The Anglo Catholic Egyptian Captivity
by Fr Dwight Longenecker
I have just spent a most exciting, fascinating, nostalgic and emotional day. I was present at the reception into full communion with the Catholic Church, of the priests and people of Mount Calvary Church in Baltimore.
Mount Calvary has a venerable history within the Anglo Catholic movement. Founded in the mid-1800s as the first of the churches influenced by the Oxford Movement, their first pastor, Fr Curtis, travelled to England and was received into the Catholic Church by Newman himself and the returned to the USA to eventually become a Catholic bishop.
This weekend the congregation of Mount Calvary took the step into the Catholic Church through the new Ordinariate of the Chair of St Peter erected by Pope Benedict XVI at the beginning of this month.
For me it was a most moving experience. I was an Anglican for fifteen years, and for ten of those years was a priest in the Church of England. When the Anglican liturgy is celebrated well there is nothing quite like it. From a purely aesthetic point of view, it is, without a doubt, the most sublime and transcendent celebration of the divine liturgy in the English language. When the celebration is also fully Catholic the experience is, for an old Anglophile like me, most moving.
One of the aspects which was so moving about the Mass this morning was the knowledge of just how much suffering was behind this final reconciliation. For the last thirty of forty years the Anglican Communion has been in turmoil. First over the radical innovation of women’s ordination, now over the revolution in the understanding of marriage. Traditionalists have been castigated, ignored, marginalized and vilified. They have seen their numbers decimated as thousands of priests and laypeople have left for Catholicism, the continuing Anglican churches or the golf course.
Anglo Catholics have been like the Hebrews in their Egyptian captivity. Bound to a system that was intrinsically rooted in the ways of the world, the mainstream Anglican leadership have behaved like petty Pharaohs. When Anglo Catholic congregations wanted to pull out and take the property which for years they have maintained and improved and paid for, the Episcopal authorities have dragged them through the courts, pushed them out, and even would rather have their abandoned buildings used as mosques than to allow any Anglican group to use them for worship.
When the Anglo Catholics in the Church of England suggested that they might retain some of their churches, or just perhaps share the churches the Archbishop of Canterbury gave a woolly smile which was more like a grimace and said, “The sharing of churches is still presenting a challenge to us.” Which was to say, “Not a snowball’s chance in hell that you blokes are going to set a foot in any of our churches.” Never mind that they were Catholic churches to start with, and never mind that the Church of England has for more churches than they can possibly ever know what to do with.
Were the Anglo Catholics in an Egyptian captivity? Well, no one made them make bricks, and it’s true nobody made the dissident traditionalists stay, but neither did they make them feel welcome. Now, at last, the Anglo Catholics have a way into the promised land. Like a latter day Moses, Pope Benedict XVI has given them a way out. They can retain their beautiful Anglican liturgy and heritage while being in full communion with the Catholic Church. In his gentle way Pope Benedict is saying to the Anglican leadership, “Let my people go!”
All that remains is for the Anglicans who are captive in Egypt to find the courage and faith to follow Moses. To leave Egypt means to leave the secure job, the secure home, the friends and family. We must remember just how hard it is to step out of the comfort zone and take the step of faith. We must remember how the Israelite children, once they were in the wilderness, longed to return to the comfort of Egypt. Suddenly they preferred the slavery they knew to the freedom they did not know.
The Episcopalian and Church of England Pharaohs may need to let the Anglo Catholics go (indeed they will be happier without them) but the Anglo Catholics also need to pack their bags, grasp their walking sticks, put on their sandals and get ready to set out for the promised land. That they will face a time in the wilderness is part of the story, but if they can take this step, the new Ordinariate of the Chair of St Peter and the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham will get off to a flying start. A new direction will be taken toward church unity–one which may reap benefits in the future which we cannot now imagine.