All Saints Day 2020

C.S. Lewis described himself as the “world’s most reluctant convert.” He fought his conversion valiantly, but in the end he found himself cornered. Forces greater than himself—not least the force of his own relentless logic—left him no other option than to accept the reality of God.

I grew up hearing testimonies of “reluctant” missionaries who resisted the call of God on their lives: “Lord, please don’t send me to Africa.”

My father, Powell Royster, was a reluctant pastor. Only at death’s door in the throes of an acute asthma attack did he surrender to his calling.

His uncle, Alexander Royster, also wrestled with God. Actually wrestled.  When he finally submitted to the call his brother, my grandfather, Jack Royster, with whom he shared a bed said, “Finally, I can get some sleep.” When telling the story my grandfather added wistfully, “I always wish God had called me instead. I would have said yes gladly.” 

Who can understand the strange ways of God? A break-through after great resistance can make the call more definite and undeniable. Perhaps God knows that is what some people need to see them through the hard times. 

But there is a positive counterpart to this: when we want something so badly, something we never thought we would have, and then we get it.

That’s how it was for me becoming an Anglican. Worshiping at St. Francis Church in the cool of those early Sunday mornings in Kenya, in the only remaining 1662 Prayer Book service left in the country, always felt like a high privilege. Being accepted by my fellow congregants, and sometimes invited to preach, in spite of my America accent, also amazed me. And later, after my ordination, as I stumbled through the liturgy, they were patient and forgiving.

I could hardly believe it when one of my former students, Peter Karanja, then Provost of All Saints Cathedral, encouraged me to pursue ordination in the Anglican Church of Kenya. When the examining board of chaplains approved me, I could hardly contain myself.

To be admitted into Holy Orders in the Anglican Communion and to stand in the line of Anglican churchmen going back through the centuries is a priceless treasure to me, and to be welcomed into the priesthood, across racial lines, in my adoptive home was overwhelming.

There are many pathways to Christian faith, and many to the Anglican way. Some people come reluctantly into Christ’s church, and suspiciously to Anglicanism. But blessed are those who feel that both are the greatest gifts they could be given.

This All Saints Day, I am grateful for all the faithful Anglicans, lay and clergy, through whom I trace my spiritual lineage, from the frontier Methodist circuit riders and evangelists, across the ocean to that little Anglican firebrand, John Wesley, and his mother who formed his soul and that of his brother Charles, through pioneer Anglican missionary James Hannington, first bishop of East Africa, martyred on the shores of Lake Victoria, and down to the courageous Archbishop Benjamin Nzimbi, who twice laid firm brown hands on my pale head and conferred the orders of Deacon and Priest, passed down through 2000 years of apostolic succession on me. Me!  Unbelievable! Grace and mercy beyond measure!