One of the few remaining conservative parishes in the Episcopal Diocese of Washington will today announce it will seek admission to an ordinariate, a new structure approved by Pope Benedict XVI that allows Anglican groups worldwide to move together into full communion with the Holy See but retain some aspects of their Anglican heritage and liturgy.
The decision by St. Luke's, Bladensburg, Maryland, a multi-cultural, Anglo-Catholic congregation of some 100 members just outside the District of Columbia, as well as its rector, the Rev. Mark Lewis, to leave the U.S. Episcopal Church (TEC) for the special structure comes after a long period of prayer and discernment by the congregation, and quiet, sensitive conversations with concerned parties.
Parish leaders say the move - approved by unanimous vote of the vestry, which was authorized by two successive annual parish meetings to decide the parish's future affiliation - was not directly prompted by theological differences between St. Luke's international congregation and the Episcopal diocese and national church, but rather that those differences pointed to deeper issues at stake, such as apostolic authority, and finally to more positive reasons to choose the ordinariate, such as helping to restore church unity, and the ability to convert as a body while retaining an Anglican identity.
St. Luke's decision has the prayerful support of Cardinal Donald Wuerl of the Catholic Archdiocses of Washington - who, as the Vatican's choice to implement Anglicanorum coetibus, the Apostolic Constitution authorizing the new Anglican provision, in America - appears likely to announce the formal establishment of the U.S. ordinariate next week.
A "substantial number" of parishes and groups nationwide are already lined up to enter the American jurisdiction, though St. Luke's is only the second TEC parish in the country so far to opt for the ordinariate. (Most other parishes that have left TEC recently have gone to the Anglican Church in North America, a province formed a few years ago under the leadership of former Pittsburgh Episcopal Bishop Robert Duncan and recognized by some but not all provinces of the "official" Anglican Communion.
Conversely, there has been considerable interest in the ordinariate - but also divisions over it - within one branch of the Continuing Anglican Church.)
Remarkably, though, Washington Episcopal Bishop John Chane has also registered support for St. Luke's Romeward move; in fact, he earlier encouraged the parish to consider becoming Roman Catholic, Fr. Lewis said. Nor did the liberal prelate did not stop there: Further defying the norm in TEC, Chane (who retires later this year) also eschewed legal hostilities and instead hammered out a property agreement with the exiting congregation. The agreement (the exact terms of which are not being publicly disclosed) provides for the parish to lease its property with a purchase option.
Thus, the congregation will continue to worship at its current location at 4006 53rd Street, Bladensburg, as it prepares for reception into the Roman Catholic Church later this year, while Fr. Lewis begins the process that will likely lead to his ordination as a Catholic priest - a role for which the Apostolic Constitution makes him eligible even though he is married.
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Bishop Chane is actually operating within the policy that Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori announced at the time she intervened in Bishop Lee's sale of church property to ADV churches in his diocese. She had no objection to the sale of property to congregations that departed from the Episcopal Church as long as they did not affiliate with any body that was connected with another Anglican province and represent themselves as Anglican.