Let me speak from the heart. I was an Anglican for fifteen years: for most of that time I was an Anglican in England, first a theological student, then a priest. My visit this weekend to Church of the Atonement, San Antonio, made me feel nostalgic for those days, and for the great traditions of the Anglican Church.
When I go on to the Anglo-Catholic blogs like Anglican Wanderings and others I feel even more nostalgia for the Anglican Church and all its many treasures. Not only do I feel nostalgia for the fine buildings, the exquisite choral tradition, the hearty and glorious hymns and the quaint customs. I also feel nostalgia for the people. It is easy for me to poke fun at the typical Anglican liberal with his goofy views and gooey theology. However, I realize that there are many Anglicans spread now throughout Anglicanism and the various Anglican breakaway groups who only wish to remain faithful to ‘Mere Christianity’ and wish to preserve the historic Christian faith.
In visiting Church of the Atonement, I was saddened at how few Anglicans have taken advantage of the Vatican’s offer within the Pastoral Provision. The Catholic Church has said, “Have your own liturgy, have your own buildings, have married priests.” Only a handful of Anglican clergy and people (it seems) have even considered the possibility. What does this say about the Anglican’s goodwill and ecumenical intent?
I realize the Anglican Use is not allowed in England, but would many more Anglicans really have taken advantage of it if it were? I doubt it. I don’t know what has kept more Anglicans from responding positively here in the United States. Perhaps it is what would have to be sacrificed to make it go. Fr Phillips went with a wife and three young children across the country and was offered a mere $1,000.00 a month. On this he was to support his family, start a church and minister full time. He went to minister to just 18 people at first.
This is what would be required: to step out in faith and do something new. To step out and be prepared to risk all, to work hard, to be misunderstood and to trust God totally. That sort of heroic faith is hard to come by.
Nevertheless, whether they come and pioneer the Anglican Use as Fr Phillips has done, and as has been done in a handful of other places in the US, or whether they come, leaving all to join the Catholic Church with no conditions–as Fr Jeffrey Steel has done this weekend–these faithful men and their courageous wives and families must be welcomed with open arms, with generous hearts and with willing response of faith.
The convert clergy bring great gifts to the Catholic Church, but they also receive much. I can say from my own experience that even the smallest step of faith yields a rich harvest over time.
What is the greatest thing any non-Catholic can do to further Church unity? The answer is simple: become a Catholic. As they bring their gifts, their faith, their enthusiasm and their love for Christ and his Church they will bring others and the cascade of graces will continue to overflow–blessing them, their families, their church and the whole Church of Christ.
This cascade of blessings will also come with a whole raft of difficulties, sacrifices and agonies, but these also are only a part of the greater blessings which are in store. For those who faithfully take the step the blessings will be abundant and will come in more mysterious and moving ways than you can yet imagine.
My encouragement to Jeffrey and any others who may be paying attention is this: Launch out into the deep. The Savior is calling you to do some serious wave walking. Step out of the boat. He will not fail you, and as you step out, remember that it was Peter who did this before you and it is he that you choose to follow all the way home.