In 1994 I was an Anglican priest on the Isle of Wight. I had a wife and two young children. We lived in a beautiful Victorian vicarage in the country. I had two beautiful Norman churches to look after. (Brading Church pictured above)
My church was growing. My congregation were loving and kind. I wanted to stay there forever. Then the Church of England pulled the rug out from under me, and I began to plan a big adventure: swimming the Tiber.
Here’s some advice for Anglican priests who are now in the situation I was in then. If you’re an Anglican reading this, forward the post, put it on your blog, add a link, spread the news.
1. If you’re thinking of coming home to Rome make sure you know why you’re doing it. Dislike of women clergy isn’t enough.
The women bishops crisis should be causing you to examine the real status of the Anglican Church and the real claims of the Catholic Church.
2. Read Eamon Duffy, Christopher Haigh and Jack Scarisbrick to really understand what happened in the sixteenth century.
3. Practice your wave walking. You’re going to have to step out of your little family fishing boat and walk on the waves for a bit. The weather is stormy. You’ll probably both sink and swim, but you’ll feel great because you’re going with Peter, and once you’ve been hauled aboard the barque of Peter you’ll be home.
4. Network with others who are thinking of leaving. Encourage each other. Don’t feed your illusions about the Anglican Church. Think clearly. Speak clearly and do not be afraid. Network with those who took the step last time around. Make contacts in the Catholic Church.
5. Get in touch with the St Barnabas Society. They’ve been helping clergy converts for over a hundred years. I used to work for them. They have the resources to help you. They have former Anglican priests on their staff who work as pastoral advisors. They will never pressure you. They offer advice in total confidence.
6. You’re going to be one of God’s great gifts to the Catholic Church. Unfortunately, not all Catholics (including a good number of the English bishops) believe this. Be prepared for the fact that some Catholics will not welcome you with open arms.
7. Don’t come to the Catholic Church with conditions. Don’t expect instant ordination. Don’t expect anything except to be humbly received and begin life as a Catholic layman. A friend of mine who was a former Protestant pastor was a Catholic for two years, and after sitting in the pew patiently his pastor said, ‘I’ve got a job I’d like you to do…” “Yes father?” “Would you run the Bingo on the second Tuesday of the month?…”
8. If you’re applying to be ordained, to see a bishop, for a dispensation from the vow of celibacy, for a job… be patient. They don’t call Rome ‘the eternal city’ for nothing.
9. Be prepared for a huge outpouring of grace in your life. Anglo Catholicism is wonderful, but the the reality, the truth, the fullness and the glory of the Catholic Church will almost be tangible as you take this step of faith.
10. Be prepared for the English Catholic Church. We have liberals in the Catholic Church too. Be prepared to be suspected of being a misogynistic crank. Be prepared to be misunderstood and marginalized.
11. You may have to give up beautiful vestments, beautiful music, beautiful buildings, beautiful liturgy. The Catholic Church in England is, in many ways, still an underground church of immigrants, the poor, the dispossessed, the scorned and the marginalized. Cheer up! You’re moving from a boring established church to being part of the greatest subversive, underground revolutionary movement the world has ever seen.
12. Trust in God. I wish I could tell you my whole story, but I promise you, if you step out in faith God will not let you down. In the end no sacrifice for him and for his kingdom goes unrewarded. Your courage, your step of faith will inspire others. It will unlock graces in the world that you cannot now see. Are you concerned for your faithful people? That is beautiful, but when they see you step out in faith and give all for Christ they will be so amazed and enraged and disturbed and inspired that they will never forget it.
SPECIAL OFFER: For any bona fide Anglican priest who writes and asks, I will arrange a free copy of my book The Path to Rome–Modern Journeys to the Catholic Faith. Just drop me an email.