Bishop John Lipscomb dances with the Romans.

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.


  1. I really resonate with this essay. When I was contemplating leaving the Churches of Christ for the Roman Catholic or Anglican church it also occurred to me that the certainty Rome offered was problematic, especially given what I perceive to be the church's historic understanding of truth and catholicity. The wrestling with tensions and ambiguity inherent in Anglicanism wound up being why I stayed in The Episcopal Church... in the end I believe they are a faithful wrestling with the ineffable Triune God. And, for me, that more difficult path is the one I've chosen.

  2. Unlike many of my classmates, I never suffered much from "Roman Fever."

    During one particularly long dark night of the soul, when I was at odds with and felt abandoned by my Church, I described myself as "a trapped Anglican." I could neither be a Roman Catholic because of the way they did authority, nor a dissenting Protestant because of the way they did authority. I could happily have been Orthodox, but, since I accept the ordination of women, I felt it would be wrong to go if I couldn't buy the whole party line.

    This theological and ecclesiological muddle is my spiritual home - the home that adopted me in my late adolescence.

    But why is it that, whenever I hear of an Anglican "swimming the Tiber," I am reminded of the 18th century satire, "The Vicar of Bray," with it's wonderful verse (referencing James II, the Declaration of Indulgence and the supposedly Glorious Revolution of 1688):

    When Royal James possessed the crown
    and Popery grew in fashion,
    the Penal Laws I hooted down
    and read the Declaration.
    The Church of Rome I found would fit,
    quite well, my constitution,
    and had become a Jesuit . . .
    but for the Revolution.

  3. As an Anglo-Catholic Episcopalian, I observed and rejoiced as a graduate student in medieval studies at Notre Dame as Vatican II transformed this academic community. The experience left me with an enduring love for the Catholic Church. Later I married a Vatican II Catholic; we are so close theologically and sacramentally, that all of her RC friends think of me as "catholic." I know what they mean, and take it as a complement.

    But while I gave some thought to converting after marrying, it became clear that my wife was right: "You are the most Anglican person I know," she said. She is right. As much as I love the best in Roman Catholicism, I will not give up the comprehensiveness of the Anglican tradition; I will not exchange growing into the full stature of Christ with all of its ambiguities and provisionalities for the certitude of a Church that from time to time oppresses its most loyal sons and daughters who dare to think new thoughts and ask uncomfortable questions.

    As an Anglican I can embrace all of the ancient Fathers and Mothers, my medieval companions like St. Thomas and Bonaventure, Hildegarde and Dame Julian, John Henry Newman and Thomas Merton,, and at the same time Richard Hooker, Jeremy Taylor, John Doone, George Herbert, C. S. Lewis, Gore and Temple, the Wesleys and Dubose, Bonhoeffer and Moltmann--the whole company of the faithful and the thoughtful.

    For all its failings, missteps, confusions, and controversies, and despite the rancor that rings too loudly these days, I will stay with the Episcopal Church, which baptized and confirmed me, and welcomed me home when I returned to faith. God bless and keep her during this time of trial.

  4. I was baptized in the Roman Church, but have been an Episcopalian for as long as I've had a memory. At much personal cost, my mom moved us to the Episcopal Church because thinking was encouraged. It's been more than 40 years and, seeing how and why my mom is still a recovering Catholic, as well as other unsavory experiences I've had (e.g. not invited to Communion at my Grandmother's funeral), I have less than no desire to ever be Roman Catholic again.

    Messy as it is, we have the best thing going, which is why I so adamantly oppose the shenanigans of the Network-types who want to make us in their own image or return us to preReformation life. No thanks! Our Episcopal/Anglican heritage has been too much of a unique gift to Christendom to watch it be destroyed by militants or to give it up and go back to what gave rise to us in the first place.

  5. Let us wish all those whom God calls differently from us well. May God's blessing be ever upon them.

    I personally give thanks that there are different traditions that speak and appeal to different Christians in different ways. Were it not so, probably very few people would ever find a lasting home in Christ's Church.

    This glorious Body is imperfect and merely invisibly united, but surely all the parts have a purpose and all are needed. As the Holy Trinity is internally united and yet internally diverse (One, yet Three), so, too, are we Christians diverse and united in a very mysterious way.

    Of course, this idea presupposes that diversity is a good and godly - that is, God given - thing.

  6. What mystifies me is why the Bishop's wife would "make the leap" considering that the Roman church has never come to terms with the full humanity of women, which is at the root of its myriad problems with sexuality in general. I can understand if a woman is born into the Roman church, but why one would choose an institution so rejecting is beyond me.

  7. "[The Episcopal Church] is ... capable of remarkable clarity and beauty of worship ..."

    Yes, in certain parishes, the liturgies can be splendid. But, have you been to a Rite II Eucharist at St. Mark's Cathedral in Minneapolis lately? Not pretty. Oh, the choir and organist are superb, but the rest of it leaves a lot to be desired. Get rid of the Vergers, for example, I don't care if it is a cathedral, and the rest of the altar servers (not to mention the clergy) need serious brush-up rehearsals. Everyone wanders around, bumping into one another (where's an M.C. when you need one?). "Beautiful worship" it is not.

    Let's not kid ourselves. Some of our parishes have perfectly horrible worship services.

  8. I find that certainty is overrated. This is a wonderful essay, and makes me reflect upon that which I love about being an Episcopalian; we don't all think alike, and we wrestle with the parables of Jesus Christ and how they play out in our earthly lives. I wish the Bishop well. May he find what he needs in a spiritual community with the RCs. I am a baptised and confirmed Episcopalian, and am making my way back into a church I thought was ready to toss me and my lot to the lions...and doing so by faith and with thanksgiving.

  9. Beautiful, Mark. I danced with Rome for the greater part of my life and then danced right into the Episcopal Church, where I have felt very much at home for the past 10 or 11 years. No longing looks back, not even in the midst of the current unpleasantness.

    Thanks be to God.

    I see some very nice comments in this thread. There is much that I'm thankful for in my time in the RCC, but, for me, it was time to move on. I was thinking for myself, and I found that I was too much at odds with the RCC to stay and be honest with myself and the church.

  10. Many thanks for this post, Father. You've made clear to me the difference between Catholics (and here I don't mean only Romans) and Protestants conservative or liberal including high and liturgical:

    Infallibility is a bad idea, no matter how it is couched.

    Whether you claim apostolic succession or have a high view of the episcopate and the other sacraments or not... Protestants do not believe in an infallible church. This sets them apart not only from Rome, with its unique claim of the charism of infallibility in the papal office under certain conditions (on faith and morals ex cathedra), but the Orthodox (with whom at one time the Anglicans were very friendly - similar decentralised episcopal polities) and other Eastern churches.

    (If you believe the Pope is and always has been God's vicar on earth with universal, immediate and ordinary jurisdiction then in good conscience you must become a Roman Catholic.)

    For a Catholic the church as a living being trumps everything else. (Nowhere in scriptura does it say sola and the thing is not self-interpreting so of course the Protestant principle will end up in big rows and splits.)

    If not then the recent changes in the Episcopal Church make sense: if I not a church am the arbiter of truth with a direct line to God on that, then yes, unilaterally ordain women based on a human-rights argument and have same-sex weddings. (You're not crazy or malicious: based on this premise you're being perfectly logical.)

    It makes clear to me that the Episcopal row, between the majority Episcopalians and the conservatives and Global South, is an intra-Protestant one (except for the Anglo-Catholic dioceses involved, a minority in a minority?)... nearly everybody is operating from the same principle.

    So much of what I read here, including the heartfelt good wishes to Lipscomb, reflects this. I'm surprised I didn't see it more clearly before.

    Writing as a traditional Anglo-Catholic who had my home taken away from me (so I do appreciate Fr Martins' post on Fr Kimel and dearly missing the culture and ethos of Anglicanism - more on that below) I'll say you've got a claim on authentic Anglicanism as the framers of the Articles believed thus ('councils are fallible').

    Perhaps we weren't really Anglicans at all. We thought we were, and the authentic version at that. (Canon Colin Stephenson to a newsagent surprised he was anything to do with the Church of England: ‘We ARE the Church of England!’)

    So... if I don't believe in private judgement on faith and morals and don't believe in comprehensiveness ('a house divided against itself' as Jesus said) why on earth get all weepy over Anglicanism? (I mean, having coffee hour is very nice, but...)

    Because we believed in a Western Catholicism in English that included the best of that culture, from the music and architecture to... not comprehensiveness but an openness in practice an English priest named for me tolerant conservatism: Charity and discretion about people’s failings while at the same time not making excuses for those vices either. Don’t ask, don’t tell, we give you your space and God forgives but we don’t teach that it’s not a sin. The Episcopal majority may think this hypocritical and closeted, a weird pre-Stonewall artefact; I think it's vice's acknowledgement of virtue and an example of Christian charity.

    What traditional Anglo-Catholics should know about mainstream RC.

    Two kinds of high churchmen.

    Here's another shocker: I'm not a 'Vatican II Catholic'. :) I'm not an ultramontane and believe Vatican II on paper was right about many things including politics (religious liberty), acknowledging the truth in other churches and faiths and having services in a tongue understanded of the people as an option (the Protestants were wrong to say they MUST be so)... but in the commonly understood sense I'm not a 'Vatican II Catholic'.

    The longing to go or return to the Roman Catholic Church is deeply felt by many Anglicans.

    Of course! Not necessarily connected to the claims of Vatican I (repeated at Vatican II and after) the Pope is England's lawful patriarch and the church there was driven into schism from him by the force of the state not any religious principle. For most of its history the English Church, Anglicans, was Roman Catholic! The Protestant stuff to justify the split was introduced after the fact. As I've asked recently about the current unpleasantness, if one believes unity matters above all including doctrine and moral teaching (let's just gather at the Lord's table), with whom would one have stood this month in 1534, Thomas Cranmer or Thomas More?

    I... frankly can understand the longing among some RC folk for the Latin Mass... On some level I have had a deep attraction to some Orthodox liturgical practices...

    I believe you. Interestingly we share this but many culturally Irish Roman Catholics don't.

    The organization of the Church is a mess at best and a crime at worse.

    Catholics agree! The church like the Incarnation is an example of paradoxical orthodoxy: true God and true man; infallible church made up of fallible and sinful people. ('The church can be a b*tch but she's still our mother.')

    And, lest we forget, the inquisition is always just around the corner and its reach is considerable.

    Oh, dear, that's frightfully 'Black Legend'.

    Anyway I think the issues getting attention in the row are only presenting symptoms of the huge underlying one you spelt out here, the one that would have to be resolved (either one side or the other is right) before the reunion of all Christians can happen.

  11. Messy as it is, we have the best thing going, which is why I so adamantly oppose the shenanigans of the Network-types who want to make us in their own image or return us to preReformation life. No thanks! Our Episcopal/Anglican heritage has been too much of a unique gift to Christendom to watch it be destroyed by militants or to give it up and go back to what gave rise to us in the first place.

    I so agree with this; we do have the best thing going. We dispense with the over-emphasis, from two directions, on Tradition - yet we don't throw it out, either. Good job.

    The Young Fogey makes some of the usual straw-man arguments. The ordination of women is not based on "human rights"; it's based on perfectly rational arguments - and Scriptural ones, too. See Romans 16. The only thing the anti- position has going for it anymore is Tradition; well, as the so-called "orthodox" are always saying, a one-legged stool doesn't stand.

    And it's not "private" judgement, either; a large segment of the world's population has already moved on to better things - it has tossed aside the culturally-bound view of women much of the church still clings to, for instance, and most in the West have also recognized the bigotry against gay people as simply that - as the church lags behind (as always). Again, the one-legged stool is all there is to argue from, and that's just not enough.

    And of course, homosexuality is not a vice; it's a fact of life. Assertion is not argument. We haven't heard any rational arguments for the continued insistence that it's a sin - and we're still waiting. Two-legged stools don't work, either, you know; you're always going to be rocking back and forth, never on solid ground. If people outside the Church can't believe it when it comes to a simple thing like this, why should they believe it when it comes to more important Truths, like the matter of Salvation for instance?

    The rest is just churchspeak, really. The church is not God, and BTW the Pope is the vicar of Peter.

  12. "...only presenting symptoms of the huge underlying [issue] you spelt out here, the one that would have to be resolved (either one side or the other is right) before the reunion of all Christians can happen."

    The "dividing line," as such, is not quite as simple as "Church: infallible, yes or no?" because infallibility is understood differently even among those traditions - Orthodox and Roman Catholic - that adhere on the whole to some version of ecclesial infallibility. Thus there are at least three approaches to infallibility issues: Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Protestant (very generally speaking). If indeed only one is or can be "right," then it seems there are actually three possible candidates.

  13. bls: maybe my strawman and your strawwoman can have this dance then go out for a coffee. :) Seriously, I agree if you accept the premise that there is no infallible church the argument is perfectly logical.

    Vice is a fact of life and has been since the fall of humanity any way you want to explain the latter (theistic evolution is fine with me).

    Which so-called orthodox? The Protestant right in the Episcopal row?

    Sounds like Orthodoxy is a one-legged stool as they teach the Bible is part of Tradition. Youch.

    The Schoolmen would say Reason, conforming yourself to reality, is in harmony with Tradition. And as Bishop Kallistos of Diokleia points out there is Tradition and there are traditions.

    That relates to IMO the best argument for WO, that it's discipline not doctrine like celibacy for priests or not. And many of the arguments for or against aren't that well constructed. But for Catholics the larger church trumps everything else. ('It's never been done by the orthodox church' - in antiquity some fringe sects did - carries a lot of authority.) 'That's it?' That's it.

    You're right that the church is not God. Again, Catholics believe it's infallible yet made up of fallible people.

    Teaching that something is a sin is not bigotry against sinners no matter the sin, sexual or not. Saying they're the same is like presumed guilt or 'How often do you beat your wife?' illogic. Mu.

    Fr Christopher: you're right. There are three. Christians have to decide on one.

  14. Fogey, Church councils for centuries acted out their prejudice and bigotry against Jews in some very violent and abhorrent ways - all justified, BTW, on the basis of Scripture.

    In addition, Article 19 makes clear that no church is infallible. This is foundational Anglicanism, I'm afraid; it's really not just me.

    IOW, nobody's buying the "infallible Church" thing anymore - thank goodness.

    The "gay is sin" argument has no force behind it any longer, I'm afraid. It doesn't hold up either Scripturally (there's no prohibition against lesbianism, for instance, so quite obviously there's none against "homosexuality) or rationally. Again, all you have is Tradition.

    Which is not nearly enough, based - as it is, notwithstanding your claims to the contrary - on simple prejudice. The way I know that is that the prejudice has existed in, literally, every other religion and culture on earth. IOW, there's nothing at all distinctively "Christian" about it - so why is it still being clung to obsessively as if there were?

  15. As a priest in the Diocese of Southwest Florida and one who is more committed than ever before to remain within TEC, I appreciate Mark's comments about John Lipscomb. While often disagreeing with him on issues, I respected his evangelical approach and respected him as bishop. The news of his departure while disturbing was far less so than the news that while he and the Roman Catholic bishop were in discussion, he was less than honest abut his journey with his diocese, especially Diocesan Council. The diocese has now made a financial committment to Lipscomb that will amount to over $200,000. This money could have better served the mission of the National Church and Diocese of Southwest Florida.

  16. As mainline Protestantism, with the four recent bishops et al, and evangelical Protestantism, with Francis Beckwith et al, see their bright lights leave for the big dance in Rome, many of these comments really come off as sour grapes.
    These men and many less prominent than they (see the churches of England and Ireland) were just confronted with the Truth, and it leads to the Catholic Church, plain and simple.

  17. Thanks to Katharine Jefforts Schori, the once proud ECUSA is consigning itself to be just another social justice organization that flirts with "spirituality."
    I have gone through a lot of struggles over the years to stay Catholic, but it's been worth it.
    Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam!

  18. Thank God that denominational differences will not exist in God's kingdom. As a former Roman who join TEC when it was still The Protestant Episcopal Church, and having served TEC as a priest for 30+ years, I have no desire and never will be moved to Dance With Rome. What attracted me to Anglicanism was it preserved the best while reforming the rest.

    For those who need an absolute world in which they believe God's absolute truth resides, I wish them well in Rome. They may be absolutely disappointed in the end. As for me, I will continue to serve God in TEC and stand firm on the Two Great Commandments. All else I leave to God's unfolding mystery.


OK... Comments, gripes, etc welcomed, but with some cautions and one rule:
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.