Thursday, October 22, 2009

Church Shopping

A fifth to a third of my parish is comprised of former Roman Catholics. Roman Catholics make very good Episcopalians. I have heard them tease "All the liturgy--none of the guilt" as though they were intoning a commercial for Anglicanism. Would that all my parishioners felt such pride and joy in being Episcopalian.

The former Roman Catholics in the parish I serve appreciate the Episcopal Church in ways that cradle Episcopalians sometimes take for granted. Those Roman Catholics who migrate to Canterbury come because they seek a place where their heart and their head can co-exist. The Roman Catholic Church ceased to be that place for them. They became convinced that women should be allowed to be priests, or that priests should be allowed to marry, or gay and lesbian persons should be treated with dignity and respect, or the use of contraception is not immoral, or that abortion should be a woman's choice even if it is always a tragic choice, or they are divorced and they don't want to have to pretend they were not married the first time in order to marry again, or....I could go on and on here--but you get the idea. Their convictions change and they don't want to pretend they believe other than the way they do and so they leave and in their exile they stumble across the Episcopal Church and find a new home. Call it Catholics on the Canterbury trail. Would that we all could better see ourselves as pilgrims.

Likewise, since Henry VIII made himself (rather than the Pope) the head of the Church in England, some Anglicans have crossed the Tiber and returned to Rome. The Anglicans (or Episcopalians as we call ourselves here in the States) have been too Protestant for the liking of some born Anglican and they have found themselves in Rome and at home. Would that all could find a place to call home.

News has come this week that the Vatican is making the journey to Rome easier for those Anglicans so inclined. Anglicans except Romans as properly baptized and confirmed and ordained. So, the transition has always been easy for those moving toward Canterbury. Historically, Rome has been less hospitable--but the rigidity has been part of the attraction and the lack thereof amongst Episcopalians part of the repulsion. This week the Pope made it a bit easier. Hospitality is a Christian virtue. Would that we all were more hospitable.

I am sympathetic with those who feel like refugees from the faith of their childhood. I left the religious tradition of my youth and as an adult did my own migrating. I understand why people leave and why they come--on an existential level. I also think it is unfortunate and tragic.

We are all poorer after we Church Shop. The cost is sometimes necessary--but it is still expensive. The places we leave are poorer for our going. Admittedly, the places to which we travel are enriched--but the new theological segregation makes us all poorer. It is not a zero sum game. The Church is richer when our diversity is visible on a local level. We are poorer when that diversity is hidden behind denominational labels. Would that we were richer, as well as hospitable.

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