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Roundtable: Why I Write for Covenant (Jonathan Mitchican)

Periodically, we like to take stock of our work and mission. How can Covenant best serve the Anglican Communion and wider Christian family? And how do we think about the breadth of our writing? For the next few days, we present perspectives that we hope you enjoy. —Eds.

By Jonathan Mitchican

Why did you convert?

People ask me this question frequently. It is a natural curiosity. I spent 11 years in ordained ministry in the Episcopal Church before returning to the Roman Catholic Church in which I was raised and now serve as a priest. I know what they are getting at, but inherent in the question is a mistaken presupposition. Yes, I am a convert, but not because I went from being Anglican to being Catholic. I am a convert because I was baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ when I was three months old, and because I fell in love with Jesus Christ in my early 20s. Jesus has radically changed my life over and over again in the years since, carrying me on a journey I never expected, to places I never knew I would go. Catholicism is a big part of that story, but so is Covenant and the family of disciples I have been blessed to be a part of because of it.

In 2012, I was experiencing a crisis. No one would have known it to look at me. I was a young rector at a lovely parish just outside of Philadelphia. I had created a popular blog called The Conciliar Anglican where I was advocating for something I was calling “classical Anglicanism,” a mishmash of the 17th century Anglican divines, the Oxford Movement, and a sprinkle of high church Lutheranism for good measure. I was acting firm in my convictions because I really wanted to be, but the truth is that I was struggling with how to make sense of my faith life. Anglicanism was becoming increasingly messy and crisscrossed. I wanted something solid, which I had only seen in my Eastern Orthodox and Lutheran Church Missouri Synod friends, all of whom assured me that they knew the truth, and that stability was to be found exclusively in a return to the sources of the past. They just disagreed with each other about which moment in the past and which set of sources to rely on. I was essentially trying to invent the same thing for myself but from within Anglicanism. It was gaining me a lot of attention, but it was not actually satisfying the longing of my heart.

Then I got a phone call from Dr. Philip Turner that changed my life. He invited me to join a burgeoning group of young, theologically conservative Episcopalians called the Rising Leaders Forum. I flew out to Dallas in early 2013 and met for the first time a number of very smart people who would later become my friends and colleagues in Covenant, including the new editor of The Living Church, a tall man with broad shoulders and a wide smile named Christopher Wells.

Meeting Christopher was itself a conversion experience for me. Right away I found him both compelling and aggravating in almost equal measure. We had a lot in common, but Christopher was strongly committed to a kind of ecumenical catholicism that I found wishy-washy. We argued a lot, both in person and in print, a process that I found absolutely maddening, because Christopher can be a fierce opponent when he believes in something strongly, yet he is always just so damn congenial that I could not write him off. Instead, I would have to go deeper into what he loved if I wanted to beat him. I started reading more Ephraim Radner, who I had also had the pleasure of meeting at the Rising Leaders Forum. I also began to read seriously for the first time the documents of the Second Vatican Council, fully intent to hate them for being modernist drivel, but instead discovering that they contain a wealth of riches and the most compelling account of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ in the modern world that I have encountered.

Covenant is far from monolithic. The writers come from a variety of backgrounds, experiences, and theological perspectives. Yet we are united in a love for Jesus Christ and a great desire to be agents of ecclesial healing. We are traditional, in the sense that we take seriously the tradition that has come before us and the need for us to be in continuity with that tradition, which means not arbitrarily casting aside the doctrinal and moral teachings of the past 2,000 years whenever it suits us. Yet as Christopher showed me through our debates, that continuity does not require planting a flag in the ground of history at some fixed point and acting as if nothing since has been of value. This group of writers is engaging and knowledgeable. I can always rely on them to help me track down a half-remembered quote or an obscure rationale for a particular liturgical tradition. But it is also a group committed to Christian fraternity, building each other up and thereby building up the body of Christ. Our conversations and our disagreements are lively and passionate, both through email and occasional in person gatherings, but they are always grounded in charity and a true sense that when we come together we need to “wait for one another” (1 Cor. 11:33). That has not only made my writing better, it has made me a better person.

In the summer of 2015, I was moved in prayer by an unexpected calling of the Lord to return to the Roman Catholic Church. It was hard to follow that calling and cost me a number of friendships, but Covenant was by and large a place that still supported me and sought to walk with me to the fullest degree possible. Indeed, my engagement with much of the best of modern Catholic thought, from Ratzinger to Balthasar to John Paul II’s masterpiece of ecumenism Ut Unum Sint, all stemmed from conversations with my Covenant colleagues. They have never made me feel like an outsider for following my conscience and the call of the Lord. In this way, they have modeled for me what true ecumenism looks like, a striving across differences to remain a family even when those differences seem unbridgeable. Covenant is a gift to the body of Christ throughout the world, and I am blessed that I continue to be a part of it.


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