News an Episcopal diocese in the United States has decided to abandon the use of masculine pronouns for God reminded me of a lecture I attended back in 1999 or so.
“Jesus called God ‘Father’–therefore we have no other option,” was the main point of a lecture delivered by David Lyle Jeffrey, who was then president of Augustine College. He then went on to teach at Baylor University in Texas. A marvelous teacher and scholar.
The lecture was held at a little Anglican church in Ottawa’s Sandy Hill section. It was then called St. Alban’s. Many years later, its congregation decided to leave the Anglican Church of Canada for the Anglican Network in Canada.
My friend Mary Wells, now deceased, met me at St. Alban’s for the lecture. She came from an Anglican background and was working for Anglican Renewal Ministries—a Canadian charismatic Anglican outreach—when I first made her acquaintance at Kanata Baptist Church, a seeker-friendly Baptist church that gave me my first taste of healthy, Christian community. Mary was always ready to go to a lecture, or to talk theology, or go investigate another church service or form of worship.
After this memorable lecture by David Jeffrey, Mary and I met some young men at the reception in St. Alban’s basement. The conversation was so engaging, we decided to continue it at a Vietnamese restaurant in Ottawa’s Chinatown. The discussion reminded me of a university seminar. Most invigorating!
We exchanged email addresses, and not long afterwards I received an email from Glenn, one of the young men about his discovery of a little church in Ottawa called Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
It was a cathedral then and had a bishop, Bishop Robert Mercer. Glenn invited me to attend a service, where I first met Fr. Carl Reid, who is now the Dean of the Deanery of St. John the Baptist of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter.
The way they celebrated the Mass! I had never seen such reverence and sense of recollection. The bows, the genuflections, the way the prayers were meant rather than rattled off—what a powerful lesson in theology communicated by symbols, gestures and beauty about Real Presence in the Eucharist.
When Bishop Robert prayed the Mass, it was as if we were lifted into heaven. I, with my attention problems, could hear every word. When he proclaimed the Gospel or a letter of St. Paul, it was as if the evangelist was standing there. He is now Msgr. Mercer, retired and living in England.
There were no bows to political correctness; no fear of feminism or outspoken women at Annunciation. My friend Mary had a steel trap mind and she loved to debate—-even argue. And she was formidable. But she also had a bad habit of interrupting. She loved Annunciation, though, and in no time, like me, she was a regular attender.
Fr. Carl would not let her get away with interrupting, though. “Stop interrupting, Mary,” he would say to her repeatedly, and patiently. She told me she appreciated this, because she realized she did need correction in this area.
I often think about how this lecture wasby David Jeffrey a step in the route that led me to Annunciation and eventually into the Catholic Church.
But when I look around, I see this was not one of those one-off coincidences that ended up changing my life forever. Had I not attended this particular lecture by David Jeffrey, I was already connected to Augustine College, which was becoming another conduit to our parish. Our present priest Fr. Doug Hayman is chaplain at Augustine College and teaches Scripture there. One of our parishioners is their webmaster. One of our former parishioners who decided not to become Catholic teaches philosophy there. I had been in touch with professors of Augustine College before it was even created, because I attended a breakfast seminar of Christian college professors and students that met once a week in the 1990s to discuss such things as papal encyclicals, essays in First Things Magazine or books on theology.
“Jesus called God Father—therefore we have no other option,” has remained with me ever since that lecture, and I wholeheartedly agree. Therefore, I resist any attempts to change the language of Scripture, of our hymns, our collects or any other references to so-called inclusive language.
I remain leery of any efforts to change the faith according to the latest popular progressive movements or so-called social science.