Advent greetings to you all. May this season be holy and peaceful, even as we prepare for Christ to visit us in the humility of a baby child. You will find in this letter some reports, longer stories, and ways you can join in my ministry.
I have been busy:
- Leading worship or teaching now up to four times per week
- Beginning marriage preparation classes with my very first couple
- Hearing confession and offering spiritual counsel
- Opening my home and welcoming guests throughout the week
- Becoming more involved in the lives of my neighbors
- Partnered with the CS Lewis Institute to host a conversation with locally renowned speaker, apologist, and writer Ken Boa. We explored why our organised expressions of faith sometimes seem so unloving and disappointing to the watching world.
- I got the Maryland State Boychoir connected with one of the oldest and most prestigious churches in Annapolis so they could share their incredible music ministry in a place where they currently have very little exposure.
- A few friends invited some of the city’s homeless to have breakfast and they reached out to me to lead them in worship
- Planning the Christmas service for the Lutheran Mission Society, which is their biggest gift-distribution in the year.
- Planning and writing the service for the Annual Memorial for the Homeless, an ecumenical interfaith service which remembers all those who died from homelessness in the past year.
- Connecting the church with the Winter Relief Night Shelter for a local mission opportunity.
People have only ever told me I was lucky
A few weeks ago I was invited to a party put on by a friend who grew up in the faith, but has since abandoned it. Now this party was wild to the point of becoming debauched and I suspected as much when I received the invitation. Nevertheless, it has been my intention to always accept an invitation no matter what, unless I have something else already planned (this policy has resulted in some absolutely abysmal meetings and conversations, but such is the cost of an unambiguous commitment I suppose). Throughout the evening the host kept trying to catch my eye, as though he had something to say. We were standing by the stereo and he decided to show me some of the old worship music he listened to as a teen. He chooses a particular song and confesses that sometimes he still listens to it, but will not go back to church.
“Why won’t you go back to church?”
He stares at me for a moment. He swallows.
He tells me the story of the girlfriend of his teenage years. The girlfriend who got pregnant. The way he couldn’t tell his family…
And the night his girlfriend lost the pregnancy.
The child was lost in a miscarriage. And both of them got to get on with their lives.
The young man looked at me with a face of defiance, daring me to say something.
“I never knew that you became a father” I said.
He grips my shoulders as tears form in the corners of his eyes.
“You became a father and you lost a child. Of course you are angry-this is a tragedy”
He takes a deep breath and looks at me again
“No one has ever said that this is a tragedy. Everyone who I’ve ever told this to has said I was ‘lucky'”
“‘Lucky’? You’re not ‘lucky’! You lost a child – what kind of person would call that ‘lucky’?”
“…You are the first person to say that I’m not lucky”
Now I thought this conversation would be forgotten by the time the party wore off. I was glad to have been there for him but I expected him to never mention it again.
The next day I received a text thanking me for listening. And I renewed my commitment to show up anywhere I was invited, no matter what.
I told you first because you’re a minister
One of the regular mechanics came in bowed low. He silently got on with the work at his station, entirely uncharacteristically. I went next door to Dunkin Donuts and bought him a coffee. He said he didn’t want any but I bought it for him anyway. He was glad when I handed it to him.
“I don’t really want to speak to anyone today”
“That’s totally fine. And if it’s all getting too much for you, you can just leave – you know that right?”
A while passes and as I was walking past he grabbed my hand, stopping me in my tracks.
“I gotta tell someone. I’m telling you first because you’re a minister and you know what to do”
I drop the component I was holding and turn to face the young man. I grip his hand back.
“My neighbour. We grew up together skateboarding and cycling. I just found out that he killed himself and I don’t know what to do”
Somehow the pit in his stomach communicated itself across the held-hands and lodged in mine. I didn’t know what to say.
I was afraid to ask but I had at least enough sense to proceed with “Do you know what happened?”
He tells me the story while a tightness in my chest forms. I can only imagine the distress he is experiencing.
When he’s done telling the story I look him in the eye and thank him for telling me. I meant it too. And I was grateful that God had placed me there to be available for such a moment.
The Christian faith is not an idea. If it were an Idea it would probably be a very bad one. Our faith is living and breathing because it is a community of human beings before it is a set of doctrines or documents. Clearly, long before there was the Nicene Creed or the Liturgy or the Scripture, there was a people of God filled with his Spirit. I’ve been grateful for the big projects I’ve been invited and able to work on.
I am much more grateful to be present in Christ’s name amongst those who for a long time have believed that the church has no place for them.
I suppose the joke is on them. You, my friends and supporters are the church, and you have enabled me by your prayers and gifts to go chase after these who think that God is done with them.
I hope the irony of this is not lost on my peers who attended university with me. Yes, Ian is the one being asked to help introduce people to Anglican spirituality and ministry.
As of September 1 I have transferred all of my public ministry to Redeemer and this functions as home base and my supervision on this side of the Ocean. I maintain very friendly relations with Downtown Hope, of course.
Two main factors resulted in this transition. The first was that my help as a mostly self-supporting missionary enables this small community to have access to my skills and insight. The second is that they wanted to lead me through discernment for Ordination.
The first stage of this is Parish Discernment. We had our first meeting a couple weeks ago. It was challenging.
I sat eating dinner and answering questions from people whom I deeply trusted and who loved me. Yet I left the meeting feeling deeply frustrated. I felt like I had not done well. I thought about this for a few days and after realising that there was nothing mean, vindictive, or harsh about the committee, I came to a disappointing realisation about myself.
I left that first meeting feeling resentful because I thought I was above being questioned about my life and ministry. I was frustrated with them because I was proud.
I was shocked. Such a basic flaw in my character so easily provoked! Now we all know there is no use beating ourselves up over the past, but this didn’t stop me from doing so anyway. I think I was mentally self-flagellating for a week!
Not the start I had hoped for, but I am deeply grateful to have realised I am possessed by this kind of pride early in the process.
Learning that you are not as perfect as you want to be is one thing. But the next step, learning to forgive yourself for it, is just as important. How can I dare to hold a grudge against myself that the church doesn’t and certainly God does not either?
It is a great comfort to hear the stories of others who have gone through discernment. After I got over my self-pitying naval-gazing, I remembered that I’m really not that special and lots of people, maybe all, who discern vocational calls are just as flawed as I fear I am.
If you are able, I would like you to commit to pray particularly when I lead worship:
- Tuesdays at 9pm for Compline
- Wednesdays at 10am for Lutheran Mission chapel with the homeless and needy
- Thursdays at 6:30pm for Evensong
- Sundays 10am for regular service
Pray for clarity in my teaching and for new leaders to emerge.
I also love to see people. Ministry can be lonely and exhausting, and I’ll never say no to a phone call to or meeting. Sometimes its what I desperately need.
Can I help you?
Many of you know my skills with communication and design. Are you in need of some last minute Christmas graphics? I’d love to help. Do let me know what I can do.