Step by Step

With no less than three certificates declaring me a member of the Anglican Church now, it was very moving to be formally welcomed through the Rite of Reception in a beautiful celebration of the Easter Vigil – Christ is risen, alleluia!

So, you may ask — how am I doing in all this? Extremely well, thank you. This entire experience continues to be a fascinating school in spiritual lessons and especially, in discernment. The fruits of these lessons are God’s gracious gifts. Could it be that fruits such as these further authenticate the path now embarked upon? Could it be that such lessons can serve as markers in any situation, a way of assessing whether important life steps are truly being taken honestly and thoughtfully, with both personal and communal integrity? I’m sharing some of these lessons below, inviting you the reader to find parallels in your own ways of making life choices. This sharing is not an end in itself nor a way to draw attention to myself. Rather, my prayer and hope is that the sharing can help all of us develop healthy and wholesome pathways to fullness in Christ, which is the baptismal call of all God’s holy people.

I sensed the authenticity of this call into the Anglican family of faith from the moment this new beckoning began over one year ago; its time had truly come, it was for real, and it originated in God. That certainty never wavered – each day in this past year of preparation peace, clarity and joy were my constant companions. Even when faced with seeming “setbacks” or unexpected challenges this threesome provided an anchor, orienting me gently and surely to the learning and the growing here and now. There is a calm wholeness to the current move that was noticeably absent ten years ago when I first considered turning onto this Canterbury trail. God is so very good and full of surprises …

Honesty, intentionality and integrity are among the primary values I strive to live by. That is why the denominational transition did not proceed 10 years ago; I knew in my heart of hearts that proceeding then would have seriously lacked the personal and ecclesial integrity both I and the Anglican tradition deserved despite all my best efforts (and the support of many) in that intense love affair. I know others who have changed traditions out of frustration and anger; that did not sit right for me. I couldn’t ground such a switch in motives that were too mixed and utilitarian, in energy that was too negative, with too much unresolved ecclesial baggage tagging along like a stowaway. Even if no one notices on the outside, the fact is that I would know on the inside. And it would feel way too much like building my house on sand … Maybe that’s why I received three certificates — just to make sure the Anglican piece sticks this time … 🙂

For today is a different story. Don’t get me wrong though; the past ten years have been filled with rich ministry opportunities, both in RC and ecumenical circles, and I am deeply grateful for God’s faithfulness in all these years. But today is a new day, a new invitation. There is a distinct qualitative shift to the way the Anglican beckoning entered my life’s orbit this time: unexpected, unbidden and undeserved, yet playing intimately and skillfully the strings of my desire in ways calling forth the very best I can be for God and with God’s holy people. The beautiful gift of today’s undivided heart now makes possible a new capacity to embrace and surrender to whatever the future holds in peace, trust and joy.

Every Sunday, for two whole months before Easter, I made a 215 km round-trip to go to the mother church in this Anglican Diocese, St. John the Evangelist in Saskatoon, along with my sponsor. We joined other adults with their sponsors who were preparing for their final step in joining the Anglican Church (Confirmation in their case). After having coordinated RCIA in my years of RC pastoral ministry, it was interesting to now find myself on the other end of that process, and I am immensely grateful for the opportunity.

Every Sunday we began the Eucharistic service with the entire congregation until, after the homily, the priest would call us up, pray a blessing over us and dismiss us. We would then go to the adjacent parish hall where we would have our catechetical session for the day. We shared prayer, our lives, our questions and thoughts about how to grow more fully into our common baptismal calling as Christ’s disciples. We learnt about the distinct features of Anglican discipleship in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church of Jesus.

I thoroughly appreciated this preparation process; it was exactly what my heart and spirit needed, making the journey towards formal reception in a spirit of community and prayer. On the outside it maybe looked tiny and insignificant, esp. for me who has studied and ministered so extensively in many church settings, both Roman Catholic and ecumenical. I discovered and experienced the gift of slow, the meaning and power of an incremental and ritual “yes” Sunday after Sunday. Each deliberate step into this yes deepened and strengthened my decision in a most inclusive both/and way, i.e. without denying any of what was before but bringing it along in a new configuration – how very Anglican. And each Sunday my joy, peace and clarity grew in depth and breadth, enabling me to make the Anglican tradition my new home. Ritual truly does deepen one’s experience.

Hard as it was, I fasted from receiving communion for the two months of preparation at the Cathedral along with the other group members. This made Holy Communion at the Easter Vigil extra special, almost as a “first communion” all over again. What a nourishing gift the Eucharist can be to famished souls and parched spirits. This awareness grew steadily in the weeks of Eucharistic fasting. Sometime in early March, I attended a Eucharist on a weekday. I had become acutely aware of my hunger for the Bread from Heaven; here was an opportunity to receive and I so desired to do so. Yet receiving would have broken my solidarity with the group and would undoubtedly have affected my experience of receiving Holy Communion at Easter. I struggled in the pew with my famished spirit; even when I went up to the communion rail I still didn’t know what I would end up doing. But then I knelt down, crossed my arms across my chest, received a blessing,  and thanked God for the depth of my Eucharistic hunger – what a beautiful gift this awareness is now.

On Good Friday I sought out the sacrament of Reconciliation (yes, Anglicans can do this and some in fact do!). It was an emotional experience to name and leave behind all the hurts of the past, all those I have hurt and to forgive those who have wronged me. It was an opportunity to check for unwelcome and unhealthy stowaways in heart-mind-spirit, and to seek God’s mercy in ridding myself of these. I even asked forgiveness for things that happened ten years ago which, I learnt recently, have sown distrust in some Anglicans about today’s denominational change because of memories of feeling used and betrayed by my transition struggle at that time. Through tears of repentance God’s mercy flowed generously, setting me free for this new leg on the journey.

And so, my joy was full and deep in that Easter Vigil, fueled not only by a renewal of faith in the risen Christ, not only by the gracious hospitality of the Cathedral parish, but also buoyed by the supportive presence of my RC spouse, my oldest son, members of my Anglican home parish who made the 215 km round-trip just for me, and several Roman Catholic friends. How important community is …

Each step savoured and cherished,
each word pondered and chosen to perfection.
No running and rushing, no tripping or regrets …
Slow motion in momentous choices
adding spice and reflection, depth and meaning
while sprinkling clarity and peace
in heart and mind.
Infusion of courage and patience
in a spirit trembling in fear and joy …

Each slow step affirming yes
falling into a future known
only by tomorrow
featuring glowing colours
of pregnant promises of life
ever green, ever fresh, ever new…

And so, in confidence and trust, I surrender to a future known only to God. That is okay, for surely it is God who saves me; I will trust and not be afraid. For the Lord is my stronghold and my sure defense, and he will be my Saviour. (Isaiah 12:1-2)

Prairie Encounters

For previous reflections pertaining to my experience of denominational transition, see the following blog entries:

A Time of Transition

Transition Continued

Transition: The Inside Story

Transition: The Outside Story

Thank you for reading this reflection. For private comments use the contact form below. For public ones, scroll down further to write your thoughts.

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Transition Continued …

“True ecumenism goes beyond theological dialogue;
it touches our spiritual lives and our common witness.
As our dialogue has developed, many Catholics and Anglicans
have found in each other a love for Christ
which invites us into practical co-operation and service.”
Joint declaration by Archbishop Rowan Williams
and Pope Benedict XVI (2006)

It has been a full month since I “came out” as having moved from being a life-long Roman Catholic to becoming a freshly minted Anglican. Needless to say, being on the receiving end of people’s strong reactions has been both overwhelming and full of grace. There’s been a general pattern in how the news has been received: initial shock, profound sadness then moving to delight and joy, clarity and blessing.

My Google searches did not result in many accounts of religious transitions such as the one I am currently living. I wonder if I can fill that gap, for this type of transition occurs way more frequently than is publicly visible. As my now Anglican bishop commented: “There’ s a lot of traffic back and forth between our two traditions.” Did you know, for example, that already nearly 25 years ago, the Anglican–Catholic Dialogue produced a document addressing the moving of clergy from one tradition to another? Having said this I do not intend in any way to make light of my decision; it is in many respects monumental and comes at a cost. In the next few blog entries I will reflect on various aspects of this transitioning experience. Who knows, maybe my musings find some resonance in others or at least might contribute to greater understanding.

If you see the donkey of one who hates you
lying down under its burden,
you shall refrain from leaving him with it;
you shall rescue it with him.
~
Exodus 23:5

While many responses are surprisingly supportive, I am learning to foster gratitude for the ones who have been honest enough to express their struggle, disapproval even, in accepting the path I have now chosen. I knew not everyone would “get this” and not everyone has to get this. In fact, it’s the ones that express disagreement who are teaching me the most. The more life decisions are grounded in a deep personal experience of faith and church, the harder it can be for others to “get it.” We ought not be surprised at all that some will look on in bewilderment, shaking their heads.

Certainly it stings when a dear friend says disapprovingly, “You’re jumping the mother ship; how can I possibly support that?” Ouch … apart from her definition of the “mother ship” (according to Vatican II’s Decree on Ecumenism significant elements of the “mother ship” exist beyond the Roman Catholic Church) I am called to honour this person, deeply honour her. The spiritual challenge is crucial and, if engaged with honesty and humility, can be a grace-filled exercise. Such a demanding spiritual exercise is already moving me to respond from within a Anglican ethos of mutual affection while standing in different places and seeing different things, yet making loving space for one another.

A couple of years ago Pope Francis wrote: “Truth is a relationship, modeled on the Trinity.” That line has been twirling itself through my thoughts and feelings, through my actions and motivations: truth, a relationship, a relationship… Keep relationships of love intact as much as possible,  placing this call to love unconditionally above the need to be right and above any urge to defend or argue my point of view. Gone then is any desire to enter a boxing match with anyone. Oh dear, could this be a gift of old age ..?! And how is this response of love to differ from cowardice and fear of argumentation? Perfect love casts out all fear (1 John 4:18).

Dorothy Day’s words speak refreshingly into this liberating mental and affective space: The older I get, the more I meet people, the more convinced I am that we must only work on ourselves, to grow in grace. The only thing we can do about people is to love them.

Thus the first lesson in this transition experience is love, intentional love, no-strings-attached love, painful love; love generously, graciously and deeply, especially those who challenge my loving. Pray and wish me luck, I’m still learning…

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another,
as God in Christ forgave you.
~ Ephesians 4:32

Prairie Encounters

Thank you for reading this. I have included below a selection of the words received from a wide variety of friends and readers without identifying any of them. Unfortunately, most of the struggling ones came in the form of phone calls and personal conversations hard to reflect in this selection. Note that the ~~~ indicates the end of one comment.
If you wish to leave a private comment, use the Contact Form below; for public comments scroll down further to the very end of the posted comments and use the space below “Leave a Reply.”

It is a little difficult for me to reply because I’m still trying to sort out my feelings about this not entirely surprising news. But first of all let me say that I am grateful and honored that you shared this with me, counting me among your many friends.
I am reacting with a huge dose each of admiration and sadness. Your strong sense of God’s call in your life, your willingness to wait in discernment, and certainly your integrity in taking this new path are all causes of my admiration. But you also give words to the very sadness that I feel, a sadness that a Roman Catholic woman has to make this choice. My joy comes from my faith in a God who understands so well our human boundaries, and possibly smiles at them.
I will continue to hold you in prayer, but together with the hope that some day this kind of choice will not have to happen. And I trust you will continue to keep us, your friends, in prayer and connection. ~~~
I have read the news of your journey, much of which I have been blessed to know about and to share in the blessing of the gifts of your journey as they have touched and enriched my own.
As I read somewhat with trepidation, sensing what was coming and not knowing the outcome(I didn’t skip to the end), I found myself breathing a silent sigh of relief when I realized it is the Anglican community in which you choose to continue your journey. I know and have dear friends within their community and feel quite comfortable in their worship. I am saddened to realize that our Catholic tradition does not yet see and allow women in full priestly ministry.
I know how enriching it is for me when I am able to preside at Liturgy of the Word and especially at funeral vigils. I too wonder how and where I am called to best serve. ~~~
God bless you my friend! This is not a complete surprise, and I know how deeply you have searched to find this path. My heart is glad for you. My spirit soars. Thank you for sharing this with me. I feel blessed. Blessings to you and peace. ~~~
Dear Marie Louise – this is momentous news – a decision that I know you have struggled with for many years. Do I think you are making the right decision? Yes I do. You are like a pot that cannot be stirred down from a rolling boil! And I have to admit that you have a lot more energy than I do to make such a huge change in your life. ~~~
Congratulations on your announcement, and the delicate and sensitive way in which you wrote your email message and the longer description on your blog. ~~~
Wow! I don’t mean to make light of your decision as I know you are a person of integrity who takes seriously both faith and tradition… and I just want to say…IT’S ABOUT TIME! If anyone should be presiding at the sacraments it is you. Bravo! The Spirit is indeed wise. ~~~
You have done it. I am so proud of you. The letter is a masterpiece – got me all teary-eyed. ~~~
WOW!, how the Spirit of God moves! Along with a number of others, Marie-Louise, I also recognize and can only very minutely feel what you must of have been going through in your discernment during these many years. And I can certainly not know the depths of your agony mixed together now with the joy of newness in your decision to change from one earthly ecclesial body to another. I could not fathom my own leaving the Lutheran tradition for another even though you and I both recognize we remain in that one great body of the Church centered in Jesus Christ.
At the same time, I will miss your current role to be such an effective bridge out of the R.C. perspective in relation to the rest of us. I know you will continue to build those bridges, but it will be different coming from an alignment outside the R.C. church.
Of course there is no perfect solution on this side of heaven…which also reminds us in a healthy way of our own dependence on wisdom and guidance from beyond ourselves…and that God has the power to work all things together for good (Rom. 8:28). On a personal level, though, I am excited that we can be in full-communion with you now, since that is the state of our Evangelical Lutheran relationship with the Anglican Church! ~~
Thank you for your frank and detailed letter.  I receive it with both deep joy and great pain; joy that your call, heard and pondered for so many years, is hopefully to be answered in priestly ordination, albeit in another tradition within Christ’s Church; pain and regret that the use of your gifts and generous response to a deeply felt and discerned call cannot be lived out fully in our beloved Roman Catholic Church. In that regard, I can only ask, how long, O Lord, how long must we wait? ~~~
I am struggling with words to respond and can only imagine the effort and thought that went into your beautifully crafted letter.  I can only prayerfully echo your words:  “For I wish nothing more than that my personal ecclesial and ministerial journey may serve the quest for Christian Unity in the Body of Christ, a unity so fervently prayed for by Jesus on the final night of his earthly life.” Thank you for the blessing that you have been for me personally and for our Church, and may you continue to be a blessing as you seek to faithfully and joyfully serve Christ, our Lord, and His Church in your new ecclesial home. ~~~
Thanks for the wonderful letter. My prayers are with you in this transition. Congratulations! I am happy for the One Holy Catholic Apostolic Church, for these shifts under-girded and led by the Spirit, and that any resulting cracks may allow all the more the light to shine in. ~~~
I read your letter and I fully understand the pain that this decision has caused for you and your church but from an Anglican perspective it will be a joy to welcome you into our tradition which is another part of the Holy Catholic Church and to support you as you proceed with the discernment process towards your ordination as an priest in the Anglican Church of Canada.  When we feel God’s call to any particular ministry in the church there comes a time when the only thing we can do is to respond by saying yes in the best way we can.  I actually owe my priestly ministry to my step grandmother who was a faithful Roman Catholic but whose care and guidance helped me to respond to my vocation as a priest in the Church.  I know that this will be a difficult time for you but I want you to know that you will be in our thoughts and prayers. ~~~