Thursday, March 07, 2013

On Becoming Anglican

In February I became Anglican.

When I was five years old I prayed with my Daddy to follow Jesus.  That decision was eternal.  Becoming Anglican is not eternal.

When I was nineteen I wore a white dress and made a vow to Brian Murphy.  I put on his ring and his last name and said I wouldn’t take it off until I died.  That commitment was binding before God and man.  Becoming Anglican is not binding.

When I was twelve I stood hip-deep in a muddy river with my father who dunked me in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.  Becoming Anglican is not the same as becoming baptized.

But it’s not nothing.

And strong men from Martin Luther to my Daddy made proclamations against the abuses of church structures.  Luther started a Reformation, my Daddy started a Bible study.   The Church of England said no to Rome with the Act of Supremacy and my Daddy said no to some Baptists with a non-denominational church birthed in our living room.  William Tyndale wrote a Bible and gave up his life, my Daddy wrote church by-laws and gave up his salary.

Becoming Anglican is a little bit about that.

Well, there’s more, of course.  There’s the question my friend David asked Brian and me four years ago “What church does your church want to be like?” And my only thought was “Churches are supposed to want to be like other churches?” 

And the grievance of a young Christian blurted to our former church leaders “Yeah, but who do you guys answer to?”  And my first thought was “Church leaders are supposed to answer to someone else?”

And one of my first meetings as a new Worship and Arts leader when Pastor Craig asked me if we could select songs for worship that talked about the "we" instead of just the "I" and I couldn't think of a single one.  And had never, ever even considered before the importance of worshiping as a "we".

Then there’s the Presbyterian provocation of Eugene Peterson, mentoring me away from chronological snobbery and consumer-driven liturgies:

"[Liturgy] is obedient, participatory listening to Holy Scripture in the company of the holy community through time (our two-thousand years of responding to this text) and in space (our friends in Christ all over the world). ... it is a vast and dramatic ‘story-ing,’ making sure that we are taking our place in the story and letting everyone else have their parts in the story also, making sure that we don’t leave anything or anyone out of the story. Without sufficient liturgical support and structure we are very apt to edit the story down to fit our individual tastes and predispositions.
Becoming Anglican is not about persuading others, it’s about aligning me.  It is not a statement against the non-denominational roots I’ve been given, but about finding an ecclesial container large enough, sturdy enough to nourish and sustain the healthiest parts of those roots -- all that was good and true and beautiful.  

It’s a liturgy old enough, broad enough to articulate all that I strove for in years of restless worship and anxious altar calls.  Then and now, I hold out hope that one of these Sundays all of it would blow into smithereens, that the Holy Spirit would rend the heavens and touch down in our sanctuary.  In the meantime, this preacher's kid has found rest knowing that no matter how convicting the sermon or provoking the altar call, at the end of the service it is Jesus Himself hosting the feast. That every  man, woman and child will walk to the front to receive gifts of God for the people of God, while healing pray-ers stand by waiting for the ones who can’t make it that far.

It’s about Scripture. And Spirit. And Sacrament.  It's also about honoring my  mother every time I open my Book of Common Prayer, she who first taught me to breathe prayers from the very Word of God.  And by adding my name to the same denominational family as George Whitefield,  it's about honoring the undying, holy hopes of my father to see Holy Spirit revival in his own lifetime.  My father who spent my 18th birthday in jail for causes of social justice, I honor by standing in the Anglican Communion line with William Wilberforce and John Newton and Hannah Moore. It's a little bit about honoring my hymn-singing grandparents. (Oh, yes, the hymns!)

And maybe I’m the one who was misplaced all those years, stirring up a brew of longing for the sublime, but -- before anything else -- it was the art. Before I knew anything more than a vague notion of King Henry VIII wanting a new wife, it was Anglican artists swimming deep in  the beauty-rich Anglican stream, inviting me to jump in too.  Dorothy Sayers, W.H. Auden, T.S. Eliot, C.S. Lewis, Madeleine L'Engle, Luci Shaw. Also, Bono. Maybe most influential, the lively band of beauty-and-culture-makers who first invited me to drive through the Frio River and then, wordlessly, into the beauty of ancient liturgies.

And when this past January we sat in my parents' living room and said we knew we didn't need their permission but we sure would like their blessing to be confirmed Anglican my Dad didn't have to reach very far back in time to think of great Anglicans he was glad for us to follow.  For my Dad who said "no" to a denomination thirty-five years ago and has prayed together with pastors and priests from many denominations every year since, it's the courage of Anglican leaders like Matt and Anne Kennedy and Tony Seel who said no to the Episcopalians and have led their congregations through all the aftermath of giving up land, buildings and assets in our hometown.  In Austin, it's leaders like Cliff and Christine Warner and the little band of forty at Holy Trinity who said no for the same reasons, giving birth by their own sweat and tears to Christ Church of Austin.

My father didn't really need to know much more to give his blessing.
We were glad to receive it.  

Three Sundays ago we knelt on pillows, submitted bent heads to the hands of a Bishop -- the simple act itself a saying no to misaligned vows I'd made as a non-denominational, independent, me-and-Jesus kind of girl.  In that humble, grateful place I received with open hands, the prayer of blessing:

Defend, O Lord, your servant Tamara with your heavenly grace, that she may continue  yours for ever, and daily increase in your Holy Spirit more and more, until she comes to your everlasting kingdom.  

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