Thursday, January 27, 2011

An Interview with the Revd. Chris Larimer

West Kentucky Anglicans recently interviewed the Rev’d Chris Larimer the new rector of Holy Apostles Anglican Church in Elizabethtown, Kentucky. The Right Rev’d. John Guernsey, Bishop of the Diocese of the Holy Spirit, will be installing Chris as Holy Apostles’ rector on Sunday, January 30, 2011.

The Diocese of the Holy Spirit was originally affiliated with the Church of Uganda. It is now a part of the Anglican Church in North America.

In the interview Chris tells us about himself and how he became a journeyer on the Anglican Way. He shares with us his vision for the future of Holy Apostles and his hopes for the growth of the Anglican Church and Anglicanism.

What is your background, Chris? What were your earliest religious or spiritual experiences and how did they impact you?

I come from Johnson City, TN, born to older parents (my mother was almost 40 when I arrived). Though my parents originally were members of the Presbyterian Church, my father’s family had been Brethren / United Methodist – and that was the church in which I was baptized. My mother received a fresh experience of conversion in the 1970s that led to involvement in a charismatic church. When my parents divorced, we moved to the charismatic church full-time. The church grew to 500 in a short time, but experienced a severe split that led us to a membership of less than 20. It was during this time of hardship that I began to get a glimpse of what the church was really all about – not buildings and programs, but a group of people that band together to stick it out during hard times, and to share the love of Jesus among themselves and with those around them.

Despite a loving community, the outlook of the church meant that I grew up with a certain brand of “turn-or-burn” preaching that convinced me I should be a good boy…or else. But I now know better. I didn’t come to Christ by trying to be good. The truth of the matter is that He came to me – again and again and again – until I was able (through His grace) to see His beauty and submit myself to His loving lordship. It took a time of walking away from the church to see that, apart from Jesus, I could know nothing of a loving personal God.

Where did you attend school? Do you have any experiences from that time that you would like to share that have a bearing upon your personal spiritual journey?

I began my studies at King College in Bristol, TN. However, I transferred to East Tennessee State University to take advantage of the medical school’s coordinated undergraduate program. During my time at ETSU, I got involved in the Presbyterian Student Fellowship. It was in the context of student ministry that I was re-introduced to the church as a body of believers bound to their Lord, to His mission in the world, and to each other. Before I knew it, I was on the leadership team – and God grew the fellowship from 4 to 40 in a semester. It was during this time that others began noticing that I had gifts for vocational ministry. I took a position as youth director at a church and began to work on a regional level with other youth ministry efforts in the denomination. Within a year, it became clear to the ministers, elders, and to me that I was meant to exercise my gifts in vocational ministry. Thus, I was sent to Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary for my Master of Divinity.

Are you married? Do you have any children? What part has your faith played in your marriage and your relationship with your children?

I have been married since 1998 to my college sweetheart, Amy. We have five children, ranging in age from 12 to 3 (and two dogs). Needless to say, we stay plenty busy. Amy and I both felt that God had called us to raise a large family. We home school our children (using a classical approach). The children receive catechism lessons from their mother (who also teaches the younger children’s catechism at Holy Apostles).

When did you first experience a call to ordained ministry? How did the call affect your life at the time?

My mother will tell you that I told her I would grow up to be a preacher back when I was 3 years old! But the call to ministry came to me largely through other people recognizing gifts I had in teaching and exhorting (preaching) other people. The pastor of the church where I served as youth director was the first to raise the concern. Later, when I left the church for full-time work in another city, I tried to worship incognito. It didn’t work…within a few months of moving my membership and participating in Sunday School, my new pastor invited me to breakfast and asked “Have you ever considered becoming a minister?” After hearing it from so many sources, I surrendered to the call. I began with teaching Sunday School, progressed to becoming a deacon, and preaching for the Sunday evening service. I came under care of Holston Presbytery (the local expression of the Presbyterian Church USA). I returned to school and took Greek at nearby Milligan College, and completed a BA in English at ETSU. Then, it was off to seminary!

Do you have any reflections or thoughts on the experience that you might like to share with anyone else who seeking to discern whether he is called to ordained ministry?

Absolutely! A wise pastor told me that if I could be satisfied with a form of church service other than preaching, I should do that. He also said that if I could imagine myself doing anything else, I should try that. That’s good advice, because the ministry used to be a career that demanded high respect and placed low demands on one’s time; these days, the exact opposite is true. And if you have your pastoral identity bound to anything other than God’s relentless call to minister, you will get burned out – either in the preparation process or (worse) early in ordained service. In my previous denomination, less than half of newly ordained clergy were still in parish ministry after 5 years. That told me that either church had gotten tougher, or that too many people were confused about their calling.

Whatever else you do, nothing will prepare you for vocational ministry better than serving in a local parish as a layman. Whether you’ll serve in a parish context or some extra-parochial ministry, you do so for the edification of the laity. Ephesians 4:11-14 says “[Jesus] gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” It’s hard to build people up when you’ve never stood in their shoes. How can you train Christians to be good laypeople if you’ve never been a good layperson yourself?

How did you become an Anglican? What attracted you to Anglicanism?

My first experience with Anglicanism was at a Christmas Eve Solemn Eucharist service at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Johnson City, TN. I was just beginning to understand my identity as a Christian, and wasn’t sure about anything having to do with the clerical state. I remember being overwhelmed by the reverence and worshipfulness of the priest. It was clear that his was a tradition that didn’t look around at what others were doing in order to “get folks in” but instead was worshiping in the time-tested ways that had been entrusted to them. They weren’t trying make history as Christians…they were simply interested in being Christians grounded in their history.

Years later, after I had discerned my call to serve as an elder (presbyter) in the church, I was drawn to visit St. John’s again. In the small weekday services, I again experienced that depth of historical worship (absent of the grandeur and ceremony of a high festival of the Christian year). I acquired a prayer book and began to read it. I appreciated how Anglicanism had doctrinally embraced much of the Protestant Reformation (so important to Presbyterians), but had clung tenaciously to a more catholic worship and ecclesiastical order. I soon began having regular meetings with Fr. John in an effort to discern if I was called to be a priest. Unfortunate lapses in both doctrine and discipline in the Episcopal Church meant that I couldn’t in good conscience transfer. However, I learned that there were pockets of people who had continued the things I’d come to love in Anglicanism (an emphasis on evangelical catholicism, liturgical worship, and universally-recognizable church order) and had also retained standards of orthodoxy and moral discipline.

Few mainline denominations avoid the same doctrinal and moral struggles, so when I saw the collapse of the PCUSA’s understanding of the Holy Trinity, my future ministry therein became untenable. While I was on a trip to London, England, my desire to become an Anglican was rekindled. It wasn’t long afterwards that I found out about the Common Cause Partnership and the Federation of Anglican Churches in the Americas – groups of concerned dioceses, micro-denominations, and other ministry partners, who were banding together to enable faithful ministry in an Anglican context. I took a leap of faith and joined a group that was negotiating being received into the inchoate orthodox province for the United States & Canada. I was ordained to the priesthood, and within 11 months, we had all incardinated into the Anglican Church in North America.

What do you personally consider the strong points of Anglicanism?

Anglicanism has one of the best tool-boxes for making disciples of Jesus Christ that I’ve ever seen. While it has clear ties to England, the church has spread to every continent on earth. It has shown itself very adaptable to the needs of the local populace without having to compromise its core (or impose Western European societal structures on the mission field). We have all of the tools of the catholic faith as it developed in Western Europe (i.e., the Latin Rite), the faith having been planted in England before the end of the second century. At the same time, in the 1500s as we were coming out from under Rome’s dominion, we drank deeply from the mystical, theological, and liturgical resources of the Eastern Orthodox churches. In that way, Anglicanism was the first real attempt at what Pope John Paul II termed “breathing with both lungs.” [1]

Anglicanism also came of age during the Protestant Reformation, with its emphasis on Scriptural doctrine being taught in order to repristinate the church. And in our day, we see the church’s explosive growth in the “two-thirds world” where – absent the societal and material wealth of the West – a radical dependence on the power of the Holy Spirit is again renewing the church for mission.

[1]"The Church must breathe with her two lungs!" - Pope John Paul II, Ut Unum Sint, no. 54

If you were to sum up the Anglican Way in one or two sentences, what would you say?

One of the best glosses I’ve heard for Anglicanism is “evangelical biblical catholicism.” But I don’t think we could do better than the venerable bishop, Lancelot Andrews (1555-1626), who said that: “One Canon (one Bible), two Testaments, three Creeds, four General Councils, five centuries and the series of Fathers in that period determine the boundaries of our faith.” In other words, we are the Ancient Faith for the Modern World.

When did you receive the call to become the rector of the Church of the Holy Apostles?

I began attending Holy Apostles in the summer. I had finished my curacy (first placement) the past Easter and was in the search process for a parish. Fr. Kent asked if I would fill in a few Sundays while he recovered from surgery. We didn’t know it, but he was planning to retire within 6-9 months. Amy and I felt right at home – and loved the way the parish welcomed us as “extended family.” After I’d given two sermons, the Pastor Nominating Committee asked me to submit my resume if I was willing to be considered. Within a few weeks, both the nominating committee and the vestry (board) of the church had voted unanimously to call me as their next rector. It was one of those clear moments when the timing was just perfect.

Describe Holy Apostles for us. What would a first time guest expect when he or she visited Holy Apostles?

Holy Apostles began in 2005. The rector of Christ Episcopal (Kent Litchfield) and many of the parishioners felt that they could no longer remain affiliated with the Episcopal Church. Instead of trying to take the church out of the denomination, they instead chose to simply walk away and start fresh. The parish was soon large enough to require a rented space for worship – and moved to the State Theater on the Dixie Hwy. A change in scheduling meant that they needed to again relocate to the Brown Pusey House. But the building was too small to accommodate growth. When the pool-hall in Public Square came open, they decided to purchase the building and convert it into a church. Even though Holy Apostles has only been in existence for five years, nearly half of the people here have been together as a congregation for multiple decades. That brings a great level of stability and communal ownership of the work of the church.

Holy Apostles has more than her fair share of military retirees and families. That’s an exciting backdrop for ministry! I find that, as a rule, military personnel understand the importance of acting on abstract principles (freedom, justice, etc.); that means that they see the practical relevance of doctrinal statements like “Jesus is Lord.” Most importantly, know what it means to band together through thick & thin; they embody commitment to a group of people on a mission. And because they are accustomed to welcoming new colleagues (and, to my benefit, new commanding officers!), it’s easy to get involved in the life of the community.

As to what to expect as a visitor: I’ve written a visitor’s guide that is posted on our website. In short, expect to be welcomed with Christ’s love, expect to be challenged with Christ’s word, expect to be fed on Christ’s body & blood, expect to be forgiven in Christ’s name, and expect to be sent out into the world to proclaim Christ’s kingdom in word and deed. Our mission is to make Christ’s name great in our own hearts, families, and community.

What are you hoping to accomplish while you are the rector of Holy Apostles? What is your vision for the church five years from now? Ten years from now?

First and foremost, I hope to build the people up in maturity (see Eph. 4). Like most new churches, Holy Apostles has been largely led by the concentrated effort of the clergy and a small team of dedicated lay people. While that is necessary in the early days of a work, it’s now incumbent upon us to expand the ministry to everyone in the congregation. As our organizational complexity grows, I want to see more and more people exercising their God-given gifts in service through and to the parish. Ministry, like love, grows the more you give it away. In my first five years, I’d like to see us double attendance. I plan on facilitating this by making more midweek opportunities for worship, formation, and mission – as well as evaluating the need for two services on the weekend. In our day, you can’t assume that everyone has Sunday morning at 10 AM off – or that evenings are the best time to meet midweek. You have to make sure there are a number of opportunities to get fed and get involved – both for retirees and for actively employed persons. In ten years, should growth demand it, I’d like to see us erect a church building that would accommodate larger numbers. Without a campus, we’re competing for parking during the work week. That makes it difficult to hold programs that could benefit the community like after school programs, food pantries, clothes closets, and provide conference / educational / community group space.

What are your personal hopes for the growth of the Anglican Church and Anglicanism in Kentucky, North America, and the world?

I hope that we’ll see a formation of a deanery or even a diocese in Kentucky (and the surrounding area). Holy Apostles aligned with the Diocese of the Holy Spirit because – at the time – they had the most churches in the state. However, we’ve also built ties of fellowship with churches in the AMiA, the Missionary Diocese of All Saints, CANA Chaplains, and the Reformed Episcopal Church. I think it would behoove us all to be under one umbrella – or at cooperating at a much higher level for mutual edification and evangelism.

For the whole country, I think it will be important for us to come to a more conclusive understanding of the issues that bear on our national coherence – especially a unified Prayer Book and a unified understanding / practice of ordained ministry. Also, a recent book by Carl Trueman (The Real Scandal of the Evangelical Mind) outlined how many people wearing the label “evangelical” don’t agree on the basics of the gospel. The same holds true for evangelicals in the Anglican world. If we don’t have a common primary theology (i.e., what we say to God and believe God says to us – as exemplified in the liturgy), then there’s little hope of recovering a common secondary theology (what we say about God concerning Christology, soteriology, ecclesiology, etc.).

Lastly, on the international scene, the focus of orthodox Anglican identity is shifting to the global south. While I lament the loss of Canterbury as the nexus of communion, I look forward to relocating our identity in Jesus and His mission – with names, faces, and history being subsumed to Lord of history. Formal recognition of ACNA by whatever communion structure evolves (primates’ council?) will help clarify where we stand not only in the Anglican Communion but also in relation to Rome, the East, and the mass-diversity of protestant sects.

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