in North America as a province – PEARUSA is also part of this province while still being primarily connected to the Anglican Church of Rwanda. These are all separate from the Episcopal Church.