By Fr. Mark Perkins
I was ordained a priest in the Church of God this past Saturday. It happened in the same space where I was made a deacon a little over a year ago — All Saints Anglican Church in Charlottesville. This was also where my wife and I were confirmed and married, where each of us made first confession, where both of our children were baptized. And, of course, it is where we have regularly communicated for nearly eight years. Our sacramental lives — which is to say the true center of our lives — have been rooted and defined in this parish.
Our parents first taught us to love Jesus and to love the Bible; they established the foundations of our faith. All Saints, however, is where we first understood ourselves truly as members of a Body, a sacramental organism. Of course, that’s not to say we weren’t taught it previously. The Church was not absent from either of our theological upbringings. And my first Anglican rector, Fr. Beauchamp of Holy Trinity Hillsdale, certainly understood and taught the Church to be Christ’s Mystical Body — but I wasn’t quite ready to hear it or live it out, being at that time a college student and still basically a Baptist.
(Fr. B. and his wife, Kathy, made the drive up from North Carolina for my ordination. As he came up to receive a blessing from me at the close, he whispered, “This is different!” Indeed — and a moment, I think, of tribute to his pastoral guidance.)
The true nature of the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ — and of baptism as the sacramental means by which one is grafted into that body, and of the Incarnation as the necessary precondition which enables human flesh to be assumed into the divine life — these realities require more than a merely intellectual response. They must be lived. And indeed it has been in living out the rhythms of parish life these past eight years that we have come to understand ourselves as Christians-in-Christ.
Fr. Glenn often says that ultimately the meaning of all human lives will be determined in relation to Jesus Christ — whether we like it or not. Christ is the center of the cosmos. Baptism grafts us into his divine life, and it changes everything. But, as Fr. Sean said this past Sunday in a different context, we must learn to live out morally and existentially what is always already true ontologically. Like all human communities, All Saints is flawed. We suffer from the weaknesses and wounds common to all humanity. We do not do everything well. But All Saints seeks, imperfectly and incompletely, to manifest in our concrete day-to-day lives what is ontologically true of each of us: that our lives are intertwined in the life of Jesus, that we are hid with Christ in God.
In our time at All Saints we have lived a weekly liturgical rhythm centered on the parish Eucharist on Sunday morning but also governed by the Daily Office at home — usually said privately but ultimately not individually, because it participates in the common prayer of the Church. Although we rarely attend the midday Mass during the week, we know that we are prayed for by name at the altar. Our community comes together not only in worship but in fellowship during coffee hour and especially at our weekly Agape meals — which are also the primary site of Christian education. And we have been able to pursue spiritual direction for personal growth in holiness (though this is a particular area where we as a parish are attempting to grow stronger). This is not misguided perfectionism or prideful moral superiority; it simply an attempt — however incomplete and imperfect — to live out the comprehensiveness of our Christian identity.
The painting at the top, “A Well Lit Path” by Malcolm Hughes, was commissioned by my wife in celebration of my ordination. Malcolm is a parishioner at All Saints, a member of our small group, and a professional artist. We have long admired his work. It is not just a gift from Andrea to me; it is also his gift to us in so many ways. And I am not sure that I have ever been given a more profoundly meaningful and breathtakingly beautiful gift. God willing, this painting will be with us for the rest of our terrestrial lives. Indeed I have confidence that it — like all things good, true, and beautiful — will have its place in the life of the world to come.
I am certain that the good things wrought in us at this parish will flourish finally in the eschaton; All Saints, that is, will find a place among the saints at rest.