This article serves as the second diary entry for the missionaries first mentioned in a recent article here at the North American Anglican. In this continuing series, we hope to highlight some of the day-to-day challenges which face a church plant in the year of Our Lord 2021 but also to glory in the small miracles which await those who attempt great things for the Gospel.
One of the joys of reviving an Anglican church is the restoration of the prayer book’s rhythms for lay and clerical worship. We started this process by re-instituting daily Morning and Evening Prayer at Trinity, and it has been fascinating to witness the effect these simple, elegant services have on the lives of those who long for holiness (even if they aren’t sure why they are drawn to them). One of the young, busy mothers in our congregation introduced me to a benefit I had never even really thought of before when she told me how wonderful it was to be able to listen to one of our broadcasts in the morning before she began the many rituals to which our modern world has yoked us. The Daily Office makes this kind of contact with the Word of God possible, and in those encounters our lives cannot help but be more perfectly brought into the pattern of our Lord.
While we do open the sanctuary every day and night, most of our participation has been through the live stream we broadcast on Facebook and YouTube. Honestly, I do very much worry about the danger of blurring the line between church and entertainment which comes from live streaming services, but we weighed this danger against the benefit of introducing our community to the entirely foreign idea of a church worshipping God together every day. It is always fascinating to see people’s reaction when we tell them we have daily morning and evening services: some associate daily worship with Roman Catholicism (although, the Roman church down the street is unable to maintain daily services due to a lack of clergy) but most people simply cannot fathom the idea of such a practice—church being the thing one does on Sundays or occasionally on Sundays as trends progress. The good news of this reaction is how distinctive this discipline makes a church following the prayer book’s insistence that the worship of God govern our days, rather than the pursuit of wealth or kid’s sports or the sucking-maw of our screens.
This strangeness, not for its own sake but as a consequence of coming into contact with the otherness of God in Word and Sacrament, cuts through the noise provided by the lifeless husks of main-line and seeker-friendly churches which continue their zombie-like shuffle in so many of our communities. One of our guests remarked after chanting the Litany for the first time that, despite her weekly attendance at a PCUSA church, it had been so very long since she had heard anyone mention Satan. We might ask how churches possibly hope to survive when they can’t even mention the name of our chief enemy? One must assume they won’t last long—a sad fact which must please the enemy who dare not be named by his clerical enablers.
Which brings me to a topic I have struggled with, namely, is there anything to be gained by our clergy joining local ministerial associations? For those unfamiliar, in many small towns the local church ministers have meetings, schedule ecumenical prayer services, and work together on service projects and such. These organizations may have made some sense in the distant past wherein most of our disagreements were a matter of polity, sacramental efficacy, and the finer points of doctrine (very important but within the boundaries of good faith disagreement), but now, these groups are populated by men and women who can’t say the Nicene Creed without crossed fingers behind their backs. At what point does our participation in these organizations reveal a lack of faith in the Gospel it’s now no longer necessary for its members to believe?
Incredibly, these sclerotic organizations manage to do the almost impossible task of alienating young people (inoculating them against the gospel by elevating political causes or secondary doctrines) while madly abandoning the faith and practice which converted nations and brought emperors to their knees. Niceness replaces sanctification as the goal of the Christian life, and like the Cheshire cat, eventually, all that remains is the smile. Others may come to a different conclusion, but I do not believe Anglican churches should not attempt to become a less apostate replacement for whatever church in our community represented high social status (despite the apparent attraction of pretending we are better than those “lower class” Christians—a position both suicidal and untrue); rather, we should make common cause with those who look at the ranks of compromised churches and say, “We want nothing to do with those people.” And, perhaps, we should recognize that those who wretch at the hypocrisy and inanity of these false churches may be closer to the kingdom of God than those who merely watch and smile as their jurisdictions deny ever-greater portions of the martyr’s faith.
The hard part of an evangelistic project aimed at such people is the real pain they have experienced at the hands of dying churches as well as the philosophies they have imbibed as a result of the intellectual vacuum within which these churches live. Defenders of the Christian tradition find ourselves not only battling Nietzsche and Freud, but also whatever ignorant nonsense was barked at the poor soul who dared question Pastor Rob and his enablers. This task will not be an easy one, but Anglicans have the great advantage of a robust intellectual tradition, which at its best, served as a humble yet powerful handmaiden for knowing God in Scripture. One need look no further than Richard Hooker’s masterful defense of the Anglican Way to see a churchman display a far superior explanatory apparatus than what his Puritan and Roman opponents were offering. Very little has changed; the same arguments are being made by the same groups, and our gift to those who are entirely unsatisfied with weaponized proof texting and papal infallibility should be the catholic fulness of the Anglican Way. But, as Hooker notes, it takes real work to defend the truth. It takes an intellectual discipline which seeks knowledge without ever forgetting what our master’s voice sounds like. If our clergy and laymen can exhibit this kind of confident faith to our pagan neighbors, I do believe we can aid the Holy Spirit as He cuts through layers of lies and pain to bring the lost home.
As always, please do keep us in your prayers as we begin our third month of public worship, and if you are so inclined, we are accepting donations and sponsorships on our website: https://trinityconnersville.com/