Anglican Chaplain ETF
My Journey into the Anglican Way, by The Reverend Alan Mills
“I feel like an imposter!” I said to my bishop on the eve of my ordination to Holy Orders. I told him that I was possessed by three contradictory feelings all at once: I felt deeply humbled, genuinely excited … and absolutely terrified at the idea of being received into Holy Orders in Christ’s One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church!
My wonderful bishop1smiled, and replied, “That’s good. So, you should be … all three.”
How did I get there? I served for twenty years in a mainline Protestant church in Canada (in which I had grown up), the last nine
serving as a chaplain in the Canadian Armed Forces. As an Evangelical, I was in a theological “minority” within my denomination. Yet, though often not feeling in step with the corporate ethos and direction of my denomination, I ministered with a clear conscience for two important reasons: I was confident that God had clearly called me to serve there, and I conducted my ministry with fidelity to the founding doctrines of the church, even if many of its pastors could no longer affirm those biblical beliefs. I stood on a solid foundation.
But a few years ago, I began to sense this foundation shifting beneath me. Formal proposals arose challenging the doctrine of the church, such as ordaining clergy using modalistic or Unitarian formulae instead of the Trinitarian Name. The church was pushing the boundaries of orthodoxy on many fronts, moving toward heterodoxy, if not heresy. I began to ask the Lord if I was still called to this community… Was I to stay? Had I fulfilled the mission he had given me? Was God releasing me? And if so, to where? Where would I find a spiritual home?
Moving toward Anglicanism: Of the many people and experiences which influenced my being drawn toward Anglicanism, there are three which stand out. The first was my relationship with an
Anglican Church of Canada priest in the neighboring town, Father Brent, who faced similar challenges as I was facing in my church. I watched and prayed for him as he took a stand for orthodoxy, which led to his being pushed out of his parish. He soon joined the then fledgling Anglican Network in Canada (ANiC) and planted a new, flourishing church from the ashes of the fallout. I was inspired by his courage and faith, risking everything to obey the Lord Jesus. I was also impressed to discover that an Anglican body had formed which upheld orthodox, biblical faith. Hmmm. At one point Father Brent said to me that if ever I wanted to explore joining ANiC, he
would be pleased to commend me to and connect me with his bishop. That planted a seed in my heart.
Secondly, a few years later I met Bishop Derek Jones of the Jurisdiction of the Armed Forces and Chaplaincy (ACNA). As a military chaplain I was taking part in a healing retreat for combat
veterans at an Anglican retreat center in upstate New York. The healing ministry of Christ and His Church has always been a passion of mine. And here I was, surrounded by Anglican Christians who believed like I did and were boldly praying healing prayers for men and women with spirit-wounds from warfighting. I felt at home, excited. At one point Bishop Derek turned to me and said, “Alan, you should think about becoming an Anglican. We would love to have you.” That planted another seed in my heart.
The third influence was my own son, Nathaniel. During his college years he joined an ACNA church in Grove City, PA. Nate’s growth in grace and his discovery of the ancient prayers and practices of the Anglican Way were a source of joy and encouragement to me. When I began to wrestle with my own ministerial calling, it was Nate who said to me: “Hey, Dad, maybe it’s time for you to become an Anglican.” The planted seed began to sprout.
Seriously Exploring Anglicanism: As I prayed for God to lead me, I began to read books and listen to podcasts about Anglicanism and to engage in dialogue with Anglican pastors. At my request, my friend, Father Brent, introduced me to his bishop. I had a lengthy and pivotal conversation with The Right Reverend Charles Masters, Diocesan Bishop of the Anglican Network in Canada. As I shared my story with Bishop Charlie, we clicked. He intimately understood my journey, having shared many of the same ministry struggles. In Bishop Charlie, I encountered a church leader who loved Jesus, prized His Holy Word, and was passionate about the gospel of grace.
This was a kind of godly, humble church leadership that I had rarely experienced! A true father-in-God to his shepherds and flock! Bishop Charlie believed that God was at work in our conversation –that it was a “God-thing” – and he invited me to enter into a formal discernment. I felt embraced, accepted … and wanted. Within a few days Bishop Charlie had declared me a candidate for discernment, appointed a mentor to guide me, and set me on a course of Anglican study and formation.2 Within a short time, I became persuaded that the Anglican Way was for me.
New Discoveries and Surprises: Why was I persuaded? Initially drawn to the ACNA because of its respect for the Bible I found so much more as I began to earnestly study the tradition, a depth and
richness of which I was previously ignorant. Among the many discoveries and revelations, I will highlight three which took me by surprise and drew me in.
1. Rootedness: The Church of England was forged in the 1500s, but the Church in England goes back to Roman era, not far removed from Apostolic times. When the geo-political circumstances of the 16th century led to the independence (from Rome) of the English Church, the English Reformers self-consciously sought to chart a course later referred to as the Via Media, the middle way. I discovered that the Via Media was not an attempt to find a compromise between Rome and Protestants. Rather it was an attempt to return to the Faith and Order of the early church, prior to
the time when it was divided between East and West, or even between Rome and the Continent. The English Reformers sought to return to the Faith and Order of the Undivided Church under the
Authority and Primacy of Holy Scripture.3 This meant reaffirming the one Canon of Scripture, the one apostolic ministry in three Orders, the one Faith as articulated in the creeds and ecumenical
councils, and the one sacramental life of the Church.
Thus, the Via Media was a rejection of the doctrinal additions and abuses of the Roman Church and of the excesses of the Protestant movements which had abandoned so much of the heritage of the undivided church. The renewed liturgical life of the Anglican Church was given expression in an English language (not Latin) Book of Common Prayer drawing upon the richness of the church
fathers and ancient liturgies while excising unscriptural accretions and teachings which had crept in over the centuries.
Despite my robust seminary education, I had never heard these things. So, when I began to see and understand this history, I perceived the “thinness” of my own Protestant formation, which primary awareness and identity went back only to the 1500s, as if no “real” church existed prior to the time of the Reformation. I was humbled.
This Via Media has led to an Anglican Way which has room for the full breadth of Christian piety and practice. It is a church which embraces the various streams of Christian tradition into a
comprehensive orthodoxy. Anglicanism is authentically, and truly, Catholic, Reformed and Evangelical: Catholic in upholding the ancient faith, practice, and order of the undivided Church; Reformed in its view of the Bible as ultimate authority, and its affirmation of
salvation by grace through faith; and Evangelical as a missional movement sharing the Gospel with the world. All three of these streams are clearly affirmed throughout the Thirty-Nine Articles of
Religion. The Anglican Communion is a place where serious, biblical Christians can find a spiritual home and thrive.
2. Awe and Wonder: I had thought that I had a high view of Christian ministry until I began to discover the Anglican understanding of the threefold order of ministry, which is rooted in and reaches back to the times of the Apostles. The Anglican understanding of ministry is not grounded in the gifts or personality of the minister. Rather, as part of “the One, Holy, Catholic and
Apostolic Church,”4 it is Christ’s ministry, which the Church, as His Body, exercises through its members. Jesus breathed His Holy Spirit upon His Apostles and commissioned them to impart this ministry to others. The threefold order of ministry which soon emerged (Bishop, Presbyter/Priest, and Deacon) is understood, both from the Scriptures and from universal testimony of the early church to have been received from the Apostles as the divine extension of the incarnational ministry of the Lord Jesus Himself. The office of bishop was the successor of the Apostles’ mandate to ordain into
Christ’s ministry by the laying on of hands. Thus, when a bishop lays hands on a candidate to ordain, he says, “Receive the Holy Spirit for the Office and work of a Priest in the Church of God, now committed to you by the imposition of our hands… in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”5 A Spirit-given unction/enabling power is imparted for the work of ministry. (As with every grace given by God, Anglicans understand that it is only by God’s grace, through humble, dependent faith that this ministry can be exercised in union with Christ.)
What flows from this unction is a received understanding of the sacramental life of the Church as mediated through Christ’s ministers. Anglicans believe that the Real Presence of Christ is
affirmed and celebrated, and received by faith, as He imparts His life, His very Self, to the Church in Baptism and Holy Communion, through the actions of His ordained ministers. The ordained minister is a “steward” of these “divine mysteries.”6
As a matter of historical fact, up until the time of the 16th Century Reformation, the only pattern of Christian ministry that existed or was recognized – East or West – was this threefold order of ministry. There was no other kind of Christian ministry. The Continental Reformation (for understandable reasons) broke with the episcopal (bishop-centred) understanding and practice of ministry. This breakresulted in churches and ministers, and whole denominations, disconnected from the apostolically imparted ministry of the Church (i.e., apostolic succession). The Church in England, however, never rejected the apostolic order of ministry, but preserved it, and thus
Anglicanism has a functioning, continuous episcopacy to this day. I was completely ignorant of this reality. But now that I have come to understand Christian ministry as the Anglican Church has received it, I find it incredibly humbling, exciting… and awe-inspiring to
consider this holy calling!7
3. Connection: Finally, I want to convey the excitement that I feel in joining the ACNA, of being connected to something so much bigger and broader than simply my own personal faith experience. I have grown to appreciate the Anglican consciousness with its sense of connection and accountability to the Church throughout the Ages,the “Communion of Saints” as professed in the Apostles’ Creed. We see ourselves as inheritors and guardians of the deposit of Faith.Thus, belief is not merely a matter of my faith, but much more about The Faith. Put another way, the faithful dead have a vote in what we believe today. We are not at liberty to change the core of the Faith, either in doctrine or in ethics, as has been revealed in Holy Scripture and consensually received and articulated by the Church Fathers and the Ecumenical Councils. Yet, ours is a living faith, which extends not only through time, but also across the globe. Today the ACNA is part of the Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (GAFCON). This world-wide Anglican re-alignment shows signs of being a movement of the Holy Spirit in our own day toward genuine
Christian unity and Gospel extension, under the Lordship of Christ and His Holy Word. Centered geographically in the Global South, GAFCON represents the majority of the world’s Anglicans,8
dwarfing the membership of the western Anglican Provinces. Canterbury is no longer the center of gravity for the worldwide Anglican Communion. Where this will lead, only God the Holy Spirit knows. But for me, this connection through time and space, in this moment, fuels hope and expectation of great things to come.
My journey toward Anglicanism began with my seeking a refuge. It has led to a revelation of the depth, richness, and rootedness of the Anglican Way. I have discovered it to be none other than an expression of, and a return to, “the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.”9 Now that you have heard my story, it may perhaps be easier to understand why, on the eve of my ordination, I
told my bishop that I felt deeply humbled, excited, and absolutely terrified to receive Holy Orders. Who am I to be ordained to this awesome ministry? I am neither worthy nor adequate to exercise in this lofty Office. I felt then, and I still feel today, like an Imposter.And yet, I have been called and sent by one who holds authority in the Church of Christ – the Bishop.10 I trust, therefore, that Christ is my adequacy11 and that his Holy Spirit, imparted to me by the laying on of hands, will enable His ministry in and through me. Glory be to God!
The Reverend Alan Mills (B.A., M.A., M.Div.) is a priest in the ACNA in the
Diocese of the Anglican Network in Canada. He serves as a chaplain (Major) in
the Canadian Armed Forces and is currently serving in Ottawa, Ontario in the
Office of the Chaplain General in charge of chaplain recruitment. Father Alan is
married to his wife of thirty-two years, Dana. They have two grown sons and three
1 The Right Reverend Doctor Trevor H. Walters, Western Region
Suffragan Bishop of the Diocese of the Anglican Network in Canada. I was
ordained a Deacon on October 27, 2019 and Priest on February 23, 2020 at Saint
Saviour’s Anglican Church, Lloydminster, Saskatchewan, Canada.
2 At the invitation of Bishop Derek Jones, I was privileged to
participate in the JAFC Liturgical Residential Tutorial and the Distance Tutorial
on Anglican Theology, History and Liturgy.
3 I am indebted to Archdeacon Michael McKinnon for giving me the
vocabulary to articulate this understanding in his podcast series on “Anglican
Studies” found at www.htacfeeds.org/astudies.php.
4 The Nicene Creed.
5 The Book of Common Prayer, Anglican Church in North America
(Anglican Liturgy Press, 2019), Ordinal, p.493.
6 Ibid., p.638.
7 Note: This viewpoint does not imply a repudiation of non-Anglican
forms of ministry, but simply that Anglicans affirm the tradition as they have
9 The Nicene Creed.
10 The Book of Common Prayer, Anglican Church in North America
(Anglican Liturgy Press, 2019), The Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion of 1571,
Article XXIII, p.780.
11 2 Corinthians 3:4-5