Ever started a trip and realized only much later you had journeyed into never-never land? At first your itinerary goes exactly as planned and you enjoy the journey. Everything is under control. You don’t notice that at some point you slowly began to enter into the twilight zone. The twilight zone becomes wilderness wandering.
Our years in Ann Arbor passed quickly. Good friendships and bonds were formed. On a family trip to Europe and Israel, one of our household singles joined us and ran after our toddler. Visitors to the community came from around the world. As the children grew into their teens, though, they began to have some negative feelings and experiences with living in household. The community never really became comfortable with its ecumenical status.
Eventually we also became unsure of the way authority (headship) was exercised within the community. It seemed to derive its structure from monastery life. The Word of God also began to change its sense of mission (and, after we left, finally split into two groups). Guests often stayed with us when they visited The Word Of God. A pastor from a new somewhat charismatic evangelical congregation was one such guest. He invited us to move 100 miles north and join his group. It seemed the right time for the family.
Unknown to me at the time, I had begun a journey into a spiritual wilderness. Tourists, for example, arrive, look around an attraction, and depart in comfort. They had a round trip ticket. We had no no such option. Only later did we realize we were in a spiritual wilderness. We moved. Thirty some years later we still live here.
The church, the town, and the people were as nice and good as could be desired. Solid biblical evangelical teaching (if you can allow charismatic expression). No crazy charismaniacs in this association of six small churches. A typical evangelical structure which meant here that there was a sort of “patriarch” we looked up to, but who exercised no direct authority in our lives. That was not his title, just a function. He distrusted direct authority. Each church had its pastor, and such assistant pastors and structure as it wished. It was in our congregation here that Fr. Orthohippo and Fr. Orthoduck pastored together. The six churches each had different styles of pastoral care. The congregations were either house churches or they rented space. Only the “patriarch’s” had a facility, and that was primarily a farm and retreat center. In the U.S.A. today, independent churches and the tiny groups of like minded churches work out their ministries mostly within themselves. They generally distrust or simply ignore any higher authority. Often with such churches, there was only small growth.
In our congregation, the founding pastor left to another state and ministry. There was enmity among our members after he left. We did not really survive his leaving. That church today still manages to meet as a tiny congregation. The promoted assistant pastor still leads that group. Today, most of the other churches in that association have only the most tenuous contact and little agreement on teachings with each other.
I felt rejected and hurt by the new pastor. After a mutual parting, I didn’t even go to church. I started a (failed) house church which lasted only about a year . We had joined a variegated group of Lutheran charismatics who admitted to no higher spiritual authority than themselves. This membership lasted until the house church disbanded. I stayed in contact with that group for a time, but was soured with church and churchmen. There truly was a spiritual wilderness about me, and I was lost. I knew God was displeased with my behavior. My wife was displeased with my behavior. My children was not happy with my behavior. I felt like the character in the cartoon. I didn’t know how to relate to my Christian brothers and sisters. I was unsure how to worship and pray. I needed to be in compliance with The Father above.. The best way to describe my state: I had no home. I was homeless.
Fr. Orthoduck was now in South America as a missionary. He was back raising money for his support. In an innocent phone call one hot July day, he suggested we attend the congregation of an acquaintance. The church was almost 65 minutes away, and the pastor was on vacation. About a month later we visited. The pastor, a former Lutheran, but also now a bishop in a vigorously growing group of charismatic former Episcopalians and other denominations, led the liturgical service.
Afterwards, on the way home, Judy and I had the same feeling. We had come home. A journey which has now ended in The Missionary Society of St. John, a member society with The Anglican Church in North America. I have reached elder (retired) priest status. It has truly become our home.