After my conversation with Fr. Moore at the coffee shop, after reading Wright and Ramsey and Staley, I decided to attend St. John the Apostle out on the East side. From where I lived in Rochester, this meant a good forty or forty-five minute drive. And since I had lost my sight when I was nineteen due to a rare genetic disorder, I could not make the drive myself, so I asked the members of the Church Fathers study for rides.
One fine Sunday, the sort of day when the birds are chirping and the sun is shining, Mike Strubler drove us to St. John the Apostle. His childhood reading habits had prepared him to worship in the Anglican Way, namely the stories of Madeleine L’Engle and C.S. Lewis. Due to some bad directions on my part, Mike initially pointed the car toward a charismatic Episcopal parish. When I realized the error, I corrected him and explained why I took such an interest in the Anglican Church in North America, their commitment to right the Anglican ship and return her to a heavenward course, navigating with scripture and tradition as guides. Due to the confusion, we arrived a few minutes late. Sliding into one of the back pews, Mike leaned over and asked me who the skinny, hip guy was up in front. I asked if he was young (many of the members at the Anglican churches I had visited were none too young). And Mike said, “yeah, real young.” I explained that I had no idea.
After the service, I shook hands with Fr. Moore and Dcn. Shaun LaDuc, the new clergyman at the front of the room. I asked where he was from and what brought him to the parish. He explained that he hailed from a heterodox Episcopal parish and came looking for Orthodox Anglican worship. Fr. Moore had heard his confession and offered him a safe place to serve. As we drank coffee in the fellowship hall, I asked Dcn. LaDuc where he lived, and he explained that he lived even further West than I did. Soon we were talking about the Church Fathers, and he had agreed to join Mike and I for our next meeting.
As Mike and I drove home, I told him how great it was that Dcn. LaDuc loved the fathers and wanted to join the study. Mike explained that he had been looking at us in a weird way during the service. I asked what he meant. Like a deacon shocked to see young men at an Anglican service, Mike observed, he seemed excited.
Soon, Dcn. LaDuc attended the study on a weekly basis. He brought all of his expertise on the fathers that he had gained in seminary and from a priest who lectured on the saints of the week in Clarkston. As a group, we noticed elements in ancient worship absent from our Evangelical milieu: emphasis on the sacraments, historic prayers, bishops and priests and deacons, and remembrance of the saints. I wanted to share what I was learning from the Anglicans, but I did not want to force my views on the group. Given the mutual respect in the room for Holy Scripture, we decided to study the book of Acts with commentary by the Fathers to learn how the first Christians viewed the Church.
As we studied Acts, we also listened to commentary by N.T. Wright. Several of us started reading his book on the virtues, grateful for his explanation of how we could adopt habits that would help us walk more closely with Christ. Eventually, other friends drove me to St. John the Apostle: Trevor, Mike, Josh, Nick—many members of the group.
After concluding our study of Acts, the group was impressed by the extent to which early Christians walked together daily, not weekly, not occasionally, but regularly. Dcn. LaDuc and I talked about this fact and decided to start hosting Evening Prayer on Sunday nights and inviting the study members and their wives and girlfriends. As my apartment filled with more and more worshipers and inquirers, we opened up a Morning Prayer service on Fridays before people set out on their commutes to work.
Eventually, Dcn. LaDuc became Fr. LaDuc. Years had passed since Shaun first joined the group. He led the men’s study in learning about the Christian year, the ways God has redeemed time with fasts and feasts, celebrations of events in the life of Christ and His Church. He also led Morning and Evening Prayer, often crashing on my couch on Thursday nights to avoid having to drive back before dawn to start swinging the thurible and assigning the lessons. Members of the study and prayer meeting had encouraged Fr. LaDuc to marry his beloved girlfriend Joanna, and he had boldly gone down on one knee, surprising her with a proposal in front of the Basilica in downtown Columbus.
One morning, Fr. LaDuc and I met with Fr. Moore to discuss what came next. We met at the restaurant where Trevor, a founding member of the Back to the Fathers study, works as a waiter. Fr. LaDuc and I reiterated our enthusiasm for Archbishop Duncan’s call for every parish to start a mission, and for every churchman to support a mission, in some way or another. Fr. LaDuc explained he had heard Archbishop Duncan make this call when he was in seminary, and it moved him. I reiterated my enthusiasm for pressing forward the kingdom. We asked Fr. Moore for his support, and he gave it, warning us that the road ahead would be long and hard.
Soon after, I called up an admirable mission priest, Fr. Lee Nelson, to ask him to advise us as we started a mission in Rochester. He said he would be happy to talk to us every month and walk us through the steps it would take to collaborate with churches in the area, evangelize on campuses, and catechize and make disciples. Fr. Nelson studied at Nashotah House and runs a mission parish in Waco Texas, Christ Church, in which he makes disciples in ways both Anglican and Catholic. He evangelizes among the lost, and teaches the great tradition.
For a couple years, Fr. LaDuc and I had referred to our weekly Morning and Evening Prayer meetings as gatherings at the Chapel of the Advent—also known as services in my apartment. As we sought to become a proper mission, we took the name Church of the Advent, like the parish where our hero, Charles Grafton, served Christ in Boston so many years ago.
Bishop Ilgenfritz arrived for confirmations in August, the month before we started holding Holy Communion services at The American Legion. Sarah, Kelsey, Alex, Jenna, Trevor and Nick had all chosen to receive the sacred gift, the wonderful sacrament of confirmation. To our joyful surprise, as if by Providence, Bp. Ilgenfritz confirmed our mission team into Christ’s One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church on the feast of St. Grafton. We all gave thanks and set out to press forward the Kingdom of God in greater Detroit.