Celeste and I got to go visit Nashotah House, an Anglo-Catholic seminary just west of Milwaukee 20 minutes, and get a tour from a friend I grew up with who teaches there– Fr. Tom Holtzen. We actually went to Tom and Candace’s place for supper with their 4 lovely children, but we had wanted a tour of Nashota House as well.
Nashotaj House is a seminary of the Episcopalian Church, serving the Anglican Church worldwide. It is actually a fairly autonomous seminary (not financed directly or controlled by the Church significantly), and is known to be much more traditional (and by that I mean more orthodox and Biblical) than other Episcopalian seminaries. It tends to attract evangelical-type students.
Nashotah is Anglican in the traditional sense, but they follow spiritual practices of the Benedictines (St. Benedict). Every morning all the students come to the Church for morning worship. This consists of the liturgy as well as chanting psalms back and forth (one side says one verse, the other says the next, back and forth like a round) and communion each morning. Then they all go (with the professors) to have breakfast together. They study all morning in class, then they have work-study projects to do (the students care for the grounds, for example)
The chapel is beautiful, and has stained glass windows of ancient saints of the church as well as more recent Christians who are important to the seminary. In this way the iconography (both in windows and pictures) helps remind these Christians of greats who have gone on before–models to follow and immitate in their devotion to Christ.
So they are Anglican, Benedictine, and obviously very classical and historically traditional. C.S. Lewis, J.I. Packer and John Stott were all Anglicans. Here is what the site says about their being Anglican:
Anglicanism gives equal weight to Word and Sacrament in its worship, and secures its polity in the Apostolic Succession of bishops. With Holy Scripture as its rule of faith, Anglicanism reserves a place for Reason and Tradition in its theological discourse, and has always made a strong association between what the Church believes and what the Church prays. Lex orandi, lex credendi – “the law of prayer is the law of belief”—well expresses the close correspondence in classical Anglicanism between doctrine and doxology.
The seminary teaches the Bible, Systematic Theology, and practical theology as any seminary would– but in addition to training the head, it aims to train the hearts of its seminarians by helping them train their souls more towards Christ and Godliness through spiritual disciplines of prayer, etc. In this sense it captures the Christian tradition of establishing habits of the heart which direct us towards God.
St. Benedict (d.547) was a monk who established spiritual communities in the 500’s. Here is what the site says about the Nashotah House ‘benedictine’ tradition:
Few guides to Christian spirituality have proven themselves more useful, adaptable and enduring than St. Benedict. His Rule underwrites the Book of Common Prayer and permeates the Anglican way of spiritual growth. A biblical spirituality, it is fixed in the scriptures and features plenteous use of psalmody. As monastic spirituality, it is concerned for community and the cultivation of charity, embodied spirituality, the Benedictine way fastens our spiritual life to the outward disciplines proven to foster inward growth – prayer, study and work.
Again, the focus here is on cultivating embodied spirituality– not just a head knowledge of God, but a daily practice of devotion to God and love of others. They actively practice community together and seek to foster that community through active participation.
Certainly a lot of evangelicals would probably feel like some of the ritual and structure seems foreign or possibly even works-based. Of course evangelicals have our own tradition (and its not what is going on in a service like what you have at Nashota house) and that is why nashota house might feel foreign to us– because its not like our tradition. The wonderful thing about evangelicals is that they don’t care where they meet– any abandoned Kmart or even a living room will do– and so evangelicals have little attachment if any to physical structures, buildings, or regular objects of worship. But the downside of this is that we often have a very shallow tradition– very little with longlasting value to us spiritually which is embodied. And so we as evangelicals often have a fairly spartan spirituality– with a faith of the head without any physical manifestations, for fear that those physical manifestations might distract us from pure spiritual truths.
But nashotah house, with all its icons and beautiful buildings, and priests with robes and rituals and habit formation practices is designed and sustained to help direct peoples entire lives– head, heart and bodies– towards a Christian way of being in the world. It is a gem, and it is so unique– being conservative in ways that many evangelicals would feel comfortable with most of the theology here– while also being conservative in ways evangelicals have not been– conserving practices and traditions of the church that go back to the early church fathers. That is why I think it is such a great place. Here is a place where, if you are not convinced you should become Roman Catholic, you can have good theology and be immersed in practices of the historic Christian church.
It was really fantastic to see Nashotah house and to see how God brought Fr. Tom from the farm in Nebraska through seminary at Gordon Conwell (where I visited them) and a Ph.D. at Marquette (where he was when I was there) to become a seminary professor in this amazing historical Anglo Catholic tradition.
I will end this post by simply posting their brief history of Nashotah House below.
In 1841, Bishop Jackson Kemper, the Episcopal Church’s first Missionary Bishop, set out on horseback for what was then the northwest frontier, bearing the Gospel to the Onieda and Objibwe peoples. Three young deacons, persuaded by Kemper’s example, followed him on foot—one of whom was James Lloyd Breck, later remembered as “the Apostle to the Wilderness.” Inspired by the Oxford Movement and the catholic revival in Anglicanism, Breck hoped to establish a religious house from which missionaries, trained in the Christian faith and formed by its disciplines, would go forth to preach the Gospel both to indigenous nations and the eastern pioneers then settling among them.
In 1842, then, a seminary was born in a little blue house built in the wilds of the kettle moraine. The following year, a little red chapel—the Chapel of St. Sylvanus—was built beside it. The two buildings endure today on Nashotah House’s campus. The faith, the missionary zeal and the catholic tradition which built them endure here also. And for the 166 years since, a unique witness within the Church has been thriving in the wilds of southwest Wisconsin.
Chartered in 1847, Nashotah House is the oldest institution of higher learning in Wisconsin, and she remains true to her roots today. Breck’s monastic ideals were considered radical in the Episcopal Church of his day, but his strong vision of priestly formation through communal living, ordered prayer and shared work established Nashotah House’s unique identity and values in perpetuity.
For more than 160 years, the seminary’s purpose has been summed up in its distinctive name “Nashotah House” and its unofficial title, “the Mission.” The Daily Prayer for Nashotah House communicates the mission of a community “set apart to the glory of thy great Name and the benefit of thy Holy Church,” and expresses the hope that her students will “go forth animated with earnest zeal for thy glory…that they may speak with that resistless energy of love which shall melt the hearts of sinner to the love of thee.” Nashotah House’s strong Anglo-Catholic heritage, married to a high view of the scriptures and a missionary ethos, provides a clear context for a community of faith and learning.