Bishop John Lipscomb, retired bishop of South West Florida, has announced that he and his wife are to become Roman Catholics. The announcement made in an open letter to the Diocese may be found here.
Bishop Lipscomb joins Bishops Pope, Herzog and Steenson in this move. Of the four, only Bishop Steenson did so while sitting as the Episcopal authority of a Diocese. Bishops Pope, Herzog and Lipscomb retired with their successor in place prior to leaving. Bishop Pope, writing his diocese in 1994 gave some clarity to why the move following the seating of a successor diocesan made sense. His letter written then is worth the read. Bishop Pope had a distressing time following that decision, returned to the Episcopal Church and then recently once again returned to the Roman Catholic Church.
I have often admired Bishop Lipscomb for his thoughtfulness and I have no doubt that his decision to become Roman Catholic was taken with care and prayer.
The longing to go or return to the Roman Catholic Church is deeply felt by many Anglicans. Dan Martins wrote a fine essay on why that longing persists among Anglicans and why the witness of those who are called to make the move is disturbing .
I have not had much interest in dancing with the Romans. I remember fondly several RC churches - the Jesuit chapel at Loyola in New Orleans which was big as a barn and smelled of Lysol and beeswax candles, the Benedictine monastery across the lake from New Orleans which seemed so open and filled with light. I have attended mass off and on over the years and frankly can understand the longing among some RC folk for the Latin Mass. Thomas Aquinas, Anslem and odds and ends of pre Reformation RC philosophers, theologians and mystics continue to inform my thinking. I have been moved by the social action efforts of the great affirming Catholic protesters of the late 1900's.
Still, I find it hard to dance close with the Romans. Infallibility is a bad idea, no matter how it is couched. The Assumption of the Virgin Mary is an assumption. The arrogance of the ancient Roman Empire recast in the Roman Church is disturbing, to say the least. The organization of the Church is a mess at best and a crime at worse. And, lest we forget, the inquisition is always just around the corner and its reach is considerable.
On some level I have had a deep attraction to some Orthodox liturgical practices, but confess no need to preside. It has been enough to participate as I can.
But behind the longing there is an uncomfortable reality: Certainty is more easily found in the Roman Catholic Church than it is in most Anglican environments. It comes at a cost, of course, but it is there. The certainty for those of us in Anglican Land is more closely like that certainty of our dissenter friends, ancient and modern. We find ourselves "leaning on the everlasting arms..." for certainty and not on any church.
Among the dissenters in the Episcopal Church there are those who have found themselves moving more and more to the certainty of Rome. I wish them well. But I find my closer point of contact with the dissenters who are seeking to find a certainty that does not rely on church relations at all, but rather on a life in Christ Jesus.
The Roman Catholic Church has called Bishop Lipscomb. It does not call me. The model of a purified and more fundamentalist Anglican Communion may call some others. It does not call me.
I continue to be called to be part of this religious community of believers called The Episcopal Church. It is fallible, theologically and ethically not of one mind, but capable of remarkable clarity and beauty of worship (which is our bounded duty and service). The fact that we gather in the Great Thanksgiving may not be everything, but it is quite a lot. The reality that we are mostly escapees from this or that religious asylum may explain our behavior at times and it may explain why we long for the good days of some past security, but as they say, life out here in the wilderness is not without its promise.