There is much about the Episcopal Church and the Anglican tradition of faith and practice that I love, admire, and appreciate. Like both the fundamentalist and Reformed communities before, I am grateful for my time in the Episcopal Church (1993-99 and 2011-2014) and the Reformed Episcopal Church (1999-2013). I continue to enjoy friendship with a number of Episcopalian/Anglican Christians (both clergy and laity) that I have gotten to know over the years. God taught me a lot during that period. I learned to love and appreciate the rhythm of the Church Liturgical Year (Advent has always been my favorite season), the weekly Eucharist, the Anglican choral tradition of sacred music, the pervasive Scriptural vitality of the Book of Common Prayer, the integration of body and soul in the practice of worship, the deep regard for the continuity of the faith in the Church's historical theology, and the wisdom of the historic episcopate rooted in apostolic succession. I could go on. In many ways, the Episcopal/Anglican tradition of faith laid a lot of the groundwork necessary for me to consider seriously the claims of the Roman Catholic faith. So there is a soft spot in my heart for my sisters and brothers from that tradition.
And yet, there were growing concerns in my heart about some aspects of the modern Episcopal Church that began to overshadow the satisfaction I had found there. Like many of the mainline Protestant denominations in the US, the Episcopal Church seemed poised to redefine some of the long-standing tenets of the Christian faith. Being rather orthodox and traditional on such matters, my wife and I both watched with increasing anxiety as the various General Conventions began to question and even reconsider ancient and long-settled creedal and ethical aspects of the faith. Fortunately, we attended church in a diocese that was fairly orthodox, with an orthodox bishop and many priests, and so we felt safer and somewhat removed and isolated from the stormy center of those various controversies. By that time, I had left my position at the Cathedral and we were attending the small Episcopal Church that our Reformed friends attended. They also shared our growing concerns. We were fortunate to have a priest who, like the Dean of the Cathedral and the Diocesan Bishop, was orthodox and believed and preached the Gospel.
During that period, several of us from the two families read extensively from the early Church Fathers and explored the ancient faith of the Eastern Orthodox tradition as well as understanding more about the Roman Catholic tradition. Almost every Wednesday evening after Evensong at St. John's, we would head to a local pub for some "theology on tap." Of course our admiration for medieval monks and their innovative brews increased! Although none of us were ready to seriously consider either communion, these studies helped us develop a healthy respect for the richness and depth of the theological, pastoral, and liturgical perspectives found in those ancient traditions. On reflection, I am certain that a number of seeds were sown by our readings and discussions that germinated later on in our faith journeys.
Meanwhile, the storm clouds on the horizon of the national church loomed much larger and closer for both families and a few others at St. John's. We began exploring whether a smaller, more orthodox Anglican jurisdiction might be willing to help us start a traditional mission parish in the Fargo-Moorhead area. God seemed to smile on our inquiries and soon we began meeting as a nascent congregation of the Reformed Episcopal Church. During those years, we were shepherded by two capable clergy, the first, an intelligent and affable young man at the beginning of his pastoral ministry, and then by a seasoned bishop, who was re-entering ministry after a major stroke, from which he miraculously had recovered. His pastoral experience was extraordinary and very helpful to my family on many occasions. He also became a good friend. We also had the privilege of having the husband and father of the other family ordained a deacon, and he was also able to provide warm pastoral counsel. And boy, could he read the Gospel each Sunday! As well, I was privileged to become active at the Diocesan and even national level as a musician and got to know the other Bishops of the Church as well as priests, deacons, and lay people who attended the meetings. I made several friends during this period who I still remain in contact with, and count them dear to my heart. At it's zenith, the little mission congregation boasted 40 regular members, half of which were under the age of 18! We all settled into a satisfying rhythm of church life.
As with all of our former church homes, I am very thankful for the Reformed Episcopal Church. I learned to take the "Church" very seriously as the mystical body of Christ on earth. I learned to respect and honor the bishops, priests, and deacons who stood in direct line with the apostles through the laying on of hands (both our diocesan bishop and local pastor/bishop could trace their episcopal lineage all the way back to St. John the Apostle). I grew in my faith and delved deeply into the study of the Anglican tradition. I even became a postulant for the diaconate in the REC and began attending Nashotah House Episcopal Seminary in Wisconsin in preparation for eventual ordination. God had different plans, however. Our small mission parish was simply unsustainable as various members decided to explore different church homes, and we could no longer afford the expenses of rent and clergy salary. After 13 years, and with real heartache, our mission closed its doors. Now what do we do?
I cannot leave this part of the story without a nod in the direction of the wonderful professors and students at Nashotah House Seminary. It was truly a blessing to become a "son of the House," and although I am no longer in diaconal formation or in school there, I treasure my time at the House and am thankful for the spiritual formation I received there. Perhaps one of two remaining orthodox seminaries in the Episcopal Church, Nashotah House has managed to weather the storms of controversy in the national church and continues to form priests in the the Anglo-catholic tradition of Anglicanism, and its constituents go beyond the Episcopal Church herself and provides clergy training for several traditional Anglican jurisdictions. The daily rhythm of Eucharist, Morning and Evening Prayer, immersion in prayerful study of the faith, a fully-orbed sacramental view of life, the Benedictine spirit of common meals in the refectory, and on-campus living was so contagious and inspiring that I longed to go back and ached when I had to leave. I count my time there to be fruitful on so many levels, and I am grateful to my professors and their fellow colleagues, as well as the seminarians I got to know. The Anglo-Catholic tradition of worship, sacrament, theology, and pastoral care furthered my curiosity about Catholic belief and practice, and I think perhaps my time there opened the door for the formation of a Catholic Christian in me, though I wouldn't have believed it at the time.
Two years before the Anglican mission closed, the organist-choirmaster position at the Episcopal Cathedral in Fargo suddenly came open. Since our mission parish met in the afternoons, my Sunday mornings were free to step in and help my old parish out. Many of my friends were still there, and the choir felt much the same. The Dean of the Cathedral was also the Bishop of the local Episcopal Diocese. He is an orthodox clergyman and an evangelical catholic in his ministry. I felt as much at home as I could (even though the troubles of the national church were much more palpable than in the 1990s). After the mission closed, and with no where else to turn, Cindy and I decided that I would remain at the Cathedral as organist-choirmaster, and she and our younger daughters would attend a local rural ELCA Lutheran parish near our home 45 minutes east of Fargo-Moorhead. I continued my studies at Nashotah House. It seemed like a workable compromise...