Thursday, March 31, 2016

How I Became a Priest

The following appears in the April issue of our parish magazine. It is a very brief history of how I entered seminary and became a parish priest.


Ten years ago on April 22nd I was ordained a priest right here at Saint Alban’s Church by our bishop, the Most Rev’d Walter H. Grundorf, D.D. The church was packed with laity and clergy, friends, and family, all celebrating the momentous occasion. I remember fighting back tears (just as I had to do at my ordination to the diaconate six months earlier) when we began to sing Down Ampney (“Come Down, O Love Divine”). The Rev’d Canon Chandler Holder Jones, SSC (now “Bishop” Jones!) preached, and the Rev’d Raymond Unterburger (now “Rev’d Canon” Unterburger!) presented me for ordination. The bishop’s chaplain was the Rev’d Canon Rob Tregenza, Ph.D.

The story of how I was ordained, however, goes back a lot further than ten years. In high school (a Christian school) it was suggested to me by a few teachers that I might have a vocation to full time Christian ministry. When I went to college (a Christian college) I majored in history with the goal of teaching at a Christian school. I later decided that I wanted to go into pastoral ministry, as that would be a more direct way of “helping” people. (I now know that one should not seek ordination in order to “help” people. But that is a different article!)

While in college I became increasingly frustrated that even though I was paying for most of college I didn’t have the time in my schedule to take an art or music class. Thankfully, I learned from someone that the type of undergrad degree one got had no bearing on being accepted into a seminary. So I switched my major to art (painting) and also began taking a number of music classes (classical guitar) still with goal of attending seminary and becoming a pastor. While in college I participated in off campus ministries such as nursing home visitation and evangelism. At home during the summers I was involved with my local church in various ways. Little by little, though, as I studied art, I lost interest in becoming a pastor. My goal now became to “move to New York City, become an artist, and live a Bohemian lifestyle.

While all of this was happening another important change happened in my life. I discovered Anglicanism. My family was Presbyterian. I was reared at Valley Presbyterian Church in Lutherville… a wonderful church full of great people. My parents are still members. The thing that lead me to explore Anglicanism was my growing interest in liturgy and music, fueled by listening to CDs of the “Tallis Scholars” - one of the world’s premier choral vocal ensembles that specializes in singing Renaissance choral music. Their recording of Robert White’s church music made a big impact on me. The Latin polyphony and Gregorian chanting of the Magnificat, Regina Coeli, and other prayers and motets blew my mind! I had no idea that church could be this sublime. Meanwhile, at the Presbyterian church, our new pastor - a very man - began introducing these sappy and banal Bill Gaither choruses at the end of the Sunday morning service. That, along with the “praise and worship” choruses that began the service (an innovation introduced by his predecessor) was anathema to me. After a while I couldn’t stomach it anymore. I tried visiting other Presbyterian churches in the area but something just did not seem right about them. God was leading me elsewhere… but where?

Then one day I saw an ad in the local paper for Saint Stephen’s Church in Timonium. It was intriguing. It spoke of “proclaiming the historic faith once delivered to the saints” and the “1928 Book of Common Prayer.” I didn’t know what that meant but I thought it sounded good, so I decided to visit. This was back in 1996 or so. The rector Fr. Guy P. Hawtin, was an Englishman, and a really neat person. He is still pastor of the parish to this day, and we remain good friends. The church, which was full of the most fascinating people you’d ever want to meet, welcomed me with open arms, so I began attending regularly. While the music at St. Stephen’s was not very good at that time (now it is tremendous) the liturgy was spectacular. Like most converts to Anglicanism I was astonished at the great beauty and theological and devotional intensity of the classical Anglican liturgy. I was hooked. It wasn’t long before a man named Don Stevens asked me if I’d be interested in serving at the altar.

After attending Saint Stephen’s for almost a year I began to get bored with it. (This happens a lot with people, actually. The initial wonderment of the liturgy and the ceremonies gives way to a boredom with it. I always tell people. “You love the service now, but it will become rote and boring after a while. Stay with it and get over that hump and you’ll be fine.” A priest colleague of mine actually says that it takes 10 years to really become an Anglican!! I would tend to agree with him.) I was just getting ready to move on when I heard that the parish was going to be interviewing a young priest for the position of curate, so I decided to give the church a chance. This man was the Rev’d Chandler Holder Jones. He was young, dynamic, and full of life. After a service where he preached I went to talk with him in parish office. (I remember the conversation including where we were standing, etc. like it was yesterday.) In the course of the conversation it came out that I had once considered becoming a Presbyterian pastor. Upon hearing that Chad immediately said, “Ahh, perhaps God is calling you to be a priest in his Holy, Catholic Church!” I was blown away. I felt like St. Matthew as he is depicted in the famous painting “The Calling of Saint Matthew” by Caravaggio… Christ was pointing at me! The light was on me. I had run from the Lord, but now he caught up to me and wanted me to reconsider becoming a pastor. Over the next few months and years Chad and Guy mentored me, giving me books to read, and getting me involved in the ministry of the church. I was confirmed in 1997 by the Rt. Rev’d John T. Cahoon, Jr. Bishop Cahoon found out that I was interested in possibly becoming a priest, so we met one night for dinner and got to know each other. Nothing really happened though, because I was hemming and hawing again. About that time an opportunity arose with the company where I worked (Keane, Inc. - at the time the nation’s fifth largest IT consulting firm) to go overseas and do consulting on military bases in Germany, Belgium, and Holland. Naturally I jumped at the chance to make tons of money in such a fun way. I lived in Europe for several months traveling from base to base, socking away all of the money. (While working at Rammstein AFB I met the Rev’d Carl Walter Wright, the episcopalian chaplain, and attended his church. How surprised I was, almost 16 years later, to learn that he was a Marylander, and that he’d retired and moved back home. He now serves as archdeacon of the Diocese of Maryland, and we remain good friends, getting together from time to time.)

When I came back home to America I thought, “This is it! The moment I have been waiting for has arrived. I finally have all of the seed money I need to move to NYC and fulfill my dream!” But then I remembered the idea of becoming a priest. I’d been praying about it, and talking to Chad and Guy about it, but never did anything with it. Now I had the chance. But what was it going to be NYC or seminary? I opted for the latter, thinking that if I didn’t like it I could just quit, and then I would never have to worry about the call to full ministry ever again. (Ironically, I would later turned down two job offers in Manhattan with Keane because I was in seminary!)

So, I put in my notice to Keane and applied to Saint Mary’s Seminary, School of Theology. Being a Roman Catholic school they did not want to admit me. I remember having to practically argue with the Jesuit dean of the school and professor of canon law that I had taken lots of undergrad courses in religion and other liberal arts and not just a bunch of art classes. They finally admitted me as a non-resident student in the Roman Catholic seminary. I quickly rented a flat in the Bolton Hill section of Baltimore and got ready to hit the books. Thankfully, Keane decided not to let me go, but rather keep me on as a part time administrative assistant. That enabled me to pay my bills while in school, and eke out an existence. For most of seminary I was impoverished. I barely had enough food to eat… I’d even save the tobacco ends from my cigarette butts to roll into extra cigarettes. At one point I had to steal toilet paper rolls from work because I couldn’t afford to buy any of my own! (Being this poor was good preparation for being a parish priest.) Seminary was an interesting and sometimes alienating experience. The classes were incredible stimulating, and I was impressed with my classmates’ spirituality and intellect. Most of my friends from college abandoned me because I was no longer in communion with their infallible “pope” John Calvin. My parents were not enthusiastic about it and were only marginally supportive. My best friends were people I worked with at Keane, people from church - especially Chad since were around the same age - and some new friends I’d made in the area… Victoria, Dave, Suzanne, Norman, Karl, Gerald, Evan, and some others. The rejection by my closest friends from college had a profound and life changing impact on me. It is amazing how badly Christians sometimes treat each other!

Sometime around 2001 an acrimonious situation had arisen at Saint Stephen’s. Without going into detail, as that is all water under the bridge now, it was very bitter and ugly… enough so that I became disillusioned and left. I stayed on at seminary to finish my degree and graduated in May of 2001. Around this time I converted to the Roman Catholic Church, thinking that would be a safe and wonderful haven. (Little did I know that the sex abuse cover ups would blow up in the national news!) I went back to work for Keane full time on a project with the State of Maryland. Looking back, it is amazing how God always provided for me financially when I needed it. I worked there for about two more years and then just couldn’t take it anymore. The corporate world was making me go nuts. From Keane I went on to teaching art and religion at a now-closed Catholic school in West Baltimore, which proved to be a total disaster. After only a few months I quit and went to work for my old man, who very generously offered me a job. That job was a great experience in so many ways. I learned a lot about the building trade, sales, promotion, and more. But alas, I was not happy. I began applying for jobs in NYC and elsewhere but nothing materialized. Life as a Roman Catholic layman was not very inspiring. While I thought the church looked good on paper, and while I was impressed with the deep spirituality of my classmates at seminary, the reality of life at the parishes was dismal and depressing. The liturgy was insipid and dull at its best, and ghastly at its worst. I was now more miserable than ever before. Everything changed one day when I was driving to Columbia for an interview with American Express Financial Services. During the interview process I began thinking to myself, “What are you doing here, Gordon? You don’t want to do this.” So I got up and walked out. Driving home on 95 I prayed to God, “What do you want me to do with my life, Lord?” He answered me in my heart: “I already told you what I wanted you to. I want you to be an Anglican priest. The only thing stopping that from happening is you!” “Wow.” I thought. “It really is that easy, I guess.” I also though about how much I had sacrificed (a LOT… time, money relationships, and more) to become a priest, and how many other people had helped me along the way, and how I was now doing NOTHING with my degree and training! That did not seem right to me. In retrospect I see how God allowed me to go through that time of “wandering in the wilderness” to test me and equip me for the ministry to which he called me. To this day I use every single thing I ever learned in the corporate world, teaching, sales, and more, in parish ministry!

When I got home I e-mailed my old friend Chad Jones and told him the news. He was delighted and directed me to St. Alban’s Church where he had once served as rector. (Chad was now residing with his family in Florida, and serving as dean of the pro-cathedral.) Obviously this meant leaving the Roman Catholic Church. At the time this was not a hard decision to make, especially because I was so completely grossed out by the sex abuse scandals and cover-ups. I couldn’t believe I had joined such a church! Thankfully they have now straightened all of that mess out.

I returned to the Anglican Church in late 2002/early 2003. Fr. Dic Baskwill, interim rector at St. Alban’s, graciously welcomed me home and got me back to serving at the altar. Other parishioners whom I had known - the Brownes, the Minshalls, and more - were equally welcoming. A month or so later, Fr. Raymond Unterburger came to the parish to serve as rector. Fr. Ray got me back in the process to become a priest. Although I had a seminary degree I had to fulfill certain canonical requirements to be ordained. The bishop had to meet me and approve me, as did various lay and clerical committees. I had to read several books and write papers on them, and then be trained in the art of priestcraft and parish ministry by Fr. Ray and others. It was during this time - in December of 2004 - that I met my future wife, the beautiful Valerie Clemmer. I was ordained to the diaconate at the pro-cathedral one week before marrying Valerie, in September 2010. Ordination to the priesthood came six months later, and took place as I mentioned here at Saint Alban’s. Fr. Ray took up a collection from the parish so I could buy the needed items for my priestly ministry, including vestments, an oil stock, a chalice and paten, and other such items. Ten years on, they show their age, but every time I use them I am reminded of the great love of God and of his people towards me, and of the solemn trust placed in me by the Church.

Looking back on these ten years, there is much for which to give thanks. Celebrating the liturgy and making Christ present on the altar under the forms of bread and wine is a transcendent and mystical experience. Celebrating with families at the big celebrations in their lives - baptisms, weddings, confirmations, etc. - is a great joy. Comforting the sick and afflicted, blessing those who mourn, and burying the blessed dead is a very moving experience.

Being a parish priest is very challenging. I am often asked what it is I like the most about my vocation and that is the answer I almost always give: I like the challenge of it. There is always something new going on. Living on the low salary is certainly difficult - especially if you’re married with kids. It can also be very difficult to minister to a broad cross-section of people (different ages, professions, backgrounds, nationalities, etc.) in a small church setting. The spiritual dimension of the priesthood always keeps you on your toes. Normal everyday conflicts can take on a diabolical dimension when they occur in the church!

I have learned a lot over the years about ministry and myself. I have had to learn to manage my expectations - of myself and of my people. What I think may be a big, successful event or activity for the church may be a total flop because of the dynamics of the parish. In the past I have been crushed when no one shows any interest in a parish activity, or study that I am leading. Now I know not to take it personally, and to channel my energy into figuring out what sorts of activities work to help us grow as Christians and human beings. I have certainly learned what battles to fight, and that it is not worth dying on every single hill. I have learned how important it is to stay grounded in prayer and the study of scripture. The Daily Offices of Morning and Evening Prayer sustain me in my parish ministry and spiritual life.

I want to thank each person at Saint Alban’s, Saint Francis (now Saint Philip’s), and Saint Mark’s Churches for their love and support over the years, for putting up with me and my weaknesses and eccentricities, and for always welcoming and loving me and my family. I want to thank my fellow clergy for their fraternal love support as well. And mostly, I give thanks to our Lord Jesus who, of his own mysterious love, has called me, Gordon Anderson, to serve in his person at the Altar, preach his Holy Gospel, and make him and his matchless love present to people’s lives! Please keep me in prayer as I pray for each of you.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

How is your continuing Anglican parish doing?

There is a a good discussion going on over at the New Liturgical Movement about the challenges that traditional Latin Mass (TLM) chapels and churches face in getting started and staying going. As I read the comments I couldn't help but be reminded of our churches, as we face many of the same problems.

Some of the problems listed that hurt TLM parishes included: cliquish behavior and suspicion of "outsiders;" rude and unfriendly people and clergy with axes to grind; bad meeting times and places; and difficulties from the church hierarchy (i.e. hostile bishops), etc. The last one is not really problem in the continuing church much anymore that I am aware of. (It is certainly not a problem in the APA.) But the other ones are challenges that we sometimes face or have had to face as "traddie" Anglicans.

But there was one thing that was not mentioned - or not mentioned much - that I think is really the main thing that keeps us (and probably them) small. And that is that the culture has drastically declined intellectually, morally, spiritually, and in every other way even since I was a kid. What we do as continuing Anglicans is so incredibly counter cultural that, I think, people just don't know what to make of it or us.

Here are some examples: (Note these are mostly liturgical, but there are many other things that we believe and do [moral teaching, for example] that are just not in step with the culture, and so they think we we are very, very odd.)

Most people today do not even read for enjoyment anymore. Then they come to a church like ours where they find themselves reading Shakespeare-like prayers... and they can barely pronounce the words (or they butcher the pronunciation)! And then they hear the priest exhorting them to read the scriptures, and Morning and Evening Prayer at home! What?? They don't even read comic strips!! Why would they read what we're offering??!

Most people today think that artists like the recently deceased David Bowie were great musicians who created profoundly beautiful and interesting music. Then they come to a continuing church and don't know what to make of traditional hymns, or great organ music, or a great choir that sings chant and polyphony.

Most people today think that dressing up in nice clothes (suits, skirts, dresses, etc.) is strange. So imagine what they think of vestments?!

I could go on, but hopefully you get the idea. The bottom line is that we are more and more speaking an entirely different language from our culture, and the contributes to our small size.

Now I am not advocating that we change these things. But I think we do need to at least be aware of the challenges that face us in these areas. They are not insurmountable. Remember that the Church spread all over the world in the missionary era with what were "strange" liturgies, music, and traditions to those whom they preached the gospel. So these things are not an obstacle to growth per se. We do, however, need to try to figure out how we can reach our world for Christ and his Church given our charisms and traditions, and given the state of people and the world today.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Continuing Church IV: A New Hope

It has been roughly 40 years since the St. Louis Congress, the watershed event that officially began the "continuing church movement." Those of us who call one of the continuing church jurisdictions home are thrilled at the recent news of cooperation among most of the major churches of the movement after years of discord. On one hand the news is not surprising. The move towards unity has been building for a long time: we have been trading clergy, visiting each others' synods, sharing resources, and all the rest of it on some level for quite some time now. On the other hand, what is surprising, is that the acrimony and ridicule leveled upon continuing Anglicans when such events occur is nowhere to be found this time around.

Typically, what are joyous moments for those of us in the continuum are opportunities for some people to insult and degrade us as Anglicans, Christians, and human beings. I remember years ago when FACA ("The Federation of Anglican Churches in the Americas) was formed - a group organized to give orthodox overseas Anglican primates one "continuing/conservative American Anglican Christian body" to talk to you - that a "prominent" (at that time) Church of England (at that time) priest used his once popular blog to trash the entire initiative. Even though he never once mentioned us on his blog he apparently felt he had to do so at this moment... writing condescendingly, "This (FACA) raises more questions than it answers." As I read that I thought to myself, "So does being an 'orthodox churchman' in the Church of England!" What's even more interesting is that this person, when looking for money to finance his doctoral studies in England at the University of Durham asked me in a phone conversation if anyone I knew (in my continuing church connections) would assist him financially! Now he has his degree (for which the Church of England presumably paid) and after serving for a (very) few years in that body he left to become a Roman Catholic layman (his "conversion story" garnering all sorts of "praise") and now he is, of course, a priest in the Roman Catholic Church in England. (Apparently he had a change of heart about his approval of women's ordination and many other issues which, as a priest of the Church of England, he must have agreed with.) But I digress... The point is that continuing Anglicans have almost always driven establishment Anglicans crazy, so anytime something positive happens in our churches it is attacked.

But it is different this time around. No nasty comments that I have seen! Thanks be to God. It is quite nice to be left alone to heal our own wounds and to move on with our ministry, mission, and vocation to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ through our particular charism. I am very happy to work through a slow process to sacramental communion and eventual unity with my fellow continuing churchmen, for whom I have the highest level of respect and admiration. Let us pray for our jurisdictions as we inch closer to together in peace and reconciliation for the greater glory of God!

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Is anyone up for the challenge?

In our consumeristic society no one really wants to be challenged anymore. People want the simplest, schlokiest crap handed to them to devour on a silver platter... or more accurately, a paper plate. Needless to say, this attitude bleeds over into church life. It seems that more and more anything that challenges people in their faith and life is cause for them to leave the church or drift into the "inactive" slot. Anglicans of the "continuing" variety can have an especially hard time with this.

When we wonder why our churches are often so small part of it has to do with the fact that our worship is very demanding. The liturgy of the Prayer Book and related service books, such and the missals, requires a level of concentration, biblical knowledge, and cultural appreciation that is extremely rare these days. Add to that kneeling, saying the responses, standing and sitting, and all of the rest of it, and what I suggest is that a lot of people just don't feel like putting in the effort. It is too much work. And God help you if you try to sing some new hymns and/or service music! It is amazing how many people know almost the entire catalogue of the Beatles and yet they balk when a new hymn or tune is used, or if a Mass setting other than "Willan" or "Merbecke" is used. This is another example of spiritual laziness. Add to that good, solid biblical teaching (whether in sermons, adult studies, or newsletters) and even more people will go. Where do they end up? If they have any level of commitment to Christ and his Church they might migrate to megachurches for a big sloppy plate of "Religious Entertainment." But more often than not they just stay home, proving that they were never converted to begin with.

Our answer to this should be to just keep on keeping on. The worst thing in the world to do in my opinion is alter our worship and traditions so as to appeal to the hoi poloi. This is always a lose-lose proposition. If we challenge people spiritually, those who are up for the challenge will grow in their faith and in knowledge and love of God. I have seen this in my own parish. I have also seen how much the liturgy of the church has improved - the singing especially - when the people have been stretched and challenged to learn new hymns and communion services. (We sing the first, second, fourth, and eighth communion services throughout the course of the year.) From the improved liturgy I have seen a greater level of commitment to the ministry and mission of the church as well. Sure, you will lose some people if you challenge them, but that is between them and God. It is better to be faithful to God than to man.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Dealing With Criticism

Recently I received the following e-mail: (not edited for grammar... name removed)

"I have been away multiple weekends this year and it will continue through the year. so I probably have no right to comment but I find the incense high mass services objectionable and when I mentioned how sad they made me you suggested I go to 8 oclock service. I have to wonder if perhaps the decline in the 10 oclock service is due to the change in high mass services . I do miss singing and what I remember as a low simple service that I associate with St _______. I asked you once what you considered Low Church and you said you'd have to think about it. What have you got against simple services an why cant a service w music w/out incense be offered biweekly to please more people that possible feel as i do.? With hope an respect."

Sigh. How is one to respond to this? Let it be said at the outset that I am very fond of this individual on a personal level. The criticism is the use of incense at our sung Mass at 10:00 a.m. Last year we began using it every Sunday in order to elevate the sense of holiness and beauty in the service. Three people complained... one of whom is this person. At one point she told me that the problem with using incense is that "it brings too much religion into the service." (That's an exact quote.)

The backstory - alluded to in the e-mail - is that this individual and the other two are rarely at church anyway. I know because we are small enough that I can track each person's attendance - and I do so for pastoral reasons. This one - on a year when we had no incense - was only in church 20 times - less than half the time. The others were there even less. One person who, admittedly lives quite far away - was there just 4 times. When I asked where she goes when she's not at our church she told me that she doesn't go anywhere.

What's amazing is that these people come to church so infrequently that they have no idea why the numbers are low. This individual - if she came - would realize that some people have moved, others died, and others have become shut-ins. But they are never here anyway - and were never here much - so they don't know any of that. They hardly know anyone's names for that matter!

So, after ten years of full time parish ministry, I have learned that clergy should not bother responding to e-mails like this. Because no matter the response, people with this attitude are not going to change their ways, and have a spiritual revival, and start coming to church, and supporting the ministry, etc. I've heard of innumerable troubles that clergy invite on themselves by answering people like this... spiritually dead people with hardened hearts. It is best for clergy to focus their energy on the people in their church who are responding positively and build the church from there. When repeated efforts to teach people fail - because they are not around, and don't read anything you send - the only thing that you can do is pray for them, as taking them seriously any other way could put them in spiritual danger.



Friday, October 16, 2015

How to deal with Post-Preaching Depression


While Depression is a rarely-mentioned side-effect to the Ministry, the hours and days after Sunday can be particularly acute. Our Lord suffered His crucible on Friday afternoon. On that same day many pastors are prepping and getting the adrenaline flowing for Sunday. Yet pastors regularly “hit the wall” around Sunday afternoon and this can last until just around the time that one gears up for Wednesday services.

I was first made aware of this in seminary when my Old Testament professor confessed that in his own Ministry Sunday afternoon is one of the hardest things to deal with. He likened it to Elijah coming from his conflict with the Baal prophets, perhaps his greatest victory (or the Lord’s victory through Elijah’s ministry), and immediately falling down into depression (I Kings 19). Yes, I imagine Elijah in a fetal position under a Juniper tree, unable to eat, wishing to die. I can imagine it because I’ve been there. Was all of this because Jezebel wished him dead? Or was it because when we realize that it is the Lord Who is working “exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us” (Eph. 3:20) God becomes very real indeed and we just can’t credit ourselves, and is it this which hurts our pride and depresses us? In this instance, it couldn’t have been the attendance numbers that depressed Elijah or the lack of God’s power in the preaching or the worship. No. It was the opposite. Counterintuitively, it was the fact that God was working that may very well have depressed Elijah.

Sure, sometimes a pastor gets depressed on Sunday afternoons because of the nit picking, the backbiting, the petty comments, the lack of responsiveness and the numbers. Yet, even when God is working, “the journey is too great for thee” and for me (I Kings 19:7). No pastor can be the conduit of God’s power and not be left feeling drained occasionally. A Sabbath rest is one thing and an essential thing. Nevertheless, before taking a Sabbath rest, try the following things to diminish the Post-Preaching Depression.


Don’t take a Sabbath rest – not yet. Make sure that Monday is not your day off, and if it is make it a very constructive day off. Don’t just sit on the couch watching reruns. Talk to a colleague on the phone (if your conscience will allow you not to consider that work). Go golfing, bike riding, and walking in a park. Better yet, wait to make Tuesday your day off or some other day. Make Monday a light day. Some pastors do their sermon prep on Monday, that is, they spend the day in a library, away from people. Some get some minor things done or some immediate things but don’t let it get intense.

Do something on Sunday evening. You can’t just go from high intensity to low intensity. You don’t do it at the gym; you walk after you run. Don’t try it in the Ministry either. This is why Sunday evening services can be so fabulous. It is rarely as stressful as the Sunday morning service and it allows you to wind down slowly instead of going from service to fellowship to brunch to crash. Even better, consider going to somebody else’s Sunday evening service if there is a place where you are comfortable or can remain anonymous. You need to worship too. You have put out the Word, now you need to fill up again. The journey is too great for thee.

Have a post-game ritual. In one church where I was assisting while attending Grad school, I needed to work midnight shift as a security guard on Friday and Saturday night. This meant little to no sleep before Sunday services. Oddly enough, I would often go out for brunch with members of the congregation anyway. I would sleep from about 3 pm until dinner. After dinner I would watch Masterpiece Theater or Masterpiece Mystery. I would snooze the whole time. I am blessed by never being able to remember “who done it” with any particular mystery so it always seems new, but I definitely didn’t remember any of the ones from that time in my life! Yet, come Monday morning, I was actually more refreshed than at any other time I can recall. Many people have “pizza night” on Friday or Saturday night. Because of indigestion, this might be ill-advised before Sunday morning. Try making Sunday night pizza night. It can work wonders. (Growing up in a pastor’s home, we had tuna fish salad sandwiches nearly every Sunday afternoon because it was easy to make after services. I never really liked tuna fish salad sandwiches. I would have preferred pizza.)   

Get better sleep on Saturday night. It is very hard for many pastors to sleep on Saturday night. Any professional minister will tell you need to take it easy that evening. Really take it easy. One Anglican priest in England told another colleague that one should be in bed on Saturday night by 8 p.m. listening to the London Opera. It doesn’t mean you have to sleep. But it does mean you will be more likely to. Don’t watch TV on Saturday night but read a book. Reading is more likely to allow you to go to sleep when you need to, not when you are done staring at the blinking blue light. Eat something easy to digest. When I was boarding with an elderly pastor’s widow and her housekeeper at one point my ministry, they had “Breakfast for Dinner” every Saturday night. I always liked that.

In conclusion, try to avoid Evangelizing when you are tired. If we are upset with the attendance on Sunday, we might feel tempted to make up for it sooner than we should. One prominent pastor I knew would have a sandwich on Sunday afternoon and then go out and visit every congregant who was not in church (assuming that they must have been ill if they had not been at worship). With his personality, he could pull it off. Most probably couldn’t. But he considered this part of the normal Sunday activities and no doubt crashed later. However, when we are tired and worn out, we make mistakes and can undo all the good work of the week by not respecting the physical limitations that God knew about when He gave us bodies.

There is a line from Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe in which Rebecca the Jewess says to Sir Ivanhoe, “thy weakness and thy grief, Sir Knight, make thee miscalculate the purposes of Heaven.” At the time, Ivanhoe was wounded from a tournament and captured in a castle. These words sum up why it is that one should be careful evangelizing when tired. One’s perspective is skewed. The statements that flow from the mouth are not accurate as to how God really is working with power in “your” Ministry – because He is! When we come out of Sunday services, we are often not ourselves and there is nothing wrong with choosing the better part of valor when possible and not presenting ourselves in public until reasonably well-rested.



Fr. Peter Geromel is Assisting Priest at Church of the Incarnation and an adjunct professor of Philosophy at Northampton Community College. Educated at Virginia Military Institute, Hillsdale College, Reformed Episcopal Seminary and the University of Dallas, Fr. Peter has authored Sublime Duty: Its Emphasis in The Anglican WayChrist & College: A Guide from The Anglican Way, and Frankincense & Mirth on HighHe manages Traditional Anglican Resources.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Is your Church a Victim or Creator?


Recently in a course I am teaching on College Success, I became aware of the distinction between “Victim” and “Creator” language as a result of the teaching material provided by the college. The distinction is straightforward and the assignment likewise. Simply translate “Victim language” into “Creator language.”

Take, for example, the following:

“I would be doing a lot better in college if the teachers were any good.”

“They ought to do something about the food around here.”

“I couldn’t come to class because I had to go to the dentist for a checkup.”

“I can’t help sleeping in class.”

All you do is change the language. One might say “control the language and you control the battle.” Here is some corresponding “Creator language.”

“I need to find better teachers at this school and do more research online.”

“I should pack my own lunch.”

“I need to find out from a classmate what we covered while I was at the dentist.”

“I need to stand up during class instead of sit down and then I won’t fall asleep.”

What is even better in this exercise is to not only “create” but “excel.” This requires finding opportunities instead of obstacles. For example,

“I can’t go to class because my car needs to go to the shop and that class period is the only time that the mechanic can accommodate me.” You could change this to:

“I will get my parents to drive me.” That’s “Creator language.” But “Excellent language” changes an obstacle into an opportunity.

“I will ask the professor if I can make an announcement in class to see what other student lives near me. Then perhaps I will make a new friend and even start to car pool to save on gas and auto repair costs in the future.”

All of this a parent or grandparent or pastor could teach a young person or student. Unfortunately, those same parents, grandparents and pastors often regularly allow similar “Victim language” to control their lives and the church. This may reveal that those authority figures and mentors are not really masters of the art, but only beginners themselves. Church board meetings can quickly turn into “Victim language” sessions in which the vicious “woe-is-me” cycle scenario is talked through time and time again. The impression formed is that, just like the student, those who should be elders and teachers of the Christian community just don’t really want to try and succeed. They want to be victims instead. See if the following dangerous scenario resonates with you:

“We can’t grow because the parking lot isn’t big enough. We don’t have enough money to build a larger parking lot. We don’t have enough money because we don’t have enough people. We can’t get enough people because the parking lot isn’t big enough.” So compared to younger folks the “Victim language” is more complicated and sophisticated, sophisticated in the art of subtle “Victim-hood” but not actually or ultimately paralyzing. As my grandfather used to say, “There’s a solution to every human problem; we just might not like the solution.”


In fact, this complicated Victim language is a bit ridiculous, like the song, “There’s a hole in the bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza”. This is a children’s song which goes around in a circle. “There’s a hole in the bucket” says the husband, Henry, to his wife, Liza. “Then mend it” says the wife. “With what?” says the husband and the song goes around in a circle. Eventually the axe is dull and needs sharpening and the wet stone is dry which means water is needed but something is needed to carry the water at which point the problem again becomes “There’s a hole in the bucket.” Then the song begins again like another children’s song, “This is the song that never ends.”


And this song of Victim language is the song that never seems to end when it comes to churches overcoming the problems that they face. One eventually wonders whether churches would rather sing the song or find opportunities in the midst of obstacles. Will we be teachers of Wisdom or will we perpetuate paralysis?

     Painting of a Difficult Vestry Meeting
by John Ritchie, 1867

Fr. Peter Geromel is Assisting Priest at Church of the Incarnation and an adjunct professor of Philosophy at Northampton Community College. Educated at Virginia Military Institute, Hillsdale College, Reformed Episcopal Seminary and the University of Dallas, Fr. Peter has authored Sublime Duty: Its Emphasis in The Anglican WayChrist & College: A Guide from The Anglican Way, and Frankincense & Mirth on HighHe manages Traditional Anglican Resources.