On the morning of August 25th, a very hot Saturday even in northern Pennsylvania, I stood in the company of other priests, including some as notable as Fr. Charles Nalls, with our right hands laid upon the ordinand to the priesthood. Bishop Rocco Florenza, sitting on the episcopal throne, his hands stretched out on the head of the man before him, said the familiar words from the Ordinal: “Receive the Holy Ghost for the Office and Work of a Priest in the Church of God, now committed unto thee by the Imposition of our hands. Whose sins thou dost forgive, they are forgiven; and whose sins thou dost retain, they are retained. And be thou a faithful Dispenser of the Word of God, and of his holy Sacraments; In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.” Then I saw the bishop move his head nearer to the new priest’s ear, and say, “stay close to me, my son, and together we will work to build Christ’s Church.” I thought to myself, “now, that’s a true bishop.”
The detractors of faithful traditional Anglicans tell us that we are a small insignificant movement that has barely any present, and certainly no future. Even if that were true, men like Fr. Filkins, Bishop Florenza, the priests I stood with that morning, and indeed the priests I serve with and my own bishop in Easton, Maryland, would put it right. The ordination of Fr. Filkins, who served long as a deacon, points to the future; for those of us who have been together in the same foxhole in the same battle, his ordination is a triumph in itself, a victory against the forces of Satan. It is also a testimony to the character of a man formed by the Holy Spirit amidst hardship. Most men, knowing their calling, would have found a quicker and easier route than Jon Filkins; and most of them would not be as strong for finding it.
When I arrived in the Phoenix Valley in the summer of 2005, I was one of four local clergymen in the Anglican Province of Christ the King. Aside from two priests with their own parishes, I had the pleasure of working with a deacon about whom I knew only a little. But, what I knew impressed me. I knew that he had been turned down for ordination to the priesthood, and yet accepted the situation and continued to serve the people of the Church of the Atonement in Fountain Hills (just east of Scottsdale), and also Christ Church in Carefree. This impressed me because I know how easy it is, in all of the confusion of alphabet soup “Anglicanism” to find some bishop somewhere who, for whatever consideration, will ordain a man. I know also, with the various jurisdictions that have a presence in Phoenix and every major city, it is easy to leave one for another with or without much cause, and seek ordination. Jon Filkins had just cause to do that very thing, but he did not do it. He had been in the APCK seminary (St. Joseph of Arimathea Seminary) in Berkeley California after his ordination to the deaconate, sent with the full approval of the Bishop Ordinary of the Diocese of the Southwestern States, Rt. Rev. Frederick Morrison.
While then Deacon Filkins was there, Archbishop Robert Morse told him one day to prepare to be ordained to the priesthood and sent to Boston Massachusetts to a specific Parish. Later, the Archbishop told him to choose his presenter, and get his invitations ready: The date for ordination was set. Deacon Filkins asked, “but, what about my Bishop Ordinary?” It struck him as very strange that Bishop Frederick Morrison would send him to the seminary only to hand his entire vocation over to the Archbishop. The answer to him from Archbishop Morse was not to worry; everything was in place with the full approval of Bishop Morrison. Like a good soldier, then Deacon Filkins obeyed. He chose a presenter and sent invitations to friends and family as he was directed.
A few days later, Archbishop Morse was leaving to go to Washington D.C. From inside the car, Archbishop Morse called to Jon, and said “You need to call your Bishop right away.” The window rolled up, and the car was off to the airport. Without delay, the obedient deacon attempted to call Bishop Morrison. Archbishop Morse returned the following week only to hear that Bishop Morrison had never come to the phone and had never returned any of Deacon Filkins’ phone calls. Therefore, the archbishop himself said, “the ordination is off. You’re in conflict with your bishop.” And then, as if replying to an argument that had never been made, “I won’t break collegiality.” Archbishop Morse then said to him, “you need to leave the seminary as soon as possible.” The deacon had fallen into disfavor with his own bishop for doing what he had been told; he had presumed nothing, and had practiced the virtue of obedience in full trust- as many before him had done since 1978.
“You’re in conflict with your bishop.” A bishop who had never voiced any objections to him? A bishop who could not be bothered to talk to his own deacon under such trying circumstances? A bishop who knew that pain and confusion were sure to come to a man under his pastoral care, but who remained hidden away and indifferent? The conflict was between the archbishop, who had overstepped the boundaries of his authority, and a diocesan bishop who decided to punish this innocent man for the archbishop’s offense. The sad truth is, a lot of good clergy have found themselves victimized over these last three decades. Families of clergy have suffered both emotionally and financially, and the list of bodies buried outside the Provincial camp is long, and somewhat well known (I am exercising restraint. The facts that my fellow clergy have are documented and many).
After more than a year Jon Filkins finally heard from his Bishop Ordinary. He spent his own money to travel to Tulsa Oklahoma to the annual diocesan synod, where Bishop Morrison told him, in front of the standing committee, that under no circumstances would he ever become a priest. The decision of the bishop, without spending any time to get to know this man, was firm and permanent. Under the Canons of the APCK, where all of the bishops must approve every postulant to the priesthood, this meant that then Deacon Jon Filkins would never be a priest, since Bishop Morrison, having once been slighted by the archbishop, would use his veto power to forever treat this human being as a symbol of the occasion.
Humble and obedient servant
Even with all of this provocation, the good Deacon never abandoned his post, and never ran off to the alphabet soup Anglicans. When I arrived in Arizona, and the Church of the Atonement was in the hands of a priest, he felt free to move away where he came under the pastoral care of a different bishop- Bishop Florenza. I did not know the story in those days, except for a very brief account by a few people who made it all sound a little confusing. When I heard from Bishop Frederick Morrison about this matter, the story was cleaned up, with a few subtractions and a few additions, all of which I believed at the time since I could not imagine that my bishop would ever tell me anything that was at all misleading. But, I knew Jon Filkins just long enough to know that he was the kind of man I would want with me in a foxhole. I knew that he had suffered some amount of injustice, even if it was only due to innocent failure of communication (something I thought, at the time, that I could try to put right), and that he had demonstrated humility, obedience and patience. He did not speak ill of the bishop, or of the archbishop at any time during the months that he served with me as deacon in the Church. He had been the pastor of the congregation for the months leading up to my arrival, and humbly took the place of a deacon under my authority as the priest. I relied on his understanding of the people in that church, since he knew them and their own peculiar ways as individuals. He loved them, and they loved him.
Father Jon Filkins has stepped into his new role as the rector of a country church in northern Pennsylvania. His congregation has been under the care of an elderly priest, Fr. Livingston, who is retiring and moving to North Carolina. St. Alban’s Anglican Church is near a college town that contains Penn State University. His prospects for evangelism sound particularly exciting, since Anglicanism does very well in college towns, especially for men who know how to make use of the intellectual resources available to us. Fr. Filkins is a living demonstration of God’s faithfulness, just as he is an example of patience and humility. And, his ordination is just another proof that we are moving ahead and taking ground.
The soul that to Jesus hath fled for repose,
I will not, I will not desert to his foes;
That soul, though all hell shall endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.