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A Lesson for Anglicans: The Rt. Rev. Brian Barnett

It seems I’m linking to quite a few obits these days. But those who have passed on have lessons for us who are left behind, and this is another one of those lessons. I knew Brian for many years, especially when he was Administrative Pastor of the North Cleveland Church of God and I was on the Finance Committee.

As his obituary states, Brian Barnett was born in London, England. His religious background wasn’t much, but he met his future wife Jean and she took him to a meeting where he got saved. Shortly thereafter he enlisted in the Royal Air Force (his brother had fought in the Battle of Britain) and he was sent to Egypt.

Newly saved, he was brimming with enthusiasm to do God’s work. So he reported to his Church of England chaplain ready to do ministry in any way he would. The chaplain’s response: “You’ll get over it.” Barnett, being a military man, knew that a dud was an explosive that didn’t, and that this one was definitely a dud. So when he returned to Old Blighty, he married Jean and joined the Elim Pentecostal Church, where he was a successful pastor and encountered “Jesus Music” artist Len McGee.

The British Isles, however, are fabled places which filled two continents with the people who wanted to had to leave. When Brian decided to join that happy throng, he took his family (he lost one daughter to the NHS, an institution the Barnetts didn’t have much nice to say about) to the United States. He went on to be a successful pastor and State Overseer/Administrative Bishop (hence the need to refer to him as the “Right Reverend.”) He finally came to Cleveland where I get to know him.

His story about the encounter with the Anglican chaplain has stuck with me because it rings true. In both its British and North American forms at least, Anglicanism has always discouraged excess enthusiasm in its adherents. I know I experienced this growing up as an Episcopalian. Whether this is due to the shattering experience of the English Civil War (which the Scots, true to form, helped to start) or the elevated demographics of the Episcopal Church, the message was clear–our execution of the liturgy was expected to be top drawer, but otherwise no one was expected to get too worked up about being a Christian.

That puts a ceiling on the level of our relationship with God that the New Testament doesn’t justify. The change of being reborn as a new creation in Jesus Christ (2 Cor 5:17) denotes a revolutionary change in a person’s life, and a church which thinks this is in bad taste will deprive its adherents of that experience and of the high level of participation that goes with it. Those who put the true rebirth and the life that comes with that first will find other places to live out the life that God has given them in Jesus Christ. Brian Barnett did this and so did I.

My deep condolences to his family, his daughter Shirley and her husband Terry (our long-suffering sound man for many years) and their children Hilary (now Dr. Hilary Pace Reid) and son Robert and their grandchildren as they mourn his loss and celebrate his legacy.

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