The following is intended for persons unfamiliar with the Episcopal Church who wonder if it might be a place of refuge for disaffected Catholics.
The Roman Catholic Church has entered another of its periodic crisis moments engendered by sexually abusive clergy shielded by church hierarchy trying to protect the institution rather than the faith. Making headlines around the globe, it has local epicenters in Chile, Ireland, and Pennsylvania. It’s going to take time and serious structural reforms to recover its institutional integrity. Some life long Catholics are pondering whether to stay or go, and if they go, where? Well, “Catholic Lite,” the Episcopal Church is always a possibility, a place of respite and healing for those who need it.
That’s why In some places the Episcopal Church, a part of the World Wide Anglican Communion, will see new faces wondering if they’ll be welcome. They will be for as long as they choose to stay. The setting will be familiar to them: the liturgy, Eucharist, all the other sacraments, vestments, and offices such as deacon, priest, and bishop. Other things will feel strange: married clergy, women clergy, openly gay clergy, and The Book of Common Prayer. Like any parish in any denomination, there will also be unique local flavors.
Some familiar things will be missing. The Episcopal Church has no teaching authority, no catalogue of prescribed beliefs, no dogma. We adopt many positions on many subjects, but they’re not dogma. There’s no Vatican or anything like it, no Pope. The Communion’s head, the Archbishop of Canterbury in the Church of England, has no authority but to say who is in or out of the Communion, which he can do only because that’s the way we’ve always done it. Bishops, by and large, have limited authority shared with clergy and lay leaders through periodic local and national conventions. Local parishes have authority to manage their own affairs, subject to oversight by bishops.
Anglican doctrine and practice is a fungible thing. It evolves through years, sometimes decades, of debate, and once settled begins to change again. The process is messy, inefficient, never ending, and we have deep faith that God is guiding it in spite of ourselves. Still, we are not without fundamentals. Episcopalians are firmly trinitarian Christians within the context of the Nicene Creed of the ancient church. The sacraments, especially Baptism and the Eucharist, are at the core of our worship. Our clergy are in full apostolic succession. We adhere to the Chalcedonian definition of Christ’s divinity and humanity (451 a.d.) Important to all Anglicans are Thirty Nine Articles adopted by the Church of England in the late 16th century. They attempt to explain who we are if we’re not Catholic and not Protestant, but they are not a denominational confession. What well meaning church leaders said centuries ago can inform, but not dictate, what we believe today. In like manner we have no Luther, Calvin, Thomas, or Augustine to turn to. We have them all, taking from each what they are able to contribute to a reformed catholic church. For us, scripture, tradition, and reason work together by God’s grace to help us better understand what God is saying now, creating now.
The Roman Catholic Church, especially for its life long members, offers identity, structure, and certainty that the Anglican traditions of the Episcopal Church cannot offer. What it can offer is welcome, the Eucharist, and God’s abounding and steadfast love for all who enter its doors. That’s why it may be a way station for those who need time away for rest and healing.
Got questions? Drop me a line. You’ll get a Country Parson kind of answer.