Skip to comments.Episcopal-to-Catholic Converts
Posted on 08/04/2012 12:48:35 AM PDT by GonzoII
BOB FAW, Correspondent: In Bladensburg, Maryland, the Catholic service unfolds smoothly, a comfortable routine for priests and parishioners alike.
But one year ago, members of St. Lukes parish were devout, devoted Episcopalians. This is the first Episcopal church in the country to convert to Catholicism under Vatican rules designed to attract disaffected Episcopalians.
If 20 years ago I had said youre destined to be a Catholic priest, how would you have answered?
FATHER MARK LEWIS: I would have thought you were crazy.
FAW: Under a 2009 decree by Pope Benedict XVI, St. Lukes, like all Episcopal churches that choose to convert, gets to retain much of its liturgy and traditions, like using its Book of Common Prayer and Anglican hymns.
It also gets to keep its married priest, Father Mark Lewis, who is exempt from the Roman Catholic vows of celibacy. Father Lewis, an Episcopal priest for 10 years, and his wife, Vickey, have two children. Their grandson, Sherman, is an altar server.
LEWIS (St. Lukes Parish): We left the Episcopal Church not because we were running away from the issues of the Episcopal Church. We left the Episcopal Church because we were running to the Catholic Church. We came to the point where we realized the theology of the Episcopal Church is what was lacking. The theology of Rome, the authority of Rome, the unity in the Holy See and in the bishops: that was appealing to us.
FAW: Former Episcopal priest, Father Scott Hurd, married with three children, also found the move to Catholicism seamless. He was ordained into the Catholic Church in 2000 and acted as the chaplain here while Father Lewis waited to be ordained.
FATHER SCOTT HURD (US Ordinariate): There is a real hunger amongst some Episcopalians and Anglicans for authority. It was the question of where can true Christian authority be found that was a key element in this communitys journey.
FAW: It wasnt just the need for authority, say other former Episcopalians. They were also uncomfortable because the Episcopal Church approves of ordaining women, openly gay priests, and same-sex marriage.
STEPHEN SMITH (Congregant): Theres not any one real incident you can point to, but its like the strands of a rope giving one by one, and each one weakens the rope as a whole.
FAW: Anne Marie Whittaker feels that she didnt leave the Episcopal Church but that the church left her.
ANNE MARIE WHITTAKER (Congregant): All of a sudden it was do-your-own-thing mass, and there was a lot going on, for instance, a clown mass. I would come in and someone put a red nose on me! I saw children circling altars. One by one, parishes started to succumb to some of these practices in order to attract people, and it made it difficult for me to worship in that atmosphere.
FAW: Under the new Vatican guidelines, an estimated 1300 Anglicans and 150 married priests have inquired about being received into the Catholic Church. To accommodate them, the Church has established a new ordinariate, the equivalent of a nationwide diocese. Father Hurd acts as its chief of staff.
HURD: I dont see it as being a tidal wave, but I see it as a slow and steady trickle of people who wish towho feel led to come in this direction.
FAW: And who feel led despite revelations of widespread priestly pedophilia and cover-up within the Catholic Church .
WHITTAKER: I was outraged with these, with the scandals, with the priests. And then recently I sat down and I said, What about Penn State? What about Penn State? Is this something that is happening all around? Its not to excuse the Church.
FAW: But its bigger than the Church?
WHITTAKER: Its bigger than the Church.
LEWIS: There have always been scandals in the Church. There have been heretics in the Church from the very beginning, and there has been sin in the Church. And as I said in my sermon this morning that what makes the Church holy is that it is the Church of Christ, and that is what I choose to focus on rather than the sinful nature of people.
FAW: Some Episcopal Church leaders, such as Bishop Eugene Sutton of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland, argue that these conversions are not a threat and that many Catholics become Episcopalian.
BISHOP EUGENE SUTTON (Episcopal Diocese of Maryland): I like to say that we are really one spiritual family. We believe about 90 percent of things in common. Where we disagree is on matters of authority and some other spiritual matters. But the important thing is that we are not fighting; we are not in competition with one another.
FAW: Even though the number of Episcopal congregations converting to Catholicism is relatively small, the impact on the Episcopal Church has not been negligible. Indeed, here at Virginia Theological Seminary, the countrys largest Episcopal seminary, the president and dean calls the movement a real threat.
REVEREND IAN MARKHAM (Dean of Virginia Theological Seminary): Theres quite a lot of traffic currently going both ways between the two traditions, especially at the level of congregants. Whats interesting here is youve got entire congregations and clergy making the shift. So, yeah, I think the Roman Catholic Church is a threat, because weve lost the sense of our theological understanding and identity.
FAW: Dean Markham believes that among Episcopalians theres still anger today over the popes 2009 decree.
MARKHAM: There was a perception that this was poaching by the Roman Catholic Church of Anglicans around the world. It was discourteous, it was stealing sheep, it was unecumenical.
FAW: It is seen as a kind of poaching?
MARKHAM: Its viewed as not recognizing the value of and integrity of our traditions.
FAW: Conversion, then, is a touchy issue which newfound Catholics handle both diplomatically and bluntly.
HURD: I think its very important that this initiative is identified as a response and not an offer. You know, were not trying to steal sheep or to poach. Were trying to pastorally respond to those who wanted to come in this direction for some time.
WHITTAKER: Let me tell you something about sheep stealing. You cannot steal sheep if the shepherd is doing his job, and thats the bottom line. If the shepherd is doing his job, the flock will stay.
FAW: Whether poaching or a natural evolution, Episcopalians troubled by whats happened at St Lukes and elsewhere argue that their Church simply cannot sit back and watch.
MARKHAM: I think this could be quite a healthy movement for the Episcopal Church, because what it does is it keeps the Episcopal Church focused on providing a theological rationale for the things that we do. Too often we couch our changes in terms of policy or positioning on questions like sexuality, in terms of secular discourse. We as a tradition need to be as self-confident as Roman Catholics are. We need to be equally robust in saying, look, we actually think we have discerned what God requires of us as a community in the world. And we need to put our vision up against the Catholic vision.
FAW: While some Episcopal leaders have made conversion difficult, that was not the case here at St Lukes. Under generous terms, this parish gets to keep its building. But however the conversion is handled, church leaders see little need to back down from where the Episcopal Church stands on social issues.
SUTTON: One thing that the Episcopal Church does that is very attractive to people is that we try to do two things at once, and that is hold onto the ancient past, We believe in tradition. But the other thing we do well is embrace the new. We do not believe that in order to follow Jesus means we have to have our heads in the sand, and we cannot be open to any new understanding or any new way of being the church.
FAW: For new converts, though, it is that very tension between embracing both the old and the new which has caused them to turn in a new direction.
LEWIS: It was a move to going to what we believe as truth and what we know is truth, and I dont think theres anybody alive that would know what truth is and not move to it.
WHITTAKER: It is going home. It really is, and it feels good. Everyones been so very helpful, and Im at peace. Im at peace.
FAW: Here where going home brings comfort to a small congregation and implications for the wider Episcopal Church.
For Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly this is Bob Faw in Bladensburg, Maryland.
That what has happened to the ECUSA is nothing short of crime and sin.
I was senior warden of the oldest Episcopal church in west Tennessee (1832).
Just before my fleeing the USSA, that church had been taken over by the gays and other assorted perverts.
My favorite quote: “ We left the Episcopal Church not because we were running away from the issues of the Episcopal Church. We left the Episcopal Church because we were running to the Catholic Church. We came to the point where we realized the theology of the Episcopal Church is what was lacking. The theology of Rome, the authority of Rome, the unity in the Holy See and in the bishops: that was appealing to us.”
The true, continuous apostolic authority can certainly be said to be one of the reasons the Church has stood over two millennia, not to mention it’s founding by it’s head: the second person of the Holy Trinity.
Two other points, related to this article, if I may.
The article is pretty good, but definitely includes a deliberate misuse, or perhaps better put as a misunderstanding of the term “ecumenical.” In the artciel, the quote in reference uses the word “unecumenical,” in a manner meant to imply that Catholics pursuing the conversion of episcopalians to Catholicism are somehow being unfair, or playing against the rules, as it were. This is nothing like the truth, nor is it true to the well-known words of unity in the Church. We are called to actively convert, to share the Truth, as part of being Catholics. Period. My cousin who died Monday was someone who spent her life in this work, until cancer began the final grinding-down. She personified something Archbishop Fulton Sheen once said, that the best way to get to Heaven was to take someone else there. As such, we are called to encourage those interested in the Catholic Church, to help them learn more about it, to do our best to answer their questions truthfully and honestly. And to pray for the conversion of those around us. I do. And there is nothing wrong with this, whatsoever. It underscores the truth of our profession of our belief, also.
The second thing, now. Yesterday was the funeral Mass for my cousin, and some of my mother’s family who were there were high church anglican. They quietly remarked upon the similarities are various points, between the services they attend, and what they were seeing. Catholics understand this, as the high church anglican services had the Traditional Latin Mass as their starting point, translated into english of the time, and went, so to speak, from there. They miss the apostolic succession, and thus Holy Orders, Transubstantiation, and a number of other things, but it still reminds, in both a poignant and special way, where they came from, and both how close and far they are, to and from us. I do pray for their conversion, and mean no ill by it, but rather, wanting to share that which is most precious to me, above my wife and five children, my guitars or house, anything. I think, in that, I can safely say that most Catholics would say the same. And I truly hope that more “come home,” not because of dissatisfaction, but because, for all the faults of the humans within it, the Catholic Church IS home. And I mean that in the best and holiest sense that my poor words can.
I had the happy honor of meeting Fr. Lewis earlier this week, as several of his congregants took their First and Second Degrees in the Knights of Columbus.
We saw the throngs at Chick-fil-A on Wednesday, and we saw a couple very strange people here and there stop by for Friday's Kiss-In. If they want anybody to show up for their services, the Episcopalians are in the wrong line.
**I dont see it as being a tidal wave, but I see it as a slow and steady trickle of people who wish towho feel led to come in this direction.**
God bless you, Father Scott Hurd!