The sign outside Christ the King Church is currently blank, still a work in progress. Like all things at the tranquil, leafy site of this Hampton church, it’s in a state of transition.
“White-out doesn’t work on these signs,” Father Edward Meeks said with a laugh.
Father Meeks, like a third of his congregation, grew up Catholic. And this weekend, Meeks and his congregants will return to the church. Meeks will be ordained by Washington Archbishop Donald Wuerl in a ceremony at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington. Then, in a Sunday morning mass, his congregation will be received into the Catholic church.
Meeks, 64, is the fourth Anglican priest in Maryland to be ordained in the Catholic church since a 2009 directive by Pope Benedict XVI established the Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter to receive Anglican churches that wished to transition to Catholicism but still keep some Anglican traditions.
The most important allowance is that priests who move from the Anglican to Catholic church can still be married, per special dispensation from the Vatican. Meeks has been married for 41 years to wife Jan, who serves as his secretary.
The pope’s 2009 move and the actions since then have been in the works for more than three decades, since Pope John Paul II began allowing Anglican parishes into the church. Thirty former Episcopal priests are scheduled for ordination this summer nationwide, and 30 more are set for next year.
Meeks began the process as quickly as he could. Last April, Washington Archbishop Donald Wuerl, a liaison to the ordinariate, asked interested Anglican priests to submit detailed dossiers, including resumes, his baptismal certificate and his marriage certificate.
In January, Meeks was given the green light to head to St. Mary’s Seminary in Houston for a weekend retreat then came home for 13 weeks of training “to kind of round out our catholic theology to address those issues of Catholic formation that might be lacking,” he said.
Meeks was raised Catholic, but left the church in the 1970s, a period he called “a time of great conflict and turmoil in the church.” About a third of his congregation, he said, was also raised Catholic.
“I wrongly concluded that the church was starting to lose its way. I realize now that’s impossible,” he said. “The holy spirit is always in the church.”
Of the 140 people in Meeks’ congregation, only about 10, he said, have not yet opted to join him in the move.
The Anglican church has faced some splits in the last several years over social issues, including the election of the first gay bishop in 2003. However, Meeks said Christ the King’s move was based merely out of a desire for apostolic authority.“We have always been on what I would call a kind of catholic trajectory. By that I mean that our theology, our doctrine, our liturgy have all had a decidedly Catholic flavor,” he said, adding that his church has been “seeking for a long time a way to be in full unity with the Catholic church.”
The move, he said, “is a very important step in regards of undoing some of the damage of the Reformation.”
UPDATE: The Baltimore Sun has more after yesterday’s big event:
The Towson congregation of about 140 is one of the first groups in the United States to join a new “ordinariate” established for those who want to be Catholic but hold on to Anglican traditions. The largest Anglican church in the country to do so, it follows in the footsteps of Mount Calvary Church in Baltimore and St. Luke’s Parish in Bladensburg.
“We’re just overjoyed by this,” said the Rev. Msgr. Jeffrey Steenson, who heads the U.S. ordinariate, the equivalent of a diocese but national in scope. As parishioners of all ages scurried past to take their seats for the Mass, he added, “It’s such a healthy community — you can see it’s full of children.”…
…The main emotion Sunday was joy. Parishioners hugged after being confirmed or once again received into the church. Music filled the sanctuary, sending vibrations through the bulletins in people’s hands. Sunlight streamed through the many windows. The smoky-sweet scent of incense hung in the air.
It was a Mass that seemed very familiar to those raised Catholic. But it wasn’t much of a change for the rest of the Christ the King parishioners, with many of the readings and responses straight from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer.
Ken Schuberth, a physician from Homeland, walked out afterward with a smile on his face. He hadn’t attended a Catholic church, except on rare occasions, for more than 40 years. As one of 30 people received back into the church Sunday as the “reconciled,” he said, “It was like being home again.”