Monday, 15th May, 2000

Officially back at work today. My director came around this morning, and I talked matters over with him. Basically, I just laid it all out for him. He acknowledged that this was coming from a centre of deep integrity for me. He raised the question of why this issue should raise itself just now. He offered to be with me on the journey. We talked about authority for some time. Especially: how does the principle that the true authority is the Verbum Dei operate in practice? He said that in terms of the cross, I may have to ask myself the question whether God is asking me to bear that cross on the fringes of the Catholic Church, or to bear that cross in service of the Lutheran Church, even though I know that the Lutheran Church will never be the Catholic church. In doing this he pointed out that there are many and various ways that I can and do serve the cause of the church catholic in the LCA.

After he left, I emailed Fr D. to ask him to set the wheels of the tribunal in motion for an annulment. He answered back that he would do this immediately. He also said he “admired my faith and courage”. I asked him to pray for me that my faith may not fail.

Friday 12th May, 2000

I have found this day exhausting. I think this whole business is getting on top of me. This morning I rang Fr D. to find out the outcome of his meeting with the Vicar-General. Basically two things:

  • There is no preset way of accepting ministers of other denominations in the Melbourne diocese because it happens so rarely

  • I need an annulment

When I asked about Cathy’s marriage, Fr D. began by saying she would need an annulment also, but when I pointed out that there was a good chance that her first husband had not been a baptised Christian at the time of their marriage, he said that this would be a very simple matter of Cathy being interviewed (probably by himself) and presenting the facts. If in fact, Her first husband had been an apostate at the time of their marriage, then that would allow Cathy to invoke what is know as the “Pauline privilege” (1 Cor 7:15), which would mean that her marriage was not a “sacramental marriage” and she is free to enter a properly sacramental marriage.

This is all a little overwhelming for me and is causing me a great deal of angst. It made me hard to continue my reading today. However, I did complete Called to Communion, and found more passages in it that were helpful both for me as a pastor, and to encourage me to enter the Catholic Church.

The difficult passages that really addressed me where I am at the moment are as follows (toward the end):

“Here we touch upon a very important point. A world-view that is incapable of giving even pain meaning and value is good for nothing. It falls short precisely at the hour of the most serious crisis of existence...”

“Perhaps we are now a little better able to comprehend what a turnabout faith entails--to grasp the re-versal, the con-version that it contains: I acknowledge that God himself speaks and acts; I recognise the existence not only of what is ours but also of what is his. But if this is true, if we are not the only ones who choose and act, but he too speaks and acts, then everything changes. Then I must obey, then I must follow him, even when he leads me where I do not wish to go (Jn 21:18). Then it becomes reasonable, indeed, necessary, to let go of my own taste, to renounce my own wishes and to follow after him who alone can show the way to true life, because he himself is the life (Jn 14:6). This is what Paul means by the cruciform character of discipleship, which he underlines at the conclusion of the reading as the answer to the Corinthian party system (10:17): I abandon my taste and submit myself to him. But it is in this very way that I am set free, because the real slavery is imprisonment in the circle of our own wishes.”

“Only the unity of the Church’s faith and her authority, which is binding on each member, assures us that we are not following human opinions and adhering to self-made party groupings but that we belong to the Lord and are obeying him.”

I am certainly feeling pain at the moment. I feel as if there are conflicting notes and themes in my soul and I cannot make them harmonise. So the chords that are playing are very discordant and they are in a minor key.

So, where have I arrived?

I have debated several courses of action, but this is where I am at the moment.

  1. I am thoroughly committed to my marriage to Cathy. Nothing will convince me that this is not a real marriage in the sight of God, with all the attendant obligations of love and faithfulness (our marriage text was “Let love and faithfulness never leave you...” Prov 3:3). Even if, in the eyes of the Catholic Church, our marriage is not a proper sacramental marriage, yet I have personally committed myself to Cathy before God, the community, and the state. I cannot, and I will not, abandon these vows. I have done that once. Two wrongs don’t make a right. It would be evil--unjust and unloving for me to renege on my relationship with Cathy. I will not do it. I do not refuse it for my sake, but for Cathy’s sake and for Madeline’s sake and for the sake of our unborn child. It would be selfish if for the sake of my own conscience I were to deny my marriage to Cathy. Even if it true that I have sinned in taking another wife, it is a sin I just have to live with before God. But, on the contrary, I live each day in overwhelming thankfulness for the blessings God has shown me in gifting me with a wife and family.

  2. Given that my marriage with my first wife is ended, on both sides, I see no reason why I should not apply for an annulment. If it is possible that such an annulment may be granted, then this is well and good. In such a case, I will then proceed to ask Cathy to follow up information regarding the state of her marriage. I feel the obligation is on me first to achieve an annulment of my first marriage, for if this is unsuccessful, it will save Cathy the bother of doing something she is loath to do in any case. On the other hand, if I can get an annulment, then it will be worth trying. I did not ask Fr D. what the outcome would be if I received an annulment, but if Cathy’s marriage was not declared either a non-sacramental marriage or annulled.

  3. If I cannot get an annulment, I will then seriously reconsider my decision to become a Roman Catholic. This is not because I want to hold onto my own opinion. Rather it is because I could not honestly put myself under the authority of the Roman Catholic Church, and then live openly in contradiction to its teachings. This would be a contradiction of the very reason why I desired to become a Catholic in the first place.

  4. At the same time, I could not be a Catholic and never take communion. The irony here is that I have come to strongly distrust the reality of the Lutheran claim to have the true Mass. This is one of the clashing themes in my soul. Other clashing themes are, as has been said, that I either belong to a church that authoritatively condemns my marriage, or a church which condones it with no authority; that I either belong to a church where I can serve as an ordained minister, but where I have come to doubt the authority of that ministry, or I belong to a church whose ministry I do not question, but which I could not share.
So, I will try for an annulment of my first marriage and take it from there. I spent a couple of hours today gathering together my thoughts that I could present in an initial meeting with the tribunal. (Fr D. said that I may need to provide a couple of “witnesses”--God knows who--but that my first wife need not be involved directly). If an annulment is not possible, and if there is no other recourse that would enable me to enter full communion with the Catholic church (no point in disobedience here--it is precisely because I want to obey that I have even contemplated this step), then I will see this as God’s direction that I should not pursue the issue any further. I will accept that the call I currently have to live as an evangelical catholic in the Lutheran Church, and to serve the Lutheran Church in my capacity as a pastor, is the true and valid call of God.

The upshot of all my decisions is that even if this all ends up going nowhere, it was something I had to consider. I had to revisit the issue, to know if the constant nagging I have had regarding whether I should enter the Catholic church will have finally been resolved. Also, it will direct my future ministry in the Lutheran church, because I have finally acknowledged that I can only be a Lutheran in so far as the Lutheran Church adheres to the Catholic faith. I will have to work that through more thoroughly--I don’t think that will be an easy task either, especially as I continue to see such an abuse of the gift of authority in our church.

Next thing to do: Talk to my spiritual director . After that: Apply for the annulment and undergo the initial interview.

Deus in adjutorioum meum intende. Amen.

Thursday 11th May, 2000

Cathy arrived with Maddy arrived on the Island at lunchtime. We sat down on the beach for a while, and as Maddy was playing in the sand, I reopened the discussion which we had not talked about since Sunday evening.

I said that I had now fairly well decided to make the move to the Catholic Church. I could still change my mind , but that was my current resolve.

I pointed out that it was not a matter of disagreeing with any particular Lutheran doctrines, but rather an acceptance that the Catholic Church was the true Church.

I pointed out also that I would not take any steps that would put Cathy and Maddy’s welfare into question; that I loved them and was committed to our marriage and family.

I said that I believed that I could get some temporary jobs in libraries through an agency to tide us over in the mean time, but that in the long run I would be wanting to do some work in the church somewhere and somehow.

Then I broached the difficult subject of annulments. I pointed out that according to the Catholic Catechism, persons who are divorced and remarried cannot receive communion; that I had thought about this a lot, and decided that I couldn’t join the Catholic church because I recognised its authority and then not obey in this area. So I had decided that I would become a Catholic even if it meant that I could never actually receive holy communion in the Catholic church; but that I every confidence (based on Fr D.’ “Don’t Worry”!!!) that I could get my first marriage annulled.

However, and here is where things got really, really sticky, before I could point out the next logical step, Cathy got there before me and said: “There’s no way I will be getting an annulment of my first marriage”.

That terrified me. So I let it sit for a bit there. Cathy had already begun to shed some tears as we were talking, and I didn’t think it was the place to pursue things then.

Later, I was bathing Maddy, when it suddenly occurred to me that according to the Catechism:

1625 The parties to a marriage covenant are a baptized man and woman, free to contract marriage, who freely express their consent; "to be free" means:
- not being under constraint;
- not impeded by any natural or ecclesiastical law.

And I realised that there was every chance that her first husband had not actually been baptised. When I asked, Cathy said that there was a chance he was baptised as a child, but that at about 17 years of age, he had been baptised by the Mormons. Well, this was a revelation, and I must say that I reacted with some relief, because I then knew  that getting an annulment of Cathy’s marriage would be a simple and straightforward matter. The difficulty was that Cathy would interpret this as a denial of half her life in which she and Ian were partners.

I had to handle this carefully, I knew, so I raised the matter with Cathy by saying that I could just let this rest, but I wanted her to listen. I explained that if there was a chance that both of us could receive annulments, our marriage could be recognised and blessed, I could receive communion, and perhaps have a chance of ministry within the church. Without it, I could not. Again, tears followed. I understand what Cathy is feeling. She feels that the Church is being legalistic and denying God’s grace by requiring annulments. She also feels that I am asking her to deny something that was very precious to her, and that she strove to maintain--her relationship with Ian. I feel really bad having to press the issue.

In reflection, I am now finding myself in a most ambivalent situation. I want to become a Catholic. I believe that the Catholic Church has Christ’s authority to teach in a way that no other ecclesial community has. This belief has undermined my confidence (what there was of it) in the Lutheran church, such that my ministry in the Lutheran church will now be particularly difficult to maintain. On the other hand, I am seeing a situation in which I will have to give up pastoral ministry, perhaps even give up receiving communion (which is the whole point of being a Christian, let alone a Catholic), have to go through all the messy business of annulments etc., and face a time of financial uncertainty to boot as I go through uncertain employment.

Is this whole thing just some big joke being played by devil, or is it Christ really testing me? It all feels similar to the tests that I have had in the past. The business about the church not being willing to ordain me back in 1991 ; or the time when my first wife separated from me and all the angst I went through with that.  This is just, just like that.

Tuesday 9th May, 2000

After I completed the journal on last night, I looked up “Catholic Catechism” on the Internet; finding it, I spent the next hour and half down loading it page by page and got to bed at 1:30am. But not before reading the following statement:

1665 The remarriage of persons divorced from a living, lawful spouse contravenes the plan and law of God as taught by Christ. They are not separated from the Church, but they cannot receive Eucharistic communion. They will lead Christian lives especially by educating their children in the faith.

This really set my mind in a spin: did this mean, that as a Catholic, I would not only be a layman, but I would never be able to receive communion?

In some agitation, I rang Fr D. in the morning (I probably got him out of the shower), and told him of my fears.He said “Don’t worry”. He was going to see the Vicar-General that morning, and I was “not to worry, but to enjoy my holiday”. The words “Be not afraid” keep coming back to me, but I must say that I have been afraid over the last few days. I have thought about this issue incessantly. It was truly worrying me whether I could get an annulment of my first marriage, and what was really worrying me is that I knew that Cathy would not agree to an annulment from Ian.

Anyway, I came down to the Island on today. I read an article by Richard J. Neuhaus about the difference of the Catholic Church (in the book Evangelicals and Catholics together). Neuhaus is an American theologian who recently converted from Lutheranism to the Catholic Church. I found myself agreeing with everything he said about the difference between the Catholic and evangelicals, siding always with the Catholic position. I know that the Lutheran Church has steered a different line in the past from the outright evangelicals, but I wonder how much this has had to do with the prevailing neoconfessionalism since the 1830’s? Before that, there was little to distinguish the Lutheran churches from the other Protestants, and it seems that these days confessionalism is once again retreating, and that the whole Lutheran church has turned evangelical.

I also have been reading (almost finished) an excellent little book by Cardinal Ratzinger called Called to Communion: Understanding the Church Today. P. lent me this book, which claims to be a “primer” in Catholic ecclesiology. In fact, I have found it very informative. It has dealt with issues of Papal Primacy, Apostolic Succession, the Nature of the Priesthood, and the necessity for the constant reformation of the church (a section that I am just reading). I have been impressed by its fidelity to the Scriptural tradition, and by the constant rejection of non-ecclesiastical theologies of the liberal theologians. In all, I found it educational, and also reassuring--because once again, Ratzinger was expounding truths that I had always suspected, and, in many cases, already held.

I felt a twinge (or more of a twang) of regret when I read a section about how the “priest of today” must regard himself and his work. It spoke so well to my current condition, and then I realised that I would not be functioning as a priest in the Catholic Church. This is what Ratzinger said:

He who acts on Christ’s behalf knows that it is always the case that one sows and another reaps. He does not need to bother incessantly about himself; he leaves the outcome to the Lord and does his own part without anxiety, free and cheerful because he is hidden within the whole. If priests today so often feel overworked, tired and frustrated, the blame lies with a strained pursuit of results. Faith becomes a burdensome piece of baggage that the priest just barely manages to keep dragging along, whereas it should be a wing that bears us aloft.

Well, I have at least a few months of ministry left. I will try to live by this in the mean time.

Monday 8th May, 2000

This morning, I worked it so that I was able to get some time with P. I was looking after Maddy, and P. and I took her for a walk in the park and a play on the swings etc. in the park near St Paul’s. In talking with P., I emphasised my need for prudence. He emphasised my duty to follow the truth where it leads. Surprisingly, I was looking through my old journals from 1986 and found a card on which I had written precisely the words “Follow truth where it leads”. That will take great courage.

Here is the question I am currently grappling with: What if, to be a Catholic, I must resign myself to being a lay person? How can I follow my clear calling to be a servant of the church as a Catholic layman? There must be a way. Maybe I can serve in something like the baptismal program or in adult education in any parish that I may belong to? Maybe I need to undertake some more theological studies as a Catholic?

I need to hear from Fr D. regarding his discussion with the Vicar General.

In talking with P., I am now convinced that I am indeed a Catholic and not a Lutheran. A few examples:

1) It doesn’t matter how “catholic” the teachings of the Lutheran Church may be, the Lutheran Church is not, and does not claim to be, the Catholic Church.

2) The teaching authority of the church is central. I am prepared to put myself under the authority of the church, and not to make my own personal opinion the arbiter of truth. Lutherans say that we must stand “under the word”, and yet in every practical instance, we have made ourselves the judges and interpreters of the word.

3) Why should I have difficulty with the notion of Papal infallibility? Is it any harder to believe that a minister of Christ has the authority to teach infallibly than it is to believe that a minister of Christ has the authority to forgive sins?

4) Though there may be many priests and parishes in the Catholic church (as there is in the Lutheran Church) who do not tow the official line, yet where a Catholic parish/priest so acts it is plain that they are being disobedient, whereas in the Lutheran church there is no such clarity.

As a Catholic, whatever my status, lay or ordained, I will endeavour to continue to study theology and to use the knowledge I have in the service of the church. It seems I must do this, not only to use the gifts I have been given, but also to maintain my own commitment and personal involvement in the church.

Sunday 7th May (3rd Sunday of Easter), 2000

According to Fr D., there is a common Italian saying (he gave it to me in Italian for my benefit yesterday afternoon):“Between the saying and the doing is a wide and deep sea”. Well, it has been said. I want to become a Roman Catholic. These are exactly the words that I said to Fr D. as we began to talk yesterday. But between these words and the doing...

Cathy and Madeline went to St Paul’s 9am service, and I went alone to St Peter’s Catholic Church where Fr D. is the parish priest. It was a mistake, I discovered later, not to tell Cathy why I was going alone without them--because she herself deduced what was going on, and was offended that I had not said anything to her. Yet, I could not bring myself to say the words to myself, or to Cathy until I had said them to Fr D..

Fr D. preached on the power of the Word and of the presence of Christ in the word, and of hearing the words “Do not be afraid” in the midst of our confusion and fear. It was a very comforting and confronting address for me. I did not commune, although I would have liked to. Let that wait until I have been received into the Catholic church.

Afterwards, Fr D. had forgotten (!!!) that he had three baptisms at noon, so I sat in his kitchen reading the paper for an hour. When he eventually came over, I didn’t mince about, but I dropped the bombshell right on him: “I want to become a Roman Catholic”.

He said that he was surprised, but not altogether taken off guard. Something I had said to him in the past regarding women’s ordination had set him thinking “I wonder...”, but he had answered himself in the negative. He said he was very honoured that I had chosen to tell him of my decision.

Overall, he counselled prudence together with faith, and cautioned me to “hasten slowly”. He was very aware of the number of difficulties I would face. We talked about some of these.

1) He said, “and now I guess you are going to drop another bombshell on me and tell me that you want to become a Catholic priest”. I said that my hopes really don’t extend that far, although I know that it has happened in the past (eg. with John Fleming--but apparently a friendship with Leonard Faulkner, the Adelaide Archbishop, had something to do with that ). I stressed that although I could go back to being just a lay person, and perhaps take up being a librarian again, that I would really desire some work in and for the church. Two points, he said: 1) there isn’t much money in the church, and 2) the Catholic church does recognise that there is some ministry formation in clergy who convert.

2) I inquired about the diaconate, which I knew was open to married men. Would you believe that Melbourne is about the only diocese in Australia that has not developed a separate order of permanent deacons? So that seems to be off the cards.

3) In any case, any ministry position in the Catholic church (and indeed even any membership in it) would be complicated by the fact that I am a remarried divorcee. So Fr D. then raised the possibility of getting my first marriage annulled--something he said could be possible on the grounds of marrying immaturely and of there being no desire (on my first wife’s part) for children. If my first marriage was annulled, this would open the possibility of my second marriage being blessed. (Although it has just occurred to me that Cathy also is a divorcee--would her marriage to Ian also have to be annulled???). Big problem here, I am afraid, which I need to follow through more closely.

Fr D. helped me to see that my next step is to talk my decision through with my spiritual director. He himself said that he would raise my case “anonymously” with the Vicar-General .

When I got home, Cathy, Maddy and I took Misha for a walk. Cathy raised the question of why I visited Fr D. just as I was wondering “How do I tell her”. I can’t say that she was entirely understanding. She wanted to know what specific doctrines in the Lutheran Church I did not agree with. I found it difficult to say that it was not any doctrine in particular. Rather it is that I am a Catholic, and I protest against nothing in the Catholic church, so why am I a Lutheran and not a Catholic?

One thing that Cathy had misunderstood is that if I became a Catholic, I would be a lay person and not a priest. She thought that I would automatically become a Catholic priest. So I think she is a little more aware now of the magnitude of this step--that I would not just be giving up the Lutheran church, but also the ministry.

Saturday May 6th, 2000

Tonight, I pulled out my old copy of Newman’s Apologia. There I read:

You may think how lonely I am. ‘Obliviscere populum tuum et domum patris tui,’ has been in my ears for the last twelve hours. I realise more that we are leaving Littlemore, and it is like going on the open sea. (p.159, J. H. Newman (ed. Maisie Ward), Apologia pro vita sua, London: Sheed and Ward, 1976)

“Leave your people and your father’s house” (Gen 12:1). It reassured me at a time when I can say that I was feeling so frightened and scared I was near to weeping. Not even the words of Christ: “Do not be afraid” could calm me.

Friday 5th May, 2000

On returning to Melbourne last Wednesday, I visited my Lutheran clergy friend, P. We went for a drive into the city to a second hand book shop he wanted to show me. On the way there and back, we talked over various issues. We started with the issue of divorce and remarriage (one that has been troubling P. since his friend became engaged to a divorced woman) and ended discussing the possibility of becoming Roman Catholic.

Then, tonight, P. came to visit me. We spoke at length, and I have come to see just how close he is to making the same decision. I told him that as I was working on the [LCA] Worship Resources [project, for which I was manager] for this Advent, I found myself wondering if I would actually still be in the LCA to use it. P. said he had a similar experience when a youth asked him if he was going to be leading confirmation camp next year--and he realised he himself did not know.

P. challenged me in an important way. While I was concerned with how I would explain such a decision to others, he said that the only one I was accountable to was God. While I was concerned about the material consequences of such a decision, he directed me to give my attention to the Truth, because I can only be blessed through the Truth. And finally, his struggle with the issue of remarriage heightened for me the place of a good conscience before God.

By the time he left, I had practically decided to make the transition. But I still want to learn more about the Catholic church’s teachings (I know the broad outlines, but not the details and practical applications). So I am reading the dialogue books and also Ratzinger’s Called to Communion. I need to get a copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church as well.

Easter Week, 2000

I had meant this to be a time when I considered the direction of my ministry, but instead, when I began to think and pray, I found myself revisiting the questions raised fifteen years ago when I went through what I now call my “catholic conversion”. Is it now time for me to review my “experiment” in the catholic interpretation of the Lutheran faith?

I have been reading the 1978/1980 report of the US Lutheran-Catholic dialogue on the Teaching Ministry and Papal Infallibility, and have been reading the Common Statement and the Catholic reflections on the statement. I am finding myself to be in almost complete agreement with the Catholic stance, and writing notes in the margin about what Lutherans believed. It strikes me that when I write “Lutherans believe…” I am no longer including myself in that belief, for I have by now (after the intense reflection of the past week) ceased to own “Lutheran” as my self description, and I have determined that from now on I would be “Catholic”. I have found this conscious realisation upsetting, because I am terrified of the material and communal consequences of this change of mind.

Last January [2000], just before I went to Canberra for the National Aged Care conference, my friend P. loaned me a copy of a tape of Father John Fleming, the Adelaide Catholic priest who converted [to the Catholic Church] from Anglicanism in 1987. This brought back a flood of memories for me, and reopened a very old box, on which I thought I had fairly well closed the lid. Father John, in his C. of E. guise, had been a strong influence on me through personal conversation, and his relationship with my aunt and Dr Daniel Overduin [a Lutheran pro-life bioethicist, now with God]. He was the catalyst for my “catholic conversion”, when I was converted to the notion of catholicity in 1985, my second year at Luther Seminary.

At that time, I belonged, with several other seminary students, to a mock society called the “Ecumenical Society”, which was in fact a society for the appreciation of catholic and orthodox worship. We visited the Church of the Good Shepherd in Plympton, where Father John was vicar, and I was immediately impressed by both his preaching (the clear evangelical nature of his sermon) and by the ceremonial of the service (what I would today call “contemporary catholic” in style). I think I can date my “catholic conversion” from this visit. At the time I was not married--nor even engaged--to my first wife, and I began to contemplate conversion to the Roman Catholic church to become a Catholic priest. I believe I seriously considered this possibility for more than a year, and was still thinking about it even once I had married . I think I am remembering this correctly, because John Fleming converted on April 26th 1987--two and a half months after I married for the first time--and I had pasted a couple of cuttings from the Advertiser report of this incident into the back of my copy of the Apologia. I believe that I did so because at the time it reflected on my own state of mind.

I believe too that it was at this time, around mid 1987, that I came closest to deciding to convert to Roman Catholicism. I was in my first year at University, my first year of marriage, my fourth year of Seminary, the beginning of my career as a preacher and leader of worship, and about the time that I began work for the Commission on Worship. Yet I did not convert. I believe that this was for two reasons:

1) firstly, I decided that the church is an “article of faith”. That is, that there is no visible manifestation of the true catholic church here on earth that was identifiable with a particular church institution. This is not to say that I believed in the doctrine of what is sometimes called the “invisible church” but that I resolved to seek by faith the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church in my own Lutheran denomination; and

2) secondly, I decided that the Lutheran confessions were best and most truly to be interpreted when they were interpreted as confessions of catholic doctrine in line with the church of the past rather than statements of Protestant opposition to the catholic faith. In doing this, I was to some extent embarking upon a similar exercise that Newman attempted when he tried to reinterpret the 39 articles in a catholic sense. I was convinced that my task would be easier than his due to the fact the Lutheran confession was a result of the "conservative reformation" whereas the 39 Articles was a product of the more radical Calvinism inherent in Anglicanism. Furthermore, I was, through this exercise, aligning myself with a party that had begun to emerge in US Lutheranism, the so-called “evangelical catholic” party .

I could describe the next 13 years of my life as an intensive attempt to live out these two principles. I can certainly say that these years have provided a good test run. I remained strongly convinced of the evangelical catholic interpretation of Lutheranism during the completion of my theological studies, vicarage at Morphett Vale (SA) in 1990-91 , my university education, my associate ministry at Warradale in SA, my ministry in the parish of Knox (and later Frankston and Casey) here in Victoria, and my extensive ecumenical involvement with the Victorian Council of Churches.

During all this time, I was a staunch defender of all things Lutheran, although I recognise now that I was really defending was my understanding of "evangelical catholicism". So, I was uneasy with such teachings and practices in the Lutheran church as

  • the commissioning of men to function as pastors without ordination,

  • the doctrine of the “priesthood of all believers” when defined as an individuals right to act as an ordained priest (including the practice of lay absolution),

  • the understanding of the real presence which emphasised the “in, with and under” aspect rather than the sacramental identification of the bread and the body as one and the same thing,

  • the teaching that the liturgy was essentially a man-made ceremony,

  • the reduction of the eucharistic liturgy to the “magic words” of institution,

  • and so on. The rising issue of the ordination of women, and my attempt to work my way through this mine-field to a conclusion that I could trust, also affected me.

Two questions were rising in my mind: How were doctrinal decisions made in the church? And what authority enforced them?

In January of this year everything came to a head. After listening to the John Fleming tape, I made a long trip to and back from Canberra (10 hours each way on my motorbike) which gave me a lot of time to reflect. While there, I attended worship at St Peter’s Lutheran Church, and was bitterly disappointed in the service--both in the conduct of the baptism ceremony and the eucharistic liturgy (what there was of it). I began to ask myself this question: if the church is the community of saints gathered around word and sacrament (as Lutherans say it is), and if what happens in the churches of the LCA cannot be guaranteed to be in fact the true sacrament (or even the true word?), in what ecclesial community will I be assured that the full liturgy of word and sacrament will be celebrated every Sunday? What ecclesial community was truly the church? The answer to this question became obvious to me.

In the next few months, the issues of ministry (personally) were heightened as the congregations at Knox and Frankston struggled in relation to the financing of their church buildings, and the congregation at Casey struggled with falling attendance. It was also exacerbated by an experience at an evening service in my wife’s parish when the communion service was celebrated with minimal elements of the liturgy of the word and the liturgy of the sacrament. This led to the involvement of the President, and what became for me a bit of a test case in the exercise of authority in the church. These months were busy and stressful, and led to me taking these three weeks off after Easter (two weeks “sick leave” together with one week’s holiday).

Sunday 23rd April, 2000 – Easter Day

It is with relief that I completed the Easter services at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Knox today. Last Wednesday, I came close to packing it all in. Running three struggling urban parishes covering most of outer south-eastern metropolitan Melbourne on a part-time salary (I also work as a librarian and as an Aged Care chaplain), and caring for my family—Cathy (my second wife), Madeline (our 19 month old daughter), and another babe on the way (due in October)—had finally begun to take its toll. I felt unable to face the stress of the Easter services. I rang my President and told him I couldn’t do it any more. There and then he granted me three weeks leave—one week’s holiday and two week’s sick leave. I grabbed it like a life-line. It got me through the last four days. Now we are headed down to Philip Island where Cathy’s family have a beach house. I am going to spend almost all the three weeks there. Cathy and Maddy are with me now, and will stay with me until next Sunday. Then I will have several days here on my own. Then they will come and join me again for the final week. I intend to use this time to get in touch with my sense of vocation to the ministry once more.