|"St. Augustine-in-the-Fields", from another time
The appreciation of well-crafted poetry is largely lost in our graceless age. Much of our society has grown too crass and too coarse to enjoy the spoken lyric, as it takes us away from the instant gratification and sensory overload, to a place where we actually must pause and think. Of all the American poets, I have a deep appreciation for Robert Frost (1874-1963). A man of a breadth of verse and one acquainted with sorrows, one of his most familiar poems is perhaps 'The Road not Taken" (The Road Less Traveled).
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, And sorry I could not travel both And be one traveler, long I stood And looked down one as far as I could To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair, And having perhaps the better claim, Because it was grassy and wanted wear; Though as for that the passing there Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay In leaves no step had trodden black. Oh, I kept the first for another day! Yet knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.Rod Stewart reminded us in 1971 that every picture tells us a story, and this photo offers no exception. At first glance, this picture captures a weathered sign along a rural road, likely taken in late winter. It's weatherbeaten and fading, yet its clear that the sign was once beautiful. Even in its sad state, it conveys what was once a hopeful new vision to its community. For me, this sign is emblematic of Mr. Frost's poem and of the final stanza particularly. Quoting the poet, "And that has made all the difference."
Much like the vista offered by this photo, in muted late winter, I was looking up a hill on an unknown road, in a spiritually bleak season of life in early 2005. I hadn't found myself in a crisis of faith, but rather a crisis of Theology where my I'd been questioning much of what I'd taught for years as a Pentecostal pastor and teacher. At this time I was two years removed from the Church of God (Cleveland, TN), having sojourned with the Southern Baptists and more recently with a Calvary Chapel Congregation. Each, though heresy-free, failed to satisfy an unanswered longing within my spirit. My heart yearned for a connection that transcended the transactional faith of American Evangelicalism.
While in this place, I would routinely travel Shelton Shop Road, and pass a road sign advertising a new church which billed itself as both "Episcopal and Evangelical. While part of me was drawn to the later, I was equally repulsed by the former. In my mind, the Episcopal Church was essentially a toothless old dog that was bereft of the Spirit and power of the Almighty. It was a body that once upon a time, embodied "America at prayer" but now was one the lashed itself to any and all Liberal cause. I'd written her off as what Saint Paul spoke of as "having a form of Godliness, but denying the power thereof". Yet for all of this internal revulsion, I was drawn and warmed by the message of this sign. But an additional event would have to occur to knock me out a complacent space and onto the unknown road represented in this photo.
In March 2005, two prominent individuals were dying; Pope Saint John Paul II, and Terri Schaivo. If you remember, Ms. Schaivo was the woman who was starved to death by a "husband" who wanted to get on with his life, but his current wife was an impediment to his plans. So, starvation was his easy fix to take Terri out of the picture. When the Calvary Chapel pastor and his wife made it clear that they had no real issue with Michael Schaivo's intent to for his stricken wife, while rebuking me for referring to the death by starvation as demonic. I knew that we were at an irreproachable place our time there was at an end. So what then?
In the waning days of the 2005 Lenten season, I called the number on billboard to enquire about this new church that billed itself as such a hybrid. I was traveling on business but would be back to visit the church on Easter Sunday. As I now consider my life in the faith, Easter 2005 remains a significant mountaintop moments. Had I turned onto the path "more traveled", I don't know that I'd be sitting here this evening, MacBook Pro in lap, sharing tonight.
Nearly a fifteen years have passed since that fateful Sunday. I've been blessed to serve two Bishops, three Rectors, and two Parishes. The bulk of my ministry has been lived out with the parish of All-Saint's Anglican, a loving, growing, serving, and going community that is truly a house of prayer to the Nations.
Sadly, all that remains of Saint Augustine-in-the-fields (and her subsequent rebranding) is this sign. She failed to thrive, yet for a season served the will and purposes of the Almighty. She was the path less traveled, and the one that made all the difference.