Wednesday, December 05, 2012

A Lutheran Joins the Ordinariate

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn and the Ordinariate of the Chair of Peter ordained a formerly-Episcopal priest the other day.  And he's a Lutheran.

Well, a former Lutheran.  Also a former Pentecostal and a former Roman Catholic.  The Brooklyn Tablet explains:

Born in Sunset Park [Brooklyn] and of Puerto Rican descent, Father [Belen] Gonzalez y Perez was baptized a Catholic as an infant at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Basilica, Sunset Park, but became an active participant in Pentecostal youth groups. 
He received his bachelor’s degree in philosophy from State University of New York-Empire State College in Saratoga Springs. He went on to receive a master of divinity degree and a master of arts in religion, with a focus on systematic theology, from Gettysburg Seminary in Gettysburg, Pa. While in seminary, his studies included courses at Catholic schools such as Catholic University, Washington, D.C.; the Oblate School of Theology, San Antonio, Texas; and St. Vincent de Paul Seminary, West Palm Beach, Fla. 
He was ordained a Lutheran priest in 2002 and received certification as an Episcopal priest in 2008.

The Tablet does not make clear whether Fr. Belen is incardinated -- rostered, in ELCA-speak -- in the Diocese of Brooklyn or in the Ordinariate.  This is a minor but important point.

We aren't sure whether we know Fr. Belen or not.  His name is instantly familiar, and we have surely met at synod events through the years.  In any case, and notwithstanding our grave doubts about the wisdom of the Ordinariates, we wish him well.

We will take this occasion to point out that one characteristic of Tiber jumpers (and Bosphorus jumpers as well) is that many of them pass through several church bodies on their way to Rome (or Constantinople, as the case may be).  Among American Lutherans, the most common trajectory seems to be LC-MS-->AELC-->ELCA-->Rome.  Call it the via Neuhaus.  But we number among our friends and acquaintances many variations on the theme; a dear friend began life in the bosom of the Scarlet Woman, passed through Lutheranism like gravel through a duck, and is now happy in the OCA.

Why are the LC-MS and its unloved daughter the AELC the starting place for so  many of these wanderings?  We suspect a combination of causes.  It starts with the claim of the LC-MS, whether explicit or implicit, to be the one true church.  A child bred in that creed, confronted as an adult by the obvious fact that it is untrue, is almost forced to begin a search for an ideal church.  Members of the Seminex crowd were confronted en masse by the failures of Missouri, and so began their search en masse as well. Add to that the tremendous influence upon most of them of Artheur Carl Piepkorn, and their eventual destination was not difficult to discern.

The ELCA has no doubt driven many AELC pastors away, by failing to live up to their hopes and expectations.  If Missouri is rigid and self-important, the ELCA has been chronically wishy-washy and self-effacing.  It has gone out of its way to avoid "churchiness" in polity and even theological language.  Most significant, the ELCA's central leadership has generally been dominated by its liberal wing.  There's irony here, since many of the most left-leaning voices in its creation came from the AELC.  They, however, are not the ones leaving for Rome.

Of course, each person's journey is unique.  Belen Gonzales y Perez, for example, has nothing to do with Missouri and its mythology; his return to Roman Catholicism will have a different character altogether.  As the Seminex generation ages, we anticipate that the common trajectory will become less common, and these stories will bear more and more of an individual stamp.  (Although we also expect a cluster of mass defections to begin shortly, as Seminex grads still in the ELCA retire and collect their pensions).

These things happen, of course, and they are no crime.  John Donne was born to a family of Papist martyrs, and died as the dean of an Anglican cathedral.  Tertullian was baptized into Catholicism and died in Montanism.  Opinions change, and we are lucky that in modern Christianity no bloodshed -- or even tax liability -- normally accompanies changing opinions.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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