My neighbor has decided to convert to Catholicism. That’s not news in most cases, people convert all the time. But the neighbor I’m referring to is not a person, it’s a church. St. Timothy’s (soon to be formerly) Episcopal Church, to be exact. With a sanctuary that dates back to 1855, St. Timothy’s is one of the oldest churches in the region and controls a large chunk of land in an area that has otherwise been parceled up into small lots. It’s not surprising that a church with so much tradition should also have a core congregation with very traditional conservative beliefs who have been distressed by the not-so-conservative decisions of their governing body. What surprised me is that they were able to do something about it.
The governing body concerned is, or rather was, the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America. That group, usually just referred to as the Episcopal Church, was formed after the American revolution when the Anglican churches separated themselves from the Church of England (or were kicked out, depending on who you talk to.) Clergy in the Church of England are required to swear allegiance to the King of England as head of the church, and that wasn’t going to happen with clergy in a country that fought for eight years to expel the authority of the king and his evil minions.
So now, 200+ years later, some of those congregations are voting to pledge allegiance to the Catholic Pope in Rome.
How can they do that? Why would they?
I don’t have a full answer to the first question. The Christian Post reports that the congregation voted to leave the Episcopal Diocese and join a Roman Catholic Ordinariate, which is a group formed for former Anglican churches who want to be part of the Catholic church while still retaining their liturgy and tradition. St. Timothy’s is not the first congregation to take this step–two others in the Baltimore area did so last year. The article includes a picture of the former Anglican priests being ordained as Roman Catholic priests, so presumably that is what will happen with the rector of St Timothy’s Church as well. Unfortunately, according to the article, the church will lose its extensive property as part of this move, since they were unable to “reach a settlement” with the diocese as other churches had done.
Why would they take such a difficult drastic move? I would have to say conviction. We’ve lived adjacent to the church (they literally own half of our front yard) for nearly twenty years and in that time spoken to various members, officials and three different rectors. As religion editor of the Catonsville Times, I read their newsletter every month for ten years and frequently interviewed members and staff about events and activities. All the people of St. Tim’s had one thing in common – a strong committed faith to serve the Lord in the manner that they thought best. Each time the governing Episcopal leadership voted in a manner contrary to their beliefs, it seemed like a knife in the side. I think finally they just had enough. They didn’t feel that they could serve God under the mantle of a church that they see as having strayed from the principles of Biblical teaching. (Of course, it was the Roman Catholic church’s straying from Biblical teaching that led the whole formation of the Protestant faith in the first place. These congregations are coming full circle.)
I will be very curious to see how this all works out — and who will take over my front yard.
Information in this article comes from The Christian Post http://www.christianpost.com/news/md-episcopal-congregation-votes-to-join-catholic-church-90521/.
The title of the articles refers to Jeremiah 13:23