• Anglican Chaplain ETF

God is at Work in Great and Small Ways, by The Reverend Canon Marshall MacClellan, D.Min.


God is at work in our world, in small and large ways. Sometimes it is easier to see God’s hand in the small ways of our personal lives. After ten years of being involved in our Anglican Jurisdiction, I can see God’s hand working in large and marvelous ways also. First, I will highlight a small way that God is at work. Then I will point out a larger move of God’s grace that I see.


I was told by my mother, with supporting picture, that I was baptized as an infant in a Presbyterian Church in Gainesville, Florida in 1961. However, when I was three years old my parents divorced. My mom did not take me to church much, but she did fulfill a commitment to my grandparents to ensure I went through confirmation in their Methodist Church. My attendance at church dropped off after that sacred Sunday: I was ten years old. My mother married again, and we moved across town, and across the tracks. We crammed this new blended family into a 600-square-foot clapboard house, on a dirt road, without air conditioning, in Florida. I always felt a yearning to know God and attend church, but no one else in our household went, so I would walk the dirt road up to a country church. However, Einstein’s second law of thermodynamics finally won, and my church attendance tanked: I was in fifth grade.


I barely made it through high school with Cs. I started community college but dropped out due to a lack of direction. Fortunately, a part-time job as a Pony Express bank courier turned into a full-time gig as the branch manager. I was twenty-one, lost, angry, and a little dangerous. God had to work miracles just to keep me alive. One late afternoon, a fellow courier’s car broke down at a bank thirty miles away. I was tasked to get him and the bank documents before the Federal Reserve driver from Jacksonville left our Gainesville office. As I sped through traffic, I was caught in a long, slow moving, single lane of cars going fifteen miles per hour below the speed limit. Not being bashful about passing, I glanced to see if it was clear to pass, launched out from the line of cars and floored the gas. As my speed increased to sixty miles per hour, I realized I was not going to be able to get back in the lane. The on-coming car was not a far-away motorcycle, but a much closer car with one headlight out. I quickly pulled left, off the road and onto the dirt, and stomped on the brake. The problem was, so did the on-coming car. We hit head-on at a combined speed of over ninety miles per hour. All I remember was dirt flying, metal crunching and then quiet. As I sat there, I realized that I was in the passenger side of the bench seat. All around me was shattered glass and twisted metal. I was completely unhurt, but I had to kick out the window to climb out of the company car. By the way, I was not wearing a seatbelt, and airbags had not yet been invented. The other driver was taken to the hospital with a fractured leg. Both cars were totaled. I was asked by the Highway Patrol how I survived with absolutely no injuries or scratches. I had no idea. I have since been told by medical professionals that my survival was impossible. Yet here I am.


Six months later, I was riding home from work on my motorcycle. I came into my neighborhood, turned left, then accelerated to thirty-five miles per hour. Suddenly a car pulled out from behind a hedge right in front of me. She had run the Stop sign. I never had the chance to brake. Her car was there. This time my brain recorded the event in slow motion, frame by frame. I remember impacting her car, just in front of the driver’s door. I started flying, in a seated position, over the handlebars. All at once I was pushed back onto the seat of my motorcycle. As the police officer took the report and observed my totaled Honda, with the front forks curled back against the frame, she asked, “If you were going thirty-five miles per hour, with this sudden stop, how did you not fly over the hood of the car and onto the pavement?” I said, “I have no idea.”


I know now.


I have learned that God goes everywhere searching for his lost sheep. I was twenty-three years old and still lost but yearning to be found. I was sitting on a barstool in The Lonestar one Saturday night, in heartbreak over a recent relationship breakup. With Mickey Gilley singing “Looking for Love in all the Wrong Places” playing in the background, an old friend sat on a barstool next to me and invited me to his church. My life, at that time, was characterized by pain, loss, and searching. I was searching for a career I could pour myself into, meaningful relationships, and spiritual direction. Unfortunately, I had been looking in the wrong places, but God came in and rescued me. I decided to take him up on his invitation and the next morning I showed up at Trinity United Methodist Church and found the love of Christ for which I had been searching.


Over the next two years I became involved in several ministries. While on a retreat, I experienced a spiritual awakening of excitement and passion for the Lord that is still fresh in my memory. It was here that I made my step of committing my life to Jesus Christ. It was no longer what God can do for me, but what Christ calls me to do as His disciple and servant. I was still working at the Pony Express, but deep inside I was dissatisfied. There was a growing tension inside me like a rubber band being pulled tighter and tighter.


One Thursday afternoon, as I felt this growing tension in me rise to new levels, I went running as I often did to relieve stress. I was also working as a reserve police officer for the Gainesville Police Department and had just received an invitation from the Chief of Police to be hired full-time. As I reached mile three, I heard a voice within my soul say, “Follow me into the ministry.” I instantly rejected it and laughed to myself, wondering how I could have had such a crazy idea. As I ran on, the words came back louder and bolder. “Follow me into the ministry.” I began to think of all the obstacles. I would have to quit my jobs, sell my car, and go back to community college. I would then have to complete a B.A. and then seminary. I had no money for these things.


As I considered these obstacles, I felt the internal tension evaporate and a clarity of purpose excite me like I had never known. The next Sunday, the associate minister asked me after the service, “Have you ever thought of going into the ordained ministry?” I said, “As a matter of fact, it did come up this week.” In the next weeks and months, God kept affirming this call. The obstacles melted away and a new passion for following Christ arose inside me. I sold my car, resigned the jobs, completed my Associate degree and began attending Florida Southern College.


While attending Florida Southern I met and fell in love with my life’s partner Christy. Her family members are committed, vibrant Christians. They are the kind of loving family I had always dreamed of, but never experienced. Through college and into divinity school at Duke University, I went through the ordination and examination processes and was ordained a United Methodist Deacon in 1987 and an Elder in 1991.


A Warrior’s Shepherd Comes Home as an Anglican Chaplain


I have discovered that Christ has called me to be a shepherd to warriors serving in dangerous places rather than to sheep in the safety of the sheepfold. As a Methodist minister I was a restless soul. I knew that I was on Jesus’ sacred journey but struggled to find the right context for ministry and my clerical identity. I pastored United Methodist churches in Florida for thirteen years, but I struggled to feel satisfied and complete. I knew that I was following Jesus, but I yearned to feel at home with the right sheep and with the right, biblical, and historic faith community.


Our previous pastorate was in Auburndale, Florida. It was a medium sized, growing parish of over five-hundred active souls and was in the process of building a new 23,000 square foot discipleship center. The problem was that I could sense I was in the wrong context, the wrong pastures. I was also the chaplain for Auburndale Police Department, and I had joined the Air Force as a Reserve Chaplain. I felt as though I needed these warrior ministries to the lost sheep and the inherent danger of these professions to be fulfilled. I was more comfortable in these dangerous conditions and with warrior professions than with my own “safe” congregation. I was also frustrated with the Methodist denomination.


For years I had struggled with the growing liberalism of the UMC. At Duke Divinity School I had studied in detail John Wesley’s sermons (cut and paste from The Book of Homilies) and his efforts to reform and renew Anglican praxis in mid-1700 Great Britain. At Asbury Theological Seminary, I had researched, designed, and written my doctoral dissertation on Wesley’s emphasis of holiness of heart and life. The UMC, in practice, was quickly losing theological and biblical integrity. Pastors performed gay weddings, defying denominational guidance. The Women’s Division sponsored abortion lobbies in Washington, D.C. These were just heart-breaking examples of a denomination heading “off the rails” of orthodox, biblical Christianity.


In 2000, I sensed that Christ was leading me to active-duty chaplaincy. In the summer of 2002, my family and I entered active-duty Air Force ministry. I know, without a doubt, that God made me to do ministry within the context of the warrior culture. I found my context; the warriors who need a shepherd who goes out into the dangerous places with them.


My family and I moved from Montana to Del Rio, Texas in 2005. It was there that I read Dr. Robert Webber’s book “The Ancient and Future Church.”[1] Dr. Webber had taught my doctoral worship class at Asbury. I was struck with the truth that the American church had become engrossed in an “entertain me” worship culture, an idolatry of the self, and a TV gameshow format. It is not true worship as God desires. I began to reflect on my own traditions and habits. I was convicted of my own complicity in this modern idolatry. As Webber said, the only answer is to go back to the ancient church where liturgy, “the work of the people” engages God face to face through the sacraments. I began to value and hunger for the sacraments more and more. I searched for an Episcopal reform movement because I felt drawn back to our roots, but The Episcopal Church had the same orthodoxy, orthopraxy “off the rails” trajectory that the UMC was on.


In 2009 God led me home to the right clerical identity, Anglicanism.


We had moved to Colorado Springs, and I was assigned to the United States Air Force Academy. Within months of my arrival, the (then) Canon Mike Williams, from St. George’s Anglican Church, came to our Chapel office to share a vision of the “Welcome Home Initiative” to wounded veterans. When I first met him, I heard a still small voice say in my soul, “You need to talk to him. My timing is now.” After sitting with him, I realized that he had moved to the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA) from The Episcopal Church (TEC). I became excited when our senior chaplain asked me to attend the Initiative. I did not completely understand why I was so excited until the first evening of the retreat. After speaking with (now) Bishop Mike Williams, Bishop Derek Jones, and Bishop Dave Bena, I knew that Anglicanism is exactly where Christ was leading me. This was the answer to a prayer I have been praying and researching and preparing to embrace for twenty-one years. I have found my context of ministering to warriors and I have been connected to the truest clerical identity as an Anglican priest.


While God is working in me as one small sheep, He is also working in a large way as He builds our Jurisdiction. As you read my little story you may have seen similarities to your own journey into Anglicanism. That is no accident. For several years I have had the privilege as our Jurisdiction’s Canon Theologian to assist Bishop Mike in the Anglican Tutorial, and to assist Bishop Mark Nordstrom in reviewing the spiritual autobiographies and theological responses of candidates exploring Anglican Holy Orders. Over and over, I read testimonies like mine. It is my observation that God is re-forming His Church in the United States. He is re-forming a historic, liturgical, evangelical, and spirit-filled clergy and body; it has begun with us. We serve those in the crisis and stress-points of our society: military, law enforcement, prisons, hospitals, hospice care, and pregnancy centers. These are dangerous, mountainous pastures. We are Guardians of the thresholds of life and death and it is here that I see God gathering His Anglican saints for the work of the kingdom. Who would want to be anywhere else?


The Reverend Canon Dr. Marshall MacClellan currently serves at the Pentagon as the Joint Chiefs of Staff Deputy Chaplain, Office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He advises and assists on the Constitutional free exercise of religion and related matters impacting the Department of Defense, Service personnel and their families. He served as a Methodist minister from 1987-2010, receiving holy orders as an Anglican priest in 2011. He was commissioned in 1998 as a Reserve Chaplain and entered active duty in 2002. He has 22 years of combined service. He received his M.Div. from Duke University and his D.Min. in Pastoral Leadership from Asbury Theological Seminary. Canon Marshall and Christy have been married for 34 years and have five children: Christina, Angeli, Sarah, Marshall, and Mitchell.

[1] Robert Webber, The Ancient and Future Church, Baker Publishing, 2005