Get those girls off the altar

This just in from The Arizona Republic:

Girls no longer will be allowed as altar servers during Mass at the cathedral of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix, SS. Simon and Jude.

The Rev. John Lankeit, rector of the cathedral, said he made the decision in hopes of promoting the priesthood for males and other religious vocations, such as becoming a nun, for females.

Made up primarily of fifth- through eighth-graders the altar-server corps in American churches has included girls since 1983 in many places. Girls and boys regularly serve together at churches throughout the Phoenix Catholic Diocese.

Rather than discuss the merits of this decision, let's consider these questions instead: How aggressive should the Episcopal Church be in promoting itself--explicitly--as an alternative to what some of us see as the discriminatory, authoritarian aspects of Roman Catholicism? Do you see many disaffected Catholics in your newcomer programs? What is the best way to reach out to these folks?

Comments (21)

I've always felt that TEC should be more aggressive in "marketing" to former and disaffected Catholics. I joke to my wife that TEC could be one of the largest denominations in the US if it captured a majority of recovering Catholics. Catholics should know that there is a place where you can celebrate the Mass like before, but where reason and equality is respected.

Morris Post

Our experience here in Phoenix has been that an increasing number of young Roman Catholic families are actively looking for alternatives. The unexpected consequence is that our children and youth programs are growing much faster than you'd expect at an inner-city church close by a major university campus.

Our focus in welcoming these families is to highlight some of the unspoken differences between their former denomination and ours - like the basic idea that Episcopalians are not expected to agree with the bishop, their priest or even each other. They just asked to pray with one another.

Hey, way to ecumenical go! Use Roman Catholic mishagas as a tool for evangelism? How about supporting those of us who are called to fight within rather than switch? Just a thought...and a prayer, my brother in Christ.

The two aren't mutually exclusive, Meredith.

What Jim said. I think there's work for us to do both in supporting those who have a vocation to stay within their own faith traditions and advocate for change AND to those who choose to leave. And given this "decree" I can't imagine there won't be some of both.

(And sorry, Jim ... I know you said to stay away from the merits of the decision but I can't resist noting that in IMHO this does nothing to promote priesthood and everything to promote sexism.)

One thing we do at All Saints is to give new and/or visiting folks a chance to tell us if they're coming from another tradition and hooking them up with someone on our newcomer team with the same background -- if possible.

Good questions.

Susan Russell

We use the same approach as does Susan's parish, and our rector often introduces me to newcomers who are disaffected Catholics.

A clear majority of newcomers who are not Epsicopalian are coming to us from the Roman Catholic Church. But I feel uneasy about "advertising" ourselves as specifically an alternative to the Roman church. Over time I've become increasingly convinced that we are a reformed catholic church rather than "Catholic Lite" (a phrase that gives me hives!). We have substantial things to say about the sacramental life, leadership in the church, the role of scripture and place of doctrine within our tradition that I believe are clouded by being framed as "an alternative to Roman Catholicism". -- OCICBW.
Lou Poulain, former RC in Sunnyvale CA

Not withstanding that Christ did NOT establish the priesthood!

Meredith Gould--I do not believe in "sheep stealing."

But.

Do you REALLY think you have a prayer of changing things from within? Given the "packing" of all bodies of the Magisterium with JPII and now Benedict's hand-picked conservatives? As Jesus once said, "Woman, great is thy faith!"

I really admire my RC friends who stay, despite their unhappiness over the way the RCC treats women, LGBTs, and the divorced--but I have to wonder why?

In most places, the Episcopal Church offers what many disaffected RCs seem to be looking for--catholic worship with room for reason, and open arms to those that the RCC would shut out. Why shouldn't we shout that to the rooftops? Based on conversations I've had with those coming to our parish from the RCC, if they hadn't come to us, they would have left the faith entirely. Maybe to a hardcore traditionalist that equals the same thing--but I would be very surprised if you agreed with that assessment...

I never think it is helpful to position ourselves as the opposite of something bad. Why not just create a photo of the PB with a female acolyte and add the message: "women's gifts are honored everywhere in the Episcopal Church.". That speaks to Souther Baptist women as well as RC women as well as the unchurched who wish for a spiritual place that accepts whomthey are.

Michael, I agree that it makes little sense to define one's self simply as the opposite of something bad. But I've recently heard some clients say that their parish seemed to have developed a ministry to "people who had been hurt by other churches." I think that is an audience worth paying attention to, and in ministering to those people, some sort of distinction between our church and others would seem to be necessary. I am interested in the nuts and bolts of how that should sensitively be done.

At my churchright between Dallas and Fort Worth, TX all of the new members of the parish, including myself, are former Roman Catholics. The church did not have to specifically market itself to Catholics, but rather, only witness to what it stood for.

As a hospital chaplain, I have to be very circumspect about this. Meredith, when I've listened to folks sharing their frustration, anger, and sadness about the Roman Catholic Church, by and large they have already given up. They attend Christmas and Easter and family events, and rarely otherwise.

As I said, I have to be circumspect, and I don't have this conversation with patients. However, with a few friends I have not suggested changing affiliation. Rather, I have pointed out that they are welcome to come and worship with us without changing affiliation. I can't make any claims about them coming; those are their individual decisions. I can, though, let them know that they're welcome.

Marshall Scott

It may sound simple-minded, but I first came to an Episcopal church in 2006 because I was invited. Suggest one-on-one to the Catholics who are already with you that they bring a friend to church - it works. Our parish welcomes everyone (including to the Eucharist, a winning distinction with ex-Catholics), says you can become a member of the parish after an initial four classes without becoming an Episcopalian, then receives people formally after they take a "going deeper" set of classes. Explicit hospitality for strangers is key. My first visit, I was welcomed by an older man who has since become one of my dearest friends. On the other hand, my wife came to the church after me, and was initially put off because no one would make room for her in the pews. In all candor, there's a lot of mutual ignorance between Catholics and Episcopalians about their respective churches and creeds. I think a combination of being yourselves and listening will come across well.

Finally, the most likely people to come are those who have Protestants or GLBT folks somewhere on their extended family tree. There's a web of relationships (including ethnic relationships, like the Irish) that keep a lot of Catholics from trying a new denomination, even if they stop going to Mass. But those of us with gays and lesbians in the family are often deeply distressed by how they've been treated by the RC Church.

How about supporting those of us who are called to fight within rather than switch?

I don't think this is an "Either/Or" either, Meredith.

Because we are *not* an "Outside [Our] Church There is No Salvation" church, we don't mind if you keep a foot in each camp.

Particularly for LGBT Roman Catholics, I would think that---if for family or traditional reasons---they simply MUST be in their RC parish on a Sunday morning, perhaps they would appreciate being hand-in-hand w/ their partners in an Episcopal parish on a Saturday night (or vice-versa)?

Think, struggling RCs, of your local Episcopal church as a way-station of relaxation&refreshment---for a week, a month, a year (sadly, in the current anti-Vatican2 iteration) a lifetime?

Speaking of "way to ecumenical go": I think I speak for ALL Episcopalians when I say "IF the RC Church ever gets back to the spirit of John XXIII, go back w/ our blessings!" (After all, the John XXIII iteration of the RC Church is the one we made so much ecumenical progress with---before JP2/B16 killed all that off)

JC Fisher

It is clear to me that there is a way to do this with sensitivity and tact. I am more worried that we will give in to our natural timidity and do nothing. I suspect the bulk of the world doesn't even know we exist.

A fundamentally weak product or service cannot be saved by great marketing and communication, but poor marketing and communication can inhibit the growth of a strong one.  The decline of the Roman Catholic Church is a function of structural weakness in an age when its costituents' access to information and to each other cannot be controlled.  The people of TEC, individually and collectively, need first to make sure the Church is fundamentally strong by behaving in a manner consistent with our Baptismal Covenant.  The relative aggressiveness of marketing to disaffected RCs won't much matter if the particular parish to which they are drawn behaves in a manner that involves no less lip service than the church from which they came.

Many liberal Roman Catholics are not going to join an Episcopal church where music is hymns from the 1982 and performance-oriented choral anthems.
I tried to become Episcopalian a couple times before finding an "affirming Anglo-Catholic" parish... which hired me as the Music Director. Since then we've had at least one Catholic family join us that I know wouldn't have if we were doing typical Episcopalian drabbery.

Every Episcopal parish and diocese needs to look at it's membership and find people who have left other churches for the Episcopal Church. And they need to ask:
Why did you come? How can we get more people like you?

And most importantly: this shouldn't be about "How do we get more Episcopalians?" (Although that would naturally happen). The point should be: How do we keep these disaffected people from leaving Christianity altogether?
If our marketing/outreach/classes/whatever gets them to stay in their tradition, move to another tradition, or join our own- those things are all to the good.

Adam, our Episcopal parish is growing and the number 1 reason that people are coming is because of our fabulous music program of very traditional music done well. English anthems, 1982 Hymnal. I love LEVAS and wouldn't mind if we included it, but it's not in the bones of our current parish, as it was in my last.
The point is that the Episcopal church is not the RC church, we have no "one-size-fits-all" in music. If your parish thrives on contemporary music, great, but if it would drive our parishioners away, then obviously it isn't right for us.
Frankly, speaking as professional classical musician, not a church musician, Vatican II threw out the baby with the bath water when they unilaterally dumped their excellent musical tradition for guitars and drums.
We'll keep our Bach, and use their Vittoria and Palestrina, and keep those English anthems, thank you very much. The theology in that music is far better than most of the contemporary stuff (there are exceptions, I just spent a week in Iona where we sang some pretty good, new, stuff). But tastes will vary. Some people want dense theology and quality music, some will connect to music that's more like the pop music they listen to. Fine, it's all good until someone claims that "traditional music is keeping people away," because it isn't true from where I stand.

About a third of our congregation is ex-Roman Catholic. However, I'm ambivalent about an aggressive approach to recruiting Roman Catholics. Only if a person is seeking another church do I invite them to our church. Perhaps, I'm too timid, but there it is. The RCs are coming anyway.

June Butler

We have seen quite a few disaffected RCs join our congregation in north-central Ohio. However, there is no one common reason for them doing so - their reasons are as personal and varied as those of any new member of this (or any other) tradition. -- We have also seen a continuation of a trend I've seen in over thirty years of church leadership - that it is easier for Roman Catholics to become inactive than it is for them to completely leave the RC tradition and join a new Christian expression. I'm not sure why this is, but we've seen many who explore joining the Episcopal Church (or some other Christian body) only to fall away after a time of testing, not to return to the RC Church but to inactivity. -- In any event, I don't believe that aggressively marketing ourselves as an alternative for disaffected RCs is any sort of "answer". What we should be concentrate on doing is assertively and actively proclaiming the Gospel (in word and action) as we understand it. If we are authentic in that, we will grow and thrive.

I agree with Eric Funston in the prior comment. When I "crossed the Thames" it wasn't because I was angry with or disaffected by the Roman Church (don't get me wrong: That all came later). I left because my husband and I had relocated and couldn't find another Roman parish in which we felt comfortable and welcome as a gay couple. After learning more about the Episcopal Church I came to the conclusion that I would probably never return to Rome...even if I had the opportunity to do so in an affirming parish like our first one. I discovered that I was more Anglican in my beliefs, especially concerning church structure and governance, than I previously thought.

People's reasons for swimming the river in either direction vary greatly. If one were able to get an accurate count it would probably be found that there are just as many conservative Anglicans doing the breast stroke in the opposite direction.

Thanks for commenting. Please sign your name next time. ~ed.

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