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Dear Pope Francis,
I’ve taken up with the Anglicans. I know. I don’t really understand it, either. It just kind of happened.
Except that it didn’t just happen, and I do understand it.
You see, I’ve been searching for a long, long time for a new faith community. Eight years ago, when I moved to where I live now, I tried out several local Catholic parishes, and was sorely disappointed. Actually, that’s putting it mildly. I left nearly every Sunday Mass feeling angry. I went to the cathedral one Sunday. The Gospel reading was the passage where Jesus steps in when an adulterous woman is about to be stoned and asks the crowd if any among them hadn’t committed a sin. It’s a Gospel rich in meaning and revelation about who Jesus was, and who we are as the people who follow him. The sermon, however, was all about sin. Sin. Sin. Sin. Oh, and not crossing the Magisterium. I wanted to leave after the sermon and shake the dust from my shoes as I went. But I stayed, and stewed. I tried a few more parishes after that, but it was more of the same. And I was rarely welcomed as a newcomer. Nobody went out of their way to say hi. Mind you, if they caught me after that cathedral sermon, or those like it, I was probably radiating anger.
In my mind, you shouldn’t leave Mass angry. Confused, maybe. Challenged, yes. But angry? No.
Over the last year I started to orbit around a local Anglican parish. I began attending a contemplative prayer group hosted there twice a month. I made friends with their new rector, who I met on Twitter. We had coffee several times. During one of those chats, he mentioned that the Anglican Eucharist is an open table, and that, as a baptized Catholic, I could receive communion. To my Catholic hindbrain this sounded revolutionary. My whole lifetime in the Catholic Church was spent hearing about the seemingly many things that could cut one off from receiving the Eucharist. An open table? Who were these people? I’m also a little embarrassed to admit that I went home after coffee with my priest friend and googled whether or not I would be excommunicated for receiving Eucharist at an Anglican mass. Turns out I wouldn’t. The fact that I hadn’t actually been to a Catholic Eucharist in ages kind of made that moot, but, still, old habits die hard.
It was still several months before I attended my first Anglican Mass. Part of the issue was I’ve gotten very used to having no schedule on the weekend, and the idea of showing up somewhere at 10 a.m. on a Sunday seemed a little problematic. A week ago, though, I ran out of excuses and there I was, in the pew. And it felt good. Really good.
First, I was welcomed. Not just by the greeter at the door, but by almost everyone, at every turn. People seemed genuinely glad to see me. I already knew a few people from the parish, and they came over to say hello. But there were others, complete strangers, who welcomed me and said they were glad I chose to visit.
The next amazing thing was that a woman read the Gospel and gave the sermon. I know. Imagine that. And, apparently this happens often! It’s not just a one-time thing. A woman. Speaking in church. Preaching. It took me a bit to even wrap my head around that it was so awesome.
The liturgy was easy to follow, and there were even leaflets in the pews advising newcomers on the basic logistics: how to follow along, how Communion worked, etc… And, to be honest, nobody around me seemed to care if I made a misstep or two. Try doing that in a Catholic Mass. Eyes will shoot daggers at you.
There was coffee after Mass and, again, people went out of their way to welcome me and engage in conversation. It was truly lovely.
I went home absolutely full, and a little tired. I’m an introvert and so that many new people is a little overwhelming. I’m not ashamed to say that, driving home, I got a little misty eyed. It had been so long since I’d felt welcomed into a Eucharist celebration. The only other time recently where I’ve felt such a sense of welcome and belonging was at the Mass held at the end of the Sophia Summer Institute, where I did my M.A. program. That is also a truly inclusive celebration.
And that was at the heart of it for me. Inclusivity. This is a community that welcomes everyone. In fact, the prayer after communion even has the line “We celebrate Christ. By including everyone!”. I think that pretty much says it all.
I went back today for Sunday Communion and had the same welcoming experience. This week, the parish was holding a special meeting after Mass about developing a response on officially recognizing same sex unions in the Anglican Church of Canada’s marriage rite. Imagine that. Parishioners actually meeting to share their thoughts with those in higher authority. (And the group agreed overwhelmingly to recommend expanding the marriage rite to include same sex couples.)
Women preaching. Parishioners given credit for being intelligent, thoughtful members of the Church who can be trusted with big decisions. Contrast that with the Catholic Church where 250 celibate men are about to gather and talk about family life. Stark, isn’t it?
And, for me, this is the crux of things. I know people who stay in the Catholic Church and take a guerrilla stance, hoping things will change. I admire them, and hope so too. But, I’m tired of not having a faith community of my own. I’m tired of not having a place to go on Sunday to receive the Eucharist. And, mostly I’m tired of being in a Church where the hierarchy is so badly out of sync with the real world it’s beyond a bad joke. Every time I read about a priest or bishop who has denied communion to a good and faithful Catholic based on outdated thinking and hurtful prejudices, it breaks my heart. And I don’t think I can be even a silent part of it any more.
That said, I’m not giving up my Catholic identity. In fact, there are quite a few Catholics in this Anglican parish. I haven’t met any of them yet, but I’m sure I will. Maybe we should wear badges or something. I guess I’m going to try being Catholic within a non-Catholic community for a little while and see how it goes.
Because, quite frankly Pope Francis, life’s too short. I need a faith community. I need to attend Mass and participate in the Eucharist.
I need to be home.