Friends of Chalcedon recently interviewed The Very Reverend Norman Milbank, rector of St. Paul’s Anglican Church in Los Altos, CA, which is a member of the Anglican Churches of America and Associates. Reverend Milbank lives and works with his wife of 60 years, Tille Ann, at Canterbury Christian School (K- 6th grade), which has been the main work of St. Paul’s for 32 years. Friends of Chalcedon (FOC) spoke with Rev. Milbank recently and posed the following questions.
FOC: As members of the group of ex-Episcopalians that founded St. Paul’s Anglican Church in 1964, what was the biggest challenge you faced and how did you meet it?
Milbank: Our biggest challenge was finding a location for a worship service and finding reliable, knowledgeable leadership. At first we had lay-led services using the 1928 version of the Book of Common Prayer (which is reliable in any age). Shortly thereafter we met R. J. Rushdoony, I went to seminary and was ordained, and we also met Bob Ingram.
FOC: What were the major influences that caused you to feel that you should take on such a challenge?
Milbank: The fact that the social gospel was being adopted and pursued by major denominations was a big factor. Then there was the necessity of training four children in the unadulterated Word of God.
FOC: Over the years has your vision for St. Paul’s undergone any major changes?
Milbank: I can’t say that it has. Article 19 of The 39 Articles of Religion states, “The visible church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men, in the which the pure Word of God is preached, and the Sacraments be duly ministered according to Christ’s ordinance, in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same.”
FOC: Prior to 1974, what were the major ministry outreaches of St. Paul’s?
Milbank: Our main focus was on individual witnessing.
FOC: When did the idea for Canterbury Christian School begin to materialize? Why did you choose that name?
Milbank: That occurred immediately following our move to our first permanent church home in 1970. Conversations with R. J. and Dorothy Rushdoony and Bob and Maryann Thoburn helped move it along. Rev. Rushdoony thought it was mandatory not optional that the church should have a Christian school attached to it. The names St. Paul’s and Canterbury reflect our English heritage and the English Reform movement of the 16th century.
FOC: In the 32 years that the school has been in existence, how have the issues changed in education? What groups (if there are any) seem to appreciate the idea of Christian schooling the most?
Milbank: The issues of preparing children for a profitable life of service to the Lord are still the same. The enemies (such as the media with their total humanistic perspective on life) are now somewhat more blatant. The appreciative groups seem to be the parents who understand what we are all about and want no part of the alternative — humanism. They also have a high regard for the academic standard of excellence that we demand. When you hold the Bible as the unchanging standard and learn politics or economics or anything, by that standard, you learn a Christian worldview.
FOC: By now you must have graduates of Canterbury spread all throughout the country. Do you hear from many of them?
Milbank: We’ve had visits from time to time, including some very pleasant visits from several who have a continuing interest in seeing that this Christian school work is as active and focused as when they were here. It’s always very exciting to have them come back and say, “I really enjoyed Chapel Service,” “Oh, this hasn’t changed since we were here,” “Have you heard from [so and so]?” and “Is a [particular teacher] still here?”
FOC: In your opinion, what are the major challenges for the future for schools like Canterbury? How do you think they will be met?
Milbank: There are many persons in government as well as in the private sector who are antagonistic to Christian schools for what they regard as legitimate reasons. The Christian schools must keep on doing what they know to be right and not be cowed by those anti-s. Also, there needs to be a more concerted effort to convince churches of their obligation to provide Christian education. This will only be done by sacrificial commitment, very much including financial sacrifice.
FOC: You and your wife both have been planting faithfully the seeds of Christian faith for quite some time. Do you ever get weary of another school year and a whole new crop of students?
Milbank: We are human beings and human beings do get tired. However, as long as the Lord sustains us, we’ll very likely be doing the same things. Each new group is interesting and a new challenge.
FOC: Would you encourage Christian young people to become teachers and work to start Christian day schools?
Milbank: I can’t think of a greater need and a more honorable career than elevating the citizens and leaders of tomorrow to an awareness of serving the Lord faithfully. As far as I’m concerned, a teacher is way at the top as far as careers go.
FOC: Please describe how your association with R. J. Rushdoony was helpful to you.
Milbank: Being called into the trenches at a somewhat advanced age (46 in 1962), it was extremely helpful to have the counsel of a recognized superior leader in both church and school activities. His assistance was of value beyond measure. He saved me so much time by directing me in my study — what I should and should not bother with. His help was very practical in nature. When I told him I didn’t think I really had the background for running a school and that I was uncertain how to begin, his advice was, “Just start!”
FOC: You have quoted Rev. R. J. Rushdoony as having said that the Book of Common Prayer is one of the three great works to come out of the Reformation. What were the other two and could you give a brief description why?
Milbank: The Anglicans under Thomas Cranmer contributed the Book of Common Prayer; John Calvin, for the Presbyterians, produced the Institutes of the Christian Religion; and Martin Luther gave the Lutherans The Bondage of the Will. All of these made a huge impact on the Christian religion and are still very important to dedicated scholars. Rev. Rushdoony stated that the Presbyterians could have had the Book of Common Prayer, and he believed they should have adopted it.
FOC: Today we see various forms of sincere worship being practiced by committed Christians. What does the Book of Common Prayer (1928 version) have to offer to today’s congregations?
Milbank: It offers a dignified, structured service absolutely faithful to God’s Word. In the General Confession, the General Thanksgiving, and one of the Creeds (Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian) as well as other parts of the service, the parishioners participate more than in most other major services. The liturgy incorporates more Scripture than perhaps any other and if followed faithfully, without deviation, will keep one from error.
FOC: Why isn’t the Book of Common Prayer more widely used?
Milbank: People tend to want innovation and things to be more casual. They often feel uncomfortable being told they are sinners, which the Book of Common Prayer reminds you that you are. People want “social gatherings,” which is why the social gospel of the 40s and 50s gained popularity. In my opinion, they headed mainline off into bypass meadows! Great men of American history, such as George Washington, were very positively influenced by their use of the Prayer Book.
FOC: You and your wife have been married for over 60 years with four children, twelve grandchildren, and two (and a half) great grandchildren. What do you have to say to the challenges that young couples face today regarding marriage and family?
Milbank: Get busy with the Bible. Raise children with the Bible. Don’t be concerned about what your neighbors are doing or saying. You have to be solid as a rock. I often recommend that families use the Book of Common Prayer for their family devotions.
FOC: Can you cite noteworthy instances where the faithful application of God’s law to a specific area or situation greatly affected the direction of your ministry?
Milbank: Romans 8:28 comes to mind. When discouraged because of how the general society influences my thinking, I’ve said, “Wait a minute... All things work together for good!” I encourage myself to just keep on with church, school, family, and whatever it might be.
FOC: You have acknowledged R. J. Rushdoony and Bob Ingram as major influences. How about C. S. Lewis?
Milbank: Not really. I was and am very grateful to J. I. Packer and his contributions. He saw the church going in a liberal direction (e.g., same sex unions), and actively opposed it. His little booklet The Gospel in the Prayer Book is one I heartily recommend. I also want to mention the value to our ministry of a close relationship with Truman Davis, our first bishop. His inspirational and knowledgeable leadership was of inestimable value to us. His successor, Ron Johnson, is likewise doing an outstanding job of spiritual leadership.
FOC: At the seasoned age of 86, we sincerely hope that the Lord provides you with many more years of service to His kingdom both for our sake and for the sake of all those children who pass through your school.