By Kevin J. Jones
The small congregation of St. Luke’s Episcopal parish in Bladensburg, Maryland will join the Catholic Church through the Anglican ordinariate structure created by Pope Benedict XVI.
“We welcome the St. Luke community warmly into our family of faith,” Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington said June 6. “The proposed ordinariate provides a path to unity, one that recognizes our shared beliefs on matters of faith while also recognizing and respecting the liturgical heritage of the Anglican Church.”
He said the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington recognizes “the openness of the community to the guidance of the Holy Spirit in their faith journey.”
The community will begin to prepare for reception into the Catholic Church later this year. Its married rector, Rev. Mark Lewis, hopes to begin the process to be ordained a Catholic priest.
Cardinal Wuerl is supporting the parish’s transition, as is Episcopal Bishop John Bryson Chane of Washington.
“I am deeply grateful to Cardinal Wuerl and to Bishop Chane for their support throughout this discernment,” Rev. Lewis said. “We look forward to continuing to worship in the Anglican tradition, while at the same time being in full communion with the Holy See of Peter.”
The parish has about 100 members, the majority of whom are from Africa and the Caribbean.
Under an agreement with the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, the parish will continue to worship in its current church building under a lease with a purchase option.
Bishop Chane said the transition was achieved “in a spirit of pastoral sensitivity and mutual respect.”
“Christians move from one church to another with far greater frequency than in the past, sometimes as individuals, sometimes as groups. 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,” Bishop Chane said in a statement issued by the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington.
St. Luke’s annual parish meeting in January 2010 featured significant conversation about how its “traditional beliefs” were “incongruent” with the present state of the Episcopal Church. This prompted parishioners to ask its leadership to explore available options.
In January 2011 the parish vestry unanimously affirmed the parish’s desire to enter the Anglican Ordinariate. Pope Benedict established the special church jurisdiction for members of the Anglican Communion who desire to enter full communion with the Catholic Church while retaining many of their customs and traditions.
Theological and moral issues have split the Anglican Communion on issues such as the authority of Scripture, the ordination of women as priests and bishops, and sexual morality.
Rev. Lewis, in a letter to friends published on the parish website, explained that his decision to join the ordinariate was not so much a desire to leave Anglicanism as it was to enter into full communion with the Holy See.
The debates within the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion “illumined” Anglicanism’s lack of “the apostolic authority to defend the faith, guard unity, and settle disputes,” Rev. Lewis said.
He and his wife, Vickey, prayed and studied on these issues and “our hearts began to move toward Rome.”
Patrick Delaney, a lay parish leader from Mitchellville, also cited issues of church authority.
“In the Episcopal Church, bishops in one place say one thing and in another say another,” he told the Washington Post. “That’s the crux of it. Each bishop has its own kingdom.”
He and others at St. Luke’s said they were thrilled to help rejoin the Catholic Church, from which Anglicanism broke in the 1500s.
“It feels fantastic,” Delaney said. “It’s like correcting 500 years of history.”
Rev. Lewis said the parish had already embraced various Catholic practices but it has now ordered a larger statue of Mary. It plans more teachings on praying the Rosary and going to confession.
The pastor asked for prayers and support as he and the people of St. Luke’s “seek to live out our Anglican heritage with integrity in a Personal Ordinariate of the Roman Catholic Church.”
Cardinal Wuerl will announce next month at a bishops’ meeting how much interest in a U.S. ordinariate he has found. Officials think interest is high enough that they are creating a U.S. ordinariate for Anglican converts, the Washington Post reports.
Until an ordinariate is officially established for the U.S., St. Luke’s will come under the care of the Archdiocese of Washington.