justin’s spiritual biography
As obvious as it sounds, my story in Christ begins with God. My parents faithfully presented me for baptism as an infant in the Episcopal Church, and I was graciously placed by God in a loving and caring home. For all intents and purposes, my home life growing up was stable and relatively “normal.” I always did reasonably well in school and as a growing youth I had a dedication to and love of all things outdoor and athletic. I was particularly devoted to baseball, playing up to varsity level ball in high school.
Testimony of Commitment to Christ
Again, although I know that God has been active in my life since my birth and baptism, I certainly had a “conversion experience” in my teenage years. Perhaps it’s better to say that God expressed his faithfulness to me through what I experienced during this phase of my life. By the time I was fifteen, I was sliding away from my default position as a “Christian” into the things that, well, fifteen year olds get into. Thankfully the Lord had other plans for my life. I can’t remember exactly when it began, but I started to have a clear desire to know God and to read the Bible. At the same time, I also became very much aware of the fact that I was estranged from God. This desire and uneasiness culminated in receiving Christ at a student conference I attended with the youth group of First Alliance Church, Port Charlotte, FL. I was, quite simply, forever changed by that night. After that, the faith was real to me and I began to walk as a growing and committed follower of Jesus. Very shortly after this time, I began to sense a strong call on my life from God. This would be the beginning of a long journey into ministry.
Discipleship / Leadership Experience / Call to Ordained Ministry
In regards to my faith, my time in high school was a period of experimentation and formation (sometimes mis-formation). I had great zeal for God, though certainly sometimes “without knowledge.” I journeyed through dramatically different expressions of the church ranging from the charismatic movement to seeker church. Within the charismatic movement, I experienced the power and presence of God in dramatic ways that have to this day left an indelible mark upon my life. But, as I look back on that time, I would also say that I got to see “the good, the bad, and the ugly” of the charismatic stream of the church. In the end, I’m extremely thankful for the experience I gained from my time in that stream of the church.
I experienced a more “seeker sensitive” approach to church in my time as a youth leader within Celebration Church, Port Charlotte, FL. The senior pastor and the youth pastor both had roots in the charismatic movement as well, and they were able to help me understand and process some of the less helpful teachings I had been fed in my previous church. They were both very gracious to me and trusted me with responsibilities around the church. At times they even allowed me to speak to the youth group and help plan initiatives within the church. They provided me with some much needed discipleship, and my time in the “seeker” stream left me with a sensitivity to how outsiders view the church. I remained with this congregation until I graduated from high school and enrolled at Trinity College of Florida.
The four years I spent at Trinity College were an extremely formative time in my life. When I enrolled in the college, I was in the missions track, but by my sophomore year I added worship to my studies, becoming a double emphasis student. During my time at Trinity, I began to ask questions about the nature of Christian worship – I had a deep desire to know more about the biblical underpinnings of worship and I wanted to know what it would look like for the modern church to embrace a pattern of worship that would truly honor and glorify God. What kind of worship pleases God? Where could I find this kind of worship? These were the kinds of questions I was asking.
So, I sought out Dr. Rodney Shores, who was in charge of the worship track at Trinity. He, in turn, welcomed my questions and (re)introduced me into the great liturgical traditions of the church. In particular, he introduced me to the writings of the late Robert Webber. I cannot say enough about how deeply this time affected the direction of my life and calling to ministry. Through my courses on worship, I also began to realize how poor my overall experience of discipleship had actually been up to that point. I began to develop a passion for the history and development of discipleship and the catechumenate (discipleship process) of the early church. Discipleship became a major area of study in my college. To this day, I remain thoroughly committed to deep and lasting discipleship because of this time of study and formation. It was also during my time at Trinity that I met my future wife, Brooke. We met through a mutual friend and developed a long distance relationship during my freshman and sophomore semesters. As she has often told people, she came all the way to Florida to run a half-marathon and ended up meeting her husband! We fell in love and married in October of my junior year at Trinity. When I graduated from Trinity, I really wasn’t sure what God was calling me to do. I just knew that I had a passion for liturgics, and that I wanted to develop that for the glory of God. So, in May of 2005, my wife and I moved to Hagerstown, Maryland to be closer to her family, and we began seeking out a local church.
Shortly after moving to Hagerstown, three significant things happened: (1) Our first daughter (Lucy) was born, (2) I enrolled in The Institute for Worship Studies, and (3) I began leading worship on a volunteer basis at Church of the Saviour in Myersville, MD. I would later come on staff at COS in 2007. My time at COS and The Institute has provided me with an extremely valuable period of formation and “hands-on” experience in ministry. It was a time for me to solidify my decision to pursue pastoral ministry and teaching. Under my supervising pastor, Duke Jeffries, I was given ample opportunity to teach and preach within COS. I will forever be grateful for his open attitude and willingness to allow me to grow in the spiritual gifts God has given me. I also gained a lot of practical experience in the art of leading worship as well. I learned a lot of practical things I wouldn’t otherwise have experience in (e.g. how to arrange and design worship bulletins, how to put together a working worship team, etc.). In 2010, I graduated from IWS with a Master’s degree in Worship Studies. During my time at IWS, our second daughter (Forrest – April, 2008) was also born. Our son Copeland was born in August of 2010.
A further word about my time at IWS: it was there that I was first exposed to Anglican worship that was fresh, vibrant, evangelical, and yet rooted in historical worship. Though I had been on the “Canterbury Trail” for some time, I can still vividly recall the first few worship services I was a part of, and something inside of me just said, “Yes, finally!” Though the how would not become clear until much later, I immediately knew that I wanted to be a part of whatever God was doing in this thing called the Anglican church. By the time I finished up my last semester in 2010, I began to seriously think that God might be calling me to plant an Anglican church in Hagerstown, MD. I had no idea how that might happen and no connections to speak of, but my wife and I prayed, and we began to seek out the budding orthodox networks in this region. I told my pastor about what I was doing, and he gave his full support to my endeavors. However, we would find out that God’s answer to our prayers was, “Soon, but not yet.” With things in upheaval in the Anglican world of the Mid-Atlantic, our attempts to form connections with Anglican leaders were largely unsuccessful. So, we continued to be faithful to our local congregation, our family, and our work. We waited to hear from God and gave up our desires up to Him.
In October of 2012, I met with Rev. Sam Horowitz, pastor of Christ Our Lord Church (DOMA) to reconnect over lunch. I knew of Sam from my time at IWS, and when I found out that he was pastoring in the region, I wanted to know more! When we had lunch together, I had no idea that DOMA even existed and I certainly had no clue what the Lord was up to! We met and talked about what was going on in the Anglican world at that time, but by the end of the conversation we were talking about church planting. I told him what was in my heart, and he said he would talk to Bishop Guernsey. Incredibly, on November 18th, 2012, “New Creation” began meeting together in Hagerstown. By the end of 2013, I would be commissioned from Church of the Saviour to lead the New Creation plant. Providentially, my full-time job with my employer also became a work at home position, which allowed me to be in Hagerstown much more often than was previously possible. It has been my joy to lead this small mission, to share the riches of the Anglican heritage with others, and to get to know so many generous Christians in the DOMA family. I have benefited immensely both from the wisdom of DOMA leaders (especially Rev. Clancy Nixon, my church planting mentor) and from the experience I have gained in being involved in a church plant. I can honestly say there is nothing I would rather be doing. God continues to be at work in our midst!
The path I’ve take into the Anglican tradition certainly is a unique one! I was confirmed by Bishop Guernsey in 2014, all the while working my way through the ordination process. In December of 2015, I was ordained to the transitional diaconate. In June of 2016, I was ordained a priest. Besides my wife and children, there are few things more dear to me than this. To be surrounded by all the people who make New Creation what is at my ordination was a supreme blessing! I count it my privilege to serve the people I lead, and I pray to always serve Christ to those very same people. At my ordination, I was given a clergy cross by the congregation. The back of the cross reads, “PRAEDICATE EVANGELIUM INSTA OPPORTUNE IMPORTUNE.” It serves as a reminder to me to preach the Gospel always, in season and out of season. To God be the glory.
We are now a family of six, with our youngest son (Crosby) born in April 2015. As a family, we’re committed to living simply, discipling continually (meaning, along the road of life), and doing life together. In fact, we’re so serious about doing life together that we’re homeschooling our children! I would say our commitments as a family really influence our church planting. We’re committed to doing church in a way that does not separate out the body of Christ, but rather puts the young up next to the old, learning from one another. It’s a powerful way to disciple young and old! As I have told people, what we offer as a church is a pattern of worship, not a program. So it is with our family life, too.