This entry will be posted at my personal blog, Cognitive Dissonance, as well, because it is there that I have been archiving a chronicle of sorts for both my journey into Anglicanism and my subsequent discernment into the clergy. It will also constitute a heretofore personally despised mish-mashy style of personal reflection, theological inquiry, and sardonic social commentary that is commonly known by its official nom de plume, Practical Theology.
To begin, I probably ought to offer a little background. As a Pentecostal, the Eucharist (communion) had always been a point of tension for me. First, doctrinally speaking, I was always puzzled by the Evangelical proclivity for the term “ordinance” – especially in light of the strong sacramental disposition of their favorite reformers like Martin Luther. Clearly, I appreciate the distinction much of the Protestant church makes in identifying Baptism and the Eucharist as the principle sacraments. It is a distinction the Anglicans make as well. However, its hard to deny that the term “ordinance” is designed to differentiate between a simple act of obedience to a command instituted by Christ and the sacramental assertion that the same were instituted as a means for receiving grace. In a doctrinal sense, the disconnect is simple. If we practice these “ordinances,” but they have no efficacy (i.e. baptism is just a post-salvation act of obedience, and communion is just commemorative; neither has the power to change you), then why bother with them at all? Indeed, that was the tone that nearly every Evangelical church I attended took – some churches couldn’t be bothered to have communion more than four times a year. It was as if they were compelled by a tradition to which they felt no connection, many times falling into that dead, religious repetition of meaningless ceremonies. The irony being, of course, that this is the same accusation I heard leveled against the high church liturgy and sacramentalism my entire life.
Second, the doctrinal position of most Evangelical churches (let’s not forget that there are very strong and respectable Evangelical movements within sacramentalism) creates an anemic theology. The Sacraments provide an indelible theological connection to the ontological reality of Christ among His people. The Eucharist, especially, provides the framework for understanding how the Church functions as Christ (‘s body) in the world, and how Christ can yet be distinct within the Church as Lord. The sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist also provide a point of contact for modern believers with the death and resurrection of Jesus – it is our participation also in the kerygma of the Church. Through the practice and proclamation of such we not only participate in Christ, becoming Christ to the world and experiencing Christ’s presence in our own lives, but we engage for the briefest of moments in the glory of Christ’s coming kingdom. I don’t know perhaps this isn’t Pentecostalism’s fault. In fact, I rather feel like the focus on the Baptism in the Holy Spirit with evidence of tongues placed the apparatus of faith within me to receive the sacraments so readily. It was like Pentecostalism programmed me to be in a sacramental church. Maybe I was just a piss poor Pentecostal? Nonetheless, my experience with Pentecostalism and Evangelicalism drove me to ask (sometimes divisive) questions about the purpose and nature of the Church. Questions, incidentally, that I have come to believe are answered primarily (perhaps exclusively) in the work of the Holy Spirit through the Sacraments. In fact, this is a link to a page where you can hear a sermon to this effect by the Very Reverend F. Michael Perko, PhD. Hit the drop down menu and listen to the June 6, 2010 sermon – it’s only 11 minutes long (honestly, the 11 minute sermon is better than this entire post – you’re welcome).
Third, by way of personal experience, I always felt that communion was lacking in the Evangelical churches that I visited. It would certainly be nice if I could drum up the corroboration of friends that remember these conversations, but many times I would leave a communion service complaining there just had to be more to it than juice, crackers, and a few verses from 1 Corinthians. Many times, I found myself excited for communion, and those rare moments that God would “speak to me” invariably came during communion services. So, I went looking for more explanation than was handed down by the likes of Grudem, Horton, and Fee. That was when some of the trouble started. In short, and hopefully without sounding bitter, allow me simply to say that my questions (in Bible College) were ignored, side-stepped, dismissed, or received with general irritation. This, of course, only led me to believe I was on to something – and I was.
This was necessary information, I think, in order for you to understand my account of last Sunday. Last Sunday I was blessed with my first opportunity to serve as a chalice bearer during one of our services. I’ll spare you the dramatic retelling of the events of the morning (though, in an inter-personal setting I believe them to be quite powerful) in favor of listing the things about the experience that have impacted me.
First, I was really anxious for weeks leading up to the date I was to serve. I spent a lot of time reflecting on this anxiety, and realized that the Lord was using it to tease out some issue in my heart. Most people who know me personally, would describe me in one fashion or another (some of them in colorful turns of phrase) to be a perfectionist. My origins are less than illustrious, and I had really developed a “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” kind of demeanor. In short, my anxiety over serving was really anxiety over appearances. I want desperately to do things right, and often this desire stems from a need to impress people. So, half an hour before service, I sat in the vesting room admiring a beautiful stained glass memorial and wrestling with my personal desire to be thought well of and the Church’s need for me to be a humble, unassuming servant for the morning. Of course, I did things wrong – and, of course, nobody thought less of me for them. Chalice bearing was a milestone in helping me let go of my pride, though. Indeed, I feel my lay ministry (and hopefully, in the future, my sacerdotal ministry) during the liturgy promises to be the most grounding experience of my Christian walk.
Second, I experienced a general elation about my participation in everything the Eucharist means. My heart was full, and I was on the verge of tears many times as I went through the service and contemplated how blessed (and proud in the good way) I was to be able to participate in God’s ministry of grace to his people. In fact, my heart was full of these emotions when the procession passed my family and my children jumped up and down smiling, saying “that’s my daddy.” The joy of being able to share in their experience was nearly too much to take – God was allowing me to be a vessel of service in their personal experiences with him. Perhaps most importantly, that moment has brought much clarification to my role as spiritual leader in the home (something in which, I must tell you, I have never felt lacking).
Feel free to comment, to share your experiences, or to ask questions. I am blessed by all the ways the community of Christ comes together in my life, not least of which are the people who invest in this blogging community.