Over 50 people attended Forward in Faith North America’s (FIFNA) regional meeting, Forward in Mission, at St. Vincent’s Cathedral, Bedford, on Friday and Saturday, August 3-4 to conduct organizational business and for worship, teaching, and fellowship.
FIFNA President, Fr. Lawrence Bausch opened the business sessions of the event on Friday, saying the previous year had been challenging as FIFNA adjusted to the “new reality” of not having a paid staff.
“The past year’s been one of learning to how to deal with a new reality,” stated Bausch, after describing the financial necessity of moving to a volunteer workforce. He then outlined plans to hold frequent regional meetings as opposed to one Annual Assembly in order to “reach more people.”
After addressing the need to raise FIFNA’s “public profile,” especially its online presence, Bausch concluded by saying that Forward in Faith’s primary focus is not jurisdictional but to be a “resource.”
“Our purpose is no longer in any way jurisdictional,” stated Bausch, “but to be a source of encouragement and a resource to people wherever they are.”
Following a short report by FIFNA’s outgoing Vice President, Bishop William Ilgenfritz, Forward in Faith’s Treasurer, Charles Secord, presented a balanced budget and noted a considerable improvement in the organization’s finances:
“When we met at St. Stephen’s just over a year ago, things looked bleak and there was serious doubt whether we would make it to the end of the year. But, today I can paraphrase Mark Twain and tell you that ‘rumors of our demise were greatly exaggerated.’ While our financial situation has improved considerably, in order to sustain our current momentum, we need your continued prayers and support.”
In other business, new members were elected to FIFNA’s Council with Fr. Geoffery Boland becoming Forward in Faith’s Vice President, and Bishop Eric Menees of the Anglican Diocese of San Joaquin joining the Council along with Brother Kirt Gerber and Fr. Terry Moore.
Business sessions were broken up by two presentations, by the Believers Eastern Church, a 3 million member denomination which is based in Kerala, India, and by a panel discussion on the ordination of women.
The day concluded with Evensong and Mass in the cathedral and a dinner reception at which Bishop Keith Ackerman movingly presented Bishop William Ilgenfritz with an award for his decades of faithful service to FIFNA and the cause of Anglo-Catholic orthodoxy.
Day two of the event consisted of three talks on mission. Fr. Lawrence Bausch gave the first address, Challenges for Mission: The Church and Postmodern Culture. Bausch stressed the need for authenticity and love in pastoral outreach. “Form a bond based on something personal and genuine,” he stated, “You’ve got to love your people… Our ministry must be one of love and compassion.” For Bausch, this involved an incarnational approach to mission, “We must be incarnational and meet people where they are.”
Fr. Lee Nelson, Rector of Christ Church, Waco, gave the second address, entitled Challenges in Mission: The Church and Postmodern Culture, Mission Effectiveness: Ways of Engaging the Postmodern Adult. Nelson began by questioning the premises of the title he had been given to speak on, stating that we’re neither challenged by postmodernity or the church herself.
“Are we challenged in mission by postmodern culture? Perhaps, but not for the reasons you might think, and certainly not by postmodernism, which is no worse or better than the modernism which preceded it.
“Are we challenged by the Church herself? Is she outdated so much so that without substantial changes to her charter, her identity, effectiveness in mission and the engagement of the generations of this age is impossible? God forbid that this talk would, for one second, admit that the Church is in any way deficient! This is, after all, a meeting of Forward in Faith!”
Nelson then outlined three “convictions” for genuine mission: That this is primarily God’s work and initiative, driven by faith and the Holy Spirit and “fueled” by the Eucharist, as opposed to “fanciful method, or innovation, or gimmick;” that contemporary culture is not, in fact, a challenge to God’s power and that thirdly, “tools, methods, and ways, are worthless apart from hard work.”
With these principles in mind, Nelson boldly suggested that postmodernity was not a challenge to mission because the culture, perhaps especially in its millennial aspect wasn’t postmodern in its rejection of truth, meaning or morality. Instead, borrowing from Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor, we live in a society where secularism and Christianity exist in a hybrid state of “secularity,” a “zombified Christianity” in which people retain aspects of Christian thought and belief but not others:
“Our culture is actually much more of a swamp - partly Christian, partly atheistic, partly sacramental, partly not, partly exemplified by Christian conceptions of morality, a la the me too movement, and partly not, i.e. Roe v. Wade.”
This condition results in a tension in which people are “stretched,” searching for meaning in materialism on the one hand and “enchantment” on the other, between the immanent and the transcendent. For Nelson, this presented Anglo-Catholics with an opportunity to “relocate people within a world of meaning.”
“What if we thought of it as an invitation to re-imagine one’s place within a cosmos that is at once visible and invisible, replete with meaning both in the immanent and transcendent?” asked Nelson, “In essence, this is the kind of theological imagination which is set forth in the Incarnation! We Anglo-Catholics seem to get this more than a great many others, and that is what fills me with hope for our movement. We have an ability to relocate people within a world of meaning.”
To achieve this, Nelson proposed renewed energy in catechesis (teaching) and, “Doubling down on the sacraments. Doubling down on the church’s calendar. Double down on who we are.”
The event’s final talk was given by Rev. Jospeh Francis, a newly ordained transitional deacon serving at St. Vincent’s Cathedral.
Speaking to Mission Testimony: How Millennials Live the Full Catholic Faith & Practice, Francis described the Anglo-Catholic campus mission at Texas A&M university, he then addressed broader missional themes. Using traditional Latin Mass communities as an example, Francis stated that millennials were drawn to the “clear, beautiful, authentic presence of the catholic faith.”
To this end, the practice of religion should be “authentic and organic” as opposed to plastic and insincere. Also, Anglo-Catholics should reject “megachurch envy” because millennials want smaller, more intimate settings with an “organic connection to the past.”
And, just as megachurches thrive on “small groups,” the “Anglican church is the small group” and attractive to millennials because “it looks different from the world.”
Throughout the talk, Francis emphasized “evangelism through beauty”:
“Beauty is non-threatening, it’s hard to resist the power of beauty to draw in and intrigue, and once there it has the power to form and change lives. How can your parish show people something beautiful?”
The talk concluded with a series of practical guidelines for mission, starting with liturgy and worship. This must be “taken seriously” and be “reliable, consistent, beautiful. Don’t let eccentricity take over and don’t assume the contemporary attracts youth.” Francis continued:
“We can tell when liturgy is chaotic, unplanned, or awkward. This is the most important thing we do, let’s make sure that others can tell that fact when they go to Mass.
“It is disorienting for newcomers when things are constantly changing, different Rites and additions, conflicts between music and the flow of worship and so on. Make the liturgy at your parish beautiful and reliable.”
Forming a deep culture of catechesis and teaching is also essential as is the formation of “community” which goes beyond fellowship on Sunday mornings. In the same vein, Francis urged visibility.
“Be present in the community. Be visible, don’t try to blend in, get out of the office, get to the places they go.”
The event finished with prayer. Further regional meetings are planned for Atlanta, Chicago and the Diocese of San Joaquin.
Forward in Christ urges your prayers for the mission of God’s Holy Church.
Fr. Michael Heidt is a priest in the Diocese of Fort Worth and Editor of Forward in Christ.