Exploring ordination from a non-Anglican background

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A figure not included in Church of England ministry statistics – but perhaps should be – is the number of clergy who come from non-Anglican backgrounds before training for ministry. .

All courses and colleges will have a good proportion of these spiritual migrants, especially those with non-denominational evangelical roots. The stories of those who have found a home and a vocation within Anglicanism have many common themes – a changing relationship with Scripture is perhaps most often mentioned – and yet all bring their experiences to ordained ministry. unique, which usefully serve to enrich and evaluate the Church and its processes.

For Reverend Ayo Audu, assistant parish priest of St Frideswide’s, Water Eaton, near Milton Keynes, who grew up in an independent church in London which had a “Pentecostal flavor”, it was indeed a matter of moving away from a literal approach to the Bible. which first attracted him to the Church of England.

“I was taking a Bible study module on Genesis, and I remember being amazed at how it was put together and redacted, and having to seriously grapple with the idea of ​​the creation story. as a myth.

“Thanks to God’s strange economy, I found myself drawn to Anglicanism, then to ordination training, and began to understand that questioning the Bible does not make it less valuable; the Bible not being literal does not mean that it is not inspired by God. If anything, this is further proof that it is, given the continuity of the message despite being crossed and scarred by many human hands. Surely it is [an] greater testimony to the majesty of God.

One of the greatest challenges facing Mr. Audu, ministering in the Church of England, is to answer adequately the question: what does salvation mean?

“In my past, the focus was on ‘solution evangelism’: telling people that they can pray to Jesus for salvation and for their problems to be solved, which is very transactional — as if the name of Jesus was trustworthy. I’ve been more and more influenced by Sam Wells’ idea of ​​mission as embodiment ministry, and I’m beginning to think that just “being with,” my presence, is all I can offer in a changing culture as fast as the UK. »

Before going forward for their Bishops’ Advisory Committee, most applicants will need to demonstrate an understanding of the scope of the Church of England. Diocesan directors of ordinands encourage visits to places outside their comfort zone if they have spent most of their worship life in a tradition.

For the Reverend Rhoda Blackwell, assistant curate of Newbold Parish Church, Chesterfield, who grew up in Plymouth Brethren Christian Church, this experience of the breadth of tradition was something she savored throughout. throughout the vocations process.

“I trained in St Hild, Yorkshire; one of its teaching sites is STC Sheffield, an Anglican/Baptist ecumenical church, and the other is the Resurrection Fellowship, Mirfield, at the other end of the spectrum. I loved listening to what other people enjoy. I always keep in mind FD Maurice’s idea of ​​“wholeness”: that the Church is greater than the sum of its parts. He said, “If anyone claims to know the whole truth, we have a right to be skeptical,” and I stand by that.

When the Reverend Jan Ashton, former Rector of St Stephen’s, Hightown, in the Diocese of Liverpool, now retired, also from a brotherly background, first encountered the Church of England, it was the intercessions who appealed to her the most. “I was amazed by the feeling that everyone is praying for the good of the whole world, and I fell in love with it. In my past, we prayed for nothing but for people to be saved. I only really learned to pray since I became an Anglican.

She was ordained a deacon in 2007, but first felt a sense of calling when she was eight, although at the time she assumed it had to be missionary because women don’t were not allowed to lead.

When she finally started training at Westcott House – “It took me 20 years to properly leave the Brethren, which means living without guilt” – she did so without her family’s blessing. “However, I know that when my mother was in a retirement home, she was visited by an Anglican priest. I like to think that in her last days she was able to enjoy the ministry of an Anglican woman, which might as well have been me.

The quality of transgressive feeling experienced by women who grew up in churches that teach male leadership is well understood by the Reverend Charlotte Cheshire, school chaplain for the Diocese of Lichfield. She grew up in a 1,200-person megachurch in Canada and had felt a calling since she was a teenager. “But when I expressed it to a youth worker, he said, ‘Well, you must be called to be a pastor’s wife.’

Reverend Rhoda Blackwell

“That experience, and others, started to shake me inside, and when I left home to go to college in Toronto, I had a mental health crash.

“I couldn’t find a place to mourn in any of the churches I used to go to. I remember waking up on Good Friday and feeling like I had to go to church somewhere. So, I snuck into the back of a packed service at the Anglican Cathedral.

“On the one hand, I was absorbing the alien beauty of the cult, and on the other, I genuinely felt that I might be possessed by a demon – that’s how traumatized I was.

“As I was watching the procession of the clergy, I saw a woman dressed in all the cathedral clothes – it was extraordinary for me. I heard a voice behind me say: “One day you will do this” , but when I turned around, no one was there. I left that day feeling totally at peace – and hooked!

“After that, I immersed myself in cathedral life; I made myself a total pest for the clergy, asking “why” about everything, but they answered my questions with such grace and meaning.

The Reverend Marianne Foster, assistant parish priest at St Mark’s, Oliver’s Battery, in the diocese of Winchester, also saw her sense of vocation delayed, having first felt called to ministry at the age of six, when he was asked to read the scriptures at his parish-song service. “I stood up in the pulpit and had a deep feeling that this is where I should be,” she recalls.

As a teenager, she joined the local non-denominational evangelical church, drawn to the passionate teaching of the Bible. “I remember eight-minute homilies being replaced by in-depth 60-minute lectures, and I loved it. I even did better in school, because I learned the importance of in-depth study and critical thinking.

Over time, however, she grew increasingly uncomfortable with the church’s views on male leadership, particularly once her four children were born. “I looked at my daughter and thought, ‘What if she feels called to lead? What am I telling him by staying here?

His family started attending their local Anglican church. Ms Foster described being upset when the vicar asked if she had ever considered exploring ordination. “I was completely distraught. The thing that I had buried for so long had been seen by someone else, and there had been this immense outpouring of grief. I replied, ‘I think I l probably missed. Am I too old?”

She was ordained a priest this summer. “My experience of the Church of England has been like an infinitely generous and spacious place, where I have been able to determine who I am. For that I will be eternally grateful.”

ANOTHER young priest whose call to the Anglican ministry has also been a journey of self-discovery and affirmation is the Reverend Dr Evan McWilliams, assistant priest of St Bartholomew the Great, Smithfield, and chaplain of St Bartholomew’s Hospital.

Dr. McWilliams grew up in the Presbyterian Church in America, Florida, before exploring Episcopalian worship while studying architectural history in college and then Anglicanism during his doctorate. studies in York: “I became really interested in the Book of Common Prayer and started attending matins most weeks.

“But the most important thing, for me, was to be in an environment with faithful Christians, but with such a diversity of interpretation. Being able to ask questions without being crushed meant that I could go from a system of thought self-referential – what you get if you go from a place where scripture explains scripture – to a non-monolithic view of the Bible, which is more accessible and more alive.

The Reverend Dr. Evan McWilliams

“It was also the first time I had met openly gay people in church. I realized I was gay in my late teens, but the environment I grew up in protected me from any gay experience. I only realized the trauma of this once my new church environment gave me space to explore, somewhere more comfortable and wholesome, and only then did I could recognize a call to ordination.

He later trained at Cranmer Hall, Durham: “I learned to use the Bible as a lens, to do justice both to the text and to the full range of human experience, which meant accepting myself -even and also the roots and foundations of my faith.

For another Floridian, Jeremy Heuslein, his call to ministry and Anglicanism has been characterized by what he describes as the pursuit of “the social gospel.” He grew up in the Christian and Missionary Alliance, an offshoot of Presbyterianism that focused heavily on world mission. Now in his second year at Ripon College, Cuddesdon, on a journey that took a stint at the University of Leuven, Brussels, where he became involved in a diocesan community in Europe, he believes he is now more motivated by “the gospel as liberation here and now — not just the idea of ​​eschatological salvation.

“Jesus cared about the living poor. If Christians align themselves with the reign of God, that should also be their pursuit. I grew up in a tradition where the gospel felt very disembodied. But, since I know more about the incarnation, it has changed radically, which is linked to a more sacramental practice and expressing this materialism in the liturgy.

A similar intertwining of vocation, identity and personal interest defined Reverend Dr Zachary Guiliano’s journey from an Assemblies of God church in Illinois to chaplain at St Edmund’s Hall, Oxford, via a doctorate. in the history of the Church. “I had graduated with a degree in Bible studies in college and started digging into the history of my denomination and its relatively recent beginnings in the 20th century.

“It was then, during a summer course in Church History in Oxford, that I began to discover the richness of the tradition of the Anglican Church. My wife and I are both passionate musicians, and we also enjoyed the depth of the musical tradition, as well as the visual and ritual space, and how these things relate to the long history of the faith, both its riches and failures.

“I am still shocked at the number of Anglicans who go to confession and say they find it to be the most miserable expression of worship. I’m like, “Wow! You haven’t seen what else is over there.

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