Friday, July 11, 2008


As a former Episcopalian, and as a former (female) postulant to the Episcopal ordained ministry (I hesitate now to call it a priesthood), I have been watching with some interest the developments at the Church of England's recent vote with regard to women "bishops."  That church voted on Monday to allow women to serve in that capacity, and it made no formal provisions for those in the ministry and the laity who believe that women should not--indeed, cannot-- so serve.  In essence, it punted on the question of how to accommodate dissenters, but I have my doubts that any accommodation will be satisfactory to the more orthodox believers within the Anglican faith.  

I am blessed to be observing the Anglican events from afar, but I have many friends who are still a part of the Episcopal Church, who fall on both sides of the liberal/orthodox divide within that denomination, and whose hearts are breaking at the prospect that their church is facing a true split.  

I officially left the Episcopal Church in 2001, when I became a Catholic at the Easter Vigil.  It was a pre-Gene Robinson decision, brought on as much by a certainty that the Catholic Church contained the fullness of the Faith as much as by a conviction that the Episcopal Church lacked it.  

I'm lucky, I think.  I'd been raised a Southern Baptist, and had become Episcopalian only in high school.  I found that the beautiful liturgy and music suited my inherent snobbishness, and the lax moral teachings and social progressivism suited my high school and college whims.  The point is, I wasn't wedded to the Episcopal Church by generations of family, by childhood memories, or by existing family traditions.  As soon as I realized that there was something better, fuller, and truer (or, really, something Full and True) out there, it was easy for me to run to it . . . and away from what I recognized as an inherently flawed church.

I feel for my friends who are tied to the faith of their families, the faith of their childhood.  I don't know whether I would have been able to leave, had I been in their shoes.  Perhaps I'd be mourning this week's decision.  (More likely, though, I'd be applauding it; as an Episcopalian, I was every bit as liberal as the church to which I belonged.)

My prayer for those Anglicans who are dismayed by this week's decision is that they will open their hearts to the possibility of returning to Rome.  I pray that they would find in the Catholic Church what I have found, which is not simply a conviction that what we believe is unequivocally true.  It's also a profound connection with the Church across time and throughout the world.

One of the men in my RCIA class had been a professor of mine when I was an undergraduate.  (Go here, click on "Faculty/Staff," and scroll down to "Divine Hand" to read his story.)  Through a strange set of circumstances, he was asked to create a display of bronze hand molds for the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center here in Washington.  He was not a Catholic-- or, really, much of anything else-- when he embarked upon the project.  Over the course of about eight months, he traveled to 27 countries to meet with Catholics, learn their faith stories, and take impressions of their hands for the installation.  He was so moved by the faith of the people he met (including the Pope!) that he simply couldn't resist the Church.  I still remember seeing him at Mass after we were received into the Church, and watching the joy on his face every time he received Christ in the Eucharist.  He just lit up, a little smile playing on his lips.  He'd found his way home into a family that spans the globe.

When I attended Pope Benedict XVI's Papal Mass here in Washington in April, we saw an amazing, inspiring video on the stadium's big screen prior to the Mass. (Scroll down to "Epic," at the bottom of the page.)  I saw it again later that week, at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast, and I was hooked. Since then, I've visited this website many times, because it reminds me of how the Church also spans history.

So, in the end, I can mourn with my Episcopal friends about the divisions they're facing.  But I hold out hope that, through the sadness and loss, perhaps they will come home, like I did, and that the peace and joy I've found after crossing the Tiber will be theirs, too.  

1 comment:

Arwen said...

Amen, sister.

And what a cool story about that guy from your RCIA class! It's just typical... I don't think you can really learn about the faith without coming to love it at the same time.