By Zachary Guiliano
In the summer of 2014, I became the editor of this blog. It was a heady time. I had finished the first year of my PhD at the University of Cambridge and was at the start of the Church of England’s discernment process, very much enjoying my life and full of vim and vigor.
It was more or less an experiment as well, on the part of The Living Church and at the invitation of its executive director, Christopher Wells: taking an existing blog, with a history, character, community, and audience already gathered around it, and seeing what might happen with a little more editorial attention and encouragement.
Nearly five years later, the experiment has by all reasonable measures proved a success. Our readership has grown year on year, the number of authors who write for us regularly has ballooned, and we receive an increasing number of submissions from guest contributors.
Meanwhile, I’ve had people from Lambeth to Los Angeles to Lagos mention they have read our articles, whether it was one of our more popular, eye-catching pieces — like “Churches Need Incense” or “Only the Dumb Ones Go into Parish Ministry” — or a bread and butter piece of homely divinity from one of our blogging bishops like “Notes for Next Year’s Vigil” or “Very Members Incorporate.”
Or it might have been some of our commentary on big events like the 2016 Primates’ Meeting or the 50th Anniversary of the Anglican Centre in Rome. Among these, I would commend Neil Dhingra’s “Justin Welby, Liturgy, and Orthodoxy in the Anglican Future” as one of the most insightful pieces we have ever published. Two of my later pieces in the same year were mere footnotes to his (“Receiving Ministries, Anglican and Catholic” and “Gesture, Liturgy, Action”), just as the various events commemorated in them were bound together by the crozier of St. Gregory the Great, whom I count among my patron saints.
(Obviously, I have skipped over many others that deserve mentioning. Like parents with their children, I have no favorite posts, but like a merchant with his wares I must point you to a few fungible yet profitable items. Such is my role.)
At the beginning of this little experiment, I had some modest aims for the blog that I set out in two slightly ponderous articles: “Teaching with Power and Love” and “The Assumption of Labor.” What can I say? It’s my style.
The first was concerned with the problems of communicating and teaching in the Church, when one of the primary promises the Lord gives to teachers is that they will be judged more strictly than others. How nice, we might say. Thankfully, he also grants a dose of his fiery Spirit.
“To teach properly,” I wrote in August 2014, “requires a delicate balancing act” —
a turn neither to the left nor to the right; a careful following of the narrow path that leads to life, not the broad way that leads to destruction. For graceless human beings, this is an impossible task: no one can tame the tongue, and no one is sufficient for the task of the teacher. But with God, all things are possible.
We can learn to speak again to each other in the presence of the God who is generous with his gifts. The hellish fire staining the Body of Christ, staining our church, our communion, can be countered by the Spirit’s purging flame. “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God” (James 1:5). “For the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy” (James 3:18).
I don’t know if we’ve always walked this narrow way; only the end of time will tell. I think we have striven to do so, however, and when we have fallen we have felt God’s gracious hand raising us again. Where I have failed you (our authors, our readers, colleagues and friends all), I ask for your continued forbearance and forgiveness, that I may try to make amends in time. If I do not repay to the last penny (Matt. 5:26), well, I hope that my enemy finds me suitably penitent, before handing me to the jailer.
My second programmatic post was, more or less, an admission of the likelihood of failure from the beginning. (It wasn’t quite so pessimistic as that, but you’ll see what I mean, if you read it.) My imagination, for better or worse, is filled with passages from the Psalms, and Psalm 127 kept coming into my mind at the beginning of our time together. “Unless the Lord builds the house, their labour is but lost that build it. … It is but lost labour that ye haste to rise up early, and so late take rest, and eat the bread of carefulness” (Ps. 127:1, 3).
“It is vain indeed,” I said.
Why have Anglicans contended so earnestly in the past several years to find some measure of harmony and unity, some measure of faithfulness and righteousness together, for all our efforts to seem almost wasted or frivolous? The cares have overwhelmed some to the point of resignation and overcome others to the abandonment of common counsel.
Perhaps this exhaustion is a good thing. Perhaps the failure of our own charity and goodwill can itself serve as a reminder of our frailty. The unity of the city of Jerusalem cannot be brought about merely through our efforts; it is always a gift of God, descending from the Father of Lights like a bride adorned for her husband (cf. James 1:17; Rev. 21:2).
“Jerusalem is builded as a city that is at unity in itself” (Ps. 122:3, Coverdale version), but only by the efforts of the Lord “in whom the whole structure is joined together” (Eph. 2:21). So why redouble our efforts? Why devote ourselves to regular writing and dialogue and conversation? Why rise so early and go to bed so late?
Is it not because we have some faith in the Lord who “gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist” (Rom. 4:17)?
Work we must, work we will, but in the end, all our strivings must cease, all our tongues fall silent before the Lord who gives the gift. Only then will we know where or if God’s action has undergirded our own.
Why all this nostalgic introspection? Because my time as blog editor seems to have run its course. This is not because I dislike the work or our authors or the task. Rather, I have had an ever-growing sense of my need to focus on my pastoral work and to develop my writing, speaking, and preaching in new ways. I’m no longer a doctoral student nor discerning a vocation, at least not in the same way.
With joy, the Rev. Dr. has appeared before my name for some time, and I am a scholar priest of sorts, ministering at St. Bene’t’s, Cambridge, with colleagues wiser and holier than me and a congregation that finds me mostly tolerable. It feels like it is time for new things. (Maybe I am one of those “dumb ones” Sarah Condon wittily wrote about.)
I am also, to put it mildly, done. My goals for the blog have long since been surpassed. The exhaustion of others has become my own. The failure of charity and goodwill has at times become my failure. And I am more aware of my own frailty — physically, morally, spiritually — than I was at the age of 28, just as I am more aware of God’s grace.
To me, this is all good news rather than bad. I am grateful for what we have done. I am grateful to be handing the blog over in a good state to its new editor, Eugene Schlesinger, a friend and colleague whose work, charity, zeal, and humor I admire. I am glad to know more than before “how to be a sinner,” to use Peter Bouteneff’s phrase. And I am excited for the future. Glory to God for all things, as Fr. Stephen Freeman has often reminded us.
If you’re still reading, I ask that you would pray: for the Church of God across the world; for the ministry of The Living Church (its board, executive, staff, and writers); and for me. We need it.