Although I was, like The Sheepcat, partly from a United Church clergy family, I was raised high Anglican. At age 8 I started asking hard questions about Anglicanism, and at age 13 I made my profession of faith for reception into full communion with the Catholic Church. My experience of thirteen years at an Anglican school – I chose to stay there following my conversion – had little to do with my decision to become Catholic; much of the Scriptural instruction I received there was very helpful, and I am very grateful for many blessings from that time, especially that of friendship. It did matter that my grade 3 classmates and I talked about whether or not we self-identified as Protestant; it was my early understanding that I simply belonged to the English branch of the Catholic Church, a claim which didn’t withstand scrutiny.
My objection to Anglicanism did not arise for the same reasons as many others’ in the ’70s – abortion and women’s ordination (which I do oppose but didn’t understand as a little child); huge crises of conscience were triggered amongst certain adults with the first ordination of a woman to the Canadian Anglican clergy, on November 1, 1976.
And I’m glad I wasn’t so sophisticated as to fully comprehend the politics around me. Rather, I was young and simple enough to be struck by the whole question of origins. In fairness, my Anglo-Catholic environment was pretty Roman-friendly; and the parishes where I was baptized and raised were linked with the Oxford Movement.
Every year church school [Sunday school] students like me were given a faith-related gift. Mine included a Bible-based story book, a statue of Our Lady, and a rosary. Except for the belief that the Queen was the Head of the Church, I was taught nothing inconsistent with Catholicism, and in fact, I received much better catechesis than many of my cradle-Catholic contemporaries. I even believed in the Real Presence (and I was horrified to learn later the early history of Anglicanism that was so destructive to the Sacraments). I didn’t know that I wasn’t being taught mainstream Anglicanism.
One Sunday thirty years ago – it was a warm morning between Easter and Pentecost – the church school teacher moved our class outside to the lawn, and set about introducing the Apostles’ Creed. “And who were the Apostles?” she asked. Hands went up. One child said they were the Disciples. Another child said they were the Evangelists. And a third child changed my life by saying, “They were the Catholics.”
Big wow. Did that mean there were people who were more like the Apostles than us? How could that be?
See, no Anglican child I knew was ever taught about Henry VIII, because no parents or teachers wanted us to emulate him. So at 8 years old, when I realized that Jesus had founded one Church and Henry VIII another, and I was in the latter, I felt cheated.
I would like to think that, had I lived in Henry VIII’s time, I would have been among those like Erasmus and Thomas More, who advocated Christian humanism and tried to reform the Church from within, perhaps at the price of my life. In university I eventually did a fourth-year paper on how Henry’s personal violation of the marriage covenant led to the wider disruption of communion and the inevitable break, in 1930, with the sexual morality with which Christians have been identified from the beginning. The fruits of a church founded on adultery have included desecration of the Sacraments to ensure a break from apostolic succession; and in turn, doctrinal confusion. (Doctrinal confusion later challenged the Catholic Church, which is now in the midst of a reform-of-the-reform.) And the schisms continued exponentially after the foundation of Anglicanism and other early Protestant churches, so that today we have thousands upon thousands of Christian denominations.
I very much resisted leaving the best world I had ever known till then, but nothing was ever the same after that Sunday. I was happily enrolled in a Catholic Sunday school the next fall. At 13 I converted formally and eagerly to Catholicism, making my profession of faith for reception into full communion.
Others on that lawn were on a similar pathway, and my Anglican church school teacher became my Catholic Confirmation sponsor. As I grew up we lost touch, though I did see her briefly upon the passing of our old pastor, another convert. She went to Quebec and became a Sister in the Congregation of Notre Dame. I heard her news through other convert friends, and was able to write to her before my wedding to The Sheepcat. I extended a printed invitation along with a handwritten letter acknowledging that she would probably be unable to attend, because of illness and frailty. The Sister wrote back, declining the invitation as expected, but telling me two great things.
First, she was confident that our marriage would be successful, because I had known to describe The Sheepcat as “a gift from God.” Second, she has prayed for me every day of my life. Another big wow! From our various wedding guests we received small gifts and large gifts and no gifts and fancy gifts – but this Sister’s intangible gift was the best of them all, and without it, I don’t know how I would have turned out. (Subsequent to our engagement, I joined The Sheepcat in teaching Confirmation at our parish. I tell this anecdote to our students, to encourage them to carefully choose holy sponsors.)
As for the rest: A couple of the Anglicans I knew as a child have become large-E Evangelicals; almost all the rest are now Catholics or Orthodox Christians who are also small-e evangelicals. Meanwhile, most current Anglicans my husband and I know are either swimming the Tiber as a group, or struggling within the various fractured remnants of the Anglican Church of Canada. “The time [has] come when people [do] not tolerate sound doctrine but, following their own desires and insatiable curiosity, … accumulate teachers and … stop listening to the truth and [are] diverted to myths” (2 Tim 4:3-5).
I’m too hungry to have stayed in a church setting without nourishing food. As a Christian who accepts the Creed, I’m left with the fundamental issue of what to do with John 6. Here are some chapter excerpts:
v 51: “‘I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.’”
v 55: “‘For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.’”
v 60: “Then many of his disciples who were listening said, ‘This saying is hard; who can accept it?’”
v 66: “As a result of this, many (of) His disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied Him.”
Typically, only those Churches (Catholic and Orthodox) which maintain apostolic succession teach that Christ is truly present on the altar as He promised to be. Sacred Tradition is sacred. Other traditions may not be.