Why am I Anglican (or more precisely, a vaguely long explanation of how I came to be one)?
By Stephen Lieberman
Broadly speaking, there seems to be three main ways that people become a part of the Anglican church. First, and possibly most prevalent in Western countries, they were born into it. They are “cradle Anglicans.” The second is Anglican by conviction. These are those individuals who were so in love with the liturgy, came to be convinced of the theology, and simply had to join an Anglican parish. The third, and may we always have more of these, are those who join via having heard the gospel and ended up simply attending a local church parish. But there is a fourth. It is less poised or glamorous than the other ways. I would categorize it as a stumbling-bumbling along kind of method. I would put myself into this category.
Before passing too much judgment on this fourth method, I am aware of the controversy regarding “accidental” Anglicans. I am not advocating for a Broadchurch movement that is so broad and open that it cannot exclude those who do not embrace historical Anglican practices. Rather, I accept that I was not raised in this tradition, nor did I peer over the fence and wish for grass that seemed greener, and I was already a Christian. None of the main ways apply to me. Instead, in my wanderings I found myself to have been secretly prepared and suddenly securely planted in an Anglican church, and have found it to be exactly where God had been calling and directing me. That is the story I hope to tell.
I grew up in an American Christian home. My parents missed the actual Jesus People movement of the 60s but were highly influenced by them. They went from one church to another, always attempting to find one that was led by the Spirit. My mother’s side of the family had “found Jesus” by leaving the Lutheran tradition. The churches that most attracted my parents were mostly offshoots of Assemblies of God and/or Vineyard-style churches. In these places of worship, I found there was a deep desire to know and experience the love of Jesus. For whatever their faults, these were churches that wanted to tell the world that there was good news and they loved the Holy Scriptures.
Alongside this “normal” story, there was also a confusion of interests. My father came from a Jewish background. For him, that always meant a conflict between his desire to be a part of the charismatic Evangelical movement, and the Messianic synagogues and/or even Orthodox Jewish forms of worship. That led to us often celebrating our sabbath on Saturdays. It meant I grew up never eating pork. It meant I have attended many synagogues and celebrated many Passover feasts. I had a strange, but fun, Bar Mitzvah on my thirteenth birthday.
I grew up not being 100% satisfied with everything about the church. The churches I attended seemed sincere, but they lacked some order and discipline. The Messianic synagogues seemed steeped in tradition, which was attractive in some ways, but in my experience, lacked the freedom we ought to have in Christ.
At a very early age, I felt the call to pastoral ministry. I remember being probably six years old and lamenting that my calling was not to be a missionary (something I found much more adventurous and to my liking). It was never clear in my setting, what it was that someone would do that wanted to pursue pastoral ministry. Seminaries and formal education were not considered prerequisites (at least not in my family). I was involved with my college Christian Club, becoming the President (which was something of a joke – as we only had a handful of members, but for paperwork we needed such titles). It was in this setting, that I first encountered some Anglicans.
The first was a professor. He taught Psychology at my college and Philosophy at the Christian University. He was in the process of being ordained. He had befriended our group and helped us start a reading club. And there I met my next Anglican. The one and only, C.S. Lewis.
Unlike many, my family had never gotten into Lewis. His Chronicles of Narnia were somewhat blacklisted, as they seemed to contain magic, which we generally avoided. I started reading Lewis. First, his The Problem of Pain was incredibly insightful and felt more intellectually stimulating than anything I can remember reading prior. Then, I read Narnia. My imagination had never felt so alive. Then, to wrap it up, we read Mere Christianity. It was here that I was most puzzled. In what I thought was supposed to be universally accepted Christianity, I found ideas of sacraments and divine mystery. I found the way Lewis and my professor spoke of Communion and Baptism to be so foreign. I could not grasp what they found so important or special. I put it all in my “to be pondered later” box.
Meanwhile, after earning my Associates of Arts degree, I decided to join Youth With A Mission for a Discipleship Training School. I ended up loving my experience and stayed on to staff in Mexico. After two years, I was engaged to my wife Angie and headed for the great white north of Canada.
An experience that stood out and relates to this exploration during my YWAM years, is my time in Tunisia. While on an outreach, my team spent several Sundays and a Christmas in an Anglican parish in Tunis. There I found a strange connection to my childhood. There we sang carols I knew, had liturgy that reminded me of the Jewish synagogues, and it was so clear that the love of God was present. Although strange and mysterious, it felt like the church was supposed to be. But…it was in another country, it was only a few weeks, and I was young. I did not make much of it.
Moving ahead, upon entering Canada I attended a Baptist church. I ended up getting my bachelor’s degree in Pastoral Leadership and Religious Studies at Vanguard Bible College, a Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada school in Edmonton, AB. Unlike many of my classmates, I felt like I accidentally fell into a Reformed track. I was reading Luther, Calvin, Grudem, Bonhoeffer, and Packer, and found I was embracing ideas and theology that were again reawakening my intellectual yearnings.
However, upon finishing at Vanguard, the job search was unclear. Could I see myself in the Pentecostal church? In some ways. Could I see myself being a Baptist pastor? Maybe. Nothing seemed like a perfect fit. It seemed I was caught with the need to provide for my family and to apply for whatever became available.
Through friends at church, we became aware of a small church called Christ the King that was looking to hire a part-time youth pastor. I got an interview and was tentatively offered the job, but first, we would need to check out the Sunday service.
The people at CtK are friendly. That has not changed (may it never). The service was strange in some respects. We had booklets we had to turn to. We had prayers that everyone had to say. Receiving communion was not monthly, but every Sunday. It all seemed very high church to me (not true). CtK, meeting in a high school atrium, does not regularly wear vestments and while being Prayer Book heavy, would hardly be considered a high church. It was probably just familiar enough not to completely frighten me away, and just weird enough to force me into deeper theological pondering.
Shortly after being hired, I was sent off to Ottawa for Synod and the induction of our Diocesan Bishop. Now that was an experience! Almost made me jump ship. I perceived the whole thing to be pomp and popery. The vestments, the liturgy, the pageantry, and the separation of clergy and laity, were just about too much for me. I stayed up late into the night discussing with Pastor Roy, and pondering what I had witnessed. I decided I could accept it…but that I needed to understand it all so much more than I had before if I were to stay.
Enters Fr. Lars into the equation. Lars is a philosophically and theologically deep well of mentorship. He challenged my thinking, encouraged my education, and gave me all the space I needed to grow and learn. He gently and, at times, directly led me to many decisions that I had to make.
Could I be confirmed? Yes, I decided. These people might be different, but they were winning me over. Could I baptize my children? I was not sure. I would not do it if my wife and I were not in agreement. Together we read Green’s book Baptism. We studied God’s Word together. We both concluded that we not only thought we could but that we should. Could I commit to getting my Masters of Divinity, and pursue ordination? After much prayer, fear and trembling, it seemed the good and right thing to do.
My education, while having a Baptist flair, was boosted by various Anglican tracks that were made available to me. I studied the theology and history of the church of England under J.I. Packer (albeit from a distance). I wrote various papers and projects that let me study further the Church Fathers and the Great Tradition of which the Anglican Church is a member (reading Augustine and Ambrose were key). Although sadly less well-read than I desire, I have found the works of William Perkins, the Anglican-Puritan, and Hooker, the Anglican Divine, to have been transformational. The poetry of Donne and Herbert has stirred my heart. Throughout my education, under Lars’ direction and the Holy Spirit’s leading, I came to even further appreciate the reformed catholicity of the classical Anglican tradition.
So, eventually, with the discernment of my parish and diocese, by the laying on of hands, I was ordained. After Lars left Edmonton, I became the Rector. This has not been the end of my journey, but rather a very large landscape has opened up before me. I still have so much to read, learn, and discover. Although stumbling about to get here, I am now by conviction, one that loves the Book of Common Prayer, the 39 Articles, the rhythm of the Daily Offices, and the rich tradition I now find myself embedded. I believe this to be a good and right way to practice my Christian faith. I hope we can continue to discover and learn together as we follow the light of Jesus Christ.