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Episcopal priest to Catholics: Let’s trade

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.

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Howard Parr

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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Mylifemyfaith

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.

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Lelanda Lee

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.

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Matthew Lawrence

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.

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Jonathan Grieser

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.

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