CALGARY — A year ago, Pope Benedict invited traditionalist Anglicans to return to the fold of Roman Catholicism. Calgary's St. John the Evangelist Anglican Church is the first parish in Canada to accept his offer.
The 70-member congregation held meetings for 10 months, conducted research, prayed, and discerned about the decision. A vote was held Nov. 21, with 90 per cent in favour of rejoining the Catholic Church.
"The pressures to leave have always been there within the Anglo-Catholic movement," said Father Lee Kenyon, pastor at St. John the Evangelist Anglican Parish.
"They were there when John Henry Newman converted from Anglicanism to Catholicism in the middle of the 19th century. There is a long history of Anglicans entering into full communion with the Catholic Church."
St. John the Evangelist opened its doors in 1905, with the church building opening in 1911. The church refers to itself as "Your Anglican (Anglo-Catholic) Parish."
"Essentially, St. John's and parishes like it have been trying to live out a Catholic life, a Catholic sacramental life, Catholic devotional life and a Catholic spiritual life. But they've been doing so without the full communion of Peter," said Kenyon, who is married with two children.
More conservative than most of Calgary's Anglican parishes, St. John's Anglo-Catholic parishioners were largely opposed to the increasingly liberal Anglican Church's recognition of same-sex blessings and other non-traditional practices.
"Most Anglo-Catholics within the Anglican Church of Canada actually left. They departed over the ordination of women and reforms in the liturgy. Certainly by the mid-1980s they were gone altogether," said Kenyon.
However, Kenyon said St. John the Evangelist Parish never sought to leave Anglicanism out of protest, and not out of anger or frustration over liberal reforms.
"Although those issues may have been the cause for people leaving the Anglican Church of Canada, it's very important to emphasize that they can never be the reasons in themselves for joining the Catholic Church," he said.
"Any Anglo-Catholic who has always had these goals in mind of corporate reunion cannot ignore the offer."
The pope extended the invitation, in a document known as Anglicanorum Coetibus, in November 2009. It allowed for Anglican converts to retain parts of their liturgy and traditions, including the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. Kenyon hopes there will be mutual enrichment.
Toronto Archbishop Thomas Collins will establish an Anglican ordinariate, aimed at helping convert Anglican priests and ordain them as Catholics. Kenyon hopes that by this time next year, the process will be complete.
Ownership of the red brick church building, constructed in 1911, has yet to be determined. Many of St. John the Evangelist parishioners have been attending church services there for more than 50 years and want to stay there.
"I am hoping that we can hold onto our building, but at the same time we are prepared to lose everything. What matters at the end of the day are the living stones and not the built stones," said Kenyon.
"What matters is the spiritual imperative to enter into the Catholic Church. Building and land are secondary."
In November, a court ruled that four breakaway Anglican parishes in Vancouver continue to belong to the Anglican diocese. Other court battles are taking place across the country.
In England, five Anglican bishops recently announced that they want to be united with Rome.
The public and those Christians who know what this is about have been sympathetic, understanding, kind and considerate, said Kenyon. There have been no disputes with other Anglican clergy.