It is only a few miles from the modest hamlet of Bladensburg, Maryland, to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. But when the multicultural former Episcopal congregation of St. Luke’s, Bladensburg, arrived at that towering edifice Oct. 9, it marked the joyful completion of what Donald Cardinal Wuerl of Washington called a “significant part of your faith journey.”
There the members of St. Luke’s joined a congregation of 220 in the basilica’s resplendent Crypt Church for a Mass celebrated by Cardinal Wuerl, listened to the ethereal tones of St. Luke’s own singers echo gently against the repeating domes of the crypt’s ceiling, and effectively signed on to help Pope Benedict XVI blaze a new trail for the cause of Anglican-Roman Catholic unity.
St. Luke’s is the first former Episcopal congregation intending to become part of an Anglican ordinariate, a new structure sanctioned by the pope, to be received into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church.
Wuerl received and confirmed a strong majority of the 100-member parish, as well as its rector, the Rev. Mark Lewis, donned in layman’s rather than clerical garb. The parish announced in June that it would seek admission to the prospective U.S. ordinariate.
“I feel wonderful!” St. Luke’s member Gloria Deigh, a native of Sierra Leone, said after the service.
“I’m so excited, humble, and thankful,” said Lewis’s wife, Vickey. “We’ve made our journey home, and we’re unpacking.”
Rome remains a hard sell among many traditional Anglicans, because of historic differences between Rome and Canterbury and other factors. Still, Rome’s groundbreaking offer of ordinariates seems to have increased interest among Anglicans, particularly those within Anglican provinces that have been the most buffeted by doctrinal changes in recent decades.
Cardinal Wuerl, the Vatican’s point man for the American ordinariate, told The Living Church that he stands by his assertion, voiced to fellow prelates four months ago, that the U.S. ordinariate could be formally inaugurated or announced before the end of the year with a starting constituency of up to 100 former Anglican priests and 2,000 laity. “We’re just waiting for word from Rome,” he said.
The American ordinariate would come alongside Our Lady of Walsingham, an ordinariate already operating in the U.K. under the leadership of married former Church of England bishop Keith Newton, now a monsignor. Newton also celebrated the 10 a.m. Mass at St. Luke’s Oct. 16, the day the congregation was to resume services, now under Wuerl’s auspices, at its Bladensburg church.
An ordinariate is also in the works in Australia, according to a recent report, and another such structure is probable in Canada.
Wuerl explained during the Oct. 9 service that, while decades-long efforts continue aiming for a level of agreement sufficient to reunite Anglicans and Roman Catholics, some Anglican groups say “We’re ready” for reunion now. The pope answered that readiness by issuing the apostolic constitution Anglicanorum coetibus in November 2009.
The constitution authorizes the establishment of “personal ordinariates” enabling Anglican groups to move together into full communion with the Holy See but retain some aspects of their Anglican heritage and patrimony. Such groups may use a modified Anglican liturgy and receive oversight from a former Anglican priest or bishop, for example. As well, married Anglican seminarians and priests can become Roman priests (albeit not bishops) within ordinariates. This is intended as a temporary concession; Wuerl said in June that while exceptions will remain possible, future aspirants for priesthood coming from within an ordinariate will be expected to take the vow of chastity.
This provision of the constitution, however, means that the parishioners at St. Luke’s can expect their married rector to return as their spiritual leader after he undergoes any supplemental training deemed necessary to become a Roman Catholic priest, a process that may only take only a few months. During that time, Lewis will serve as the parish’s lay administrator, and the St. Luke’s community will have as its chaplain the Rev. Scott Hurd, who is assisting Wuerl in implementing Anglicanorum coetibus.
The Anglo-Catholic parish left the Episcopal Church in June in search of a clear religious authority, a means to help restore church unity, and the ability to convert as a body while remaining Anglican — all advantages of the ordinariate option. The parish also left on remarkably good terms with the Rt. Rev. John B. Chane, Episcopal Bishop of Washington. Chane helped broker an agreement with the diocese that allowed the congregation to remain in its Bladensburg building under a lease that also provides a purchase option.
Wuerl told St. Luke’s members their reception marked a “joyful completion of a significant part of your faith journey” signaling that “we are moving into the next step of the journey” toward the establishment of the U.S. ordinariate.
As the service began, sustained applause erupted when the candidates for reception were presented by one of their catechism instructors.
Later, the candidates and the rest of the congregation thundered out their “profession of faith” by reciting the Nicene Creed, and then affirming that they “believe and profess all that the Holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God.”
After a further prayer, each member of St. Luke’s diverse international congregation then went forward to be confirmed by the Cardinal — American-born congregants along with natives of Nigeria, Liberia, Sierra Leone, the Bahamas, and El Salvador. Also among them were a few who decided to join in St. Luke’s journey after the parish announced it would seek to enter the ordinariate. They included three former senior wardens of the well known Anglo-Catholic parish of St. Paul’s, K Street, in Washington: A. Weldon Walker, who had been a member of St. Paul’s for 50 years; David B.J. Chase, also St. Paul’s former master of acolytes; and David Lewis, St. Paul’s former assistant master of acolytes.
Susan Mathis, a relative newcomer to St. Luke’s from a local Continuing Anglican parish, said she had felt great peace and gladness had been hers since she made her confession earlier in the week.
“Today … even though I’ve been a Christian, it was like all my life I have been engaged and today was my wedding day,” she said. “This is my resting place forever.”
Fr. Lewis said he had had high expectations about coming into the Washington archdiocese, but that even these were exceeded. “It was very humbling,” he told TLC.
Auburn Faber Traycik in Washington