Wednesday, September 3, 2008

World's First Anglican Use / Gospel Mass Parish

St. Therese Little Flower Parish in Kansas City was an early host of Charismatic Catholicism in the U.S. Situated in a largely African American neighborhood, St. Therese offers a liturgy drawing on charismatic and more traditional Gospel forms of worship. The parish is also a magnet for those seeking cultural diversity in church life.

Today St. Therese is led by a married man, Fr. Ernie Davis, who was an Episcopal priest for 15 years. In 2002, he was ordained to the Catholic priesthood for Kansas City.

Now a group of Anglicans and Episcopalians looking to "come home" to the Catholic Church is meeting at St. Therese and is beginning the area's first Anglican Use liturgy which lives alongside the existing Gospel-themed Mass at St. Therese.

"Both liturgies are Catholic to the core," Fr. Davis said.

The following article appears in the upcoming issue of The Catholic Key:

By John Heuertz

KANSAS CITY - A new organization has formed in Kansas City called the Society of Our Lady of Hope offering guidance, comfort and support to local Anglican Communion members who wish to become Catholics.

Beginning Sunday, September 7 and continuing through November, society members will celebrate the Liturgy of the Word each week at St. Therese Little Flower parish in Kansas City using the Book of Divine Worship - the Catholic Church-approved liturgy for Catholics with an Episcopalian or Anglican background.

Each week until December 1, the first Sunday of Advent, the liturgy will be followed by a talk on some aspect of the Catholic faith. If all goes as planned, the full Anglican Use Mass will begin on that date at St. Therese's.

Speakers will include Bishop Emeritus Raymond Boland and former Episcopal priest Mat Teel and every talk is open to the public.

"I get excited about these things," says Jude Huntz of Gladstone, who is helping coordinate the process. "I get emotional. I guess I'm in the right business."

Huntz, RCIA formation director at St. Michael the Archangel parish in Leawood, also has a personal interest.

"I have a five year old son and I really wanted him to feel he could attend the same church as a child and as an adult," says Huntz's wife Cristen, a society member and lifelong Anglican. "But I don't see that viability in the Anglican continuum anymore."

The goal is for Bishop Robert Finn to administer the sacraments of confirmation and holy Communion to society members - and to all who join them in this faith journey - at St. Therese's on December 10.

The liturgy and the talks are the first step to a complete "Anglican use" Roman Catholic Mass at St. Therese's each Sunday.

"They're already Trinitarian and very sacramental, so it's not the full RCIA program," says Father Ernie Davis, St. Therese pastoral administrator and the group's guiding spirit. "We're emphasizing things they might stumble over as new Catholics."

Anglicans live everywhere, and most Episcopalians are Americans. Both are part of the Anglican Communion, the Church of England’s international family.

In recent years, ongoing Anglican Communion disagreements over issues including abortion and euthanasia, ordaining women, and gay marriage have caused a crisis of conscience for some communion members.

Father Davis himself experienced this crisis, and he was an Episcopal priest with 15 years of loyal service at the time. Why would a lifelong Episcopalian become a Catholic when he still loved the Episcopal Church?

“The short answer is, because I finally realized I wasn’t a Catholic,” he says. “And even though the practical steps were much harder than actually converting, I’ve never regretted my decision to leave.”

He points out that cradle Catholics might be surprised to learn that many Anglicans and Episcopalians consider themselves part of the Catholic Church now.

On the other hand, the similarities help to lower the natural barriers to religious conversion.

The process got started late last winter, when a group of local Anglicans and their pastor, Father John Cochran, explored entering the Catholic Church in a body.

“I had thought about this basically twice before in my lifetime and it’s finally culminating,” says society member Luanne Fliss of Raytown. “I’m tremendously thrilled to be joining the mother church.”

The Society of Our Lady of Hope hopes to focus on evangelization for all who wish to join or return to the Catholic faith. It’s one of a growing number of similar Catholic organizations nationwide.

But it’s also unique. After December, St. Therese’s will be the only Catholic parish in the United States that has added a regular, weekly Anglican-use Mass.

“There’s been some anxiety, but the parish has been very welcoming,” Father Davis says. “The Anglicans say they’ve never experienced such a warm and welcoming parish.”

In fact, St. Therese may be the only Catholic parish anywhere with two unique Sunday liturgies — the joyous and exuberant African-American inspired Gospel Mass, and the Anglican-use Mass with its rich spirit of contemplation and recollection.

“There is a lot of beauty in the Anglican tradition,” Cristen Huntz says. “And I felt the presence of God at the Gospel Masses.”

“Both liturgies are Catholic to the core,” says Father Davis. “But neither one is a white-bread liturgy.”

“For me, the time since May has gone like lightning,” he continues. “I see divine intervention everywhere in this process.”

For further information, contact St. Therese the Little Flower parish at (816) 444-5406 or visit the society’s website. More information is also available on Father Davis’ weblog.

John Heuertz is a freelance journalist living in Kansas City.