Over the last twelve months, my postings have been sparse due to all the creative energy being poured into the book. (It’s available for pre-order on Amazon, by the way.) And over this last month I’ve been on radio silence as my family made a pretty big transition out of South Florida and on to a new call up the road. Many of you already know, but for those of you that don’t: I’ve joined hands with some great leaders and joined hearts with a vibrant, gospel-obsessed congregation in the heart of downtown Birmingham—Cathedral Church of the Advent.
What I Love About Advent
Advent is an Episcopal church with deep roots—established in 1872. It has a long and rich history, smack dab in the middle of a downtown that is going through all the joys and woes of urban renewal. Birmingham is an exciting town to live in, and all of us at the church are sensing a ripe season of ministry ahead. Part of what excites me about being a part of this church is its providentially strategic placement.
Another thing that excites me about Advent is its emphasis on the gospel. Though a completely different local church in a completely different town, there are many ways in which the Advent and Coral Ridge shared a strongly similar vision and mission for what a local church is and does. In fact, over the years there has been a lot of cross-pollination between the leaders and thinkers at Advent and Coral Ridge, which is how I first got connected with the church.
Yet another thing that I love is Advent’s worship (duh). Most of you all know I’m a big fan of the Prayer Book tradition—the oldest English-speaking liturgies around rooted in the best of historic Christianity’s pre-English-speaking worship words and practices. I’ve been studying the theology and worship of the English Reformation for several years now at Knox Seminary, and it’s answered a lot of questions for me about what gospel-centered, Reformational worship looks like. (My doctoral thesis will likely aim at what it means to bridge the worlds then and now in worship.) Advent has a glorious musical tradition with just about the best choir I’ve ever heard in a local church, led by a couple of great musicians who really care about congregational singing. Advent is growing in its more modern musical expression, and my job is to oversee the whole kit and caboodle (all of the services, all of the liturgical happenings).
My Journey from Coral Ridge
I’ve received a lot of support and prayers over the last year, and it’s been needed and appreciated. God walked Coral Ridge through a significant season of pain, and He saw fit to call me to be a part of the transition between the past and the future for the church. In fact, I tell people that it was actually the time when things got really hard that my sense of call was the most clear. Providentially, my last Sunday at Coral Ridge was the Sunday on which their new Senior Pastor, Rob Pacienza, was installed. I’m genuinely excited for the future of Coral Ridge, especially because I had the honor of passing on the ministry of worship to Julie Anne Vargas, a talented, capable, godly, pastoral leader who I had the privilege of mentoring and working with.
All I can really say is that God was gracious in simultaneously giving me a sense of completion of my call at Coral Ridge and a new call to a church that He was obviously preparing me for. The timing was perfect. (I know He doesn’t always work like that.) People have sometimes wanted to read subplots and intrigue into all of this, but there simply isn’t any to find. For me, the transition out of Coral Ridge was deep and sad (who doesn’t hurt when you have to say good bye to people you love?), but sweet and loving. They sent me to my new call like a missionary. And I will tell you, Birmingham is a new mission field for me if I’ve ever seen one.
What I’m Up To Right Now at Advent
Right now at the Advent, I’m trying to do a lot of listening, really. I’m trying to spend lots of time getting to know people, hearing their stories and hearts. I’m imbibing the rhythms of worship, and I’m trying to figure out what makes things tick. I’m trying to get a handle on what the culture of worship at the church is like. I’m not implementing a thing. I’m merely taking in. I’m thinking, praying, asking, dreaming. I’m leading worship services, too, and feeling like a rookie once again—asking rookie questions, making rookie mistakes. It’s humbling, and it’s fun. I’m enjoying soaking in the richness of tradition, hearing God’s Word, His law and His gospel, coming at me in the liturgy, receiving preaching that points me to Christ, and taking in the nourishment of the Lord’s Supper. It’s all really, really good. I’m feeling blessed and grateful. And at peace.
Some FAQ’s I’ve Been Getting
Questions from friends near and far keep coming up. I thought I’d pose and answer the most frequent ones.
What’s your official title?
Canon for Worship & Liturgy. It’s pretty awesome. It makes me sound like a big deal. For those not familiar with Church of England-style lingo, a “Canon” is basically an “Associate Pastor.” “Canon” sounds strong and powerful, but the reality is I will need another “n” before I’m going to be able to blow anything up.
Are you wearing all the bling?
Yes, I’m sporting a collar on occasion—mostly on Sundays and for hospital calls. Yes, I don robes and vestments on Sunday mornings when I’m leading the liturgy. Daily, no. I wear downtown-y clothes during the week. 🙂 For me, I’m all about doing what’s best for the flock, what helps me to minister well. It honestly feels a little uncomfortable for me, but that will fade with time, and it doesn’t feel uncomfortable for everyone else, which is what really counts. All things to all people!
Did your theology change?
Not at all. Actually, becoming a part of this very Reformationally-conscious Episcopal parish makes several aspects of the theology I’ve always been convicted of feel more at home, rooted, and centered. Advent, as a part of the Anglican communion, is very aware of its historic theological identity—its roots in the theology of the 39 Articles and the original Prayer Books of the Church of England—and it actually thinks (as I do) that the gospel articulated, prized, enacted, and preached therein is worth dying for.
Yes, many (well, most) other Episcopal parishes conceive their identity very differently. Advent is a place that chooses to take its historic roots seriously, engaging (and believing in the contemporary relevance of) the streams of Luther and Calvin that flowed into the Church of England at the time of its formation. Advent believes in all the evangelical (in the best sense of the word) essentials that I do.
What about your ordination?
For some, this will feel like yawn worthy TMI. I’m ordained in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC), and when I was at Coral Ridge—a congregation of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA)—I was serving in what Presbyterians call an “out of bounds” capacity. It makes me sound like a deviant. All it really means is that I retained my ordination in the EPC even as I served in a non-EPC church. I regularly attended regional EPC pastors’ meetings for support/accountability, even as I completely and passionately invested myself in the local church.
I’m doing the same thing in Birmingham. I’m transferring my ordination into the regional EPC body here and serving in an out of bounds capacity. It’s less-than-usual configuration, for sure. But it appears that my whole ministry to this point has been less-than-usual. I’m just following God’s lead. Though I readily conceive of myself in relation to the Church catholic, and in relation to denominations, movements, and tribes within the universal church, I’ve always felt that my sense of call must first and foremost be to a local church—to flesh-and-bone humans who do life together and pour out their gifts for one another and for the world. God has made my call to Advent crystal clear, and I’m excited to be rolling up my sleeves.
As the dust settles over the summer, I hope to resume a more regular rhythm of posting. It’s very life-giving for me. I imagine, given my new context, that I will be thinking different thoughts. I only and always find my best posts springing from reflections that happen in my local context. I’m excited for the release of the book and the conversations and new thoughts it will stimulate. The Worship Pastor might end up raising more questions than answers, but, as others have told me: That’s what second editions are for.