As we recently reported, Our Lady of Hope Catholic Church, a previous Pastoral Provision community of some five years’ standing in the parish of St. Thérèse Little Flower, Kansas City, Missouri, became a fully-fledged Ordinariate community this month, worshipping at Our Lady of Sorrows. In a number of recent posts on his blog “how can I keep from singing”, the group’s pastor, Fr. Ernie Davis, has given us the following, inspiring background information.
Does Kansas City need a new Catholic Church? Only if the new one does something the others cannot do.
Just a couple of years ago it appeared that Kansas City might actually get two or three new Catholic Churches. There was some excitement that Kansas City’s two Traditional Anglican Communion parishes might enter the Catholic Church along with the whole TAC. The bishops of the Traditional Anglican Communion had asked for a way that they and their churches could enter the full communion of the Catholic Church while retaining some of their Anglican traditions and retain some responsibility for their own governance. “United, not absorbed” was the goal of Anglican reunion with Catholicism as the early 20th Century Malines Conversations had described it.
Pope Benedict offered Anglicanorum Coetibus. Based on that Apostolic Constitution, Ordinariates were established in Great Britain, the United States and Canada, and Australia. There was a lot of excitement prior to the Coming Home conference sponsored by the Anglican Use Community at St. Therese Little Flower and a number of Anglican priests participated. The former Anglicans at St. Therese believed that they could help facilitate the project of healing church divisions by sharing their experience in becoming Catholic. They were open to the possibility that they could cease to exist as a separate community and that they themselves could be absorbed into one of the existing Anglican soon-to-be-Catholic parishes when they entered the Catholic Church.
But by then, the original excitement of the TAC was fading. Rome had made a very generous offer. But most of the Anglican parishioners in the pew didn’t want to be Catholic, and the TAC bishops apparently weren’t terribly enthusiastic about actually entering the Catholic Church. Several of the Anglican bishops and many of the Anglican priests did not meet the required educational standards for ordination in the Catholic Church, and several had marriage issues. A few TAC Anglican parishes around the country entered the new Ordinariate, but none of the local ones did.
That meant the former Anglicans at St. Therese Little Flower had to mull over their own reason for being. What did it mean for them to be “United, not Absorbed”? What was their reason for being? Did they have a permanent future at St. Therese? How could they enter the Ordinariate when the parish they had joined would always be part of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph?
Four or five years ago it seemed that having an “Anglican Use” community as part of St. Therese Little Flower Parish could be a long-term mutually beneficial solution. I was thinking that I could remain at St. Therese until retirement. The Anglican Use community added resources to the struggling inner-city parish, and the parish provided space to worship, a link to the wider Catholic community, and assistance with pastoral programming. We began some projects that assumed we would have a long-term home at St. Therese.
When I was thinking that I could remain at St. Therese long-term, what I didn’t realize was that St. Therese Parish and the Anglican Use community had a deep and basic conflict. St. Therese Parish depends on attracting people who feel like they don’t fit in a regular parish. St. Therese Parish can be very warm and welcoming and some neighborhood parishes can be very cold. But some of our key parishioners had a deep animosity toward the church hierarchy and Catholic dogma and discipline. On the other hand, I and the other former Anglican converts who joined me at St. Therese had made an adult choice to enter the Catholic faith. And to enter the full communion of the Church we had affirmed that we believe what the Catholic Church believes. This was a rift that simply could not be bridged, and it continued to feed the suspicions of some parishioners that our presence and my pastoral leadership could not be trusted. It became clear to me that I would not be able to remain at St. Therese long-term, and it also became clear that one person could not be pastor of both communities.
The Anglican Use community at St. Therese never discussed this. Instead our discussion focused on our future. Our study of Anglicanorum Coetibus and the mission of the Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter convinced us that we needed to take charge of our own future and find a way to enter the Ordinariate.
Now that we are Our Lady of Hope Catholic Church we can embrace our Catholic identity in a way that would never have been possible at St. Therese Little Flower. Converts make joyful Catholics, and that should make us good evangelists. I am convinced that this is our fundamental mission, more important than anything else, that we put Christ first. We are taking steps to put our money and our program where our mission is, and to keep from getting diverted into things that will take lots of energy but aren’t directly related to our mission.
Everybody needs to know that Our Lady of Hope Catholic Church is really small. Even by Episcopalian standards, where Sunday attendance in an average parish has declined to 65, we are very small. On a good Sunday we have about half that many. If we are content to join the slow decline of Episcopalian, Anglican, mainline Protestant and Evangelical parishes (last one to leave, please turn out the light) then no, Kansas City does not need us. If our goal is to preserve a liturgy as a museum piece and to serve the religious sentiments of club members, then no, Kansas City does not need us for that, either.
A few weeks ago I asked one of our original members, Jodeen, how she came up with the suggestion of Our Lady of Hope for our name. She told me, “I didn’t know anything about the name. I believe it was a direct inspiration from God.” Our name calls us to be people of hope. This whole Christian enterprise started with one person. Luke does not record that anyone was with Mary when Gabriel visited her. And from the one person who dared to believe that the hopes of her people would be fulfilled, everything began. One is not none, and small is not nothing.
Back when I was working in the Episcopal Diocese of West Missouri with my good friend, Fr. Jim Carlyle, our jobs were to start or restart parishes. We knew that new parishes have a much better chance of growing than old ones, because when everyone is new, all start from the same place. There are no established power structures that newcomers have to break into and people can start belonging right away. We both had small groups to start with, but our goal was to open new churches with 200 in attendance on our first Sunday. We used telemarketing, mailings, and personal invitations. He worked to launch St. Anne’s Episcopal in Lee’s Summit, and I worked to re-launch St. Michael’s Episcopal in Independence. Twenty years ago, we both worked to remove perceived “barriers.” That meant making the liturgy user-friendly, the music contemporary, denominational identification invisible, and to a certain extent, the faith non-challenging.
Things have changed a lot in twenty years. Our Lady of Hope is no more than what we used to call a “core group.” We don’t have any plans to do any telemarketing. If anything, Our Lady of Hope is doing a slow launch. I don’t have the luxury of devoting myself to this project full time, and we don’t have the financial resources that the Episcopal diocese devoted to our projects. But we have something that is much more important – the Catholic faith, the inexorable work of the Holy Spirit and the prayers of Mary and of all the saints.
Our Lady of Hope has a potential that our previous work in the Episcopal diocese never had. And we have a potential that no other Catholic parish can match. The Holy Spirit is our telemarketing campaign. And the Holy Spirit is calling evangelicals into the Catholic Church. Can you imagine what a Catholic parish would be like if it fully embraced and empowered their evangelical skills and zeal instead of keeping them at arm’s length? The Holy Spirit is calling Anglicans, Episcopalians and Methodists who love their tradition, but even more love Christ and his call to be one in him as he is one with the Father and the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is calling Catholics who want to celebrate the liturgy in the beauty of holiness, and who are eager to share the depth of their faith with others.
Are you being called? Do you know others who may be called? Do you hope to be part of a Catholic parish like this? Are you willing to give of yourself, your time, your energy, and your faith, and to be a person of hope?
I began by saying that if we have nothing distinctive to offer, then there are plenty of other Catholic parishes in Kansas City. But Our Lady of Hope is not like any other. We have a particular mission: to those sisters and brothers whom God is calling into the full communion of the Catholic Church. Certainly every other parish shares that same mission. But none of them, except for those in the Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, are called to place that mission at the top of the list. All of us were separated, called, and reconciled, so we know what kinds of sacrifices are sometimes required. We also have another distinctive characteristic: Joy! Catholic converts are happy Catholics. We know what we have found! The treasure in a field, a pearl of great price.