At a beautiful little church in a small Texas town in 1996, I celebrated my final Eucharist as an Anglican priest of the Episcopal Church. After the closing blessing, the choir and I processed out to the classic hymn, “Faith of Our Fathers.” A week later, I found myself in Washington, D.C., a layman sitting in a pew, anticipating my first Sunday Mass as a Catholic, and wondering what to expect. But when the opening hymn began, I knew that I was in the right place. The hymn? “Faith of Our Fathers.”
It was as if God was reassuring me that my entrance into the Catholic Church was simply a continuation of the spiritual journey I had begun as an Episcopalian. I still cherish the memory of that day. Not only did it confirm for me that my future rested in the Catholic Church, it also made me grateful for my Episcopal past. I am a “cradle” Episcopalian. It was within the Episcopal Church that I met the Lord, grew in faith, and heard a call to ordained ministry. An Episcopal high school is my alma mater, and it was at an Episcopal altar that my wife Stephanie and I exchanged our vows. As an Episcopal priest, I ministered in God’s name, preached His Word, and served His people.
My Anglican past is something I still treasure, even though I’ve been a Catholic for 15 years, and a Catholic priest for 11. In my mind, becoming Catholic wasn’t a rejection of my Anglican past; it was its completion. There were many good and wonderful things about my years as an Episcopalian. At the same time, I came to believe that something was missing. Namely, the authority that undergirds Catholic teaching; an authority I believe was given by God.
It was for this reason that I “crossed the Tiber to Rome,” as is joked, and became Catholic. Many people had taken this same journey before me, and many have taken it since. For leaving Anglicanism, we are labeled as “malcontents” or described as “disaffected” by some. But for the most part, I’ve found that not to be true. We don’t look backwards in bitterness. Instead, we look forward in faith.
Today, as Vicar General for the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter, I find myself privileged to assist many Anglicans in their own swim across the Tiber. The Ordinariate is a new national structure for communities of Anglicans who wish to be Catholic, but retain elements of the Anglican heritage we treasure, and which has nourished us and our forebears for centuries. This Ordinariate is the fruit of Anglicanorum coetibus (Latin for “Groups of Anglicans”), an Apostolic Constitution issued by Pope Benedict XVI in 2009. For its part, the Constitution is the fruit of the petitions of many Anglicans, who for decades have hoped, longed, and prayed for a way to become Catholic, while retaining elements of their Anglican past.
On Sunday, Jan. 1, 2012, the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter was established. Perhaps it’s only fitting that our “birth” happened on a day when Catholics honor Mary as the Mother of God! There’s indeed much work to be done, and all of us involved have rolled up our sleeves. But we do so with joy, grateful for all we’ve enjoyed in our Anglican past, and grateful for all we’ll receive in our Catholic future.
Reverend R. Scott Hurd is a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington. He has recently been named as Vicar General for the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter. Fr. Hurd’s first book, “Forgiveness: A Catholic Approach,” was published in September 2011 . He and his wife, Stephanie, live in Virginia with their three children.