Conversion and Retirement:: or how to be practical about convictions.

Ruth Gledhill just yesterday (November 8) reported that Tony Blair will become a Roman Catholic by Christmas, at least if her and other prognostications hold. Sometimes Ruth's comments are tender. This one is not.

It got me to wondering again about other conversions following retirement. The retired Bishop of Albany, Bishop Herzog was converted to Rome, following retirement. Bishop Pope of Fort Worth the same, twice. Bishops Bena and Fairfield were convinced that The Episcopal Church had lost its way and converted themselves into Church of Nigeria and Church of Uganda bishops.

Now retirement proceeding conversion has certain niceties built in: pension is at full flood, political fall-out, at least for the person undergoing conversion is limited, accountability to the "old" is reduced. Both Mr. Blair and the good bishops of the Episcopal Church would have had to face into much more difficult issues had they converted while in office. On the other hand it might well have been more honest.

Bishop Steenson, of the Diocese of the Rio Grande, did the much more difficult, and I think more honorable thing. He came to the conclusion that he was convinced of the need to become Roman Catholic and asked the House of Bishops to be relieved of his ministry as an Episcopal Bishop. He did not wait for the next years to go by so that he had greater pension benefits, he did not avoid the political and pastoral repercussions of his leaving, he held himself accountable for the pledges he made at ordination.

The retired or resigned Mr. Blair and the retired bishops of Albany and Fort Worth are free to do as they wish, of course. I have no doubts about their convictions and having the courage of those convictions. Yet somehow it is odd that Mr. Blair and the good bishops acted only after retirement. It is a bit like being willing to face the lions only after they have been well fed.

As for the retired bishops who join other Provinces who have broken communion with The Episcopal Church - they are another matter. They, it appears, have gone to join the lions.

I am sure there are opinions on this.


  1. i think i agree with you 100% about the case of the bishops, and not at all about the case with Blair.

    and this, for the simple and plain reason that Blair is not a bishop, and did not take any ordination vows, and has no commitment as the PM to being an Anglican.

  2. The premise of your remarks is just WRONG! Priests and bishops, like other workers, EARN their pensions through years of service. They are entitled to them based upon their service, not continued support of the party line. No one should have his/her pension held hostage to having to continue to kiss up to their former employer.

  3. thomas....of course you are right. Mr. Blair's retirement then move simply reminded me of the bishops retirement then move. There are, of course, some political reasons why a Prime Minister currently CofE might not want to change while in office, particularly when the CofE itself is on the verge of internal split and dis-establishment. If I were Monarch I might find it distressing that the PM would move out of the CofE in its hour of need.

  4. Mark,

    A long overdue thanks for your blog. Keep up the good work. One correction to the entry re: conversion and retirement --- Pope is of Fort Worth not Texas.

    Todd Ousley
    Bishop of Eastern Michigan

  5. Sir, would it not also be the honorable thing for priests and bishops who cannot attest to and proclaim the apostolic faith, i.e. the Nicene Creed, to withdraw from the Episcopal Church? I for one wish they had done so in all honesty: the Unitarian-Universalist society would be the richer in numbers and the Episcopal Church would be richer in faith.

    Bill in LA

  6. Anonymous...I do not make the premise that people do not have a right to their pensions. No one has to hold the party line in order to get their pension. However, to participate in the plan prior to retirement one has to be a member of the clergy of this church. So sticking around until retirement can be a practical matter.

  7. BIshop Ousley: Correction noted in the blog itself. Thanks. And thanks for the encouragement.

  8. I have no idea whether or not Tony Blair will become a Roman Catholic, although I have heard that rumor before. Two things I do no about him, though. One is that his wife and children are Roman Catholic and that he has frequently attended Roman Catholic mass with them. The other is that unlike most prime ministers of recent memory, Blair has been a seriously practicing, churchgoing Anglican. For that he is to be admired. And I think it would be have been very difficult politically for him to withdraw from the Church of England at a time when the UK government was seeking to distance itself further from the church.

    Final thought. Blair surely played a major role in the appointment of the first non-English archbishop of Canterbury since the Reformation. While we may be disappointed by Rowan Williams's performance, that's a move not to be sneered at.

  9. Bill in LA, I haven't joined the Unitarians because I am not a Unitarian.

    You have asked a very silly question here, one that leaves you open to being asked why you and yours have not joined some church better suited to you, like the Southern Baptist Convention or the Assembly of God or maybe Ted Haggard's old megachurch.

  10. Bill in LA, could you possibly provide an example of a unitarian bishop or priest permitted to function within the Episcopal Church? I realize that such canards are easy to offer up as generalized slanders, but could you at least try to look as though it is an honest issue as opposed to empty rhetorical grandstanding?

    Here's a thought, Bill. Is it possible, just possible, that someone might actually disagree with you on "the issue" while still being in general agreement with you regarding the triune nature of God?

    But then, that would burn up your straw man and deny you any opportunity of winning the "debate."

    Of course, it isn't much of a debate when all you do is lie about what "the other side" believes. Right Bill?

  11. Hate to have to drop the bomb, but here goes: Spong. Come to think of it, Bennison made public remarks about Jesus being forgiven of his sins and then there is the PB and "we understand Jesus as our vehicle to the divine." The implication being that all faiths are (roughly) equal. I guess it is unfair to bring up the Moslem Episcopal priest. Now, all of them sound to me to be on the liberal side of even King's Chapel Unitarianism.

    Really, is there a heresy that is out of bounds in the Episcopal Church?

    Sorry to ruffle feathers.

  12. Spong, Spong, Spong.

    And the whole of the Episcopal Church agrees with Sponmg on everything, after all.

    Spong is retired. Bennison is suspended and likewise the "Muslim" priest.

    Some Episcopalians are theologically suspect and therefore the whole Episcopal Church are heretical?

    Rather like "some dogs are German Shepherds. My dog is a German Shepherd. Therefore all dogs are my dog."

    Take a logic class, would you.


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Cautions: Calling people fools, idiots, etc, will be reason to bounce your comment. Keeping in mind that in the struggles it is difficult enough to try to respect opponents, we should at least try.