Monday, November 10, 2008

Diocesan Independence and the War Between the States

As we in the Diocese of Fort Worth approach our historic convention at which we will determine whether or not to sever our relationship with the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, it has become necessary to reassert an element of the precedent for our action, and thereby confront the charge that our deliberations and our possible move are historically unfounded and illegal.

In addressing his diocese’s separation from the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, The Right Reverend John David Schofield, Bishop of San Joaquin, likened their decision to that of the Southern dioceses, which, during the Civil War, withdrew from that Convention and formed the General Council of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Confederate States of America. He maintained that his diocese, as an independent jurisdiction, had the right to separate from the General Convention, as those Southern dioceses did. Some, however, have suggested that the Confederate dioceses had to separate because of the Southern states’ secession from the Union, and thus any analogy with our present situation is flawed. Quite simply put, their argument is that if the states in question left the United States, their respective dioceses could not have, therefore, been a part of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America. From there some have reasoned that there is no inherent freedom in a diocese to separate from the General Convention.

In addressing that claim, it is best to begin with the assertion that the Southern Dioceses had to separate from the General Convention. While many Southern Bishops felt the secession of the states to require a separate ecclesiastical structure, not all Southern bishops accepted this notion. The Right Reverend Thomas Atkinson of North Carolina refused to accept that the actions of the state had any bearing on the dioceses, but rather that the Confederate dioceses acted of their own accord, as they had the authority to do. The following quotations from Bishop Cheshire’s work The Church in the Confederate States: A History of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Confederate States and from Bishop Atkinson’s Diocesan Convention addresses illustrate his position on the independence of the diocese as an ecclesiastical entity:

“ … And now that soundness of judgment and clear view into the true principles of Church polity, which Bishop Atkinson had showed in 1861, became manifest. Of all the Southern Bishops he was the least embarrassed or trammeled by the results of the war. Those who had maintained, in theory or in practice, that political separation, ipso facto, produced, nay, effected, ecclesiastical division, had to face the correlative of that proposition--namely, that the restoration of civil unity necessitated, if it did not ipso facto restore, ecclesiastical unity. He, on the contrary, had maintained, and had acted upon the principle, that political union or disunion did not of itself at all affect the Constitution or organization of the Church. Therefore, when the war ended, and the union of the States was assured, his position was no ways affected. His hands were free and his mind also was free. He had no need to struggle to reconstruct his principles, or to cast about how he might save the remnants from the wreck. Party heat had not affected his judgment in 1861, and he came to the consideration of the situation in 1865 with the same calm mind and clear vision. He said to his people, in effect: The war is over. Bitter as is the confession--we have failed, and all the States are again united under the authority of the Federal Government. We acted for the best. We have no regrets, and we make no apologies. We formed the Church in the Confederate States, because we found it necessary to do so. We did not wait to ask permission from the Dioceses in the North. The emergency was, and is, the explanation and the justification of our course. Facing the present situation, and feeling, as we did in 1861, that we have the right to act freely, and are not controlled or constrained by the course of political events, we find that the interests of the Church, and consistency with our own principles and professions, require us to go back to the Church in the United States. We believe our sister Dioceses will follow us, but we must act upon our own convictions. We can not wait because others are so situated that they can not act with us at this moment. We can act at once, and we believe it is for the interests of all that we should act at once. And so North Carolina showed then, as perhaps she has at other times shown, that she can be prompt when the occasion calls for it, though sometimes she is slow” (p. 272-73).

“Bishop Atkinson alone contended that the political action of the State had of itself no effect whatever upon the Church; but that the Diocese was free to remain connected with the Church in the United States or to form an independent organization as the necessity might seem to require with reference to its own spiritual interests and work” (p. 29).

Bishop Atkinson’s Address to the Diocesan Convention of the Diocese of North Carolina, 1861:

“…I mention this to show that I did not then, as I do not now, entertain the view, which many hold, that the severance of the National Union does, of itself, and without any act of the Church, produce a disruption of the bonds which bind our Dioceses together…” (p.29).

“…The duty of the Church in this Diocese, to the State, is then clear. The only question is, what is her duty to herself? Is she to regard the Ecclesiastical system of which she formed a part, as dissolved by the act of the State, without any action of her own; or, is she to consider it as still subsisting, and liable to be abolished, or modified, as she, after deliberate inquiry and consultation, shall see best?” (p. 6).

“…While then, I see insuperable objections to the acceptance of the Theory that, the secession of the State does, without any act of the Church, produce a disruption of the Church, I see no plausible argument to incline one to accept it. At the same time, some very important changes in our relations with the Northern Dioceses will be necessary, and it may be best to form an entirely new Ecclesiastical system. This ought to be done with the utmost possible forethought and deliberation…” (p. 8).

Bishop Atkinson’s Address to the Diocesan Convention of the Diocese of North Carolina, 1862:

“I do not see then, how any considerate man, who does believe in the authority and mission of the Church, can suppose that its organization has been broken up by the mere act of the State…We do not lose our rights and interest, then, in that Church by ceasing to be citizens of the United States, but only when we voluntarily withdraw from that Ecclesiastical organization, and establish another for ourselves. This, I conceive, we had the right to do, even if the United States had not been divided, were there sufficient cause for it; and that division does itself furnish sufficient cause. In the mean time, according to my belief, until we form a new organization, the old continues to subsist. There is no interregnum of anarchy. We are not left weltering in chaos, without a Constitution, without any binding regulations for the consecration of Bishops, for the ordination of Clergymen, for the enforcement of discipline, so that each man is free to do what is right in his own eyes. God forbid we should ever be in such a condition" (p.34).

Bishop Atkinson clearly held to the view that the Southern states’ secession from the Union did not, of itself, effect the separation of the Southern dioceses from the General Convention. Rather, each diocese was free to make a determination and act, based upon its own “spiritual interests and work.”

Some, however, might argue that Bishop Atkinson represented an extreme minority view, not held by the other Southern dioceses, and therefore not a legitimate position today. Responding to this, it is worth noting that though many of the other Southern bishops held to the view that the secession of the states required separation from the General Convention, when the war ended the proposition of reunion with the Northern dioceses was not immediately assumed by all. Bishop Thomas Davis of South Carolina in a pastoral letter to his diocese, dated October 5th, 1865 states,

“No sound mind can suppose that the separation of the Southern from the Northern Church, under the influence of the political revolution which has passed over the country, can be schismatical...There had been therefore no schism. The Southern Church is now rightly constituted, and is an independent and integral branch of the Church Catholic. As such she can, of right, shape her own course. She is, also, free to return to her union with the Church at the North. Which shall she do? This is the great proposition” (p. 34).

So we see that even among those bishops who held to the necessary separation caused by the states’ secession, reunion of the dioceses after the war was not assumed, but rather diocesan independence was asserted.

Finally, when the Southern bishops and deputies gathered in November of 1865, in Augusta, GA for what would prove to be the last General Council of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Confederate States of America they passed two significant resolutions. Rather than insist that each constituent diocese return to the General Convention, now that the war had ended, these joint resolutions affirmed the right of each diocese to decide for itself the ecclesiastical structure with which it would affiliate:

"Resolved, I. That in the judgment of this Council it is perfectly consistent with the good faith which she owes to the Bishops and Dioceses with which she has been in union since 1862, for any Diocese to decide for herself whether she shall any longer be in union with this Council."

V. "That whenever any Diocese shall determine to withdraw from this Ecclesiastical Confederation, such withdrawal shall be considered as duly accomplished when an official notice, signed by the Bishop and Secretary of such Diocese, shall have been given to the Bishops of the Dioceses remaining in connection with this Council" (p.250).

We of the Diocese of Fort Worth affirm with Bishop Atkinson our independence as a diocese and now for the sake of our own “spiritual interests and work” we prepare to take counsel together as to whether we will separate from the General Convention, as the Southern dioceses did in years past. We seek to do so, as Bishop Atkinson advised, with the “utmost possible forethought and deliberation”(p.8). We also do so with the confidence that any deliberation or action on our part is both historically justified and, we believe, thoroughly licit.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Why Words Matter

“Those who are idle in the pursuit of righteousness count theological terminology as secondary...”
-Saint Basil the Great, On the Holy Spirit 1.2
Words matter. Language matters. When Basil the Great defended the truth of the divinity of the Holy Spirit in the fourth century, he began by asking his opponents to listen closely to both scripture and tradition. He was insistent that both he and his opponents attend not only to every word of the Bible, but also the writings of the fathers, and even the words of the liturgy. In matters of theological controversy no syllable was insignificant. In Basil’s mind if a person spurned “fundamental elements as insignificant trifles,” then such a person would “never embrace the fullness of wisdom” (On the Holy Spirit 1.2). Quite simply, for the clarity of theology and the fidelity of the Church, words have always mattered. This was true in Basil’s time, and it is true for us today.

Words matter today, for we live in a shifting world wherein language and meaning transforms and changes with digital speed. Today the meanings of words and figures of speech slip through our hands. This has always been true of humanity since at least the tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9). As Christians, we need to recover the significance of our language. We need to scrutinize our words. We need to do this because, fundamentally, we are believers of the Word, and in the Word is truth.

To illustrate this need, all we have to do is read the present rhetoric of peace used by the leaders of the Episcopal Church. The Presiding Bishop, for example, gives a moving description of peace in her book A Wing and a Prayer which, like the will of the Father, dizzyingly invites everyone. For her, people of all races and classes and abilities are welcome into the peace of the Church, even those “who haven’t been baptized...Muslims and Hindus, pagans and practicers of voodoo” (p.90). For Schori, the Church is a place not only of radical inclusion but also mutual dependence, care, and respect. It is a “vision of the city of God on earth, a community where people are at peace with each other because each one has enough to eat, adequate shelter, medical care, and meaningful work” (p.33). For her, the “baptismal covenant does not distinguish between Christian and others...and it doesn’t say anything about religion, gender, age, sexuality, nationality, and so on and so forth” (p.34). This is indeed a vision of equality, cooperation, and respect remarkably exhaustive and demanding, all with an attractive sheen of the prophetic.

Many in the Episcopal Church share her vision. Gene Robinson, for one, thinks similarly. Yet, as Robinson’s argument in his book, In the Eye of the Storm, shows, peace thus described is determined by something other than Christ. For Robinson, peace is the product of secular politics determined by the alleged cultural majority. As he says, “if I argue for the full inclusion of gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, and transgendered people in society, I must do so on the merits of my argument, not on a claim that my understanding of God is right and true and compelling for everyone...not on any reading of a sacred text to which I subscribe (p. 27). Robinson is describing peace built on something other than Jesus as he is scripturally proclaimed in the Church. It is peace constructed on principles found elsewhere, vulnerable to the concocted desires of a superficial culture—such is perhaps the clue to Robinson’s summing up spirituality with the question, “What do you want?”(p.75) instead of the more theological “Who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15). Schori secures her similar vision in something other than Jesus too. For her, “intellectual assent and belonging are vastly different things” (p.97). Peace, in this case, rests upon something imaginably larger than Jesus. For Schori and Robinson, traditional claims about the divinity of Jesus can still be spoken, but they sit in a rhetoric which subordinates Jesus to the service of a peace described by something else. This is evident in the way Robinson understands the interpretation of Scripture. He describes Scripture as the “primary source of our knowledge of how God works in the lives of human beings to bring them to abundant life and everlasting salvation” (p.75) but which always sits under the judgment of a rather curious selection of “tradition” and “reason” defined by Robinson as “the authority that presents itself in our own lives”(p.60). For him, reason is less akin to earlier classical conceptions as is it to the force of history and majority rule. Robinson asks, “Did God complete self-revelation in holy scripture, or does God continue to reveal God’s self, throughout history?” (p.58) His answer is clear: “God is still actively involved in ongoing revelation over time, even in our own day” (p.59). Revelation here is no longer identified with the Church but with the progress of history, conceived as the unfolding of an ideology revealed in the opinions of conventions. They can still talk about peace and Jesus, but it is clear that Jesus must fit within an idea of peace they have already constructed. Jesus must fit into their world.

This explains Schori’s “awfully small box” comment to Time in July 2006. Likewise, this gives context to Robinson’s slippery statements about the mediation of Jesus when he says, “While I believe Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah, I don’t believe he is the sole revelation of God’s self to the world.” For him, peace determined by Jesus must be subordinated to some allegedly more universal notion of peace. “After all,” he concludes, “the challenge before us as citizens of democracies is to define our rights and responsibilities to one another no matter what our beliefs are (p.16).

Both Schori and Robinson still use the traditional language of christology, yet their use of this language sits within a different world all together. Jesus, for them, certainly is a way to the divine and to peace as it is defined by them, yet he is no longer the “all in all” mediation described in Ephesians 1:23. The inclusion and peace described by Robinson and Schori must not be founded “on any reading of a sacred text to which I subscribe” (p. 27). Rather, what matters, as Schori says, is sharing in a “vision of the dream of God” (p.97), a vision described by something other than Jesus and the Church, something, as Schori suggests, “embedded in the Millennium Development Goals...God’s vision of homecoming for all humanity” (p.165). Such is the mundane and Christ-less peace envisioned in much of the Episcopal Church, and this, above all wrangling over sexuality and ordination, is the fundamental heresy we are fighting.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Properly Framing The Episcopal Church Crisis

In my last posting, I discussed how God had called me into service in Christ’s one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, specifically in the Episcopal denomination. This calling was supported by the local body, St. Andrew’s, and confirmed by Bishop Iker. I have now served as a priest for three years now in the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth.

In this calling, I (and indeed all other clergy in TEC) have taken a vow “to be loyal to the doctrine, discipline and worship of Christ as this Church has received them and, in accordance with the canons of this Church, [to] obey [my] bishop and other ministers who may have authority over [me] and [my] work.” This is our obligation.

In fact and in short, the bishops and priests who consented to the consecration of V. Gene Robinson have not abided by their ordination vows to uphold the doctrine “of Christ as this Church has received [it]”. By their consent to Robinson’s consecration, they have violated the authoritative, plain and unified teaching of Holy Scripture concerning homosexual behavior, which is also expressed as the mind of the Anglican Communion in Lambeth 1.10.

Indeed, a long line of facts laid bare reveals that clergy of TEC have violated, even repudiated the doctrine "of Christ as this Church has received it" (read “Small Steps Down a Slippery Slope” by Forward in Faith) openly and, sadly, without recourse. It is not that the sin of accession to Robinson’s consecration is more egregious than other doctrinal violations committed by those clergy per se; rather, it is simply that this one is “the straw that broke the camel’s back”. Those who consented to Robinson’s consecration are the “caboose in a long train” of doctrinal violations. Their violation of the doctrine of Christ requires ecclesiastical discipline, an action that is simply long overdue.

But, therein is the first problem. If one is unwilling to accept the “first principles” of doctrine that homosexual behavior is sinful, then there would be no need to discuss discipline of the same. This, of course, is the position of those who agree with the consecration of Robinson, in spite of the facts that stand against them. They continue to overlook the facts and proceed, much like running a stop sign.

But, for those clergy who are abiding in the Truth of Scripture concerning homosexual behavior, Jesus offers plain teaching on their duty-bound and proper response to the violation of His doctrine in Matthew 18. In short, three steps are necessary: (1) If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault….; (2) If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses; (3) if he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

Again, the mind of the Anglican Communion concerning homosexual behavior is plain. It was available to TEC (long) before Robinson’s consecration. Following Robinson’s consecration, TEC has been told, told again, and told a third time, according to Matthew 18. Simply put, they will not repent.

Now we attend to a complication that exists concerning exercising godly discipline. Within the ecclesiastical structure of TEC, the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth is in a minority position. What does this mean? What to do?

Indeed, being in the minority does not make us wrong in our belief concerning homosexual behavior, it just means we’re in the minority within TEC. Conversely, being in the majority doesn’t necessarily make us correct in our belief either. What matters is abiding in the Truth of God’s Word revealed. Concerning homosexual behavior, God’s Word is plain – it is sin (addressed above).

And, God’s Word is also plain concerning the discipline of the Church. Simply put, because the Diocese of Fort Worth is in the minority within TEC, separation from its unrepentant ecclesiastical structure is the only course of “backwards discipline” we are able to exercise at this time. For five years, TEC has not repented of its consecration of Robinson to the episcopate - enough is enough.

Concerning the future covenantal structure being proposed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Katherine Schori has already indicated her objection to bringing it before the General Convention of TEC in 2009 for consideration, citing lack of time to give it due consideration. The indications going forward are that TEC will not change.

There is no exploration of alternative solutions that relieves the church of its fundamental duty to reject heresy and discipline those who promote it, much like a wayward child requires the correction of his parents. If we cannot do it from the majority position within the structures of TEC, we will do it "backwards" but it shall be done. Let the early, undivided ecumenical Councils of the Church be our guide in this matter: doctrinal disagreement is not a banner to be waived, but a concern to be addressed and an issue to be resolved.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A New Creation in Christ


Many of you reading this may know that I am serving in the diocese as the mission vicar for our newest church plant, Christ the Redeemer, as well as the chaplain to the Canterbury chapter at Texas Christian University. What you may not know is that I am a cradle Episcopalian.

Raised in North Carolina in my early years, I was baptized and confirmed in the Episcopal denomination, and also participated actively in my parish EYC and as an Acolyte. When my family moved to Fort Worth in the early '80s, we landed at St. Andrew's because it most resembled the parishes we attended in North Carolina.

During college, I did not attend church...plain and simple. However, God opened the doors for my return through a friend who invited me to his church, located in the mid-cities. And so, it was through the Baptist denomination that I became "a new creation in Christ". For the first time, the message of the gospel penetrated my spirit. I began to identify with John Wesley's declaration that upon hearing the gospel, "I felt my heart strangely warmed." I knew God was calling me to serve Him in some way. I soon discerned that He was "calling me back to my roots," back to the Episcopal denomination - back to St. Andrew's.

I soon found myself on the first diocesan mission to Malawi, Africa in 1996. Through that transformational experience, I resolved to leave a budding career in commercial real estate and serve the Lord full-time. I was offered a position at St. Andrew's as the youth minister. Nothing could've made me happier. It was as if God was allowing me to "pick up where I had left off" and help the youth know and love Jesus in a way I hadn't experienced in my younger years.

It was during this time that I began to know God was calling me to priestly vocation. This calling was confirmed after five fantastic years at St. Andrew's, a rigorous examination by the Commission on Ministry, and a vote of confidence by my sending parish. So, I departed to Nashotah House to study for Holy Orders.

I am now 38 years old and have been ordained priest just over 3 years. I am thankful to God for the path on which He has placed me - from my earliest days in North Carolina to my later formation in the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth - to become a priest in Christ's one, holy, catholic and apostolic church. I have rounded my evangelical roots with a passion for catholic Faith and Order. And, it is in this high calling that I will serve Jesus in the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, under the direcion of Bishop Iker, as mission vicar and Canterbury chaplain.

Of course, this means enaging in the hard work of our creedal declarations - one, holy, catholic, apostolic. Therefore, in my next post, I will address the present condition of the Anglican Communion in relation to our Creed and discuss the necessary action of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, under the direction of Bishop Iker, not only for the preservation of the historic Faith and Order, but its advancement!

The Rev. Christopher P. Culpepper

Thursday, October 2, 2008

An appeal from the Diocese of Northern Malawi...

We learned Wednesday of a financial emergency in our companion diocese of Northern Malawi. The balance in the diocesan bank account is just $50, with over $17,000 in immediate obligations, including a payroll.

Malawi is the third-poorest nation in the world, yet the people there have optimism, intellectual curiosity, and a gift for welcoming the stranger. While they struggle to live, their faith is radiant. The Church faces enormous challenges to feed and educate, promote physical health and make disciples. In addition to its cathedral and churches, the diocese runs schools and hospitals. There are programs in adult literacy and sustainable agriculture– to name but two. There are never enough priests; some have five or more congregations in their care. Together with the other Anglican dioceses in Malawi, the diocese runs the Zomba Theological College, where it has six students currently enrolled. Most of these programs would cease to exist without the generous help of Christian friends in the U.S. and England. Lately, regular sustaining funds have been slower in coming.

The United States is experiencing tough economic times, yet, as these pictures show, we lead lives of princely abundance compared to our brothers and sisters in Malawi. Our World Mission Committee asks you to say a prayer for these dear ones, and consider what you, your vestry, outreach fund, or congregation may be able to give in this time of need.

From your friends in Malawi – Zikomo! (Thank you!)

Suzanne Gill
Director of Communications

If you can contribute, please contact the diocesan office at 817-244-2885.

What is going to change in Fort Worth?

At 9:30a.m. every Wednesday morning, a wonderful group of ladies gather together to study Holy Scripture at my parish. They are kind enough to allow me to join them at this gathering and they even humor me with polite laughter when I say something that probably makes absolutely no sense at all. They are a great bunch and I look forward to my time with them every week.

A couple of weeks ago, the discussion got a little sidetracked, as Bible studies tend to do from time to time. We landed on the subject of some of the current issues in the Episcopal Church. The ladies in the group turned to me and asked some very pointed questions about what some recent declarations made by some bishops other than our own would mean for us here in Fort Worth. As I looked around the room, I saw faces of perplexity. One of the ladies even turned to me and said, “How can they do that?”

I so love the simplicity of that question. It shows both a naiveté and a profound sense of faith simultaneously. Oh that I should regain the former and be comforted by the latter! Here was a beautiful woman who couldn’t understand how a bishop, a supposed defender of the faith, could make a statement that was so contrary to what has always been taught throughout historic Christianity. She was confused by what she had read and yet so secure about what she should measure that bishop’s statement against.

We muddled through several more questions that morning. But we finished up with one final question that I have heard asked several other times. The woman sitting across the table from me looked directly at me and said, “What does this mean for us in the Diocese of Fort Worth?”

I paused for a moment as I tried to consider what she was really asking me. Was she curious how my pension would be affected by what was going on? Did she want to know how property issues were going to play out? Was she asking me about lawsuits or impending litigation?

As I considered how to answer, I realized that her question was about none of these. What she was really asking was, “What is going to change in this parish and in the diocese?”

My answer to her---“Nothing.”

This woman had no concern that she would be chased out of her parish which she has attended for the last 20+ years. She had no fear that somehow a judge or a court would be able to decide who owns this little piece of property. She wasn’t even asking, much to my consternation, about how my retirement would be affected. What she really wanted to know was how we will go forward contending for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.

God has blessed me in so many countless ways. I count being a priest in the Diocese of Fort Worth among those blessings. And I am asked from time to time, much like I was by this dear woman at the Bible study that morning, about what will be new in our diocese. What will be different about how we teach, preach and proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ in this diocese? My answer now is the same as it was to her—not a thing.

The overwhelming majority of clergy and laity in this diocese boast not of so-called “new things” that they can bring to the table. Most have no aspirations of developing something innovative in the world of theology. Instead, there is an almost uniform and sincere desire to devote themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

As we approach our Diocesan Convention coming up on November 14th-15th, people have inquired of me about what they can expect on November 16th. I give them the same answer as that of the Rector of the parish at which I serve. On the day after our Convention at this parish, as well as at most parishes throughout the diocese, you can expect to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ being preached. It will be the same old story that has been told for almost 2000 years- And the Word became flesh and was made Man. The incarnate Word of God was crucified for our sins. He died, was resurrected, has ascended into Heaven where He now sits at the right hand of God.

You can also expect the Sacraments to be administered. The Holy Eucharist will be celebrated that day and all baptized Christians will be able to receive the true Body of our Lord Jesus Christ which was given for the nourishment of our souls and His precious Blood which was shed for the forgiveness of our sins.

Does this make us ecclesiastical or theological dinosaurs? I suppose it might in some people’s eyes. The fact that we desire not to come up with or peddle the newest innovations about the faith may lower our standing in some circles. But our job is not to be inventors. We are not called to be on the cutting edge of theological innovations. Our job, as both clergy and laity, is first and foremost to proclaim Christ crucified.

What will change about what we teach, preach and proclaim in the Diocese of Fort Worth? Absolutely nothing if I have anything to say about it.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Profile: Father Lee Nelson


I grew up in the Episcopal Church, my parents having gone through incredible conversions when I was about three years old. Through the power of the prayers of a little parish in Federal Way, Washington... not only was my dad healed from deadly spinal meningitis, but both my mom and dad were brought to faith in the Lord Jesus. When I was 15 years old, I found myself praying in a church following the Stations of the Cross. We were living in Texas then, and I had never really made the Faith my own. As I was “praying” (I was really praying to be able to escape the church without looking stupid.), I was hit with the Gospel. I understood, in a moment, that Jesus really had died for me. That He really did love me. Right then and there, I gave my life to Him, without reservation. That was August 19th, 1995.

Well, I threw myself into the Church, the life of my parish, getting into everything I could. God took this insignificant scrawny teenager who was really kind of shallow and made him into a leader. To make a long story short, I enrolled at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas and studied business, thinking that I might be called to the priesthood, but that that was for people in their 40s, and it would be a long time coming. In my junior year, I applied for all kinds of internships in the business world, but quickly became disillusioned, deciding to scrap the idea and apprentice myself to a priest for the summer. I didn’t even know how this would happen, but then I heard a sermon. The sermon was given by a professor of mine, an Assemblies of God preacher who also taught marketing. Go figure. Well, he was preaching on Acts 16, which tells the story of Saint Paul at the very end of a journey through Asia Minor. He wants to go to Bithynia, but the Scriptures tell us that “they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them;” (Acts 16:7) What ends up happening is that Paul, unable to go to Bithynia, winds up going to Europe instead. Paul has his eyes set on this great city of Bithynia, but God has plans to take him across the Bosphorus to Europe, where the Gospel spreads like wildfire. The point of the sermon is that sometimes God takes you where you don’t really want to go because His plans are greater than yours. Well, the following Monday, I received a call from Harley-Davidson Motor Company in Milwaukee asking me to work for them for a summer doing retail supply management. So I went. I didn’t want to (can you imagine that!), but I did anyway.

At this point, I should tell you that my numbers-oriented brain was perfect for this job, but my heart was not in it. In fact, I hated it. And, when I returned to school for that fall, I sat down and wrote a letter to Bishop Iker. The letter basically told him that I could no longer pursue anything but the priesthood, and asked for his guidance. That was all it asked for - guidance. Well, I didn’t send the letter. I hung on to it and read it at least once a week, sometimes many times in one day. In October, Harley-Davidson offered me a job. We were at a BBQ joint in College Station, and on hearing the numbers, I nearly choked on my brisket! I turned it down, and the following week - I sent the letter.

After two long, agonizing weeks without reply, Bishop Iker replied in an e-mail. It was short. “Would you like to go to seminary in the fall? Let’s meet up.” It said. I hadn’t really even thought about that! But, after graduating from college that spring (having gone through the Commission on Ministry commuting back and forth each weekend), I packed my bags for Nashotah House, and drove up there - the same route I took to get to Harley Davidson in Milwaukee, but this time for a different destiny. I had $300 in cash in my pocket, and that was about it. The Lord provided! Looking back on this time, I can say that He took me to the top of one mountain to show me another one.

In the spring of my second year at Nashotah House, I met Ela Grace McIntosh, who a little more than a year later would be my wife. We met in a coffee shop, and she is everything I could ask for. She sees her vocation as praying for me and raising our children to be saints. We currently have two kids. Moira is a very precocious and bold two-year old girl and Oliver was born eight weeks ago.

I currently serve at Saint Laurence Church in Southlake, Texas, where I have been for over three years, serving as the Youth and Family Minister. I have been there since I graduated from seminary. In fact, I was ordained there on August 20th, 2005, a full ten years and one day since that experience that changed my life. I serve a group of junior-high, senior-high, and college students who are simply marvelous, inspiring Christians. In my time at the parish, we have focused on four areas with them - Mission, Catechesis, Fellowship, and Worship. We engage them in Mission, being a part of what God is doing in the world and being evangelists with their lives. We engage them in Catechesis - filling them with the Christian knowledge necessary to be disciples in this world. We engage them in fellowship by sharing our lives with them. Lastly, we engage them in worship - offering our lives to God in prayer and liturgy.

During this time, I have served on the diocesan Youth Ministry Advisory Committee, which has rolled out a diocese-wide plan for parish youth ministry. I have served on the Happening Steering Committee, which puts together a weekend program for senior high youth, and also on the faculty of the Saint Michael’s Conference (http://www.stmichaelsw.org). One of the exciting things I have been involved with is the Anglican Communion Network’s Children & Youth Initiative, particularly the Youth Summit, which meets twice a year and is a group of about 30 youth workers. I am currently involved in preparing a new Anglican catechism for North America. As well, I was blessed to attend the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) in Jerusalem in the summer of 2008. Concurrently with this, I’m working on youth catechism curriculum which will be part of an organization which is conceptually called “Youth Formation Ministries.” This was sprouted out of Christian Formation Ministries, which has developed similar materials now available in ten languages used in places like Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Southeast Asia, and Mexico. The curriculum is about 2/3s complete, and I’m looking forward to seeing what God will do with it.

When it comes to this diocese, we have a great thing going - we teach and believe and practice the faith once delivered to the saints and no other. We believe that the Lord Jesus Christ can not only change lives, but draws us into eternal fellowship with himself in Heaven. When the secular world attacks this belief, we hang onto it for life. I'm glad to be part of a group of young priests in this diocese who all hold, without wavering, this faith.