Perspectives :: The Rev. Dr. Ashley Null

World-renowned scholar with the heart of a pastor

By the Rev. Claudia GreggsAshleyNull

Grace and gratitude play a central role in the Rev. Dr. Ashley Null’s life and work.  Ashley is an authority on the English Reformation – particularly the theology of Thomas Cranmer, who was the author of the first Book of Common Prayer and the Archbishop of Canterbury during the reigns of King Henry VIII and Edward VI.   Ashley also serves as a senior research fellow for the Ridley Institute and a theological consultant to the Diocese of the Carolinas, most recently giving a series of thought-provoking lectures to the clergy of the diocese.  In those lectures, Ashley talked about how Cranmer’s understanding of God’s grace and mercy shaped the Communion service he composed for the first English Prayer Books (or the 1552 Book of Common Prayer).

A similar understanding – of how God’s grace, freely offered in love, sets the stage for us to acknowledge our sinfulness and repent – has shaped Ashley’s life.  Although born in Birmingham, Alabama, (‘Ashley’ is a family name) he was reared in Salina, Kansas, and since his father was an Episcopalian, the Null family attended Christ Episcopal Cathedral, where the bishop of the Diocese of Western Kansas was in residence.  His mother had been raised in the Baptist church (her great-great-grandfather was the first Secretary of the Southern Baptist Foreign Missions Board) but with Pentecostal influences– and all of these Christian traditions – Anglican, Evangelical and Pentecostal – played an important role in Ashley’s formation as a Christian.  The Book of Common Prayer, with its liturgies and prayers rooted in Scripture, held a special appeal for him.

While in high school, Ashley was part of a large group of students involved with the Solid Rock Fellowship House, a Jesus-Movement-style outreach sponsored by the local Foursquare Church.  The Solid Rock taught him the Bible and deepened his faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior. After college, he discerned a call to the ordained ministry and set off for the Yale Divinity School in New Haven, Connecticut.  While at Yale his appreciation for Cranmer’s Reformation belief in the primacy of Scripture in the life of the church led him to explore ways in which to help those unfamiliar with, or skeptical about, Anglican liturgy appreciate its biblical underpinnings.  Ashley was unique at Yale – a prayer book Episcopalian with an obvious love for Jesus. When it came time for Ashley to be ordained a deacon in Salina, he made sure his Pentecostal friends played a role in the service.  He asked the Foursquare pastor to preach.  After the service, the Cathedral canon turned to Ashley and remarked with a smile, “Well that’s probably a little more Bible than the people here are used to, but it won’t hurt them any.”

After two years serving in parish ministry at Grace Church in New York City, where he ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Fitz Allison, Ashley returned to Yale to pursue a Masters in Sacred Theology degree (STM) with a focus on the theology of repentance from an Anglican perspective.  He was particularly interested in the Anglican Reformers’ notion that God’s alluring grace, offered unconditionally to fallen men and women, is what leads them to repentance – not a fear of damnation, which was a tactic used by the medieval church.  This belief in the transformative power of grace was bedrock for Ashley, and it continues to occupy his thoughts and inspire his writing and teaching to this day.

Although he hoped to build upon his work at Yale by pursing an advanced degree, his bishop had other plans for him.  Upon completion of his STM, Ashley was called back to Kansas to serve as interim rector of a troubled church in a little town called Liberal.  Since pastoral ministry was something Ashley enjoyed immensely, both he and the church thrived during his tenure as their rector.  After two years, however, he was faced with a difficult decision.  His best chance at paying for a PhD was winning a Fulbright scholarship to England which in those days required an applicant to be under the age of 30.  To resume his studies would mean leaving far too early a parish he had come to love.  In the end, Ashley left the decision up to the award committee.  When he was notified that he had been selected, he left parish ministry to study Cranmer at Cambridge University in England.

Since receiving his PhD from Cambridge, Ashley has authored several publications, including Thomas Cranmer’s Doctrine of Repentance: Renewing the Power to Love (Oxford 2000).  He is now in the process of editing the private theological notebooks of Thomas Cranmer, which will be published in a five-volume series by Oxford University Press.  Ashley also holds a research post funded by the German Research Council at Humboldt University of Berlin, which is preparing for the 500th anniversary celebration in 2017 of the beginning of the German Reformation.  In addition, he is a visiting fellow of the Divinity Faculty of Cambridge University and St. John’s College, Durham University.  And in March of this year, Ashley was installed as a Canon Theologian of St. Mark’s Pro-Cathedral in Alexandria, Egypt.

Much of Ashley’s time is taken up with writing, research and teaching; yet he also continues to exercise a pastoral ministry.  He has served over the years as a chaplain in educational institutions as well as in the sports arena.  These days, he ministers to some most outstanding athletes and coaches, sharing the Reformation’s message of unmerited grace and humble gratitude with men who are highly performance-driven and widely acclaimed for their skills and talent.  Ashley has also served three times as an Olympic Chaplain, most recently in London for the 2012 Summer Olympics.  In addition, he is the author of a book for athletes about the power of God’s freely-offered grace entitled, Real Joy: Freedom to be Your Best (Haennsler 2004).

We are truly blessed in the diocese of the Carolinas to be able to benefit from Ashley’s scholarship and humble reflections about Thomas Cranmer, the Anglican Reformation and the alluring grace of God.  The clergy of the diocese eagerly await our next opportunity to hear him speak.

Claudia Greggs is the Clergy Associate for Pastoral Care at Holy Trinity Church in Raleigh, NC.

 

 

 

 

Perspectives :: Church Planting in Asheville

Perspectives is the occasional paper from the Diocese of the Carolinas

By the Rev’d Claudia Greggs

gary ball 2It may seem like Gary Ball is a long way from home, but that’s not really the case. Last December Gary, his wife Susannah and their three children, Flora, age 7, Elias, age 3 and Karis, age 10 months moved across the country from Santa Cruz, California to plant Redeemer Anglican Church in Asheville. But Gary and Susannah grew up in the South – Susannah’s family lives in Atlanta and Gary’s in Florida – and their move to Asheville was God’s answer to prayer about returning to their roots in the Southeast.

Gary, who is 38 years old, is the son of a Church of the Nazarene pastor and was himself a Nazarene pastor for 15 years. When asked what is it about Anglicanism that led him to choose to plant an Anglican church, Gary enthusiastically talks about how Anglicanism speaks to a post-modern culture (a culture that has severed itself from its roots) by offering instead “a clear identity, a place to belong, a clear understanding of who we are as Christians.”

He also notes that “people are leaving other denominations today because they don’t know who they are. In the Anglican Church, the Book of Common Prayer helps to shape identity through worship, which also counteracts our culture’s trend toward individualism. When Anglicans gather for worship on Sunday mornings there is a corporate confession and a corporate affirmation of faith.”

Gary was also drawn to the sacramental heritage of the Anglican church, in which baptism and weekly Eucharist play important roles. He attended the Anglican 1000 church planting summit in Wheaton, Illinois last year where he met Winfield Bevins, Canon for Church Planting in the Diocese of the Carolinas. Gary talked to Winfield about his deep appreciation for Anglican theology and liturgy and he was impressed with the vision Winfield described for planning churches here in the Carolinas. So when Gary called Winfield several months later, Winfield invited him to plant an Anglican church in Asheville.

A New Home

Gary describes Asheville as “an old city being completely renovated;” something he finds attractive. The part of Asheville where he and his family live is called “West Asheville.” “But,” Gary points out, “it used to be known as ‘worst’ Asheville.” Now artists and young families are moving into the neighborhood and Gary thinks the church has an important role to play in bringing the city back to life. He also thinks an Anglican church will fit well in Asheville because many of its residents were drawn there by its reputation as a place supportive of the arts. “The liturgy speaks to an artistic community – the seasons, the colors, the mystery of the Eucharist.”

In order to plant a church 3,000 miles across the country, Gary and Susannah knew they would need to put into place systems of support before they left. Not only would they be leaving behind jobs and friends, they would also be starting a church from scratch, in a city with which they were not yet familiar, and with no church building or even members awaiting their arrival.

So one key decision they made was to invite some friends in California and some family members in Nashville to join them in the move and become the nucleus of a launch “team” for the new church. They also raised financial support before they left in order to help sustain their family in the year ahead, since they would not be able to support themselves to the extent necessary while they worked to get the church underway.

Since he arrived in Asheville, Gary has been hard at work mentoring his launch team and seeking additional committed Christians – those with a calling and a vision for church planting – to join him. Right now the launch team is meeting for training and prayer in Gary and Susannah’s home, but soon they plan to hold worship services in a building. An official “launch” – the point at which a church plant is ready to hold public services of worship – is scheduled for September.

John Hall, a priest in the Diocese of the Carolinas with years of church planting experience, is helping to mentor Gary and three other church planers in the Greenville, South Carolina and Charlotte, North Carolina area. Gary mentions that “church planting can be lonely and discouraging. It’s so helpful to have someone to walk alongside us.” This mentoring program is part of the vision for church planting in the Diocese of the Carolinas. Gary and his fellow church planters meet with John Hall once a month and in addition, Gary and John talk by phone on a regular basis.

Prayer Requests

When asked about how the members of the Diocese of the Carolinas can pray for him and his launch team, Gary identified three basic needs. The first one is for direction from the Holy Spirit – in finding a building in which to gather for worship and in finding another family to join the launch team. The second is for his family – that his children would find new friends in Asheville and that he and Susannah would make the right decisions about schooling for them. Thirdly, Gary asks for prayers for financial viability – for his family (he’s looking for a part-time secular job so he can help support his family until such time as the church can pay a salary) and for the new church plant, which he hopes will be welcoming to those who are hungry for the gospel.

Gary is excited about what God has in store for Redeemer Anglican Church and he’s encouraged by how the Lord has been answering every prayer since before leaving California. Although it wasn’t easy moving a family of five across the country, now Gary is “home” – in Asheville and in the Anglican Diocese of the Carolinas.

Claudia Greggs is a priest serving in the Diocese of the Carolinas.