Episcopal priest to Catholics: Let's trade

Rev. Matthew Lawrence, rector of the Church of the Incarnation in Santa Rosa, Calif., proffers a bargain to the Vatican: Roman Catholics can have disaffected Episcopalians if we can have disaffected Roman Catholics.

If you have any gay priests, for instance, who might be unhappy about living in the closet, you'll be happy to hear that the Episcopal Church has been ordaining openly gay men since 1990.

Or maybe you have some women on your hands who are unhappy because they are called to the priesthood. No worries. Send them on over to us. We've been ordaining women since 1976, and the current head of our church is a female bishop. She seems very happy.

Or maybe you've got some priests who are unhappy because they've fallen in love and they can't get married. We want you to know that our priests have been getting happily married for hundreds of years now, and everyone is happier as a result.

Or maybe some of your people are unhappy with the amount of money you spent to keep gay people from getting married. Well, they might be happier with the Episcopal bishops of California, who unanimously opposed Proposition 8.

And then there's the folks who might like to feel good about the birth control they're using; or maybe they'd like to make their own decisions about abortion. Well, the Episcopal Church has supported birth control and a woman's right to choose since at least 1967.

Comments (14)

An excellent offer -- it's about time someone started making it publicly. That said, the effort may end up causing a fair amount of confusion among disaffected RC folks depending on which Episcopal parish they decide to attend. (I'm referring to lay people since I am assuming clergy can figure it out on their own.) Perhaps some kind of a rating system like the movies would be appropriate.

I think this may not be quite as brilliant as it may seem at first glance. People ought to join a Church for itself, because they are led to God in it, not because in comparison with their old Church it's better on some issues important to them. People who convert from, as opposed to, Churches often bring a lot of baggage. For example, there are various Orthodox jurisdictions that welcomed a lot of converts fleeing the Episcopal Church starting in the late 70's, and they have in some ways made those Churches over in their own image: the OCA's Metropolitan Jonah was a convert from us, for example.

I'm all for welcoming the stranger, but they ought to want to be *here*, rather than just not *there*.

Bill, I happen to be one of those who didn't know where exactly "here" was - just knew that "there" wasn't going to cut it - and got thrown a lifeline.

For what it's worth.

Torey Lightcap

I guess I'm not so much saying that not knowing where "here" is is a bad thing as I am saying the thought of some conscious campaign to appeal to disaffected RCs makes me queasy.

Another thing that bothers me is that this post seems to feed our already bloated smugness about how superior Anglicanism is to Roman Catholicism (noting in passing its conjoined twin, our smugness about how superior we are to Protestants). We are sometimes insufferably self-congratulatory about how terribly progressive we are, often with little foundation and never to our own spiritual health - among other things, it blinds us to the good things in other Christian bodies.

And the prospect of the Churches becoming more homogeonous - all the good women-ordaining, gay-affirming Christians in this box, all their opposite numbers in this other box, please - ought to fill us with dismay, I believe. The Church is supposed to be Catholic, one of the meanings of which is embracing all sorts and conditions; it's not a club of the like-minded. Things may have calmed down some after the recent departures of various unhappy Episcopal factions for other venues, but in the end I think we will find their leaving us impoverishing.

(Full disclosure: Over the years I have converted to and from most religious streams presented to me, not restricted to Christianity (no impulse control for most of my life); I'm not knocking converts (or don't mean to).

Bill, I wonder if Rev. Lawrence has had a chance to review your remarks, and how he might respond? That seems like a the sort of conversation we had ought to be engaging.

Torey Lightcap

Having been born one, I did not choose to be an Episcopalian but I'm sure glad that I am one.

Smug? Perhaps we are a little, but deservedly so I think.

I believe that if there were more Episcopalians in the world there would be fewer people who look at Chritians as being ignorant, judgemental, and intolerant.

Fr Lightcap, that would be interesting. Does he read the Cafe?

"... but deservedly so, I think."

I am reminded of an old joke:

Q: Is there salvation outside the Episcopal Chirch?
A: Perhaps, but no *gentleman* would avail himself of it.

Come now, Deacon Charlie: from a Christian "all have sinned" POV, "deserved smugness" is an oxymoron if ever I heard one!

I, too, would love to have a dialogue w/ Fr Lawrence. How did his essay affect his ecumenical relations w/ local RCs (inc clergy) in Santa Rosa, I wonder? O_o

I'm all for preaching the Gospel of Jesus's Inclusion (to LGBTs, vocations regardless of chromosomes or marital status, reproductive choice), as we know it in TEC. I'm also all for pointing out the hypocrisy---if not flat-out EVIL---of the Vatican, to RCs giving them money.

But evangelism AND prophecy should try to steer clear of snarky smugness, IMO.

JC Fisher

Greetings, Episcopal Cafe commentators. It was a thrill for me to hear that my piece made it to this website. I've just begun to get into the tweeting facebooking universe so forgive me if I miss some bit of etiquette or whatever.

Regarding smugness, here's my perspective. (BTW, Andrew Sullivan wrote a brilliant piece in Newsweek a couple weeks back about the "Politics of Sex" - how the RC's are spending massive amounts of money and moral energy to engage the alarmingly conservative and increasingly non-negotiable elements of their social policy. I highly recommend it.) I've gotten very tired of good polite liberals like me remaining mute while a full-on campaign is underway that seeks to deprive many good people of their rights to dignity, equality, and simple respect. So when I heard about how they're reaching out to married Episcopal clergy to convert - and to bring their congregations if not dioceses along - I saw that as an opportunity to set the record straight on a couple things.

I wasn't trying to be smug - but I was trying to use humor and a respectful tone to make my point. It never occurred to me that this would be interpreted as "smug" because the fact is we're losing this competition. A massive right-wing movement is now making contraceptives a controversial issue once again! We've just lost about 25 years of progress thanks to the likes of Mr. Santorum and the current bishop of the Diocese in my home town of Santa Rosa. This is a massive and very effective campaign to roll back the gains of the women's movement and the LBGT community.

So instead of worrying about whether or not we're being smug, I'd encourage all of us to get a little bit angry and then find a (gentle, reasonable, humorous) way to make your voice heard!

And now I'll be accused of being self-righteous. No problem; I welcome all comments.

Peace, and thanks, ML+

This is a very interesting conversation. I've joked for years that I would love to run an ad campaign directed at Catholics with taglines like: The Episcopal Church: All of the Liturgy, none of the Guilt."

We do need to reach out to our Catholic brothers and sisters, but I struggle with how overt that effort should be. Just in the past few weeks, I've listened to Catholics at various stages in their journeys away from Rome. Their stories are rich, varied, full of pain and anguish, and conflicted between the faith of their past, no matter how problematic, and the uncertainty that lies ahead. As a pastor, I am called to be with them in that struggle, to help them acknowledge the ambiguity in which they live, and help them find ways of incorporating past, present, and future in a rich and fulfilling life in Christ, whether that includes membership in the Episcopal Church or not.

Having made my own transition from a different denominational background, I know how gut-wrenching, guilt-inducing, and painful it can be to turn away from the faith of childhood and youth, and generations of family members. We need to offer open doors, open arms, and to articulate clearly our welcome to those whose journeys brings them toward us.

Nicely put, Jonathan. Thanks for that. I wanted to add that my piece was in large part inspired by former RC's in my congregation who feel genuine empathy for those who are not being well-served by the RC Church and who have no idea how good a fit the Episcopal Church would be for them. So for the first time there's a kind of evangelical impulse rising in me, in the sense that I genuinely do believe there are tons of unhappy Christians out there who would be flooding into our parishes if they only knew about us.

My parish church actually has had over the years and especially recently a high percentage of former RCs who come to visit and then decide they like us and stay. I've been involved in conducting Inquirers' Classes for newcomers, and at last week's class on What We Believe, several former RC members told me how affirmed they feel by what we believe as Episcopalians. It reminded me of the importance of holding Inquirers' Classes frequently, because people seeking a place to worship and build a personal relationship with God want to know what we believe and how they fit into the way that their new church relates to God and God's people.

I came, quite recently, into the Episcopal Church from the opposite direction, from the United Methodist Church (UMC). It was a struggle for me, moreso, perhaps than most, because I had been a UM seminarian. I do think that it is important that I converted because I believe in the Real Presence, not because TEC has a better position on the ordination of gay people than the UMC. I think that I would have ultimately made the leap to Anglicanism even if I lived in England, where neither denomination is particularly affirming. If my theology was basically Methodist, but I was in favor of ordaining out gay people and blessing same-sex relationships, my call would have been to stay in the UMC and fight for gay rights in that denomination.

I concur with Bil about the undesirability of TEC losing its conservative voices and the RCC (and other denominations) losing its progressive voices. And I would not like to see a national or diosician ad campaign welcoming LGBT people to TEC, because what if a gay person in South Carolina goes to their local Episcopal parish and gets told that Jesus can heal his sexual orientation! He'd be hurt, confused, and betrayed. And there are conservative parishes even in progressive dioceses- in my area there is one county with only one Episcopal parish, and that parish is so conservative they use the 1928 BCP. We need to remember that while most of us in TEC are LGBT-affirming, our core identity is not as a LGBT-affirming church, it is as a Reformed Catholic church.

So any campaign to welcome disaffected progressive RCs to TEC needs to come from a particular parish.

One exception to this is welcoming RCs who want a married priesthood- that is a core part of our identity, not just something a lot of us do.

Mylifemyfaith- please sign your name when commenting. Thanks ~ed.

I'm all for keeping smugness to a minimum, I just believe that someone who thinks enough about their faith community to be disaffected by it is exactly the kind of person TEC needs in order to turn the tide of decline in church membership.  I think being clear about our desire for those folks to find a home with us is within our call, and I don't think we should be shy about it.

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