Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever. - Psalm 118:1
It has been ten years now that I have served as an ordained minister in the Episcopal Church. Some anniversaries, like tenth and fiftieth, and maybe all those in increments of ten, seem to hold a special place in our mental calendars. They seem to be more important milestones than say, the eighth or eleventh anniversary.
I have been thinking around this anniversary of the reasons why I said yes to the call and the occasion of my ordination. That ordination was on the Feast Day of Saint Augustine of Canterbury. Canterbury, not the more famous Augustine of Hippo. This Augustine, not of Hippo, was a monk at a monastery in Rome when Pope Gregory the Great chose him to lead a mission to England in 595. This mission was to re-establish the church in England following an almost two hundred year period when the British Isles were cut off from Rome and the Roman Empire. Augustine was a reluctant missionary and for good reason. His destination was an unknown land, ruled by Saxon heathens who were always fighting and selling the defeated into slavery. The Saxons spoke a strange language that no one knew and whatever authority the Pope had elsewhere did not hold sway here. What good could forty unarmed monks do if they even managed to survive first contact with these fierce barbarians? Augustine stopped before he reached his destination and made an appeal to the Pope to reconsider the mission. Gregory sent him a second time and he arrived in 597 to find a receptive King Aethelbert of Kent. As it turned out, the king’s wife Bertha was a Christian. The king soon converted, gave land for churches, and Augustine became the first Archbishop of Canterbury. Who saw that coming for Augustine the reluctant monk, Augustine the fortunate, Augustine now forever the saint, and first Archbishop and head of our Anglican tradition?
In the aftermath, I wonder what Augustine had to say to God about his doubts and his hesitation. I wonder what Augustine had to say to God about his good fortune in finding a receptive king and something of a church still remaining in that forgotten land. “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.”
It seems proper that I was ordained on the Feast Day of Saint Augustine. There have been many times that I have been like him. Like him, I can find myself with doubts and reluctant to take chances on the unknown. In those moments, I want to arm myself with data and probabilities for success before setting out to a reasonable end. Like him, my doubts can lead me to stop short of greater goals. And like him, I can find myself delighted by outcomes that were much better than anticipated. I have lots of old family photos and no one is smiling. They seem to have their doubts and their faces seem to show their reservation. Maybe that is a family trait or a larger German trait. A couple DNA tests say that I am 50-60 percent Britain. Maybe Augustine, with his doubts, is a distant relative.
It is important that doubts and reluctance are not confused with an absence of faith. My ancestors’ faith carried them through hard times and I am sure Augustine’s doubts were not about the core of his faith. Perhaps like you, the unknown gives me reason to pause and to question, but that is because we have faith and are in those moments grappling with our faith. Doubt and faith are not opposites. I would like to think that Augustine shares with me another trait - gratitude. I would like to think that he too experienced over and over that God is good and his love endures forever. I said yes to the call to ordained ministry out of gratitude for so many unforeseen blessings. God has been exceedingly good to me. One might think all those unforeseen blessings would cause me to be less doubting and less questioning. Those remain, but gratitude is really what has grown.
On this tenth anniversary, I am grateful for the places I have gone, often reluctantly, and have been blessed to find something greater than I could have asked or imagined. I am grateful that going through those places has brought me here. I give thanks to the LORD and my witness is that he is good and that his love endures forever.
Grace and peace, Fr Bill+