I’ve invited St. Anskar to come along with me on my Lenten journey. He was a missionary, monk, archbishop, friend of kings, and patron saint of Scandinavia, but that’s not why I chose him. I chose him because he was also a failure.
I first heard of Anskar when an Episcopal priest friend told me that every year he got together with other priests to celebrate the feast of St. Anskar. They toasted to the failures that did not bring them down. They acknowledged together that they will never see the fruit of many of the seeds they have sown.
At the time I had just begun serving my first appointment as an associate pastor at a United Methodist Church. I was desperately trying to remember everything I learned in seminary, every story of what not to do and be the perfect pastor in every way. So I loved the story of St. Anskar.
It may not be completely fair to call the man a failure because his failing is only a small part of his very impressive story. He was a missionary at a time when the world was a scary and politically crazy place. Anskar was consecrated in 831 and only 9 years later, after Louis the Pious died, everything fell apart. A raid completely destroyed his entire diocese to the point that it could not be restored. He was a bishop with no diocese and no money. But he did not give up. He kept on with his mission, working with kings through war times to get Christianity established.
It’s a tough story and he did not not know the end. He didn’t know he would be patron saint of Scandinavia or honored and remembered all these years later. He didn’t know if he would be defined by his losses or his gains.
It reminds me this Lent to be ok with the mistakes, the losses, and the imperfections. It reminds me that God can do great things with people as far from perfection as I am.
We named our son Oscar because we were inspired by the work of Oscar Romero, but one day my husband came across something that said Oscar is actually a version of the name Anskar. So now as I raise my son and try to be the best parent I can be, as I beat myself up for every parenting mistake or am tempted to put pressure on him to be perfect, I am constantly reminded of this great story…the beauty of imperfection and the holy power of failure.
Jennifer Williamson is an ordained United Methodist pastor currently on family leave and attending Grace and St. Stephen’s in Colorado Springs where her husband is the rector. She stays home with her two boys ages three and six and also does supply preaching and volunteer work. She is originally from Youngstown, Ohio and has an MDiv from Drew Theological School. You can find more of her blog posts and sermons at pastorjenw.blogspot.com or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.