Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: Anglican

A new course in life

If you’ve followed me this far you have no doubt gathered that I wasn’t a romantic kind of guy. I had strong emotional feelings, but I woud have been horribly embarrassed if anyone got a glimpse of them. Circumstances told to me that now I needed to do something to let my bride-to-be know how I felt about her.

So I sat down and wrote my very first love letter. I quoted some lines from a song by the Bee Gees that was popular at the time: “It’s only words, and words are all I have to take your heart away,” and tried to put my feelings into words. I don’t remember writing any more letters, mostly we talked. That meant collect phone calls from Chris to me. I didn’t call her, since her uncle would have answered the phone and that wasn’t what I wanted.

As for the suspicions that some farmers may have harboured, it seemed best to me to just carry on without saying anything more. I had done nothing wrong and I had been careful not to accuse the former manager of wrongdoing. That proved to be the right course of action, as everything went well from then on.

It took several months for it to dawn on me that something had changed in my life. I was no longer turned off by Christian radio broadcasts, there were a couple that I began to listen to regularly. I bought some Christian books. I read more about Mennonite history.

I had always considered the “born again” thing to be a sham. The people I had known who claimed to be born again were no more honest than anyone else. They boasted of a elationship with God, but their attitude of superiority towards other people was not attractive. Now my life had taken a turn, and it had happened at the time I prayed for forgiveness. Was that change what Jesus meant by being born again? I concluded it was.

At that time grain elevators often shut down for the first two weeks of August. The managers would take their vacation and return refreshed to start receiving deliveries for the new crop that would be harvested after mid-August. Chris and I set Saturday, August 1, 1970 for our wedding date and began planning.

Where were we going to get married? What minister would we ask? Neither of us had any church affiliation, I was a lapsed Anglican. Chris’s family was one that said, “If anyone asks, say we belong to the United Church,” but they never actually attended that or any other church.

It happened that Reverend Ken Vickers was now the minister at Saint Barnabas Anglican church in Moose Jaw where my parents attended. Mom asked him and he said he would be happy to do the honours. I was happy to see him again.  We had a counselling session or two with him to help us grasp the importance of the step we were about to take.

Chris has an older brother and four younger sisters, they all lived with their parents. Chris had been with her aunt and uncle ever since a health scare in early childhood caused by neglect. By this time I had met her brother and two of her sisters, but not her parents. Since Chris was only 17, her real father was going to have to give his permission for her to marry. Chris approached him with some trepidation, but he signed.

I asked Joe Zagozeski to be my best man and Chris asked her friend Sandy Carson to be bridesmaid. We were all set, all we needed to do now was get to the church on time.

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Dennis to the rescue

During the time I had been away in Toronto my folks had sold the little farm at Craik and bought an older two storey house in Moose Jaw. It wasn’t hard getting used to living in Moose Jaw, it was where I was born, we had family in the city and had made frequent trips there all during my growing up years. Uncle Art and Aunt Katherine, Dad’s brother and Mom’s sister, had moved into the city years ago already. Dad turned 72 in the summer of 1963, his eyesight was getting worse and he could no longer drive, so the move was a sensible one for them.

To get to the nearest Anglican church all my parents had to do was walk out to the back alley, go half a block east and half a block north. It was a distance my mother could easily walk. I never accompanied them to church.

Dad might not have seen well enough to drive, but he could still walk. He got up early in the morning and went for a walk, then took another walk or two later in the day, doing about six miles a day. He couldn’t see to read much anymore; Mom would gladly have read to him, but he could not bring himself to let her do it. That would have been to admit that he was handicapped.

But what was I to do? I was a walker like my Dad and walked all over the city with that question spinning around in my mind. I had lost all my excess weight in Toronto and was down to 60 kilos. I hadn’t done any physical work during those years that would have bulked me up, but I wasn’t weak or malnourished. I think it was just the unending questions about my future that made my head spin. One afternoon I came home from a walk, walked into the living room, blacked out for a moment and fell.

I got right back up on my feet, but Mom was scared. She got me in to see her doctor and he prescribed some little white pills for me. I got the impression that there was some malfunction in my heart and these pills would regulate it.

My cousin Dennis came to my rescue. He needed help on the farm and I was available. The farm was only a few miles out of Moose Jaw; I spent Monday to Saturday with Dennis and Harlene at the farm and Sunday at home with Mom and Dad in Moose Jaw. I helped with the field work and whatever else needed doing around the farm. Occasionally I would babysit Wendy, Jana and Jeffrey, their three young children.

Dennis had a few head of cattle, Harlene kept a few ducks and geese. It was getting dark one evening during harvest when I pulled into the yard with a load of grain to unload into the granary. The geese were not yet shut up for the night and here comes the gander running towards the truck, neck stretched out, wings flapping, honking for all he was worth to save the other geese from this monster. A fully loaded truck does not stop on a dime. Mom was out to visit Harlene and the two of them spent the rest of the evening plucking and eviscerating the would-be hero.

I helped at the farm on occasion during the winter and in spring began putting in long hours in the fields again. Then in late summer I landed a temporary job at the United Grain Growers grain elevator in Moose Jaw.

The Toronto Interlude

There was a bond between my mother and I that never existed between me and my Dad. The bond with my mother was established at birth and nurtured by years of talking together, working together and playing together.

My older cousins have told me of their appreciation for their Uncle Walter. The man they described was someone that I never knew. I wish that I had and I sometimes think that if we could meet now that we would find each other interesting and even likable. I wish that could have happened in his lifetime. I don’t think of him as an evil man, I don’t hate him, but there just was never a warm father and son relationship. Most of the time the relationship was cool, at best lukewarm, and sometimes it was fiery hot.

It was good for me to get away again. I still didn’t have much of a clue about anything, but I must have grown a little more backbone and a little more interest in others during that time at home.

I don’t remember the train ride to Toronto, registering at the school or how I found a place to live. But I have clear memories of the place I first lived. Karl Frey, a German from Romania was a painting contractor and he had acquired three big old houses on Lyndhurst Avenue, just a block or two from Casa Loma. He and his wife, with their young son, occupied the main floor of the middle house. One house was rented to a family. The rest of the rooms in the middle house and the third house were rented out, mostly  to students at DeVry Tech.The school was on Lawrence Avenue, a good distance away, so Karl provided a van that we all piled into to get to school and get home again. This was old Toronto, stately old houses, tall trees on both sides of the street whose branches formed a leafy green arch over our heads.

I lived in the same house as the Frey family. I think there were seven of us in that house,  myself, Peter Nassler and Lyle Mitchell, both from Saskatoon, Donald Kim Chu from Vancouver, a Bourgeois from New Brunswick, a young man from Québec and another from Sudbury. We occupied the two upper floors of the house, sharing a bathroom on each floor. There was a kitchen for our use in the basement and a TV room. There must have been laundry facilities also. Peter, Lyle, Don and I became good friends and spent long hours discussing subjects of national and international importance. We were quite sure that we westerners saw things clearly and the eastern people around us were all lost in the fog.

I even remember two of the teachers at the school. Mr. Wolf was German, taught math, had an off colour sense of humour and a very disorderly classroom. Mr. Foucault was French-Canadian, very serious, taught electronics and there was no nonsense in his classes. The office manager was a very nice lady named Ariel.

I’m not sue how long it took to finish the course, I believe it was a good year. I found work as a quality control inspector at Renfrew Electric, a manufacturer of resistors and other electrical stuff. One of my co-workers there was a young man named Gallant Gainsiegge (I’m not at all sure of the spelling, but I think that is close). He had grown up in East Germany, escaped to West Germany and then came to Canada. At that time there were still a number of European companies manufacturing very small automobiles. One of them was DKW of West Germany. Officially, DKW stood for Das Kleine Wunder (the little wonder), but Gallant told me that people in Germany called it Deutsche Kinder Wagen (German kiddie car).

After finishing school, Peter, Lyle and I moved together into rooms in the bungalow of Mr. and Mrs. Nussbaum, an older Jewish couple on Lyndhurst Drive in Downsview. Don had found work in northern BC. Mr Nussbaum still had a pickup that he used to go around to various factories to collect scrap metal to sell. I went with him to help a couple of times. I also cut their grass with a reel mower. That’s what I was doing the day of the total solar eclipse on Saturday July 20, 1963. There were warnings not to watch the eclipse directly. It had rained recently and there was a 40 gallon drum in the back yard and the top was filled with water. At each pass with the lawn mower I would glanced at the sun’s reflection in that puddle to follow the progress of the eclipse.

Downsview was north of the 401. One day us three Saskatchewan boys stood on the Dufferin Avenue overpass and watched the bumper to bumper traffic beneath us, three lanes in each direction. We could hardly comprehend the enormity of such a thing. By now I can see the same kind of traffic in Saskatoon and in places the 401 has grown to 12 lanes in each direction (counting feeder lanes).

Mixed in with our discussions of how to fix the world were discussions about starting a business together. We got as far as getting permission to put up a sign in a local store for our appliance repair business. I successfully fixed a toaster and a mixer but soon we moved again and that was the end of our big business.

I guess my backbone still had not stiffened up enough as I found myself looking for another job. What I found was a job in the Admiral factory in Port Credit (now part of Mississauga). This was a long way from where we were living so the three of us moved again to the west end of Toronto. It took me an hour to get to work, first by street car and then two buses. I had been making $1.25 an hour at Renfrew, Admiral paid $1.60, a huge increase.

I was given a spot at the end of the radio assembly line. My job was to plug in the finished radio, turn it on and adjust it so the needle lined up correctly on the dial. If it didn’t work, then it was my job to find the loose connection and add a bit of solder to make it work. Then I would insert the radio in its plastic cabinet and it was ready to go.

The TV assembly line was not far from my work station. In the afternoon of Friday, November 22, 1963 I noticed that the TV workers were leaving their work stations to cluster around a TV at the end of the line. I wandered over and asked what was going on. Someone said that President Kennedy had been shot.

The work day was soon over and I made my way home. We spent the next two days watching events unfold on TV, seeing Jack Ruby shoot Lee Harvey Oswald on live TV on Sunday afternoon.

I did an enormous amount of walking during those two years in Toronto, exploring the city. I believe I attended church three times. Twice in a massive old brick Anglican church on St. Clair Avenue, not far from the place I was staying on Lyndhurst Drive. There I at least got a warm welcome from the black usher, but that was all. When we moved to Downsview I made one more attempt, attending a newer Anglican church in that area. That left me completely cold.

My job at Admiral eventually came to an end and in 1964 I made my way home to Saskatchewan again, only home was now in Moose Jaw. I never used my electronic training again.

A Teenage Failure

It was good to be home again, to eat my mother’s cooking, to sleep in my own bed in my own room, to help out around the farm and to visit the old buffalo rubbing stone, my rock of refuge. I was sure that the people in town thought of me as already a failure at the age of eighteen, so I avoided contact with them as much as I could.

After a few weeks of this my father exploded into my room one Sunday morning to angrily demand that I get dressed for church and come with them. He was right, I needed to get out among other people, but his way of forcing the issue did nothing to make me feel any less a failure. However, the rejection I dreaded at church never happened and I slipped back into the familiar rhythm of Anglican worship services.

There was perhaps some solace to my soul in the magnificent words of the Scriptures, prayers and hymns, but I don’t recall much spiritual sustenance in the sermons. The preacher at that time was a young man from England who never really got acclimatized to the prairie way of life. One sermon that I remember was about what an evil game hockey was and how cricket was the proper sport for Christians. He was that much disconnected from reality in rural Saskatchewan. I don’t think anyone ever tried to set him straight, they just politely ignored him.

Gradually I dared to peek out from my protective covering a little bit at a time and found that I suffered no painful consequences. I still went to find the peace and quiet of the old rock, but perhaps the long walks along the ravines did as much for my mental state.

This is long ago, I have repressed these memories for years and many things are no longer clear to me. I believe it was at this time that I worked for a few days helping to pour the foundation for a new high school. It has come back to me that the incident of my father burning himself and me taking over his farm duties and janitorial duties at the hospital occurred during this period.

I must have been home at Craik for almost two years. In the summer of 1962 I was off to Toronto again, this time to attend DeVry Technical Institute to learn electronics. Not that I was terribly interested in learning electronics, but it was a field that offered many job opportunities and once again my parents were ready to pay my way, so off I went.

Chapter 6 – Learning about church

School was a half mile walk across the edge of town. We were 25 to 30 in two grades in each classroom, about the same number as for eight grades in the Bishopric school. I settled in, got to know my classmates and continued to get good marks without much effort.

The big change in our life was that we were now attending church. Of the three churches in town two were deemed unsuitable by my Dad, the United and Catholic, so more or less by default we became Anglicans. It didn’t take long to become at home with the rhythm of the services in the Book of Common Prayer. They were saturated with readings from the Bible and passages from the Bible that were spoken in unison or as responsive readings, one line by the minister, the next by the congregation. There were prayers for every situation, old written prayers that were very eloquent and meaningful if one was paying attention. Our lives began to be centred around church and its activities.

The congregation was small, but included a number of children from my class in school. My cousin Ron, 21 years older than me, owned the Red and White grocery store in Craik. Ron and Rose and their son Garry started attending around the same time we did. Mrs. Rutherford, the owner of Craik Realty and Insurance, was always the last person to arrive in church. A short, round lady,, she would march up to the third row from the front, the keys on her belt jangling for all to hear, take her seat, and then the service could begin. Alf Soper, a bachelor and jack of all trades, was another regular. Some folks had concerns about his lifestyle; I was little and didn’t know if the concerns were warranted or not. But he could sing. His deep voice was heard by all and he was always on tune.

The next summer I went to Anglican summer camp on the shore of Mission Lake between Fort Qu’Appelle and Lebret, in the Qu’Appelle Valley. We slept in bunk houses, spent our days learning Pilgrim’s Progress, swimming in the lake and hiking through the hills; in the evenings we all gathered around a campfire for singing and stories and an evening prayer.

I first took note of Norman when the camp leaders led us on a hike to Lebret. He was a quiet boy, walking with us, yet alone. He seemed like the rest of us, except that he could not hold his head up straight. It tilted towards his right shoulder, almost resting on the shoulder. Some of the other boys called him Leadhead.

I didn’t like to hear the other boys making fun of Norman and calling him Leadhead. By the third day I overcame my scruples began to call him that myself.

The morning of the fourth day, I woke up with pain in my neck and shoulder. The pain became excruciating if I tried to straighten my head — overnight, I had become Leadhead II! I went through that day with my head in the same position as Norman’s and got the same unkind remarks from the other boys. Late in the day my muscles began to loosen up and the next morning I could hold my head up with no discomfort.

One would think that such a dramatic lesson in the Golden Rule would be unforgettable. I have found that there is a difference between remembering the lesson and learning the lesson.

The next winter the minister announced he would teach catechism classes for those who wanted to be confirmed. I had no idea what that meant, but my father enrolled me and four other fathers enrolled their sons. Once a week, we five boys walked to the minister’s house after school and studied the Anglican catechism, writing the answers to the questions in a notebook. Sort of a crash course in systematic theology for eleven year old boys. Some of it stuck.

Journeying on

We were having Vacation Bible School and for crafts we were doing a manger scene with Joseph, Mary and the baby Jesus. I started calling Mary’s husband Joe. I glimpsed a hint of a smile on Miss Parker’s face, just before Miss Napier let me know that I was not to be so flippant and disrespectful. I don’t suppose that Miss Parker was any more likely to encourage disrespect than Miss Napier, but she allowed herself to be amused by my childishness and seemed much more human to this twelve-year-old boy.

Miss Napier and Miss Parker were Bishop’s Messengers who had come to Craik to fill in until we could get another minister. They could not baptize or serve communion, but led the other types of worship service in the Book of Common Prayer: Morning Worship, Evening Worship and the Litany.

Miss Napier was British and the guardian of proper form and tradition. Miss Parker was Indian. Over the years that ethnic definition has gone from Indian to Native to Aboriginal to First Nations and recently to Indigenous. I must be getting old that seems like one change too far. I want to be respectful, but by the time I can get my head around Indigenous the nomenclature will no doubt have changed again. Miss Parker was a bit shy, definitely not pushy, and was liked by everyone. Miss Napier was not disliked, it just wasn’t easy to warm up to her.

After a year the Reverend Kenneth Vickers came to be our minister, along with his wife, daughter and son. Mister Vickers was the ideal country preacher. He was not afraid to get his hands dirty helping a farmer or maintaining the vicarage and yard. Just a regular down to earth guy that everyone liked. His daughter was nine days younger than me. I was horribly girl shy during the years I was in school, but I remember four girls with whom I could occasionally carry on a conversation. For some reason they were all named Joan and one of them was Joan Vickers.

It was while Mr Vickers was at Craik that I became an altar boy, assisting in communion services. The Craik parish included churches in three other towns and Sunday mornings found us travelling to services in two of those churches. When I turned sixteen and got a driver’s license he even let me drive his car, a Hillman Minx. Driving that car left me with the lifelong conviction that British technology is an oxymoron.

There were two other ministers at Craik before I ventured off into the big wide world, but all I remember of them are their foibles. I did try attending church again while living in Toronto, but there just wasn’t any pull to keep going back.

The worldwide Anglican Church has always been a big tent movement, where high church and low church Anglicans were able to function in harmony. The churches in Saskatchewan were pretty strongly high church where the liturgy was of utmost importance. Yet there were occasional hints of low church, or evangelical, tendencies. A discerning eye would have noted that the Anglican Church of Canada was already in it’s declining years when I was a boy. Today it has reached doddering old age.

Some congregations have withdrawn, reorganized and continue as outposts of the Anglican faith such as is found in Africa, Asia and South America. The Anglican churches of those countries no longer recognize the Canadian church as being of the same faith. The Anglican Church of Nigeria has sent a missionary couple to Saskatoon to start a new congregation.

I have moved on in my spiritual journey, yet when I look back it is clear that my journey began in the Anglican Church. After confirmation I was given a little red book of questions for self examination before communion. That little book almost led to my conversion. There is still a warm place in my memory where I believe God came very close to me, and I to Him. Then I looked away and saw that no one else seemed to take this seriously.

The services were permeated with readings and recitations from the Bible, way more Scripture than any other church I have ever attended. I was constantly reminded tin those services that I was a sinner who needed to repent and be forgiven. I learned that the outward forms of baptism and communion were only signs of an inward and spiritual grace. I didn’t find those spiritual realities in the Anglican Church, but it was the Anglican Church that set me to searching for them.

I learned in the Anglican Church that it was important that there was a continuity between the church of the apostolic era and the church of today. I still believe that, I just don’t believe that the original faith has necessarily been passed on through a continuous lineage of laying on of hands in ordination. I also learned that people of a great variety of ethnic backgrounds could worship together.

Eleven years after I left Craik I wanted to get married and neither I nor my fiancée knew a minister of any kind. My mother knew where to find Ken Vickers and he came to Moose Jaw to do some counselling before the wedding and to marry us, thus starting us on another journey.

Catechism Classes

About the only thing my parents had in common was a feeling that the church in which they had been raised had let them down.

My father was a descendant of New England Puritans, with some French and Scottish blood thrown in.  He was born in Iowa, grew up in Minnesota and arrived in Saskatchewan in 1908 at the age of 17.  The family was Wesleyan Methodist, but a series of mergers brought most Methodists into one fold and then in the 1920’s they became part of the new United Church of Canada.  My dad told of a service he had attended in Edmonton in the early years of the United Church.  As the preacher spoke, it became evident that he didn’t believe the creation account, the virgin birth of Jesus, or much of anything else in the Bible.  Dad walked out of that church into the street and wept.  After that he tried to avoid ever setting foot in a United Church again.

My mother was of pure Low German descent.  Her grandparents came to Canada in the great migration of the 1870’s.  There is a story in our family that her grandfather learned to read and write English and discovered that the bishop of the Old Colony Mennonite Church was using money that belonged to the congregation for his own benefit.  Great-grandfather was thereupon excommunicated and joined the Sommerfelder Mennonite Church.  I’m sure there would be a different story from the other side, but this is the story that I have been told.

Mom was born in Manitoba and grew up in Saskatchewan, the sixth in a family of 14 children.  She was the last one in the family to learn High German, which was the only language used in the Sommerfelder Church worship services.  Mom often spoke of how she felt that the church had abandoned her younger siblings.

In her later teens she joined a group of other young people in a catechism class.  They were supposed to learn the catechism by heart.  After the catechism classes were finished, they were to answer the questions of the catechism before the congregation.  I believe this took place over several Sundays.  Mom was the only one of the group to memorize the whole catechism.  As they always sat in the same order, the others calculated which questions they would be asked and memorized only those answers.  One of Mom’s cousins sat beside her.  The morning they were to begin answering the questions before the congregation this cousin told Mom, “I don’t have my answer memorized, so when the bishop asks my question, just speak up and answer it for me and no one will know the difference.”  Mom agreed to this subterfuge.  All went well until the bishop came to the person after Mom.  The anticipated sequence was now broken and he had not memorized the answer to the question he was asked.  Somehow it all worked out and they were all baptized.

My parents were married in the Alliance Church in Moose Jaw, but did not affiliate with any denomination.  I remember that we once attended a service in a rural school house.  I suspect my father was not pleased as we never went again.  One time we attended an Ernest Manning crusade in Regina.  When I was nine, my father arranged for me to be baptized in a private ceremony in a Lutheran church.

That same year, we moved to a farm on the outskirts of Craik.  There were three churches in this town, United, Catholic and Anglican.  My father decided that we needed to start attending church and the Anglican Church was the only good choice available.

A catechism class was planned for the following winter and my father decided I should join.  There were four other boys my age in the class and we spent a number of months studying, not memorizing, the Anglican catechism.  I still remember the definition of a sacrament: “An outward and visible form of an inward and spiritual grace,” and think that is the best definition that I have heard.  The confirmation service, where the bishop would be present to lay his hands on our heads and pray for us, making us full members of the church, came in the spring of 1953.

We five boys had a meeting with the bishop before the service began.  The Right Reverend Michael Coleman, Bishop of Qu’Appelle, was a kindly, white-haired gentleman.  He spoke to us of how the service would be conducted.  Then he told us: “When I was your age, I had the idea that after the bishop laid his hands on me and prayed for me, I would not be able to sin anymore.  When we got home after church, I went out behind the barn to see if I could still say the words that I had used before.  They came just as easily as they ever had!  When I lay my hands on your head today and pray for you, that will change nothing inside of you.  To overcome sin you will need something that I cannot do for you.  You will need a change of heart.”

This happened 57 years ago and I may not have the words exactly as he said them, but this was the essence of his message to us.  The fact that I remember that message so clearly must indicate the impact those words had on me, even though the fruit did not appear until many years later.

Worship styles – what is essential?

I was reading articles about the history of church pews and it seems most writers feel that pews became important at the time of the Reformation. In Roman Catholic worship the focus was on the communion and provisions for congregational seating were not of major importance. With the Reformation, the focus switched to the sermon where the congregation remained seated for a lengthy period of time and where and how they sat became more important.

That may be true, but I was raised in the Anglican tradition which did not fit neatly into either category. There were two Bible readings in every service, one from the Old Testament and one from the New. In addition there were a few significant passages of Scripture that were spoken aloud, either in unison or as responsive readings. There was a sermon, usually not lengthy, and often there was communion, but the real emphasis seemed to be on the Bible.

Contemporary worship music seems to have come front and centre in most evangelical churches today. Thus the worship leader who leads and directs this aspect of the worship service seems to be as important as the preacher.

Early Christian worship took place in places like private homes, forests, or the catacombs of Rome. This type of worship did not require a special church building, nor did it require pews or musical instruments. This was worship stripped to its bare essentials: Bible reading, prayer, and exhortation to faithfulness. And people risked their lives to be at these worship services.

Anabaptists retained that simple style of worship throughout most of their history. One could question whether the many persecutions they suffered made that the only feasible style of worship, or whether they were persecuted because they chose to avoid the worship style of the official churches. Both were probably factors.

Today, we of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite consider ourselves to be linear descendants of the Anabaptists. Bible reading, prayer, hymns and a sermon all have a place in our worship services. The sermon usually consists of some combination of exposition of a Bible passage, teaching, testimony and exhortation to faithfulness. It is not a prepared, scholarly discourse, but flows from a heart inspired by the Holy Spirit.

We sing both old and new hymns, without musical accompaniment. The message of a song remains with us much longer when we all sing together, rather than just listening. Many have testified of times of difficulty or crisis when part of a song has popped into their mind with words that brought comfort and direction.

Sin

“Almighty and most merciful Father, We have erred and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep,  We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts, We have left undone those things which we ought to have done, And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is no health in us. But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders..”

“Almighty God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Maker of all things, Judge of all men: We acknowledge and confess our manifold sins and wickedness, Which we from time to time most grievously have committed, By thought, word, and deed, Against thy Divine Majesty. We do earnestly repent, And are heartily sorry for these our misdoings.”

These quotations come from the Book of Common Prayer of the Anglican Church of Canada. The first is part of the confession in the Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer services. The second is from the confession in the Communion Service. The capitalization is the way it was in the book. For ten years in my youth I, along with the whole congregation,  recited one or the other of these confessions aloud every Sunday.

These are only words printed in a book, readily memorized and often pronounced without giving much thought to them. Still, for those with ears to hear and hearts to consider, they were a constant reminder that we are miserable sinners and there is no health in us.

We can dismiss those words as meaningless rote recital. For many people that was all they were. But have we gained in spirituality when most churches today hardly talk of sin?

C.S. Lewis discovered 75 years ago that most people he talked to had no concept of sin. Many of the things that churches have always named as major sins did not seem to be sin at all to people. They had been educated out of that old-fashioned notion. Some way had to be found to deliver the diagnosis that all people are sinners before they would have any inclination to hear of a remedy for sin.

“I cannot offer you a water-tight technique for awakening the sense of sin. I can only say that, in my experience, if one begins from the sin that has been one’s own chief problem during the last week, one is very often surprised at the way the shaft goes home. But whatever method we use, our constant effort must be to get their mind away from public affairs and ‘crime’ and bring them down to brass tacks — to the whole network of spite, greed, envy, unfairness and conceit in the lives of ‘ordinary decent people’ like themselves (and ourselves).” (C.S. Lewis, from a talk given in 1945, reprinted in God in the Dock ©1970, published by Eerdmans.)

That is very much the challenge that faces us today. If we are not conscious of our own sin and sinfulness, we won’t get very far in trying to share the gospel with others. James admonishes us: “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed.” How often do we do that? How often do we talk about other people’s faults?

The Anglican Church of Canada, the Episcopal Church in the USA and most congregations of the Church of England no longer use the Book of Common Prayer. In Africa, Asia and Latin America, Anglican Churches are fast-growing evangelical bodies. They have broken fellowship with the Anglican and Episcopal churches in Canada and the USA.

Ten years ago the Anglican Church of Canada commissioned a study on their future. The conclusion was that if present trends continue, in 75 years the Anglican Church of Canada will consist of two members.The trend has continued, and will continue. A church that no longer acknowledges sin has no reason for its existence. The Anglican Church of  Nigeria is now planting congregations in North America, including one in Saskatoon.

I am an Anabaptist today, not an Anglican. I am just trying to point out a graphic illustration of what happens to a church that decides to drop the issue of sin. That is a danger for all of us. We are not apt to ever make a decision to drop it, we just let it fade away. In such a condition, we no longer have a gospel to present to our neighbours — or our children.

Worship then and now

Then was sixty years ago when I was a teenager and member of the Anglican Church of Canada. Services would begin with this exhortation:

Dearly beloved brethren, the Scripture moveth us in sundry places to acknowledge and confess our manifold sins and wickedness; and that we should not dissemble nor cloke them before the face of Almighty God our heavenly Father; but confess them with an humble, lowly, and obedient heart; to the end that we may obtain forgiveness of the same, by his infinite goodness and mercy.

The service would continue with words of like eloquence, interspersed with a reading from the Old Testament, another from the New Testament, the reciting of some poetic passages of Scripture, either in unison or as a responsive reading. There would be a few hymns mixed in plus a sermon. All followed the familiar pattern of the Book of Common Prayer, which was little changed since it was formulated by Thomas Cranmer 400 years earlier.

It didn’t take long until you had the services memorized and didn’t need to follow in the book any longer. This was the great danger: the words were beautiful, meaningful and true, but one could recite them with nary a thought as to what one was saying. I have no doubt that many Anglicans were born-again people, but many, probably the majority, just droned along with their mind somewhere else altogether.

I remain very thankful for all the Scriptures read and recited in the Anglican services. I suppose this began in the day when most attendees were unable to read and this was the only exposure they had to the Word of God.  It was still good for those who were readers.

Now, in the Mennonite church to which I belong today, the services might seem a little tohu-bohu (the Hebrew words translated without form and void in Genesis 1:2). There is a certain order to the services, but they are informal and unstructured compared the church of my youth. Still, just as in Genesis 1:2, the Spirit of God is present.

Most congregations have more than one minister. None of them are professionals, they do not derive their income from the church but earn their living much as other members of the congregation. The hymns we sing are not chosen in advance but are chosen in a seemingly random manner by members of the congregation as the service progresses.  Lay brethren are often invited to volunteer to present some thoughts and a prayer to open the service. It may take some time for one to get up from his seat to do so. The sermons are extemporaneous, not written out beforehand. Sometimes there are no ministers present and the whole service is conducted by lay brethren. 

It works. We are fed, encouraged, reproved, inspired. We trust that everything, the hymns that are chosen, the words that are spoken, is prompted by the Holy Spirit.

This type of service goes back to long before Archbishop Cranmer. The apostle Paul wrote:

How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying. . . Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge. If any thing be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace. For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted. And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.

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