I’m a “cradle-Anglican,” meaning I have been one all my life. My earliest memories of attending church are of sitting in a pew with Mom and Dad and various family members in churches all over the Bonavista Peninsula. Even before I understood anything of what was going on around me I knew that I belonged. That perception has never left me. I have never felt outside of the community of faith any time in my life.
My childhood was shaped by what I call a “steady Anglican faith.” There was nothing terribly emotional or evangelical about it – it was just ... well ... solid. In fact, I grew up in an age when the phrase, “as solid as the Church” was often dropped into conversations. The Anglican Church was part of my life and for most of that life it seemed to be a pretty steadfast institution. Worship, growing up, was always from the Book of Common Prayer, frequently led by a Layreader, and the familiarity and beauty of the language was always a safe place for me. It still is.
Confirmation came and I remember both the classes and the event. It was a time when most every Anglican young person in the community was Confirmed when they came of age and many of my classmates at school were also part of my Confirmation class. Being an Anglican was simply part of my identity. It still is.
I guess I was around 15 when one night I found myself alone at home watching Billy Graham in one of his televised services from a stadium somewhere in the US. The place was packed. His style of preaching caught me instantly. It was different from what I was used to. There were more stories and illustrations. It was also more personal and Billy Graham implied that maybe there were some people out there who did not know who Jesus was or who did know but had not accepted him as their Savior. He said the time had come to make a decision. And then he invited everyone in the stadium to come forward and make a personal commitment to Jesus. The hymn, “Just as I am,” played as they did so. And then Billy Graham looked fully into the camera and it seemed as if he was talking only to me. In his pastoral, mature and loving way he asked me to invite Jesus into my heart. I remember his words, “Invite Him and he’ll come.”
And I did. And He did.
I’m not sure anything really changed about me that night. The path I was on was pretty well set by then. But I do remember the moment as a reaffirmation of that path. In a sense, the steady Anglican faith I had been given became mine in a new way. Biblical scholar Tom Wright, in his book, Jesus and the Victory of God states that Jesus did two things in his ministry: he proclaimed God's promised kingdom, and then he invited people to come forward and become part of it. His challenge was not simply an intellectual one, "Do you agree?" Rather, he pushed his listeners toward making a commitment. And he issued that invitation by meeting people right where they were.
That’s what Billy Graham did for me that night so long ago. I am grateful for my steady Anglican faith and I am sure I would still possess it even if I had not encountered Billy Graham as a 15 year old. But I admit that he certainly nudged me to make a commitment that was mine and mine alone.
Sometimes I feel this old Anglican Church needs to do a better job of helping our people make a personal commitment to Jesus Christ. Knowing about Jesus and truly knowing Jesus are two vastly different things. Our steady Anglican faith can sometimes make us reluctant to make that individual promise to Him, which changes us forever.
This Lent, whether you are a “cradle-Anglican” like me, or someone who entered the church along the way, or someone who isn’t really sure where you belong, invite Jesus into your heart once again ... or for the first time. “Invite Him and he’ll come.” I did. And He did. You might even ask Jesus to make some changes in your life, in your heart, in your relationships. He can do that too.
I would love to hear from you if you say that prayer. And if you don’t want to pray alone, find someone to pray with you. I can recommend to you some fine Anglican clergy I know. Or you can even call me and I’ll pray with you, over the telephone or in person. That’s how important that prayer is for me. And for you.