Friday, November 9, 2007

The Long Journey Home: Why I Have Left ECUSA for the Catholic Church

September 2007

She could never be a saint, but she thought she could be a martyr if they killed her quick – Flannery O’Connor

On Easter Eve, of 2007, at the Great Easter Vigil service in my parish church, my husband and I and several others were received into full communion with the Catholic Church. After each of us proclaimed, “I believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches and proclaims to be revealed by God,” we were confirmed by our pastor and took Holy Communion for the first time as Catholics. It was the culmination of months of formal preparation and years, perhaps decades, of prompting by the Holy Spirit.

Other Catholic converts liken this experience to “coming home,” and so it has been for me. It feels like this is just exactly where I belong. Even so, I have long felt the need to explain, in writing, how I got here from there. The result is this document. What started out as a simple outline has become this rather lengthy paper, and it could easily have been even longer. I was moved to write it for at least three reasons:

First, I thought I owed it to family and friends, especially to those who understand why this is such a momentous step. Becoming a Catholic is not the same as transferring one’s membership from, say, the Methodist Church to the Presbyterian Church. One does not “become” an Episcopalian or a Baptist (or any other flavor of protestant) in the same sense that one becomes a Catholic.

Second, I thought it would help to explain it to myself. Writing something down always helps me to think more clearly.

Third, and most important, I believe that I have discovered a “pearl of great price” such as Jesus spoke of in His parable, something that one will gladly sell all he has in order to possess. He was speaking of the kingdom of heaven, of course, and I don’t mean to suggest that the Catholic Church is the equivalent of the kingdom of heaven (although it is a part of it, certainly). I mean that I have discovered a wonderful treasure. I can hardly contain my joy at finding it, and I want to share it.

A word of explanation: I use the term “orthodox” in the generic sense, with a lower case “o,” meaning concerning right belief. Where I speak of the Orthodox churches (i.e., Greek, Russian, etc.) I use an upper case “O.” I tend to avoid the term “evangelical,” simply because the definition is so fluid these days that it no longer has any universal meaning. I make reference to the so-called “Evangelical Movement,” as I understand it, in my discussion of the importance of the institutional church.

One request: I would ask that my readers exercise a spirit of forbearance and resist the temptation to jump to conclusions. I mean this apologia to be a springboard for discussion, not the last word from Mt. Sinai. Frankly, I don’t yet fully understand myself how this happened. Elements of this process will, I think, always be something of a mystery even to me—this side of Paradise, at least. As are all works of Grace, I suppose.

Why Leave ECUSA?

No one who has paid any attention to the recent history of the Episcopal Church in the United States will be surprised that I chose to leave. With a growing sense of gloom I have watched ECUSA’s escalating slide into apostasy for decades now, and in the aftermath of the 2003 General Convention it became increasingly clear to me that those who hold an orthodox view of scripture and of the role of the church in the world were no longer welcome. Indeed I am only one of a steady stream of Episcopalians who have left in recent decades, many, like me, for the Catholic Church. Nevertheless, it might be helpful to explain my particular reasons, especially for the sake of those who feel some resentment toward those of us who have chosen to abandon ship rather than fight on. I understand. After all, when fellow orthodox Christians leave the Episcopal Church, those who remain become the exposed right flank, not an easy position.

First, I left the Episcopal Church because I ceased to believe that it could reform itself. This most recent apostasy is not a new development; it has been going on for decades and has gotten steadily worse. The current spiritual chaos over issues of human sexuality has only accelerated a process that was well underway in my grandparents’ time, and perhaps long before (more on that later). Conservative/orthodox/evangelical Episcopal churches and clergy have not displaced the progressive/liberal ones but have only grown more and more marginalized. And there’s no sign that this will change any time soon.

Why is this so? There are at least three reasons:†

1) The governing structure of ECUSA is held firmly by liberals.

2) There is no real end to this situation in sight, since each diocese has an equal vote, no matter the size. So the Diocese of Nevada (home of the current Presiding Bishop)—with an average Sunday attendance of about 2,400—can always cancel out the Diocese of Central Florida (whose bishop is a leader among orthodox Episcopalians)—with an average Sunday attendance of over 15,600. Since there are far more liberal dioceses than conservative ones, conservatives will never have the votes to defeat the liberals—short of a pretty spectacular miracle, that is.

3) The overwhelming majority of seminaries—and the selection of seminarians—are still in the hands of the left. And they are likely to stay that way.

Second, I could no longer see how to carry on effective ministry, either to those inside or outside the church, under the current conditions. It was an adversarial situation. Nothing was a “given,” everything was up for grabs and subject to change by a vote at the next General Convention. In 2003 General Convention decided to disregard the scriptural condemnation of a particular sexual sin; maybe next time they will undo the work of the early church councils and decide that Jesus was, after all, not really God. No doubt some of them would be inclined to do so even now.

Third, I couldn’t see an end to the conflict precisely because it was a conflict between competing views of scriptural interpretation. For protestants/evangelicals scripture is regarded as the final arbiter of truth about God and man and the relationship between us. And I have no doubt that it is God’s Word and as such, authoritative. But I have come to see that, without an agreed-upon standard of interpretation, the inevitable result will be a lack of unity. In talking to our more liberal Episcopalian brothers and sisters, my husband and I often found ourselves engaging in “cross talk.” We were using the same words, but our meanings were entirely different. There was no outside authority to lend weight to our moral assertions. We were, in effect, hoist with our own protestant petard of substituting our personal judgment for the authority of the Church.‡

This issue of authority was absolutely central to my decision. It became clear to me that, without an outside, institutional authority making the final call, it is impossible to maintain either orthodoxy or unity in the church. To be sure, there are plenty of dissenting Catholics, but no one need be in any doubt what they are dissenting from. The buck stops somewhere. Ideally it stops at the desk of the parish priest; if necessary it will go all the way to Rome, but it stops there. Not for nothing do we have the saying, “Roma locuta est, causa finita est.” (Rome has spoken, the case is closed.) Imagine trying to substitute “Canterbury” or “Geneva.” It just doesn’t work.

Why not an Anglican Alternative, Existing or Future?

Many people may wonder why I have not taken the Anglican option. Certainly there are alternatives for those who wish to remain Anglican. As far as the “continuing churches” are concerned (those that split from the Episcopal Church in the 1970s over women’s ordination and the revised Book of Common Prayer), many of them are very attractive. They are theologically orthodox and liturgically consistent. But in terms of numbers they are a drop in the bucket, even compared to the relatively small Episcopal Church, so their influence on the wider culture is diluted. They are also bishop-heavy. Furthermore, they fell to fighting amongst themselves almost immediately after 1977 and have split several ways since then. This does not inspire confidence for the future. Finally, because they are not in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury, their historic link to the Anglican Communion is tenuous.

Then there are the more recent alternatives for orthodox believers. AMiA (Anglican Mission in America) churches and those affiliated with CANA (Convocation of Anglicans in North America) are certainly theologically orthodox. They are also decidedly evangelical, and this tends to keep them spiritually alive and vibrant, in contrast to some of the continuing churches. I thank God for the Global South Anglican bishops who oversee these churches; they have been faithful to “the faith once delivered to the saints.”

But I foresee potential problems. The absentee bishop situation is not, I think, sustainable in the long run. We are told that this is a temporary solution until a permanent one can be found. But what will the permanent solution look like? Can they avoid the divisive issues that plague the continuing Anglicans to this day? Will the transition be a smooth one? CANA, AMiA and the ACN (the Anglican Communion Network) are not in complete agreement about how to proceed. How will the relationship among them work itself out?

Yet even if such organizational problems as these can be solved, there are other difficulties that present even greater potential for conflict. I don’t think it is too much of a stretch to call them Irreconcilables. For example:

1. The ordination of women. Let me state for the record that I believe women are entirely capable of doing the tasks typically done by ordained men. However, that is not the issue as far as Anglican unity is concerned. The Catholic practice of ordaining only men stems mainly from the Catholic view of the priesthood. Namely, when a priest is administering the sacraments he is acting in Persona Christi (in the Person of Christ). In the Confessional he says, “I absolve you of your sins,” not “Christ absolves you….” Christ was a man, so a priest must also be a man.

The continuing churches and dioceses like Ft. Worth, who take a more Anglo-Catholic view of the priesthood than their evangelical brothers and sisters, will continue to be alienated from Anglicans who take a more liberal view of women’s ordination. Evangelical intransigence on this issue will also seriously impair any chance of eventual reconciliation with Rome or Constantinople. Some may not view this last issue as a problem. I do, for obvious reasons.

Another hindrance to unity is the militancy of many ordained women. Unfortunately, many of them treat the priesthood as a career choice rather than as a vocation, a calling. This tends to foster the attitude that women have a right to be ordained. But there is no such thing as a right to ordination. It is a gift of grace. Those who treat it as a right lack the necessary humility, in my view, to be an effective priest.

2. The Eucharist. The Episcopal Church’s teaching on the Eucharist permit a wide range of individual beliefs. This is often represented as a strength of Anglicanism. But I am persuaded that it is a weakness, and a fatal one at that, because it leads to disunity among Anglicans about this, the most important sacrament of the church. It seems to me that either it is merely a remembrance (“The Lord’s Supper”) or it is literally the body and blood of Christ. It can’t really be both. The doctrine of the Real Presence is either objectively true or it isn’t. Although faith in the receiver is necessary for the sacrament to be effective, it doesn’t change the substance of the bread and wine. God does that—or he doesn’t. I believe that the lack of clear teaching on this subject in the Episcopal Church—and in the Anglican tradition in general—gives rise to a dangerous subjectivism regarding doctrine. In other words, if it’s up to me to decide whether or not Christ is truly present in the bread and wine of Holy Communion, then why shouldn’t I apply that same subjective test to every other traditional doctrine of the church? The bodily Resurrection, for example, or the Trinity, or for that matter the authority of scripture? This is, in fact, exactly what has been taking place in the Episcopal Church for many decades. And I see no particular reason to believe that this problem will not eventually resurface in a new orthodox Anglican body.

Not Another Protestant Denomination?

I do not dismiss and, in truth, can never repay the great debt I owe to the Reformation churches and the Evangelical Movement for my own spiritual formation. It was there that I learned such essentials as the centrality of scripture and the necessity of a personal relationship with Christ and personal holiness. I see my becoming a Catholic as a fulfillment, not a repudiation, of my protestant/evangelical heritage. My journey into the Catholic Church was the logical end of a thorough assessment of the truth as recorded in scripture.

For me, the really fatal flaw of protestantism—evangelical and otherwise—is the tendency to splinter, to regard schism as a legitimate means of reform. According to people who study such things, at last count there were anywhere from 20,000-plus to 30,000-plus different protestant denominations. I firmly believe that this is not what our Lord had in mind when he prayed for his followers the night before his death “that they may all be one, even as we [He and the Father] are one.” (John 17:11)

Going to another protestant denomination ceased to be an option for me when I became convinced that the twin Reformation principles of sola scriptura (scripture alone) and sola fides (faith alone) were theologically and historically insupportable. Why? A thorough explanation would require a lengthy digression, and many others have made this case much more eloquently than I could ever hope to do.

For me the historical argument against sola scriptura is particularly compelling. After all, someone had to sort through the early church writings in the first place and decide what constituted the canon of scripture. Someone also had to work out doctrines like the Trinity and the divinity of Christ, which are certainly strongly implied in but not fully formulated in scripture. That “someone” was the early Church Councils, and it took them several centuries to iron out the particulars and beat back the early heresies that challenged those essential doctrines of the Faith. The result, of course, was the creeds of the Church. Certainly the Gospel writers were guided by the Holy Spirit. But so must the Church Councils have been, in discerning what should and should not be considered scripture.

In fact, as far as scripture is concerned I have found the Catholic interpretation of certain passages more convincing than the standard protestant interpretation. To take just one example, the passage in John 6: 53b-55, where Jesus describes himself as the “bread of life”: Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.” Further on in the passage John tells us that “After this many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him.” (Verse 66)

If Jesus was not referring here, as many protestants would have it, to what would become the sacrament of Holy Communion, then what was he was talking about? If so many of his followers fell away over a misunderstanding, then why did Jesus not go after them and explain further, rather than just allow them to walk away?

The inadequacy of sola fides took longer to grasp, and I still find the Catholic explanation of justification and sanctification hard to understand. However, I have found equally puzzling the tendency of protestant Christians to pass over or even dismiss James’ discussion of the role of good works in the Christian life. Luther even wanted to drop the book of James from the New Testament canon. The bottom line for me is that the Catholic view of justification and sanctification tends to encourage one to take more seriously the business of sanctification. Here’s how Francis Beckwith, former president of the Evangelical Theological Society, put it in an interview with Christianity Today when he “reverted” to Catholicism:

The Catholic Church frames the Christian life as one in which you must exercise virtue—not because virtue saves you, but because that’s the way God’s grace gets manifested.... [I]t doesn’t say my salvation depends on me, but it says my virtue counts for something. It’s important to allow the grace of God to be exercised through your actions....
Why Not Orthodoxy?

I have to admit up front that I did not fully explore the option of joining an Orthodox church, in part because the sheer size of the task is so overwhelming. There are so many different Orthodox churches. What I do know about the Orthodox tradition is mostly good, and may God bless my brothers and sisters who have chosen this option. But the bottom line is that I don’t feel drawn to the Orthodox churches as I do to the Catholic Church.

For one thing, there is no Orthodox Church in the sense that there is a Catholic Church. There are Orthodox churches, and although they are all theologically “orthodox,” to be sure, they function more like a federation than a communion, and in this sense they remind me of what the Anglican Communion is starting to look like.

Furthermore, most Orthodox churches are very closely identified with a particular ethnic group, and, with the exception of the Orthodox Church in America, they are decidedly non-Western. The Catholic tradition is certainly different from the protestant tradition, but it is still more familiar—and more “catholic” (i.e., “universal”), in my view, than the Orthodox tradition.

Crossing the Tiber

Why Rome? Here is the real heart of the matter: I am Catholic because have come to believe that the claims of the Catholic Church are true. That’s the only really good reason for identifying oneself with any institution, anyway, and it’s the primary reason I have made this journey. After a prolonged period of exploring those claims in depth, it became clear to me that, as a matter of conscience, I had no choice but to enter the Church.

I believe that the Catholic Church is that “one, holy, catholic and apostolic church” I’ve been claiming to believe in all of these years. I am persuaded that the visible church – the church as a living, breathing institution – matters at least as much as and probably more than the invisible church. I have long identified with the Evangelical Movement because of it’s insistence on a personal relationship with Christ and the authority of scripture. But I diverge from many evangelicals who tend to dismiss the role of the institutional church in furthering the Gospel and proclaiming the kingdom of heaven. In my view the role of the institutional church is essential.

This may be a good place for a point of clarification, and it is worth emphasizing: I am NOT saying, and the Catholic Church does NOT teach, that non-Catholics are not Christians. In fact, the Catholic Church takes a much more expansive view of membership in the Body of Christ than do some protestant denominations. In the Catholic view, anyone who is baptized in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit is a Christian. That’s why I did not have to be re-baptized when I entered the church. (Although, ironically, if I had decided instead to become a Baptist, I would have had to do so.) The official Catholic view is that non-Catholics are in “certain but incomplete” communion with the Catholic Church.

I am persuaded that the Protestant Reformation – in both it’s Anglican and Continental forms (Lutheran, Calvinist, etc., etc.) – has run it’s course, and that anyone worthy of the name “protestant” is honor bound to ask himself from time to time why he is still a protestant – should ask himself what, after all, he is protesting. To reject the Catholic Church based on an honest assessment of its claims is one thing. But too often, protestants do what I did for many years – they reject the Church based on an incomplete or biased view of those claims.

Furthermore, I am convinced that the current chaos in ECUSA (and in other mainline protestant churches, though to a lesser degree so far) is symptomatic of the protestant insistence on private, individual interpretation of scripture. And this, I think, is at the heart of the protestant impulse to use schism as a means of reform.

The Episcopal bishop who has presided over the splintering of my own diocese has been fond of saying since 2003 that he prefers heresy to schism because if you have schism you cannot remedy heresy. I have come to agree with him, though only to a point. The irony that he is a bishop in a church born out of schism appears to have been lost on him. Nevertheless, he is right; schism does make it difficult, if not impossible, to remedy heresy. Maybe that is the very reason for the Episcopal Church’s contemporary slide into apostasy. And I am persuaded that the seeds of this were sown in the 16th century. Henry VIII obtained an unlawful divorce from the Roman Catholic Church for the Church of England so that he could obtain an unlawful divorce from his wife. We are still paying the consequences.

In contrast, the Catholic Church has, rightly, refused to tolerate either schism or heresy, and they are able to remedy heresy without schism. Orthodox Episcopalians have no other way to address it.

The Journey

… I suppose every one knows this fear of getting "drawn in" – the moment at which a man realises that what had seemed mere speculations are on the point of landing him in the Communist Party or the Christian Church – the sense that a door has just slammed and left him on the inside.

C.S. Lewis
Perelandra, Chap. 1
When did this happen? I really can’t say. It is often difficult, of course, to trace exhaustively the work of God’s grace in one’s life. Mostly one sees only glimpses, but occasionally there are moments of clarity. C.S. Lewis describes his ultimate conversion to Christianity in his spiritual autobiography, Surprised by Joy. Several days after a prolonged conversation with his friends, J.R.R. Tolkien and Hugo Dyson, about Christianity as the One True Myth, he got in a motorcycle side car and was driven by his brother to the “Whipsnade Zoo.” When he left he believed in God but not in Christ. By the time he reached his destination he was a believer. He could never say exactly when or how it happened, but he knew once he arrived that, somehow, the pieces of the puzzle had finally fallen into place, and he believed.

In a sense that’s what happened to me. It wasn’t so much a matter of deciding deliberately to become Catholic. I simply realized at a certain point that I was no longer protestant. At that point, I could no longer remain outside the Church in good conscience. It became clear to me that obedience to Christ entailed obedience to the Catholic Church.

Some people who have taken this hard would have, I suspect, liked the chance to talk us out of it before we decided. But they would not have succeeded. No one talked us into this. We did not talk ourselves into this. We resisted it for a long time, and when we went we did so with our eyes wide open, knowing that some people we care about and whose good opinion we value would not understand. This was a sobering realization for me, and I agonized over it for many months. Nevertheless, I knew I had to go.

The idea of returning to the Catholic fold did not just pop into my head a few months ago, or even a few years ago. It has been brewing in my mind for a very long time. The truth is I have been curious about the Catholic Church since childhood. Who isn’t? It was strange, yet in some ways very similar, to the tradition in which I grew up. The Anglican Church is supposed to be the “Bridge” church, after all, between the Catholic and protestant traditions. Not that I have ever really bought into the so-called “Bridge Theory.” Admittedly, I have always been more Anglo-Catholic than low-church protestant, aesthetically speaking. But I think John Henry Newman, the great 19th century Anglican convert, was correct to conclude that there really is no such thing as an Anglo-Catholic church, except on paper.

A part of me has always regarded the Reformation as a tragedy, and my conscience was especially troubled on this score when I wrote a paper on the Anglican Reformation in graduate school. I saw then that the Anglican Reformation was not altogether the great boon to the English-speaking world that many (mostly protestant) historians make it out to be. It was, for example, one of the greatest government land grabs in history. Furthermore, it was not a grassroots movement that worked its way up to the elites, as some Anglican historians would have it. It was a thoroughly top-down movement, and Elizabeth I had considerable trouble getting everyone to go along with the program. Catholics were officially persecuted by the powers-that-be in Great Britain for more than two centuries after her reign.

Having been involved in the pro-life movement since the 1980s, I have long been impressed with the consistency of Catholic teaching on this issue. And I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that the Catholic Church has been positively prophetic about the likely consequences of the sexual revolution. Long before I became a Catholic I was persuaded that the Catholic Church has been right all along about the relationship between artificial contraception and abortion—that divorcing sex from procreation would devalue both marriage and the fruits of marriage. The consequences are there for all the world to see. Once life is devalued on one end of the continuum it becomes expendable on the other end—or at any point. And now we have the Brave New World of designer babies and sex-selection abortion and all the rest of it. Not to mention the weakening of the institution of marriage.

"Irresistible" Grace

...Truth is a magnet, with the powers of attraction and repulsion ... The moment men cease to pull against it they feel a tug towards it. The moment they cease to shout it down they begin to listen to it with pleasure. The moment they try to be fair to it they begin to be fond of it. But when that affection has passed a certain point it begins to take on the tragic and menacing grandeur of a great love affair ... When he has entered the Church, he finds that the Church is much larger inside than it is outside.

G.K. Chesterton
How did this happen? It was a combination of factors, some of which pushed and some of which pulled me toward the Catholic Church. I was pushed by the gradual decline and the continued splintering of ECUSA and of other protestant denominations. I was pulled – drawn really – to the Catholic Church not only by the rich history and theology but also by the faithfulness of her saints,§ and her living adherents. Among them (just to name a few):

* St. Thomas More, Chancellor of England under King Henry VIII, one of only a handful of prominent English statesmen who resisted Henry’s attempt to usurp the authority of the Catholic Church in England. For refusing to sign the Oath of Supremacy acknowledging Henry as Supreme Head of the Church of England, Thomas was beheaded by the king in 1535. He is my patron saint—and my husband’s.

* Father Richard John Neuhaus, a Lutheran convert and currently the editor of First Things magazine, of which I have been an avid reader since the late 1980s.

* Catholic writers like G.K. Chesterton, Walker Percy, Evelyn Waugh, Flannery O’Connor, and J.R.R. Tolkien, through whom I first imbibed the Catholic view of the world.** I will include C.S. Lewis in this list, too, although he was a lifelong Anglican. I am convinced he would have entered the Catholic Church had he lived to see the current chaos in the Anglican Communion.

* St. Maximilian Kolbe, a Polish priest who offered himself to be starved to death by the Nazis in the place of another prisoner at the Auschwitz concentration camp in 1941.

* John Henry, Cardinal Newman, probably the most famous Anglican convert of all time. A founder and apologist for the Anglican “Oxford Movement” of the 19th century.

* Pope John Paul II (The Great)

* Pope Benedict XVI

* Mother Teresa of Calcutta

* Catholic friends, among the most serious, thoughtful fellow Christians it has been my privilege to know.

When I finally examined the claims of the Catholic Church from the Catholic point of view this time, I discovered that most of my theological objections were due to a misunderstanding of the Church’s actual teachings. What remained difficult were the usual sticking points for evangelicals – the Church’s teachings about Mary for instance, in particular the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption. But when I discovered that there is sound reasoning behind those doctrines, my attitude began to change. Eventually, my whole way of looking at the problem changed. I saw that the central question was one of authority rather than doctrine. In other words, the real question is, does the Catholic Church have the authority to rule on questions of doctrine?

I have come to believe that the answer is yes, because I believe that Catholic Church is the instrument through which God has preserved, from the days of the Apostles, the “faith once delivered to the saints.” I trust that God will not allow her to go utterly astray, that His Holy Spirit will correct her where she does. In short, I am willing to trust the Church because I have come to love the Church. I have come to love the Church because I trust her teachings.

A Severe Mercy

My journey “across the Tiber” has not been without its challenges. I was there intellectually long before I was there emotionally, and I still find this sobering, even in the midst of indescribable joy. The truth is that I have left a church with beautiful liturgy and inspiring architecture and a rich musical tradition, to which I have a lifelong attachment and to which my ancestors have belonged for hundreds of years. And for what? I have gone to a church that – in the United States, at least – is only just beginning to emerge from several decades of experimentation with tacky, uninspiring modern architecture and even tackier modern liturgy and music. Furthermore, there is much about Catholic culture (American and otherwise) that I don’t understand, and in some ways it probably will always be something of a mystery to me. And let’s not forget the scandal of priestly sexual abuse. The worst of it is behind us, thankfully, but it will be a long time before the Church recovers fully from this, financially and spiritually.

But recover she will, as she has so many times in the past. The Catholic Church is so much bigger than the latest scandal, and she has been around so long that there is very little new under the sun, little she hasn’t seen and dealt with already. No institution in the world has a longer institutional memory. There is plenty of reason for hope. The younger generation of Catholics, for example, are far more orthodox than their 60’s-generation predecessors. Many of them can’t remember a time before John Paul II was Pope – a Pope who, in the words of one prominent American Baptist, “really knew how to Pope.”

That description fits the current Pope Benedict XVI, too, although he is a very different man than his predecessor. One of the defining moments for me in this journey was the day that the white smoke appeared from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel a little over a week after John Paul II’s death. When then-Cardinal Ratzinger appeared on the balcony a few minutes later, I knew beyond doubt this is a church that is not captured by the spirit of the age. I had read enough of the current Pope’s writings to know then that the Church would be in good hands, and I think I knew even then that I would not remain a protestant much longer.

For better or worse, I am here to stay. I started this journey with some trepidation about what I would find when I arrived. I have found nothing less than the whole universe. I now understand what Chesterton meant when he said that “the Church is much larger inside than it is outside.” I have found evidence of God’s grace in so many places – in the fellowship of others who have discovered the same pearl of great price that I have, in the Communion of the Saints, and especially in the sacraments. That my husband and I have traveled this road together is the icing on the cake. Our paths have converged at almost every major point in this journey, and I have had the great privilege of sharing my joy at entering the church with him. I look forward to seeing how the rest of this story unfolds.


† I am indebted to Sarah Hey, an orthodox Anglican thinker, writer and speaker, for articulating this problem so well. For her complete article click here.

‡ For those who object that I am confusing “Anglican” with “Protestant,” I should clarify that the particular tradition in which I was raised, and the Christian communities which formed me in later life, were much more protestant than catholic (or “Anglo-Catholic”).

§ I should note that only two of the people listed have officially been declared “saints” by the Catholic Church. I use the term in a generic sense.

** All in this list except O’Connor were converts. Tolkein was baptized in the Anglican Church and became a Catholic as a child when his mother converted.


Catholic Mom said...

This is a very poignant conversion story. Thank you for sharing it. Just to clarify about the ordination of women in the Catholic Church--this is considered a dogmatic point, not a matter of Church discipline. Pope John Paul II wrote in his apostolic letter, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis:

Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church's divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful.

In contrast, priestly celibacy is a Church discipline so it can be modified. That is why there can be provisions made for married priests.

Miss Climpson said...

Denise, thank you for the comment--and the clarification. I'm not sure what I was thinking when I wrote that. I think I confused the MALE priesthood dogma with the MARRIED priesthood practice. I've edited the post now to reflect the change.

Antonio said...


Jeff said...

I have enjoyed reading your articles. Thank you for sharing them. I feel many of the same things that you do even if for now I remain on this bank of the Tiber. I think the struggles in ECUSA are a microcosm of the larger Church's struggle with postmodernism, and that mainline Protestantism is going to be the initial battleground in this fight.

I greatly admire the Catholic Church for their stand to maintain traditional moral theology as well as Eucharistic unity. I wish you all the best.

Aimee said...

This is a great story. I ran across it in a comment on Kendall Harmon's blog. You covered so much, and so articulately. I just wrote a long post about it on my own blog, and I hope many people come to read your tale here. God bless you, and welcome! I'm a grateful convert, too, and happy to have you in our midst!

Karen said...

It was great to read your story. It always amazes me how similar and yet different all our conversion stories are!

I really identified with when you talked about how you didn't really decide to become Catholic. That is how it was with me too, I started one week thinking, I'm not really sure, and somehow by the end of that week I was totally sure I was going to be Catholic. It always amazes me how God is working in all of our lives!

I look forward to reading more! :D

UltraCrepidarian said...

Hooray for you!

Been there, done that. Ten years anglican, I became Roman Catholic
in 2002. My conversion story is on my blog.

So HAPPY to hear you're HOME!


Ragamuffin said...

This is a very interesting story and I appreciate you sharing it. A good friend of mine converted to Catholicism about a year ago and we've been having a lot of interesting discussions. I myself am exploring a conservative Anglican parish because of a restlessness within the contemporary style Evangelical church environment I've been part of for the last 20+ years.

I'm happy that you found what your heart was seeking. Pray that I will find the same, wherever in God's family that ends up being.

Anonymous said...

Welcome home ;-)

Maryellen said...

I'm SO happy to meet you. I love conversion stories. I am a RE-vert.

I found you through the post on Aimee's blog, Historical Christian.
This is a great post.

Welcome, Welcome, Welcome Home.

Oso Famoso said...


Thanks for that. Very well thought out and presented.

Anonymous said...

Welcome home, Miss Climpson! (Ah, another Sayers fan.) I just came by via your husband's note on T19.

So much of your story reminds me of my own, though I've never been Anglican. Yours is a beautiful and articulate apologia. God bless you.

Anonymous said...


Thank you for sharing your personal spiritual journey from Canterbury to Rome. Your well-written account speaks to both the head and the heart.

From my own personal experience, I know all too well the many beautiful things you have given up in leaving the Episcopal Church. The Roman tradition also has much beauty -- but sometimes in different places, and in different forms.

Furthermore, it takes courage to be a serious Catholic in modern America. In fact, it is downright counter-cultural: practicing Catholicism often places the believer in diametric opposition to many commonly accepted beliefs of the Protestant-influenced dominant culture.

You clearly have considered all this -- and you have still opted for Catholic truth. Congratulations for making the move.

And thank you for your insights and guidance as I also prepare to take this step.

+Pax et Bonum,


George @ Convert Journal said...

Heide, I have included you in my "Convert Stories" listing ( Please let me know if you would like any changes to your entry and consider adding the "badge". Thanks.