The Home Stretch

Thirteen years ago I stood at the altar as an Anglican priest in my beautiful medieval church not believing what I was doing.

I had come to believe in the real presence of Our Lord’s Body and Blood in the Eucharist, but it was not present in my church, but in the chapel of the Benedictine Quarr Abbey. Put very simply, Jesus was there in a way that I did not believe he was present when I celebrated the Anglican Eucharist. People asked how I could sacrifice everything to become a Catholic. It wasn’t hard. How could I have continued for another thirty years as an Anglican priest standing at an altar doing something I no longer believed in?

So, in 1995, my wife and two infant children and I were received into full communion with the ancient, one, holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. We left our rambling Victorian country vicarge and two magnificent medieval churches for a small house, a job with no future and a Catholic church where we did not feel at home. I applied to be ordained a priest, and completed my training, but for one reason after another it never happened. After ten years I had a dossier with letters from a cardinal, an archbishop and four bishops all saying I should be ordained, but no one did anything about it.

Then in the summer of 2005 an advertisement appeared in the National Catholic Register for a chaplain to St Joseph’s School in Greenville, South Carolina. Greenville was my home town. My family was there, so I wrote to the school from England saying, ‘You will need some creativity to entertain my application. You want a Catholic priest. I am not a priest, I am married and I live in England.’

That summer I flew in to interview for the job. In the winter of this year I spent three months at the school as a lay chaplain. We sent the paperwork to Rome for a dispensation from the vow of celibacy. In March I was offered the job. In May we sold our house in England. In June we moved to South Carolina. In July the rescript came through from Rome. In September I took my written theological exams. In October I took my oral exams. In November I was ordained deacon, and tomorrow I set out on my ordination retreat, after which I am to be ordained priest on Thursday night.

Thursday night will be a wonderful harvest. Many strands of the past are coming together. My mother will be at the ordination Mass. With her, at the age of five, I first ‘accepted Jesus into my heart.’ I will be ordained as a Catholic priest just two miles from Bob Jones University where I first moved away from Evangelical fundamentalism. Just a few hundred yards away is the little independent Anglican church where I took my first steps toward the ancient church. With me will be my English wife and her parents…friends and family who first believed in my ministry as a priest, and who never wavered in their belief that one day I would be ordained as a Catholic priest.

It has been a long, difficult and exiting adventure of faith. At times I felt like giving up altogether. Prayer was empty, the Mass seemed empty. God seemed silent. I felt abandoned. At times all I could do was gaze at the host and wish that it was Jesus Christ and cling to my belief that he really was present there.

Forgive the self centredness of this post, but if you are reading this, and you are confused or frustrated or exhausted in the spiritual life, never give up hope. Allow me to speak from experience: God knows what he is doing. Trust in God. Trust in God. Trust only in God, and everything else will be added to you.

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  • Dear Father, please know that I will be praying for you as you take this step. Please pray for me also.

  • Thank you. I will be taking to the altar at my first Mass on Friday evening so many friends and family. I will remember you too.

  • Dear Dwight,As an English priest(from Canterbury – how’s that!) incardinated in a US diocese, I feel close to you! God bless you and your family for your faith and trust. Many blessings for Thursday. Stay close to Our Lady of Walsingham.Father Benedict.

  • Reading your blog and posts over the last number of months has changed me at a very deep level. My journey was very different than yours. I was raised Catholic but had left because I felt the call the serve, but not the gift of celibacy. 8 years ago I started at an Anglican seminary looking to become an Anglican priest, but the further I went academically the less I could do it. I returned to the church of Rome, and do not regret it at all. I am now married and have an 11 week old baby. I will serve God and the church with all of my being, but as a married man. Thank you for sharing your journey with us.

  • Heard Alex Jones speak this past Sunday and Monday night at a “mission” in one the churches in our city. He told about how he was drawn to find the true apostolic beginnings of the church, digging for his true Pentecostal roots. Having discovered the Church Fathers he began to remodel his services in the form of the Mass. When he found a Roman Missal he was “in heaven” and mimicked everything, easy as pie, following the “instructions in red” for the priests. However, one Sunday he was finally struck with the reality that the bread and the wine {by then grape juices was long gone} did, in fact, not become the Eucharist. At that point he knew the sincere game was over and he was destined to become a Catholic.

  • How could I have continued for another thirty years as an Anglican priest standing at an altar doing something I no longer believed in? … [We ended up in] a Catholic church where we did not feel at home.I can sympathise with this position, Dwight. I am finding myself not believing all of Anglicanism, believing Catholicism, and yet not feeling it’s home because I’ve been away for so long (until recently, the last time I’d attended an R.C. Church was about 1992).After ten years I had a dossier with letters from a cardinal, an archbishop and four bishops all saying I should be ordained, but no one did anything about it.Gosh. That’s weird! Did you ever work out why they were complacent – if that’s the right word?Oh, and by the way, I found your book very helpful.

  • What an incredible journey! Thanks be to God for bringing you home! I will certainly be keeping you in my prayers.

  • Thanks for your comments Kristina and onionboy.mark,which book did you find particularly helpful? There are human reasons why the English bishops marginalized me, but there are always divine reasons that are interwoven into our affairs, and it is this great mystery of faith that I find so exciting.

  • I think your story is incredibly interesting … I had no idea you could become a priest of you were married … I thought you had to be a deacon.I’ve always been Catholic and have no intention of leaving, but your story is still an inspiration to trust that the Lord will bring you to the place you are supposed to be. Best of luck in your new ministry and congratulations on your ordination!

  • The one you edited – The Path To Rome. I remember it because I was so disappointed when I couldn’t find Ann Widdecombe’s story (listed as contributor on the front cover) – but then it was only after I read it all I realised she wrote the Foreword.

  • Path to Rome is v. popular. I’m glad it helped. Check out my other books on my website if you like. You can link there from my blog.

  • Wow!!! Great post… Blessings!!

  • Thank you Father. For various reasons (which I won’t bore you with) This is exactly the message I needed to hear today.My prayers are with you today.

  • Darlene said,Congratulations Father Longenecker, Those who have left Protestantism to enter the Catholic Church have a unique calling. I also am on a journey of faith toward the Catholic Church. Currently I am a Protestant, but the Real Presence in the Most Holy Eucharist is what first began to draw me toward the One, True Church. I have a ways to go – my husband is a staunch Evangelical and emphatically states that I cannot become a Catholic! However, I know that God’s plans cannot be thwarted. Many blessings to you and your family on this exciting journey toward the celestial city.

  • Beautiful testimony. I stumbled across your blog a while ago (before your ordination) and stumbled across it again in my bookmarks today. I see how the Lord has blessed you and I will pray for you.