Has anyone wondered what's been the overall reaction to the events surrounding the Ordination of the Openly Gay Bishop in New Hampshire. Well this story has come out on-line this morning on the New York Times website, thought I'd share. Many Episcopalians are joining the Catholic Church while some more "Progressive" Christians are becoming Episcopalians. I thought it was an interesting read...
Some Quit, Some Join Episcopal Church
Decision to Ordain Gay Bishop Triggers Wave of Church Switching
By LAURIE GOODSTEIN, The New York Times
The decision this year by the Episcopal Church USA to ordain an openly gay bishop has set off a wave of church switching, according to dozens of interviews with clergy members and parishioners across the country.
Some lifelong Episcopalians have left their churches, saying the vote to affirm a gay bishop was the last straw in what they saw as the church's long slide away from orthodoxy. Many of these people have started attending Roman Catholic churches.
"It breaks my heart," said Shari de Silva, a neurologist in Fort Wayne, Ind., who converted from Episcopalian to Catholic this year. "I think the Episcopal Church is headed down the path to secular humanism."
Some Episcopal parishes, meanwhile, are welcoming clusters of new members, many from Roman Catholic churches, who say they want to belong to a church that regards inclusivity as a Christian virtue. The newcomers include singles and families, gay people and straight people.
"I don't see how and why God would want his church, his worshipers, his sons and daughters to become carbon copies of each other," said Youssef El-Naggar, a former Catholic in Front Royal, Va., who recently joined an Episcopal church there.
While the switching is not always between the Episcopal and Catholic Churches, this appears to be the most common kind. Episcopal and Catholic Church officials say it is too early for them to tally the gains or losses. At the start of the year, the Episcopal Church USA claimed about 2.3 million members, the Catholic Church about 65 million.
It was only in June that the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire elected the Rev. V. Gene Robinson, who has been openly living with a male partner, to be their next bishop. In August, Bishop-elect Robinson was approved by delegates at the church's general convention (who also affirmed that some dioceses are celebrating gay unions). After months of controversy, he was consecrated in November.
The Catholic Church has reiterated its position on homosexuality, one that is a stark contrast to the Episcopal Church's. In July, the Vatican denounced homosexual acts as "deviant behavior" and said the church could not condone gay marriage or adoptions by gay couples. In September, the American Catholic bishops said they would support a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.
While it is too soon to assess the fallout, some Episcopal clergy members told of an unusually high rate of arrivals and departures in recent months.
They said the newcomers were far different from casual "church shoppers" checking out a Sunday sermon. Many of the new arrivals say they intend to join, and some have already been confirmed or received into the church by their bishops.
"They're not coming in as they used to even three years ago announcing, `I'm just church shopping, I'm just looking around,' " said the Rev. Elizabeth M. Kaeton, rector of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Chatham, N.J. "The people I've seen recently have come to me and said, `Sign me up, I'm ready.' "
Ms. Kaeton, who is openly gay, supported the ordination of Bishop Robinson but said she had not dwelled on the issue in her church. She said her parish of about 300 families had recently gained 15 new members, many of them from Catholic churches, and lost one to a Catholic church.
Even for some heterosexuals, the Episcopal Church's stance on homosexuality was the main reason for switching. Mr. El-Naggar, a retired C.I.A. officer and college instructor, said that when he read the news about the church's decision to back Bishop Robinson, he got out the Yellow Pages and phoned the closest Episcopal church.
He said he was pleased to discover that the rector at Calvary Episcopal Church was a woman, because he had always questioned the Catholic Church's opposition to ordaining women. He now attends Calvary Episcopal and said he had been stunned at the open theological debate there over homosexuality and other issues.
"I am trying to be a good Christian, and I have never felt that spiritual freedom I feel now in the Episcopal Church," Mr. El-Naggar said.
Some new Episcopalians also mentioned that the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church had caused them to rethink their affiliation. First came revelations that some bishops had covered up abuse, then some Vatican and American officials suggested that gay priests were to blame for the problem.
"We felt increasingly alienated by the Catholic Church," said Robert J. Martin, 56, a lawyer in Philadelphia who lives with his partner, Mark S. Petteruti, 45, a horticulturist.
Both men were cradle Catholics. Until 1988, Mr. Martin was a Catholic priest in the Augustinian order.
This year a deacon at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Philadelphia invited them to join a small group of gay church members who meet once a month for dinner. The couple soon began attending Sunday services at St. Paul's, which is directly across the street from the Catholic church where, 30 years ago, Mr. Martin was ordained a priest.
"What was most impressive was the fact that the straight people were welcoming us as a couple, and as potential members of the congregation," Mr. Martin said. "We felt included and affiliated almost immediately."
In Fort Wayne, Dr. de Silva moved in the opposite direction. She was raised Episcopalian and was bringing up two adopted children in that church. But, she said, she could not accept the church's stance on homosexuality because it violates the first commandment, to be faithful to God. She said she objected when her children were taught about gay rights in church Sunday school.
She began attending St. Elizabeth Anne Seton Catholic Church. She has read the catechism cover to cover, she said, and has already been confirmed.
"The advantage of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches is that there is a central authority that tends to hold the church together, and unfortunately the Anglican experiment, which was a wonderful experiment for almost 500 years, lacked that," Dr. de Silva said.
For many the move between the Episcopal and Catholic Churches is a natural transition. The Episcopal Church, which is the American branch of Anglicanism, is considered the bridge between Roman Catholic and Protestant Christianity.
For three decades, these two denominations have seen plenty of back and forth, said Robert Bruce Mullin, professor of history, world mission and modern Anglican studies at the General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church in New York. As the Episcopal Church began ordaining women and dropped the ban on communion for divorced people, Professor Mullin said, conservative Episcopalians began to leave, while many socially liberal Catholics began to join.
"It's hard to remember that 30 years ago, the Episcopal Church was one of the more conservative churches on issues of social morality," he said.
Since the 1970's, when Episcopalians began building a network of churches that agreed to be open and accepting toward homosexuality, gay Catholics have been quietly joining Episcopal parishes.
Among clergy members, it is not unusual to find Episcopal priests, especially women, who are converts from Catholicism. Clergy crossovers also go in the other direction. A small number of married Episcopal priests are now allowed to minister in Roman Catholic churches that lack their own clergy members.
But the pace of church swapping among parishioners appears to have picked up this year. In some cases, whole groups have jumped.
About 25 percent of the congregation at St. Francis Episcopal Church in Dallas recently left after the votes on homosexuality, said the rector, the Rev. David M. Allen. Those who left included some of the church's bedrock, like its secretary and the two men who used to volunteer to mow the lawn every Tuesday, Father Allen said. All but one left for Catholic churches, he said.
The exodus, Father Allen said, was the result of years of dissatisfaction for many parishioners. St. Francis, which had about 300 members, is known as an Anglo-Catholic parish, meaning that in worship style it retained Catholic traditions like a devotion to Mary, the rosary and a solemn high Mass with Gregorian chant. For members long opposed to the ordination of women, a gay bishop was the end of the road.
"I think many people in this parish came to the conclusion that there was the apparent absence of any kind of authority that operates to restrain the Episcopal Church in any way," Father Allen said. "They wanted to be part of a church which they saw as being bigger than American culture, which had an authority which went beyond our cultural conventions."
12-29-03 08:09 EST