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Monday, December 29, 2008

Presentation at Conception Seminary, Christmas

            I have been asked to make a presentation about the Anglican Use Mass to the students at Conception Seminary College.  It will be a challenge to make it interesting and cover the important details in about an hour.  I’d like to give them an introduction to what Cranmer accomplished – a dignified vernacular liturgy with lay participation in prayer, worship and communion; restoration of the Prayers of the Faithful; a serial reading of much of the Bible in the language of the people.  I’d also like show how his liturgy included didactic elements opposed to the Catholic understanding of Eucharistic sacrifice.  Then I’d ask the question – If a church and its theology become anti-Catholic, is it possible that its Catholicism can be restored?  We will look at how a few of the radical Protestant ideas were toned down and some Catholic ones reintroduced.  I’ll ask whether these stylistic changes were enough to make the Anglican liturgy fully Catholic. We’ll look at how the Oxford Movement awakened a hunger for Catholicism from Patristic and Medieval English sources as well as from their Catholic contemporaries.  That would allow us to consider the possibility that some Anglo-Catholic liturgy could be an example of how a vernacular liturgy with lay participation could avoid the over-zealous introduction of 1970s and 1980s popular culture into the Catholic Mass.  Then we could look at the Anglican Use Mass as a theologically Catholic Mass that preserves much that is good from many historical periods.

            This is going to be a challenge for me.  I’m not a scholar and I often over-reach.  I’d be open to advice.

            Our Sunday morning Anglican Use Mass has progressed to the point that it is now a sung mass with incense.  As we develop and grow it will be possible that the Solemn High Mass will be the standard, but we are not there yet.  And we may have to take a step backwards.  Our gifted organist, Tyler Henderson, has decided to move on to other things.  This is a difficult challenge for Catholic organists and Tyler was up to it, but not for the long-haul.

            Our Christmas Gospel Mass on Christmas Eve was well-attended, as was the Anglican Use Mass on Christmas Day.  For several parishioners it was their first experience with the Anglican Use and they seemed appreciative.  For more than a decade St. Therese was yoked with another local parish and we did not have Christmas Day or Easter Day Masses.  Now we are able to add Masses on these and other holy days.  Soon I hope to be able to add a daily Mass.  There is almost no support for a daily Mass from the local community, but we could certainly support a Mass that would meet the needs of a special community such as the Anglican Use community.  Let me know if you are able to assist either early morning, at noon, or late afternoon.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Christmas Baskets at St. Therese

Our neighbors will give us a wonderful gift this week – the gift of graciously allowing us to give them Christmas Baskets.  As much as they may appreciate receiving them, our joy in giving them is even greater.  It is probably worth thinking about just a little bit, and worth much more in just doing it. 

            For fifty one weeks of the year we worry with our neighbors as we provide help from the food pantry and with different kinds of emergency financial assistance.  We struggle along with them to help keep their homes warm and utilities on.  Sometimes we even help them bury their dead.  We keep advocating for help with housing repair and curbs on violence.  We speak out for economic development and help to restructure loans to keep families in their homes.

            But for one week of the year, no worries are allowed.  Instead of focusing on plain necessities, we provide the fixings for a family feast, and then some.  We make sure there are gifts for adults and children.  There’s nothing extravagant, but everything is clean and new, the results from months of bargain hunting that began with the post-Christmas sales last year, and continued with the delivery a semi-truck load of frozen turkeys and tons of other food and staples.

            People who work here during Christmas Basket Week tell us that this is what Christmas is all about – the joy of giving.  And our neighbors make that gift possible.  If you’d like to help out beginning Saturday, December 13, beginning with unloading the semi, or to assist in other ways during the week, give B.J. a call at 816-444-5406.     

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

First Anglican Use Mass at St. Therese

We celebrated our first Anglican Use Mass at St. Therese on Sunday morning, November 30, the first Sunday of Advent. Our organist was off for the day, so it was a Low Mass, which is probably the way it should have been – simple and quiet. Except for the Eucharistic Prayer, Rite I in the Book of Divine Worship is almost identical to Rite I in the Book of Common Prayer. The flow of language is almost the same as what we used every Sunday growing up. There was no choice then. I used that language for the first Mass I ever celebrated as an Episcopal priest and I used it every Sunday for at least one Mass from the time I was ordained until I moved to Missouri in 1992. As far as I can remember, I have not said those words in sixteen years. And I have not celebrated Mass ad orientam for twenty-five years.

Without trying to sound like a media critic the celebration seemed graceful. Its gracefulness had more to do with the liturgy than the celebrant. I was aware of the congregation as all of us faced the same direction. I felt that they were backing me up. We all seemed to be in the same arc of prayer and worship as we focused forward, upward and outward. I do not mean to say that facing the congregation I am not aware of God’s immanent presence in the community. But this is different, and it is good, too.

On occasion as I turned to the people I had the experience of not knowing what I was to say next, but I heard myself saying it. Apparently the words still reside somewhere deep within. On occasion, I heard some of our group who never experienced the somewhat simplified 1979 Book of Common Prayer continuing to pray in the more expansive words of 1928. And it was OK. The words reside in them, too.

I wonder what this all means to those who have never experienced either. What could it mean to Catholics who have no experience with the Book of Common Prayer, or Episcopalians who have never experienced the traditional liturgy or the eastward orientation? That remains to be seen. I seemed to detect a note of respect from one of our Catholic parishioners who had been faithfully participating in the Liturgies of the Word since September. Finally being able to participate in the Mass, I think she got it. “I can see that our Church can be the home of two liturgies.” That is progress. God willing, there will be more.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Anglican Use Mass at St. Therese

Their Excellencies Archbishop John J. Meyers and Bishop Robert Finn granted permission and faculties for me to celebrate the liturgies of the Anglican Usage of the Roman Rite at St. Therese Little Flower Parish in Kansas City, Missouri. Our first Mass was Sunday, November 30.

Today six new members of St. Therese Little Flower from Anglican and Episcopal backgrounds made affirmations of faith, were confirmed and made their first communions as Catholics. A former Episcopalian from Visitation Church in Kansas City and a former Lutheran from St. Michael the Archangel in Leawood joined them. Others will be ready to be received as soon as marriage cases are completed. Several Catholics are already participating in the Anglican Use community through marriage, and one is a Catholic former member of an Anglican Use community in Austin, Texas.

The Anglican Use Mass at St. Therese is now celebrated on Sundays at 11:15. We use the traditional form of the Mass (Rite I) from the Book of Divine Worship. The morning Masses on Christmas Day and Easter Day will be Anglican Use and the evening Masses of Christmas Eve and The Great Vigil of Easter will continue to be “Gospel” Masses. Religious education takes place on Sundays at 10: 15 in classes for pre-school through high school students. Contact Diana Rose at 816-444-5406 for more information about religious education classes.

I keep getting inquiries from Episcopalians asking whether we have “open communion” or at least communion privileges for Episcopalians. While Episcopalians and Lutherans share so much of the Catholic faith that preparation to make an affirmation of faith can be much shorter than for most, the amount of the faith we share does not mean we have open Eucharistic sharing. I would ask whether it is reasonable to expect that people who can take opposite positions on the sanctity of human life should share the same sacrament. The question the Catholic Church asks is, “Do you it all?” It may have been my imagination, but this morning it seemed like the Catholics at Mass today were in awe as adults, children and teenagers stated publicly, “We believe all the Catholic Church teaches.” In the meantime, I heartily welcome visitors seeking a respite while they wrestle with that question. You will have plenty of company with others who are on the way, but have not arrived at the point of making their own affirmations.

Please say a special prayer for Luther Chandler Toole who made his affirmation of faith today. Luther Toole has been a priest in the Anglican Church for a number of years. He was brought into the Episcopal Church at Stetson College in Florida while Fr. Leroy Lawson was rector of St. Barnabas’ in Deland. (Fr. Lawson was Dean of St. Peter’s Cathedral in St. Petersburg when Valerie and I were married there and he passed on his copies of Kenneth Kirk’s books to me.) Dean Lawson is almost certainly offering his affirmation from heaven. It is a tremendous sacrifice when an Anglican priest enters the Catholic Church. Pray that we might have the wisdom to continue to use Luther Toole’s pastoral and spiritual gifts.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Abraham's Way to the Catholic Church

Visiting the Holy Land helped make me a Catholic and two of my professors at the General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church laid the groundwork for it. First, Fr. J. Robert Wright, the noted ecumenist and Professor of Church History, ensured that all of his students were familiar with the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.  With his Xeroxed copies of articles and floor plans, he introduced us to its history and its place in the development of the liturgies of Holy Week and Easter.  Dr. Boyce Bennett, Professor of Old Testament, introduced us to the intersection of Biblical and Archeological studies.  Both of them encouraged a spirituality of place, of the expectation of encountering the Divine in the places which enshrine the memory of previous human encounters with God, places where “prayer has been valid.”
            Episcopalians on a pilgrimage are at a disadvantage in the Holy Land.  Episcopalians are not just Protestants who encounter God mainly through a Biblical text with geography providing interesting background.  Episcopalians can share the Catholic and Orthodox experience that places themselves are holy and that the Bible witnesses to that holiness.  We resonate with the na├»ve offer made by Peter, James and John on the Mountain of the Transfiguration:  “Let us make three booths for you.”  For us a church can in some way mediate the experience of the event that is remembered and celebrated.
            The Episcopalian disadvantage is that while we may think of ourselves as Catholics at home, in the Holy Land we are almost always treated as Protestants.  Except for the Chapel of Abraham at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Episcopalians and Anglicans cannot join in celebrating Mass at the holy places in the Holy Land. We may visit the churches but we do not belong there.  Episcopalians’ Catholic illusions have no meaning there.  We are expected to read the bible and we pray like other Protestants. 
            For Catholics but not for Episcopalians, the Incarnation is not up for debate, and neither is the Resurrection.  Catholics do not make pilgrimages to the places which illustrate interesting articles of a faith in which we no longer believe, but places made holy by living faith. We are in communion with Peter, and with all of those throughout the world who are in communion with Peter’s successor. During our November pilgrimage we said Mass at the “Rock of Peter” on the shore of the Sea of Galilee before visiting Peter’s House in Capernaum and later the Church of St. Peter Gallicantu in Jerusalem.  We encountered Peter.  We prayed the Angelus at the Virgin’s Well in Bethlehem before visiting the Church of the Annunciation and celebrating Mass at the Church of St. Joseph and visiting the Church of the Dormition in Jerusalem. We encountered Mary.  We celebrated Mass on Mt. Zion beside the Upper Room and Mass in the Chapel of St. Mary Magdalene in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.  We encountered Christ.
            While I was still an Episcopalian seminarian, Fr. Wright made sure that we knew there was one holy place in the Holy Land at which Episcopalians had the privilege of saying.  And on my first actual visit to the Holy Land as an Episcopal priest, Dr. Bennett made sure that I had the opportunity to say Mass there: the Chapel of Abraham at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
            The privilege of saying Mass at the Chapel of Abraham was granted to Anglicans by the Greek Patriarch of Jerusalem back in 1885.  It is literally a “back door” privilege.  As gracious a concession as it is, Anglican priests must relay their request to use the chapel through the Dean of St. George’s Anglican Cathedral who must send a messenger to the Orthodox convent whose nuns maintain it.  Sometimes the request is inconvenient to the Dean, as was my request back in 1998, and sometimes it is inconvenient to the nuns.  When the request is granted, the entrance to the chapel is not found inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre which might imply that Anglicans are on the same level with the other churches which have rights in there. The chapel is not visible from inside or from the outside of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Episcopalians must enter through the Russian Hospice next door and find the way though hallways and staircases.  But once in the chapel, one is very close to, or even above Calvary.
            The Mass I celebrated there in 1987 with seminarians from General Seminary gave me one of the insights and images that allowed me to trustingly lay my Episcopalian priesthood aside for the greater good of becoming a true, not an imaginary Catholic.
            Abraham’s sacrifice of his son Isaac is one of the Old Testament “types” of Calvary.  The Father’s sacrifice of his Only Begotten Son Jesus Christ and Christ’s trusting willingness to offer himself on the Cross is prefigured in this dramatic story from Genesis.  It is one of the seven readings from the Old Testament at every Easter Vigil.  As Kierkegaard elucidates the story, Abraham makes a full and complete offering of his son to God without any reservation.  In his offering, Abraham is expressing absolute trust and hope that God remains faithful to his promise to give him a future through his son.  In this absolute sacrificial offering of his future in the person of his son Isaac to God, Abraham maintains hope because it is the God to whom he is sacrificing who is the guarantee of his hope.  He is sacrificing the sign of his hope to the God of Hope.  As Kierkegaard puts it, Abraham hopes against hope.
            At the Chapel of Abraham at Calvary, an Orthodox fresco shows Abraham with his knife-wielding hand upraised, ready to thrust it into his son. A pudgy angel speaking from the cloud stops Abraham just in time.  Having offered his son to God, Abraham receives him back from God.  Abraham does not withhold his son, and the God of Hope keeps his promise.
            Priesthood, whether Anglican or Catholic, is a gift.  It is a person’s identity and character, a vocation in a spiritual sense as well as professional and economic.  It is a priest’s life and livelihood.
            When an Episcopal or Anglican priest considers becoming Catholic, it is impossible to bring one’s priesthood along. It must be left behind. While the Catholic Church does not require us to renounce our orders or admit heresy, she does not make deals.  The sacrifice must be absolute.  Episcopal clergy must make a sacrificial offering of priesthood back to the one who gave it in the first place.  Any Episcopal priest who has ever considered becoming Catholic has struggled with whether to make this sacrifice.  It is a fearful thing to consider taking one’s own identity, vocation, and hope for the future, to give it back to the God who is the giver of the gift, and let go of it.  The most fruitful image I can imagine for the depth of this sacrifice is the image of Abraham’s sacrifice of his son, Isaac.
            Like Abraham also, it is also possible to maintain faith in the God of Hope, to hope that the sign of hope, one’s priesthood - like Abraham’s son Isaac - might be returned as a gift.  But there is no way to make the sacrifice without accepting the possibility that it will not be returned, that the voice will not speak from the cloud, that the hand will not be stayed, that God will allow Isaac to die and one’s priesthood to end.  There is no way to find out without making one’s own journey to Mt. Moriah.
            We cannot know what would have happened had Abraham been allowed to kill his son.  Yet that is exactly what happened on Calvary.  Christ died, and the Father accepted his sacrifice.  But inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, through the front door and not through any hidden entrance or side staircase, is the Anastasis.  Christ is risen.  The tomb is empty.
            I cannot promise how the God of Hope will respond to the sacrifice made by Episcopal and Anglican priests who enter the Catholic Church.  I cannot promise that the way back home from Mt. Moriah will be any easier than the journey to Mt. Moriah, or that the Way of the Cross promises that the Way of the Resurrection will be pain free.  But I can promise that God remains the God of Hope.  I trust that the God who raised Jesus is still at work in the world and that he will continue to work in the life and ministry of anyone who offers one’s best self and one’s future to him.  I believe that God is glorified in such sacrifices and that being in Christ’s Catholic Church with Mary, Peter, Mary Magdalene, and all the pilgrims who are still on their pilgrimage and those who have found their way to the heavenly Jerusalem, is worth the sacrifice.
            It is not necessary to make a pilgrimage to Mt. Moriah in Jerusalem to meditate on the sacrifice of one’s priesthood.  The image of Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac is as close as one’s Bible, the stained glass in church, a holy icon, or in the heart of every priest at Mass.  If I could speak individually to any Episcopal or Anglican priest considering becoming Catholic, I’d tell each one that it is my conviction that the only way to come into the Church is Abraham’s way.  Make the sacrifice to the God of Hope.  Be ready to live as if you are not a priest.  Be hopeful.  And if God wills it, perhaps he will offer it back to you.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Moving ahead

Rob Rodgers of the Coming Home Network will speak on “Evangelization” at St. Therese Little Flower at the Anglican Use Liturgy of the Word on Sunday, November 9. Rob is just one of the many gifted people who have been willing to give time and attention to this band of pilgrims entering the Catholic Church. Bishop John Buchanan, the former bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of West Missouri said one time, “Evangelism is one hungry person telling another where rice is to be found.” Rob and many of our speakers have found food for their souls, their daily bread, the true bread from heaven – Jesus Christ - in the Catholic Church, and they are willing to share the good news with others. Our new members are already showing great talent in sharing the good news.
The rest of this post will be a digest of recent happenings. There has simply been too much going on to write about it regularly. Along with everything else I have been preparing to take a group of thirty people on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and then continue to Mt. Sinai and Egypt. Let us just say this will be a fall to remember.
A couple of weeks ago St. Therese Parish had a Town Hall meeting to talk about the Anglican Use community forming here. I made a historical introduction about the Anglican liturgy and the Pastoral Provision and then Cristen Huntz talked about her pilgrimage. Many good questions were asked our new members were warmly welcomed. Several months ago our former Anglican members expressed a desire to be full members of St. Therese Parish without any separate membership structure. We recognize that there will be a challenge to create a parish community with two different liturgical expressions. One of the links between the two will be our parish Sunday School for religious education, scheduled between the two services. Our Lady of Hope Society will continue, but it will not operate as a parallel semi-autonomous organization. St. Therese is a unique parish, and it is privilege to serve here.
After much consultation with our parish Worship Committee and Parish Council, and with the blessing of those preparing to make their Profession of Faith and receive Confirmation and First Communion as Catholics, I have decided that it would be best to receive them during a regular parish Gospel Mass on Sunday morning. It is very important that we express our parish unity this way as we launch, God willing, a new parish liturgy. Bishop Finn has graciously allowed us to postpone his visit to St. Therese, so there will be no Confirmation at St. Therese on December 10.
Bishop Finn has petitioned Archbishop Meyers of the Pastoral Provision Office for permission for us to begin celebrating the Mass according to the Anglican Use of the Roman Rite in the Book of Divine Worship. If permission is received, we hope to begin on the First Sunday of Advent.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

"Keep doing it right"

“It is dangerous to keep taking your temperature” is one of the maxims I learned from friends and mentors working to start new congregations and grow old ones with Bishop John Buchanan in the Episcopal Diocese of West Missouri. It is kind of like taking bread out of the oven to see if it is done. It ruins the bread. It is more important to do things right and keep doing them and then to watch the trends.
Nevertheless, it is encouraging when “doing things right” leads to results. And it is encouraging to meet new people at our liturgies and welcome visitors back. May the results we are seeing help us get through those times when we may not see any, and keep us on track and doing things right.
I often learn so much from our visitors. A couple of Episcopalians visited on Sunday. A friend of theirs who had converted to the Catholic Church had emailed them about us. They are fairly new to the Episcopal Church, and have begun to be troubled that they are finding a liturgical fundamentalism that is not linked to an emphasis on the fundamentals of the faith. They were curious about us and came to visit. I hope they come back
Another couple visited for the first time. She is an Episcopalian who has been going to mass with her Catholic husband and children for about fifteen years. They read about us in the Catholic Key. She wants to be able to say sincerely that she accepts all the Catholic Church teaches and is eager to learn. The RCIA process has been a barrier so far and wants to know if we can help her become Catholic. We are ready and eager, with the permission of her pastor. I believe they will be back.
Another couple visited again after missing a Sunday. I used to serve on diocesan councils with the husband and met his wife on occasion at diocesan events. She asked a very good and pointed question. “I believe in transubstantiation. Why am I not welcome as an Episcopalian to come to Mass and communion without converting?” I responded that as an Episcopalian I had believed in transubstantiation, too. But that it could be just as likely that an Episcopalian would believe something very different about what it means to come to Mass and Communion. So the Catholic Church cannot welcome Episcopalians in general. When it comes to beliefs, the Episcopal Church welcomes all options, but the Catholic Church proclaims a single faith. Converts are not asked about a single item of the faith, but they are asked about it all: “Do you believe all that the Catholic Church teaches?” I pray they will come back. I sense their integrity and their struggle.
We celebrated the liturgy on Sunday without an organist or cantor. It actually worked quite well. Knowing we were on our own actually helped me to relax and enjoy the liturgy without worrying about it. As our guest speaker, Grayson Warren Brown told us, we all have a song to sing and the Holy Spirit assists us to open our mouths and let it out. I think we sounded quite good and that God was glorified. We do have a song in our hearts.
We are developing the ability to celebrate the liturgy with beauty and dignity. Tyler Henderson will be our organist on most Sundays. I am eager to secure the assistance of Bruce Prince-Joseph, formerly of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Kansas City. He brings a wealth of experience with Anglo Catholic liturgy as well as artistic creativity. He will be our organist on a couple of Sundays in October. Sr. Claudette Schiratti will be our organist on Sunday, October 5 when Bishop Emeritus Raymond Boland will be speaking to us about Mary. Come for a visit if you are in the area.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Impressions from First Anglican Use liturgies in Kansas City

I’ve begun to feel a little guilty that I have not written about the beginning of the Anglican Use in Kansas City. Perhaps that is because I have only a series of unlinked impressions and no coherent story to tell. But let me share with you what I’ve got.
Matt Teel gave a wonderful presentation on the Gift of Authority from his experience as a former priest in the Episcopal Diocese of West Missouri and now a Catholic layman. As we spoke afterwards, he said that our Gospel Mass was the first time he he found happy people during a Catholic liturgy – that previously he had decided that Catholic liturgy was something to be endured because it is good for us – like fasting. He said that the Gospel Liturgy was filled with joy and happiness from the first greeting as he entered the church to the last. He also shared that our Anglican Use liturgy – as simple as we may be at this beginning stage – was gave him a taste of the beauty he used to enjoy at St. Mary’s. I think I also saw signs of happiness on the faces of those in the Anglican Use congregation.
My second impression is that we may be stirring up something that is trying to trip us up – sometimes literally. On the first Sunday I had a wardrobe malfunction. Let’s just say that my first experience with a lavalier mike and battery pack connected through cassock, surplice and cope was not as graceful as it could have been. Humility is an essential ingredient of good liturgy. On our second Sunday we had just enjoyed started Willan’s Gloria when the organ died and all the lights went out. The cantor and congregation didn’t miss a beat and the organist slipped around to the piano and we continued the liturgy by candlelight.
My third impression is from a comment by an Episcopalian woman who has gone to mass with the Catholic husband and children for the past 15 years. She said, “My husband is a cradle Catholic and because he was raised in the Church he is able to pick and choose what he agrees with and disagrees with. When I come into the Church as an adult, I have to be able to accept it all.” She hit the nail on the head, I thought.
My fourth impression is from a comment made by our organist last Sunday, Tyler Henderson, and our cantor the past two Sundays, Sandy Prothman. “This Anglican Use Liturgy is a lot of work!” It is not easy, even for gifted liturgical musicians, to provide leadership at an Anglican Use Liturgy. I don’t think it is ironic that liturgy means work.
And finally, all the recent attention has not brought an outpouring of new people for the Anglican Use liturgy. But it seems like our earlier Gospel Liturgy is benefiting greatly from the attention.
All of these pieces will find their proper place, given God’s grace, when we can get enough perspective to see how they fit together.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

From Jack Smith's Catholic Key Blog

World's First Anglican Use / Gospel Mass Parish

St. Therese Little Flower Parish in Kansas City was an early host of Charismatic Catholicism in the U.S. Situated in a largely African American neighborhood, St. Therese offers a liturgy drawing on charismatic and more traditional Gospel forms of worship. The parish is also a magnet for those seeking cultural diversity in church life.

Today St. Therese is led by a married man, Fr. Ernie Davis, who was an Episcopal priest for 15 years. In 2002, he was ordained to the Catholic priesthood for Kansas City.

Now a group of Anglicans and Episcopalians looking to "come home" to the Catholic Church is meeting at St. Therese and is beginning the area's first Anglican Use liturgy which lives alongside the existing Gospel-themed Mass at St. Therese.

"Both liturgies are Catholic to the core," Fr. Davis said.

The following article appears in the upcoming issue of The Catholic Key:

By John Heuertz

KANSAS CITY - A new organization has formed in Kansas City called the Society of Our Lady of Hope offering guidance, comfort and support to local Anglican Communion members who wish to become Catholics.

Beginning Sunday, September 7 and continuing through November, society members will celebrate the Liturgy of the Word each week at St. Therese Little Flower parish in Kansas City using the Book of Divine Worship - the Catholic Church-approved liturgy for Catholics with an Episcopalian or Anglican background.

Each week until December 1, the first Sunday of Advent, the liturgy will be followed by a talk on some aspect of the Catholic faith. If all goes as planned, the full Anglican Use Mass will begin on that date at St. Therese's.

Speakers will include Bishop Emeritus Raymond Boland and former Episcopal priest Mat Teel and every talk is open to the public.

"I get excited about these things," says Jude Huntz of Gladstone, who is helping coordinate the process. "I get emotional. I guess I'm in the right business."

Huntz, RCIA formation director at St. Michael the Archangel parish in Leawood, also has a personal interest.

"I have a five year old son and I really wanted him to feel he could attend the same church as a child and as an adult," says Huntz's wife Cristen, a society member and lifelong Anglican. "But I don't see that viability in the Anglican continuum anymore."

The goal is for Bishop Robert Finn to administer the sacraments of confirmation and holy Communion to society members - and to all who join them in this faith journey - at St. Therese's on December 10.

The liturgy and the talks are the first step to a complete "Anglican use" Roman Catholic Mass at St. Therese's each Sunday.

"They're already Trinitarian and very sacramental, so it's not the full RCIA program," says Father Ernie Davis, St. Therese pastoral administrator and the group's guiding spirit. "We're emphasizing things they might stumble over as new Catholics."

Anglicans live everywhere, and most Episcopalians are Americans. Both are part of the Anglican Communion, the Church of England’s international family.

In recent years, ongoing Anglican Communion disagreements over issues including abortion and euthanasia, ordaining women, and gay marriage have caused a crisis of conscience for some communion members.

Father Davis himself experienced this crisis, and he was an Episcopal priest with 15 years of loyal service at the time. Why would a lifelong Episcopalian become a Catholic when he still loved the Episcopal Church?

“The short answer is, because I finally realized I wasn’t a Catholic,” he says. “And even though the practical steps were much harder than actually converting, I’ve never regretted my decision to leave.”

He points out that cradle Catholics might be surprised to learn that many Anglicans and Episcopalians consider themselves part of the Catholic Church now.

On the other hand, the similarities help to lower the natural barriers to religious conversion.

The process got started late last winter, when a group of local Anglicans and their pastor, Father John Cochran, explored entering the Catholic Church in a body.

“I had thought about this basically twice before in my lifetime and it’s finally culminating,” says society member Luanne Fliss of Raytown. “I’m tremendously thrilled to be joining the mother church.”

The Society of Our Lady of Hope hopes to focus on evangelization for all who wish to join or return to the Catholic faith. It’s one of a growing number of similar Catholic organizations nationwide.

But it’s also unique. After December, St. Therese’s will be the only Catholic parish in the United States that has added a regular, weekly Anglican-use Mass.

“There’s been some anxiety, but the parish has been very welcoming,” Father Davis says. “The Anglicans say they’ve never experienced such a warm and welcoming parish.”

In fact, St. Therese may be the only Catholic parish anywhere with two unique Sunday liturgies — the joyous and exuberant African-American inspired Gospel Mass, and the Anglican-use Mass with its rich spirit of contemplation and recollection.

“There is a lot of beauty in the Anglican tradition,” Cristen Huntz says. “And I felt the presence of God at the Gospel Masses.”

“Both liturgies are Catholic to the core,” says Father Davis. “But neither one is a white-bread liturgy.”

“For me, the time since May has gone like lightning,” he continues. “I see divine intervention everywhere in this process.”

For further information, contact St. Therese the Little Flower parish at (816) 444-5406 or visit the society’s website. More information is also available on Father Davis’ weblog.

John Heuertz is a freelance journalist living in Kansas City.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

St. Gregory, Pray for us!

It was good to read in today’s Office of Readings that St. Gregory the Great felt pushed, pulled, and distracted at times. I am certainly feeling it. Gregory, you might say, has been looking after me for a good while. I was ordained an Episcopal priest on his day in the Episcopal calendar – March 12. And we named our first son Aidan Gregory. The Venerable Bede reports a wonderful tale about the incident which inspired him to send Augustine to England as a missionary. Seeing some slaves for sale in Rome, he was told they were Angles. “Not Angles,” he is reported to have responded, “but Angels.” Bede also records the wisdom, focus, and tolerance with which he inspired his missionary work.
In this week before we offer our first Anglican Use Liturgy of the Word and a presentation about the Catholic faith, I am feeling overwhelmed. Its not that we aren’t prepared, it is simply that I am feeling overwhelmed by all the other work that must be done this fall and I am feeling like I cannot do any of it well enough. But in this crucible of work and prayer, I believe the Holy Spirit is at work. I am no longer praying for success, but that we will be worthy and useful for the work Christ is doing to heal his Church and save souls. Ego driven success would be a failure. But a worthy sacrifice could be a success if Christ can made use of it.
Most of Christ’s work is being done in secret, heart to heart, in his relationships with prayerful souls and people who are needy and hurting. We are not privy to that. But the Holy Spirit can direct souls to catch a glimpse of an ad in the paper, hear about us from a friend, or read about us in The Key or on the internet. If he finds us worthy of assisting him in bringing people home to Christ in his Church, then we will be here to welcome them.
St. Gregory, St. Therese, and Our Lady of Hope pray for us. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Practicing and praying

I'm just back from Mass. Usually I am ready for a nap, but today I'm energized. We're getting ready for our Parish Mission in just a few weeks, then we start an expanded Sunday School program for our young people, then we have our Homecoming in October. We keep having new people every week and also people who were members years ago are coming back to check us out. After Mass we ran through the Anglican Use Liturgy of the Word for our presentions beginning next week. I hadn't sung the Willan Kyrie and Gloria in years until I introduced them to Sandy our cantor and Kathy our organist last week. They are so positive. Kathy raves about the organ, and Sandy reports many supportive comments and curious inquiries from area musicians and liturgists. The members of Our Lady of Hope were so at home with the Kyrie and Gloria I couldn't get them to stop. They seem to be afraid to get their hopes up, asking "Will anybody come? Will we be the only ones?" I keep looking at the signs and I see answered prayers all around us. We now have three aspiring deacons who will assist in the liturgy. But I am praying that God will send us many more people who are ready to come home to the Catholic Church, others who are curious, and other people of good will who can help out. We'll keep praying and practicing.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Fr. Eric Bergman to visit October 6 - 8

Fr. Eric Bergman of the Anglican Use Society will be in Kansas City October 6 – 8. He will meet with Our Lady of Hope Society on Monday evening to offer us his encouragement and insight. On Tuesday during the day he can be available to meet privately with Episcopal and Anglican clergy about the Pastoral Provision and Anglican Use. People who want to meet with privately and confidentially can contact him through the Anglican Use Society website or by calling me at St. Therese Little Flower Parish in Kansas City 816-444-5406.

Fr. Bergman will speak to the public Tuesday evening. Details about his topic, its time and location will be announced as soon as possible.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Dwight Longenecker spreads the word

Check Fr. Longenecker's blog- gkupsidedown - for some helpful and critical comments about Our Lady of Hope and St. Therese - the parish and the society not the saints!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Chad helps spread the news

Chad helps spread the word. Thank you, Chad.

David Virtue helps spread the word

David Virtue included this notice in his most recent post. Thank you, David. "
In the ROMAN CATHOLIC Diocese of Kansas City, MO, - St Joseph, Fr. Ernie Davis of St. Therese Little Flower Catholic Church, wrote VOL to say that his parish was going to provide another haven for orthodox Episcopalians and Anglicans in Kansas City."We are beginning September 7th at 11:15 with the Liturgy of the Word (Rite I) from the Book of Divine Worship followed by an instructive talk. Presentations will be made by Catholics with Episcopalian or Anglican backgrounds. These liturgies and presentations will continue through Advent when we will launch the Anglican Use mass. It is not necessary to intend to convert to the Catholic Church. People can visit and participate as long as they like, but Catholic discipline on reception of the sacraments will apply." Orthodox or lapsed Episcopalians who may be willing to give the Anglican Use a visit are welcome, he said. People can visit his blog www.gospel-anglican.blogspot.com, or his website: www.ourladyofhope.org. "

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Vocations

I've just had two people speak to me about a possible vocation! Keep the prayers coming! We haven't even started yet and there are hints of a bountiful harvest.

Keep us humble

Yesterday evening a met with a member of the Our Lady of Hope Society who agreed to help get our sacristy in order for the Anglican Use. When I shared how excited I am about this new work, she brought me back to earth right away. She said, "I am willing to work for this Anglican thing, but really all I want to do is be a member of this parish. I appreciate the history behind the Anglican Use and there is nothing better to help me prepare for Lent. But it is more important to me to be a Catholic." Whoa. Don't we all need to hear that. I especially need to hear it. It reminds me of an article by John Jay Hughes, the author of "Absolutely Null and Utterly Void," the great study of the controversy about Anglican orders and Apostolicae Curae. As an Anglican curate he was deflated by a woman who had stopped attending the elaborate Mass at his Anglo-Catholic parish for a humble Catholic parish closer to her home. She told him, "It amounts to the same thing." I'll post the link and look forward to your comments.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Creating the Ritual

I worked with Chad yesterday evening walking through the ritual of the Anglican Use. Our delegation to the Anglican Use Conference brought home the Ritual from Our Lady of Walsingham in Houston. I would like to give people an experience of the Anglican Use right from the beginning, recognizing that we must start simply. So my goal is to create a basic structure requiring only the celebrant and one server taking the place of the what Our Lady of Walsingham calls the Clerk. That term will take some getting used to. Percy Dearmer describes the role of the Clerk in his Parson's Handbook, but this is actually what we called the subdeacon at S. Stephen's in Providence. Of course Anglicanism has not had subdeacons since the Reformation. Since we are beginning with the Liturgy of the Word until we begin the Mass in Advent, this should work quite nicely. As others join us we can add roles until we are ready for the full Solemn Mass. Having a deacon full time would be a great blessing. "Gabe" is the son of one of our Society of Our Lady of Hope members and he is eager to find someone to serve with him. I've got two who are eager to serve as clerk and one of them is ready to try a vocation as deacon. But that won't help the liturgy and ministry at St. Therese for a long time! We have an organist to help us get started - a wonderful Lutheran woman who has facility with Anglican music. She'll soon be putting the organ through its paces. Now we need a cantor and sacristan. Anybody want to help polish brass? Ours hasn't been used or polished in decades.

The Anglican Use liturgy will work quite well at St. Therese. It is a lovely church with wonderful acoustics. The people who built this church may not have been rich, but they loved their church and it has been well cared for. The sanctuary was modified for the novus ordo, but I have to say it the renovations were done with great care. We will be able to use an eastern orientation. Every space has its own integrity and has an effect on how the liturgy is celebrated in it. And every space has its quirks that we have to live with. One of the major ones I don't have a solution for is the lack of an altar rail. It wouldn't be appropriate at our 9:15 Gospel mass. But how do we make up for one at the Anglican Use mass when there will certainly be people who receive communion kneeling. I found the old kneeling pads. But what do we do without the rail? I'm open to suggestions.

What a Parish!

It is occurring to me that when St. Therese begins an Anglican Use Mass, we may be the only existing Catholic parish that has added an Anglican Use Mass to their normal Sunday schedule. If I am wrong, I hope someone corrects me. Part of the reason is probably that most Anglican Use communities and parishes began with a priest and accompanying converts. Most Episcopal priests convert individually, however, and are delighted to serve wherever we are needed in Catholic parishes. Most parishes do not have the capacity to divert resources and time to establishing a Sunday mass for a relatively small community. And if they did, they might not want to face the questions and conflicts that would certainly arise, such as, "Why can't they worship like the rest of us, if they really want to be Catholic?"

St. Therese is a unique parish. We lived through the cauldron of racial conflict and "block busting" by unscrupulous real estate agents. The parish suffered, but created an new identity made of neighborhood residents who stuck it out, new African-American residents and converts, community service and organizing, and Catholics who wanted to be part of a diverse and energetic community. Presiding at the liturgy is amazing. I have had many experiences of subbing for masses at other parishes that begin with a layperson saying, "Good morning! In the spirit of celebration on this X Sunday of Ordinary Time, let us all turn and greet out neighbors." You might see some good natured or resigned nodding and hand shaking. At St. Therese, that is never said. It is not needed. People are glad to see each other and glad to welcome visitors. Participation in the liturgy is full and intelligent, not because people are instructed to act that way, but because that's just what they expect. I have yet to see anyone looking at watch as if to say, "Is it over, yet?" Nobody. Get this. Nobody leaves after communion. It is amazing! Gospel music reigns, with guitar, bass, and percussion backing up a rocking piano.

Is it crazy to think that one parish and one priest can worship in two very different liturgical styles? I really don't think so. Neither the Anglican Use nor the Gospel Mass are typical white bread Catholic liturgies. Each of them has a basic integrity. And our parishioners can readily identify with people who believe they have been cast out. Many of our parishioners are quite curious about what is going on, and have expressed a desire to at least come and visit the Anglican Use liturgy. They want to come hear the Sunday morning talks about the Catholic faith by people who have embraced it, many of them converts themselves. People at St. Therese aren't immune from feelings of unease about change. But I can tell you that I am looking forward to hearing from our Gospel Mass parishioners after they visit the Anglican Use, and vice versa!

We'll have some deliberate opportunities to grow into one parish community, notably through our Sunday School (yes, Catholics can have Sunday School!) between the two masses. But more about that later. This is a great experiment, and I am eager for it. I think St. Therese of Lisieux (the saint, not the parish) is eager for it too. And if answered prayers are an indication, Our Lady of Hope is eager for it too, for the honor of her Son and his Church. Keep praying for us. And send your lapsed friends in our direction. Then come for a visit yourselves.

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Anglican Use Sacramentary

As I arrived at the rectory this morning I decided to open a package that had been sitting around for a couple of days. I had assumed it must contain bulletin inserts for the next special collection or a book someone had ordered, but I didn’t recognize the source: Lulu Enterprises. When I opened the box, I found treasure! The Anglican Use Sacramentary, Volumes I and II! A perfect gift for the Society of Our Lady of Hope on the Feast of the Assumption! The outside of the volumes is nothing to brag about, an orangish slick red. But inside it is another story. Just thumbing through it for a few minutes I am in awe of the amount of work done by the editor, C. David Burt, to make the Book of Divine Worship useful for a celebrant. The pages are nicely laid out, the prefaces and sung portions of the liturgy are noted, and the rubrics – you guessed it – are red. It solves the problem I was just beginning to consider – how to actually put the Book of Divine Worship into use. I was beginning to think I would have to use a notebook with things copied from the Catholic BDW and from the Episcopalian Altar Book, a pretty sloppy way of presiding at a liturgy. This will take care of that problem quite nicely, indeed.

Looking further into The Anglican Use Sacramentary, one will notice other useful devotional material for use in the liturgy and private prayers said by the celebrant. There is, for instance, and expansion of the private prayers at the Breaking of the Bread which seem to come from the Anglican Missal. Indeed, Mr. Burt notes in his Preface that he has drawn on material from the Anglican Use Gradual, the Anglican Service Book, the Anglican Missal, the Priest’s Handbook, Lesser Feasts and Fasts, the Knott Missal and from the Roman Sacramentary. Thumbing through it makes me eager to share it with Fr. Frowin Reed at Conception Abbey, and especially with the Society of Our Lady of Hope here in Kansas City with whom we will soon begin using the Anglican Use.

While I wish it had a more beautiful cover reflecting the dignity of what is included inside, I can live with it until someone shares an alternative. But there is something lacking which makes me hesitate to put it into use. There is no imprimatur. The title page notes that this is just a draft, a work in process. But perhaps it is just far along enough that local bishops can give permission for it to be put into use until the final version is issued. I hope so, and will certainly check with Bishop Finn.

And being just a draft means there is another chance to take care of embarrassing typos. And can’t we do something about the highly inaccurate description of the Roman Canon in Rite I as an “Old English Translation.” Is it old as in antique? But I didn’t think things from the 1940s counted as antique, and if this is Knott’s translation of the Canon, it is certainly 20th century. On the other hand, this is no “Old English” like I have ever seen. Beowulf was written in Old English. I can’t make heads or tails of Beowulf, and this is elegant enough to stand beside a Cranmer collect or preface. If this is Knott’s translation, why can’t we just say that? That is just a quibble, but it will make me cringe every time I see it, even more than the orange cover. But don’t let that give the impression that I disapprove of The Anglican Use Sacramentary. This is a magnificent piece of work. Mr. Burt and his team are to be commended.

The Society of Our Lady of Hope in Kansas City owes a debt of gratitude to our friends of the St. Thomas More Society who sent us this gift. Thank you very much. We will remember you every time we use it.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Bishop Finn gives his blessing!

Bishop Finn has given his blessing to St. Therese Parish as we welcome The Society of Our Lady of Hope! As soon as we can get it on his calendar, we will announce the date for Confirmation and the date we can move from the Liturgy of the Word to the full Anglican Use Mass! We are still aiming for Advent. Bishop Finn does express his understanding of disappointment that for various reasons some may not be able to receive the sacrament of Confirmation as early as some others, but he urges us all to persevere. The wait is worth it!

Bishop Finn also expressed his approval about our series of Sunday morning talks with the Liturgy of the Word. His only concern was that we not leave people behind if they get started late! I assured him that we will make every effort to help people catch up. He also urged that we try to get the word out through the Catholic Key so that we include as many people as possible, both those who may be interested in learning more about the Catholic faith as well as people who may be willing to help us get started.

If you are in the Kansas City area, please plan on joining us at St. Therese Little FLower Parish, Sunday mornings beginning September 7th at 11:15 for a taste of the Anglican Use and an important presentation about the Catholic faith.

I had a very encouraging meeting today with Dr. Bruce Prince-Joseph, the renowned organist most recently at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church. He offered much encouragement and expressed a great deal of interest in helping us in some capacity. We still need an organist to help us get started! Keep praying! Use the Novena to Our Lady of Hope. Visit our Shrine of St. Therese. Everything else is falling into place, this will too.

Our distribution list keeps growing as more and more people want to be included. Please send me your email address if you would like to receive direct e-mails about our progress. edavis-sttherese@kc.rr.com.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Why I became a Catholic

People often ask, “Why did you become a Catholic?” My short answer is, “Because I finally realized I wasn’t.” For an Anglican or an Episcopalian, that answer might make sense. They might not agree, but they can understand it. Catholics may be mystified by it.

I loved the Episcopal Church, and being a priest was all I ever wanted to be. It took me a long time to accept it and admit it, but it’s true.

St. Peter’s Episcopal Church www.stpetersparish in Fernandina Beach, Florida, is a jewel box of a church. It was built in the glory days of the first Florida boom when the congregation was filled with people of intelligence, taste, and financial means. They were able to express in architecture the faith they believed, expressing in native yellow pine, tabby, and stained glass the reformed Catholicism of the Episcopal liturgy. The church was made for the sacraments. The priests of the parish made a lasting impression on me. Fr. Neil Gray was the most intelligent person I knew, and I believed him when he taught us in confirmation and in acolyte training that Episcopalians are Catholics who did away with corruption and superstition in the Reformation. I believed him when he taught us that our liturgy and our faith were the liturgy and the faith of the undivided Catholic Church, and that the Catholic faith continued unbroken and essentially unchanged through the Anglican and Episcopal Churches. Fr. Gray and his successor, Fr. Ralph Kelley, were small town heroes for justice during the difficult days of church and school desegregation. St. Peter’s and St. Michael’s Catholic Church were the only churches in town that had a history of racial inclusion – not perfect, but it made me proud. When the KKK threatened to burn a cross on the rectory lawn, Fr. Kelley let it be known that he owned a shot gun. That impressed me. I remember my mother planning her Sunday school class with Mrs. Frances Holliday, an African-American woman, and it made me proud of my faith and family.

The first chink in the myth that the Anglican and Episcopal Churches are Catholic came when I visited Williamsburg, Virginia, as a pre-teen. According to the myth that Catholicism continued in an unbroken line, one would expect that colonial Anglican church building would reflect that faith in the sacramental nature of the liturgy and the church. Instead, I was surprised to see that the colonial Anglican churches looked very much like Methodist or Presbyterian churches. They emphasized the preaching of the word, and not the sacraments, the plain gospel and not traditional beauty. I didn’t know what to make of it. The evidence didn’t fit the myth. But it didn’t knock me off track, either. I loved the myth, and I loved the Episcopal Church.

Because I loved the myth so much, when I had choices, I always chose experiences that tended to support the myth. When choosing a seminary, I avoided the ones that emphasized the protestant and word-oriented roots of the Episcopal Church and visited the ones that supported my pre-conceived notion of what the church should be. The priests I respected most recommended Nashotah House, the semi-monastic Anglo-Catholic seminary in Wisconsin www.nashotah.edu. For various reasons I chose instead to go to the General Theological Seminary www.gts.edu.  GTS had a strong academic reputation, prided itself in being a “little Oxford,” and based its community life on the daily round of Morning Prayer, Mass, and Evensong. We had some great professors, whom I still admire. Fr. J. Robert Wright grounded us in the church fathers, and Fr. Phil Turner took us back to the last great Anglican moral theologian, Kenneth Kirk, the Anglo-Catholic Bishop of Oxford who based his texts on Thomas Aquinas.

It was while I was at GTS that I had to face that while the myth of the continuity of Catholicism within Anglicanism may be beautiful, it is largely untrue. As we studied liturgics and church history, it became clear that the myth I loved was largely the creation of the 19th century Oxford Movement in the Anglican Communion. That what I loved about the Episcopal ethos, its beauty and sacramental focus, its style of Eucharistic celebration, were learned from 19th century Catholicism and from a study of pre-reformation Catholicism as it was practiced in England.

Also at GTS I had to face that our Episcopalian method of doing theology and ethics left a lot to be desired. It was hard to tell the difference between life lived in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan and life within the seminary close. As far as sexual ethics were concerned, we were required to avoid “predatory” behavior. Everything else seemed to be approved of. In fact, the seminary faculty came down hard on anybody who talked about seminary life to anyone outside the seminary community. I made the “mistake” of talking to my bishop, the bishop made the “mistake” of talking the dean, and the faculty nearly blackballed me. I learned to keep my mouth shut and my head down. I studied hard, found much to enjoy about life in New York, and graduated with honors. For my thesis, I wrote about the changes in the use of blood in Old Testament sacrifice.

When I graduated from seminary, there was a surplus of priests, and there was no opening for me in the diocese that sponsored me, the Episcopal Diocese of Southwest Florida. But I had the great privilege of finding a position as Curate at S. Stephen’s Church in Providence, Rhode Island www.sstephens.org.  Sometimes called “Smokey Steve’s,” S. Stephen’s is one of the great Anglo-Catholic parishes in the northeast. It was my first experience assisting at mass with full Anglo-Catholic ritual, with great music, great dignity, and full-sacramental focus. When I was ordained, it was with the full understanding and intention that I was being ordained for the Catholic Church. Capital C. Capital C.

For fifteen years I served as a priest in the Episcopal Church. I loved every parish and every challenge. But these years finally destroyed the myth which formed the foundation of my love of the Episcopal Church. I don’t think it was any particular innovation during those years that finally dispersed the fog. Some I embraced, some I accepted, and some I resisted. If I even mention the hot-button issues it will lead some to say, “Aha! I knew it all along. He left because he opposed ‘X’! Fr. Davis is a reactionary! We don’t need his kind in the Catholic Church!” I’ll take that risk, because I want to share the truth of the way I finally came to be a Catholic. And for my own freedom, I need to be able to tell you the story.

To me, all these innovations share a common fault: the embrace and defense of abortion and euthanasia, the opening of the sacramental ministries of the church to those not ordained in apostolic orders, the opening of holy communion to the non-baptized and the non-Christian, the ordination of women, and same-sex marriage. These innovations could only be embraced by a church that considers that the sacraments are not essential to the church, that we are not actually in an unbroken relationship with a God who reveals his truth in a trustworthy way in all the ages of the church, and that Episcopalians are free to establish new doctrines and enforce new disciplines that conflict with the universal Church. Whether I agreed or disagreed with any of them, they all pointed to the same fault. The Episcopal Church is not Catholic because it makes doctrine and enforces discipline based on the ephemeral notions of what is currently important to a very small group people who happen to take their own comfort as the standard by which to measure everything. Dare I say it? I just did, and I was one and could have been one for a lifetime.

People sometimes tell me, “It must have been hard to leave the Episcopal Church. It must have taken you a long time to decide.” Let me tell you, it was not hard to decide at all. It was quite easy. Once I realized that the answer to the question, “Is the Episcopal Church really part of the Catholic Church?” is really, “No. Never has been. Never will be,” the myth dissolved and I knew I was standing in the light of day. I simply knew, “If I’m not a Catholic, then I need to get to where the Catholic Church really is.” It is always easier to live in the truth than to live in a falsehood, and I’ve never regretted my decision to leave.

The practical steps were much harder. Leaving a faith community is never easy. Trying to act responsibly toward the souls that have not shared my inner journey was difficult. Finding a way to make a living outside the comfort and dependability of a well-run organization with a very generous salary structure and pension fund was stressful. I do not recommend that anyone make the same journey assuming that someone will be there to catch you when you walk off the edge of the cliff. You’ve got to find a path, and sometimes that path goes through the wilderness.

I’ve been a Catholic now for ten years, five of them as a priest. Sometimes Catholics wonder why I left because, for them, the Episcopal Church looks like the answer to a Catholic’s dream. Some want to push one of the Catholic hot button issues and see how I’ll react. I hardly ever do. Sure, there are issues that bother a lot of Catholics. Sure, some would make very different decisions than the Catholic Church is has made. For me, it means everything to be part of a church that does not rush things, especially the ones on which our lives and our faith depend. I am proud to be a Catholic and a member of a church that can speak the capital T Truth to power on behalf of the world’s poor, our children, our disabled, our aged, and on behalf of the sanctity of nature and of life itself.

What it comes down to is this. Is it important to be a Catholic? If it is, then get to where the Catholic Church is. It is easier to live in the light of reality than in a myth. Much easier.  

I hope you will visit the website for a growing group of former Anglicans and Episcopaliansin Kansas City who are coming home to the Catholic Church www.ourladyofhopesociety.org.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Let's start!

I'm Fr. Ernie Davis, and I'm having the time of my life! It is crazy-busy, but thrilling, too. For the past year I have been pastor (actual title Pastoral Administrator, but more about that some other time) at St. Therese Little Flower in Kansas City. This is a gem of a Catholic parish, where the people are here because they want to be, the worship is genuine and full of joy, the people are friendly, and the parish is a cornerstone in the neighborhood. People sing the gospel from their hearts and live it in their lives. Some of the great pastors in our diocese left their legacies here, and we count a couple of bishops and even a cardinal amount those who have assisted here in their younger days. It is truly a privilege to be a pastor here.

And if this wasn't enough, we now have a growing group of former Anglicans and Episcopalians who are making this their home parish. Their arrival here stirred in me some feelings that may be similar to St. Paul's feelings as he wrote of his affection for as well as his hopes for his Jewish heritage (Romans 9:1-5). As happy, relieved, secure, and at home in the Catholic Church as my family and I have been for the last ten years, I long for the complete reconciliation of the Anglican Communion with her mother, that we can share the unity of the faith we used to share in the undivided Catholic Church. I'm also nostalgic for the beauty and grace of the Anglican liturgy. The Our Lady of Hope Society has stirred my passion. Why should we wait? The Pastoral Provision and the Anglican Use give us the possibility of welcoming our separated brothers and sisters into the fullness and richness of the Catholic faith.

How could that work at St. Therese? Perhaps God has been preparing a place here and smoothing the path for this to happen. For a number of years St. Therese was yoked with another parish, and in that relationship we had two early morning masses on Sundays, at 8:00 and 9:15. When Bishop Finn assigned a priest here full time, we tried our best to move the 9:15 mass to 10:00 - but for a number of reasons it just didn't work. That has left the late morning time-slot available for a new mass.

We have a group of former Anglicans and Episcopalians ready to begin their preparation for confirmation. So beginning on Sunday, September 7 at 11:15, we will celebrate the Liturgy of the Word from the Book of Divine Worship (the Anglican Use liturgy for Catholics from an Episcopalian or Anglican heritage.) Afterwards we will listen to a talk on a topic important to people thinking of conversion. A number of gifted people, many of them Catholic converts themselves, will be helping out. I'm looking forward to listening to them myself!

Matthew Teel will be giving a couple of talks. Folks at St. Mary's Episcopal Church in Kansas City will remember him. He is a former Episcopal priest who converted to the Catholic Church in 2005. Rob Rodgers, from the Coming Home Network will also be giving a talk. He is a former evangelical protestant as well as an Anglican, now a Catholic, who works full time to assist protestant laypeople and clergy who are on the journey home. Fr. Eric Bergman from the St. Thomas More Society will be coming down speak with us so that we can learn from their experience. Check out the ourladyofhopesociety.org website for the full schedule.

In addition to welcoming those who are thinking of becoming Catholic, we need help from people who have already made the journey. We need choir members, cantors, and an organist; altar guild members, ushers, lectors, and extraordinary ministers of holy communion; altar servers, Sunday School teachers, and confirmation sponsors. Members of St. Therese will be helping out a lot, but we are a small parish and people are spread thin. This could be a chance to do something exciting and new, and I invite you to think and pray about joining us, even if it is just to help us get started this first year! You could be part of something historic! I'll try to keep you posted about our progress, and share a bit about myself and my journey.