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– Twenty-First Century Crusades?
The Pope taking radical steps to bring
all sheep back into fold.
Episcopal Church in Maryland to
Convert to Catholicism
by Lauren Green
The Rev. Mark Lewis now offers a prayer every Sunday morning that
centuries ago would have been considered an homage to the enemy. It's a
prayer for the bishop of Rome, the pope and all the Catholic bishops and
Lewis chants, "For Benedict our Pope ... Let us prayer to the Lord."
And the congregation sings its answer, "Lord, have mercy."
The distinctly Roman Catholic offering is the outward sign of an inner
spiritual journey. St. Luke's Church in Bladensburg, Md., will become
later this year the first American Episcopal Parish to convert to
Catholicism, Anglicanism's one-time nemesis.
What really drew us was the apostolic authority, the oneness of the
faith of the people," Lewis said "That's what we really wanted, and I
don't think you have that in Anglicanism."
Ironically, what is driving St. Luke's to Roman Catholicism is what
split the church in the first place: the issue of authority.
Nearly 500 years ago, Britain’s King Henry VIII broke with Rome in a
dispute involving his wish to divorce his wife, Catherine of Aragon, and
marry his young mistress, Anne Boleyn.
A showdown forced England's clergy to choose sides, with the king
demanding to know if the British bishops and Cardinals were more loyal
to him or to the Pope.
Lives and heads were literally lost in the ensuing theological and
political clash. In its wake, The Church of England was born, with the
sitting monarch as its head, a structure still in place today.
The American version, the Episcopal church, was the faith of many of the
founding fathers, including President George Washington.
Today, the Episcopal Church, with nearly 1.5 million members, is one of
thousands of Christian denominations in the U.S. Its recent conflicts
over the ordination of gays and women and the blessing of same-sex
unions have caused some congregations to seek more conservative
But that was not an option for St. Luke's. Lewis says he felt that the
same problem would persist. There was no authority concerning who would
have the final interpretation of scripture over the most controversial
issues the church is facing.
"Anglicanism is Anglicanism," Lewis said. "So it doesn't matter if you
go to a more conservative group like the Anglican Church in North
America or any of the others that are around. It's still the faith of
this body here. (It) doesn’t necessarily mean it's the same in Nigeria
or Sierra Leone or any other outlet."
In 2009, Pope Benedict XVI created a special Ordinariate, a path through
which Anglicans could reconcile with Rome and come back to the Roman
Catholic flock. In some circles it's been called the religious
equivalent of sheep stealing.
The Rev. Scott Hurd, who's assisting Washington's Cardinal Donald Wuerl
to create the new Anglican Ordinariate, disagrees with the implication,
saying, "This initiative is a response to repeated and insistent
requests from Anglican groups. So it's not a matter of stealing sheep.
It's more a matter of opening the door for people who have been seeking
to come in for some time."
In the last few years, bitter legal battles over property have erupted
in the American Episcopal church when conservative congregations sought
to leave and be led by more orthodox Anglicans groups. But St. Luke's
transition was essentially given a blessing by the Washington Diocese's
Bishop John Bryson Chane.
"Christians move from one church to another with far greater frequency
than in the past, sometimes as individuals, sometimes as groups," Chane
said in a written statement. "I was glad to be able to meet the
spiritual needs of the people and priest of St. Luke's in a way that
respects the tradition and polity of both of our churches."
Under the terms of the agreement, St. Luke's congregation will have
three years to either buy its current building or move elsewhere.
That especially pleases its 100 members, who are mostly West African
immigrants like Gloria Deigh, from Sierra Leone.
Deigh is happy to convert, saying, "I like it. To me, it's like going
home. That's where the original church was. We are all one."
Parishioner Randy King says for him the conversion brings needed
"We have a church that doesn't change. We don't have to worry one day or
the other what is going to be said from the pulpit."
Over the next few months, members of St. Luke's will attend catechism
classes to learn more about the Catholic faith and the its doctrines.
Then in October they will be formally confirmed into the Roman Catholic
Church -- what Lewis calls the return of the prodigal son.
"We drifted away and now we want to come home," he said, "and I am just
thankful that we have the opportunity to do so."