The 2008 Anglican Use Conference: Three Days of Grace in San Antonio

San Antonio, Texas--The classic arched Anglican red church doors were thrown embracingly wide open, the welcome mat was out and swept clean, the candles were all trimmed and brightly lit, the vivid yellow and white Vatican flag fluttered lazily in a light Lone Star State breeze, the magnificent liturgical vestments were all pressed, pleated and in readiness as a thurible gently smoldered sending whiffs of fragrant incense heavenward. Such was the greeting that the conferees of the 2008 Anglican Use Conference received as they approached their Anglican Use hosts at Our Lady of the Atonement Anglican Use Catholic Parish. And they came...

They came to celebrate the Sacraments. They came to celebrate Our Lady of the Atonement's Silver Jubilee as the mother church of the Anglican Usage of the Roman Rite. They came to celebrate the profound joy of their unity with the Holy Father. They came to celebrate their unique Anglican heritage replete with Elizabethan English, their own Book of Divine Worship and married priests. The came to celebrate the first 25 years of their unity in diversity in the Catholic Church. And they came...

They came to encourage and to be encouraged. They came to support and be supported. They came to affirm and be affirmed. And they came...

They came with questions born out of the painful frustration and confusion surrounding the implosion and the spiritual decline of the Episcopal Church. They came with answers born out of joyful experience and spiritual growth having come from attaching to the Vicar of Christ. And they came ...

They came to explore, investigate and discern. They came to teach, share and show the way for others to follow in their footsteps to full and complete unity with the Great Latin Church of the West.

They came from the Archdiocese of San Antonio, Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, the Diocese of Ft. Worth and the Diocese of Corpus Christi ...

They came from Arizona, Missouri, Wyoming, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maine, New York, Illinois, Maryland, California ...

They came -- the archbishops, bishops, monsignors, priests, deacons, religious and the laity. They came -- the Roman Catholics, the Anglicans, the Episcopalians, and even the Orthodox ...

They came... more than 200 devoted seekers came to the edge of the desert Southwest in the heat of the summer to experience their common Catholic unity, unique Anglican heritage and special Pastoral Provision, which allows former Episcopal Anglicans to live out their Anglo-Catholic faith fully united with the Holy Father, under the Magisterium of the Catholic Church with a special provision which allows them to continue enjoying their historical form of worship and historic Anglican-style traditions. For three grace-filled days the Anglican Use Conference attendees joined together in prayer, fellowship, understanding, inclusion, joy and a commonality in worship, piety and ethos.

The crux of the whole movement is the Pastoral Provision to the Anglican Usage of the Roman Rite. The Anglican Use proviso, the Vatican allows, is unique in that it permits married Episcopal clergy to become full-fledged Roman Catholics seek the fullness of Catholic priestly ordination and yet maintain their own familiar Anglican-style of worship with some subtle changes. So far, since the Pastoral Provision has been put into place in 1980, well over 100 Episcopal clerics have become Catholic and sought priestly ordination. The first Episcopal clergyman to be ordained as a Roman Catholic priest under the Pastoral Provision is the Rev. Fr. Jim Parker.

"We are a direct result of Vatican II," explained the Rev. Fr. Christopher Phillips, pastor of Our Lady of the Atonement Anglican Use Catholic Church the proud host of this year's Anglican Use Conference.

Fr. Phillips, himself, was successfully ordained as a Roman Catholic priest in 1983 by the Most Rev. Patrick Flores, then archbishop of the Archdiocese of San Antonio. Now Fr. Phillips and his 500 family congregation of more than 1500 souls are celebrating 25 years as the first Anglican Use personal parish in the United States. Twenty-five years ago his fledging community of Episcopal converts numbered 18, including his wife and three children. Now the congregation has grown, an impressive church complex has been erected, and a vibrant, growing 450 student body school is in full swing as a testament to the power of prayer, faith, dedication, commitment and perseverance.

The Anglican Use Conference brought together an interesting, eclectic community of inquirers. Episcopal and Anglican priests seeking answers came from various Anglican and Anglican-like jurisdictions and Anglo-Catholic organizations including but not limited to The Episcopal Church, The Episcopal Communion, the Reformed Episcopal Church, Forward in Faith, the Common Cause Partnership, the Convocation of Anglicans in America, the Anglican Mission in America, and others. Each seeker in his own heart was saying "Enough is enough!" and was honestly asking "Is the beauty of truth fully contained in the Roman Catholic Church?" By attending the 2008 Anglican Use Conference they hoped to get the answers to the questions which have been plaguing their current spiritual journey in Anglicanism.

One key to unlocking the answers is in the Pastoral Provision which allows a married Episcopal priest to renounce his Anglican priestly orders and be welcomed into the Catholic fold through an affirmation of faith and confirmation. Finally after a period of prayer, discernment, waiting and theological studies he might be ordained a Roman Catholic priest.

However, it is not as easy as it looks. When an Episcopal priest finally decided that the time has come to make a move he must take several things into consideration. First his wife and their family needs, then the needs of his Episcopal/Anglican parish, finally himself. For a while there seems to be more questions than answers. Is his wife willing to make the change to Catholicism with him? Is the local Catholic diocese willing to take on and work with a Pastoral Provision convert priest? After he renounces his Episcopal priesthood, how will he support his family during the transitional period of up to several years time? Where will he find housing for himself and his family? Is he becoming Catholic by himself or is his family turning also or even members of his current parish who will continue to look to him for leadership and direction as they, too, embrace Catholicism? If his parish is not converting with him, is he leaving behind wounded, confused and hurt church members? How Will he be received understood by his own extended family members, his friends, his former Episcopal parishioners, and the other priests he's leaving behind in Anglicanism? How will he be received by his new brothers in the Catholic priesthood, and a new Catholic parish?

In a series of planned presentations and a round robin discussion of the interlacing topics the Anglican Use Conferees explored the various facets of the Pastoral Provision and its implications. "The practical issues loom large," explained Oliver Vietor, a former Episcopal priest from Phoenix, Arizona who is currently in the throws of working his way through the Pastoral Provision process. "Especially when you have a wife and five children. There was uncertainty, the unknown, and the risk."

The former Fr. Vietor is one of the Pastoral Provision priest candidates who is coming over to Roman Catholicism with a small congregation intact -- four couples and a handful of children. Yet all of the Anglican Use parishes, even such large and prosperous ones as Our Lady of the Atonement, Our Lady of Walsingham in Houston and St. Mary the Virgin in Arlington near Ft. Worth, started out with such humble beginnings -- a committed priest, his family, a few other congregants and their combined commitment to "swim the Tiber" and establish a fledgling Anglican Use parish under the protection of the Pastoral Provision and a friendly and accommodating local Catholic bishop.

"To grow something solid takes time," Vietor reflected. "The progress is in the process."

He said that seeing what Our Lady of the Atonement finally became gives him great encouragement and hope as a testimony to perseverance because he was in fact starting over again. The role of the Pastoral Provision priest's wife is unique in Catholicism. Most Catholics are not use to having married priests, sharing him with his family and dealing with his wife. However, many Catholic converts are used to married clergy because they come from other Christian traditions which maintain a married pastorate.

Other interesting quandaries which crop up with Pastoral Provision priests is that once the priests are ordained in the Roman Catholic Church they are usually not permitted "the ordinary care of souls" which means, that other than an Anglican Use parish, they are not called to a parish pulpit. This is two-fold because the demands on a Catholic parish priest is such that many times he is considered a part of the extended parish family and there would be clashes which arise with a married priest in meeting the time demands of both his parish family and his own wife and children. This is when the "fatherhoods" compete with the priest being both "Fr. X" and "Dad".

"You have to understand," explained the Rev. Fr. Eric Bergman, the Pastoral Provision priest with the St. Thomas More Society in Scranton, Penn. "I have an obligation to the fatherhood of my household."

"There is no more demand on my life as a priest than other professionals," Fr. Phillips said, noting that doctors and other professionals have crushing work-related demands on their time, too.

"It goes to the availability of the priest to be available to attend to the sacramental needs of the faithful," explained the Rev. Msgr. William Stetson, the secretary to the Ecclesiastical Delegate of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for the Pastoral Provision. His The Monsignor's office is headquartered at Our Lady of Walsingham.

The Monsignor explained that it was very difficult for a married priest to be immediately available to meet the sacramental needs of the faithful due to possible family conflicts. This is why usually a Pastoral Provision priest is not given the ordinary care of souls in an traditional Catholic parish.

Secondarily, it costs a parish more to provide for the financial needs of a married clergyman and his family than it does to provide room and board and stipend for a single celibate priest. A married priest's needs a greater income to provide a roof over the head of his family, feed and cloth them, afford medical care and prepare for the children's college years. Then come the grandchildren...

"If you think that married clergy is a solution to the shortage of clergy," the Monsignor said. "It is not!"

"For me the priesthood comes first, last and always," affirmed Fr. Hawkins the Pastoral Provision priest at St. Mary the Virgin Anglican Use Catholic Parish in Arlington, Texas.

Fr. Hawkins' bishop, the Most Rev. Kevin Vann, bishop of the Diocese of Ft. Worth explained that a priest's wife has an important role to play and place in her husband's Catholic formation and ministry as a Pastoral Provision priest. But that it is on a different dimension similar to that of a deacon's wife.

"My wife went to RCIA and I went to 'supportive'," explained the Rev. Fr. Jeffrey Hopper, the Pastoral Provision priest at St. James Catholic Church in Elizabethtown, Ky. It was Fr. Hopper's wife Betsy who converted to Catholicism first and he was caught up in the process through 'supporting' her RCIA experience.

Now at 50, Fr. Hopper is not only a married Catholic priest and the associate pastor at St. James he is also a grandfather who relishes in his Catholic priesthood.

"Everyday I get to celebrate the Mass I thank God," Fr. Hopper said as his face breaking into a broad grin and the joy of the priesthood radiating deep from within.

The Pastoral Provision is unique to the United States. First it provides for "Anglican Use" parishes to be established within a Roman Catholic diocese with the permission of the diocesan bishop. Currently established Pastoral Provision parishes, missions and congregations are: Our Lady of the Atonement in the Archdiocese of San Antonio; Our Lady of Walsingham in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston; St. Mary the Virgin in the Diocese of Ft. Worth; St. Anselm of Canterbury Mission in the Diocese of Corpus Christi; Church of the Good Shepherd in the Diocese of Charleston; St. Athanasius Congregation in the Archdiocese of Boston; and the St. Thomas More Society of St. Clare Church in the Diocese of Scranton.

Two new Anglican Use congregations are being raised up in the Diocese of Phoenix and the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph under the welcoming embraces of Bp. Thomas Olmsted and Bp. Robert Finn, respectively.

Secondarily the Pastoral Provision allows for Episcopal clerics who have renounced their Anglican priesthood to convert to and embrace the truth and beauty of Roman Catholicism and to seek their ordination in the Catholic priesthood following a time of prayers, discernment and study. During the past quarter century about 100 Episcopal priests have been reordained Catholic priests through the Pastoral Provision. Another 20 are in various stages of discernment and the conversion and academic process which takes at least three years to complete.

Fr. Phillips told his fellow Anglican friends the reason behind his becoming a Catholic was that he was searching for a spiritual home which did not have a constantly shifting foundation.

"With the Pastoral Provision there is no excuse to remain outside..." he invited.

The Pastoral Provision statute originally came out of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on July 22, 1980 and was approved by Pope John Paul II in June of that year. The Pastoral Provision provides for compassionate way in which Episcopal priests can be reconciled to and embraced by the Roman Catholic Church and, after a period of theological re-education and catechetical training, seek reordination in the Catholic priesthood.

However a married Pastoral Provision priest will never be raised to the episcopate nor can he remarry should he be widowed, following the same discipline of chastity of a married deacon or a married priest in the Eastern Rite.

The statute also provides for a Pastoral Provision priest to bring members of his former congregation along with him to the fullness of the Catholic Church and together they form an Anglican Use worshipping community with a common Anglican identity played out in an Anglican Use liturgy taken from the Book of Divine Worship and in an Anglican-style parish life.

Our Lady of the Atonement, Our Lady of Walsingham, and St. Mary the Virgin -- all of which happen to be in Texas -- are fine examples of an established and thriving Anglican Use parish life being lived out to its fullest complete with its own church edifice.

There was much more to the Anglican Use Conference than learning more about the ins and outs of the Pastoral Provision and Anglican Use guidelines and canons, there was the meeting and greeting of old and new friends, multiple corporate worship experiences and the Breaking of Bread not only around Our Lady of the Atonement's High Altar, but also around the tables in the parish hall where out-of-state visitors and guests encountered the finest in Tex-Mex cuisine -- Mexican dishes with a Texas flair.

Conferees made full use of Our Lady of the Atonement's grand facilities including the church, the commons, the parish hall, the library, and the parlor area all connected by sunlit passages and a sweeping staircase which is protected by an angel with unfurled wings.

As Anglican Use life continues on in the Catholic Church it grows and thrives and looks forward toward the future.

When Anglican Use Society President Joseph Blake was asked where the next Anglican Use Conference might be held. He indicated in Texas.

"Where in Texas?"

He was reluctant to reveal the locality because the Ordinary had not yet been contacted for his consent.

"Does he ordinarily wear red?"

The Anglican Use Society president silently flushed.

"Houston!" was the educated guess.

When the final assembly was formally adjoined, Pres. Blake closed the gathering with, "Next year ... Houston!"

"The eagle has landed," retorted the Rev. Fr. Bruce Noble from Our Lady of Walsingham.

The doors to the church, about to be opened wide.
Fr. Chistopher Phillips welcoming conferees
Archbishop Gomez of San Antonio
The inside of Our Lady of the Atonement Church
The Rood Screen
Fr. Phillips in cope
Fathers Eric Bergman and Allan Hawkins in procession
Monsignor William Stetson
Archbishop John Myers of Newark, Ecclesiastical Delegate for the Pastoral Provision
One of the many visiting clergy
Dr. Jeffrey Steenson delivers his talk
Conferee at prayer in church
Anglican Use Society president Joe Blake
Fr. Bruce Noble