By Mary Ann Mueller in San Antonio
November 17, 2010
Perhaps in three hundred years, historians and journalists will look back on a mid-November 2010 meeting on the edge of a Texas desert and realize that it was the first time the various Anglican "cousins" of the emerging Anglican Ordinariate in America met and began forging the bonds that would weave them into a united ecclesial family under the patronage of Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman and in full unity with the Vicar of Christ, the successor to the Throne of Peter.
A year ago, these vastly flung Anglican "cousins" heard the words of Pope Benedict XVI when he announced the establishment of the Anglican Ordinariate in his publication of Anglicanorum Coetibus, thus throwing open wide the doors of the Catholic Church to fully embrace those various Anglicans who want to reunite with the See of Peter while retaining their own unique Anglican patrimony and thereby helping to enrich the Catholic Church in the process.
"This is historic," proclaimed the Rev. Christopher Phillips, founding pastor of Our Lady of the Atonement Anglican Use Catholic Church. "A great change was set into motion - a change so tremendous that Anglican/Catholic relations will be seen in terms of 'before Anglicanorum Coetibus' and 'after Anglicanorum Coetibus'."
Just as Rome threw its doors open wide, Fr. Phillips has thrown open the doors on his church to welcome American bishops, archbishops, priests, deacons, abbots, religious, hermits and laity to his San Antonio church so that the various Anglican cousins could come together as one in united prayer, unified praise, and common Anglican fellowship.
More than 125, from all points on the map responded to Fr. Phillips open invitation to come together and begin forming a united family centered around their common desire to become one in the Catholic Church.
A wide spectrum of the Anglican alphabet soup was represented at the three-day "Becoming One" gathering in Texas. Anglicans from the Episcopal Church (TEC); the Traditional Anglican Communion (TAC); and Catholic Church (RC); the Anglican Church in America (ACA); the Federation of Anglican Churches in America (FACA) and a number of other Anglican jurisdictions came to the desert Southwest.
"The Pope wants Anglicans not acronyms," Fr. Phillips explained. "TAC, FIF-NA, ACA, ACNA, AU ... Anglicanorum Coetibus envisions none of those things continuing within an Ordinariate.
"With the implementation of the Holy Father's Apostolic Constitution, they will have served their purpose," the Texas priest continued, "and as necessary as they were to get us here, they will be needed no more."
He noted that Forward in Faith and the Traditional Anglican Communion were instrumental in helping the See of Peter recognize and respond to the spiritual yearning of Anglo-Catholics committed to reunifying with the Great Latin Church of the West and to help fulfill the Lord's heartfelt pastoral prayer that "they all may be one ..." Now a new era is dawning and the next stage of development has begun.
Not only has a new era dawned for Anglo-Catholics as they are welcomed into full Communion with the Church of Rome, a new day has also dawned in The Episcopal Church under the leadership of its current Presiding Bishop.
"...to those who reject the Ordinariate because they want to 'maintain a pure form of Anglicanism' - all I can say is 'good luck with that." commented Fr. Phillips. "We can all see how well this so-called 'pure Anglicanism' is working out."
Fr. Phillips said that he can foresee a day when The Episcopal Church will no longer be considered a Christian denomination because the Christian faith is being jettisoned as Biblical truths are redefined.
"We've heard from people who recoil at the idea of 'becoming Roman Catholics'," he said. "And isn't it ironic? Isn't it 'Rome' which is actually preserving and nurturing the Anglican patrimony."
The former Episcopal priest has personally struggled long and hard to leave the spiritually decaying Episcopal Church behind him and find his spiritual home and ministry in the Roman Catholic Church.
In one fell swoop -- within a breath and two heart beats -- the former Episcopal priest found himself stripped of his pulpit, unemployed, homeless and without insurance coverage for his growing young family. He left without a retirement pension when he admitted to his Episcopal bishop that he felt the call of God to fulfill his priesthood in the Catholic Church and enter into the Pastoral Provision process. His Episcopal bishop immediately stopped his salary, his insurance and his pension, took the keys to his church and rectory, and deposed him of his Episcopal priesthood.
"My family and I willing sacrificed everything we had - family, friends, home, salary, insurance, pension - all gone," he recalled.
Eventually, Fr. Phillips was ordained an early Pastoral Provision Catholic priest. He went on to found Our Lady of the Atonement Catholic Church - the strong mother church of the Anglican Use in the United States. From those humble beginnings, with 18 souls in his spiritual care, Fr. Phillips, under the direction and leadership of the Holy Spirit, went on to build a vibrant Anglican Use congregation, one soul at a time.
"Episcopalians and Anglicans of various stripes came to see what it was all about and many of them chose to join with us." Fr. Phillips remembers the early days of Our Lady of the Atonement. "Lapsed Catholics found a place where they could rediscover their faith and were restored to the Sacraments. People who had no particular religious background found a small and welcoming community of believers and so made their way into the Catholic Church."
Now hundreds attend Sunday services. An attached classical education academy teaches more than 550 students in the Four Rs - 'Reading, 'Riting, 'Rithmetic, and Religion. The Atonement Academy is growing faster than they can build classrooms. Every available space is being used with more buildings are on the drawing board.
Just as Our Lady of the Atonement grew out of very humble beginnings, Fr. Phillips envisions a time in the Anglican Ordinariate that his success story will be replicated time and again as the Ordinariate grows one soul at a time and one congregation at a time.
On Tuesday evening he said he was thrilled to see so many of his Anglican "cousins" show up at Our Lady of the Atonement with a single-mindedness to come together and become one in faith, and practice and as a unified Catholic spiritual family.
"Our job is to become one with each other," Our Lady of the Atonement's pastor noted, while looking to the day when the unity among us will find its fulfillment in the unity of Christ's One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic and Roman Church."
---Mary Ann Mueller is a journalist living in Texas. She is a regular contributor to VirtueOnline
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