Former Episcopal priest Laurence Gipson, who became Catholic in October, says his reaction to the Catholic ordinariate for former Anglicans is one of “gratitude.”
“The ordinariate, I think, is a wonderful opportunity for people like me, Anglican clergy and Anglican laity, who are seeking Catholic faith,” he said.
On Jan. 1, 2012, Pope Benedict XVI established the Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter to allow Anglican and Episcopalian groups in the U.S. to become Catholic as groups, not only as individuals. It follows the Pope’s November 2009 apostolic constitution “Anglicanorum coetibus,” which authorized the creation of the special church structures.
Gipson, a 70-year-old native of Memphis, Tenn., said he is grateful to Pope Benedict for establishing the ordinariate. He said it is “advancing the cause of unity in the Church.”
“It offers Anglicans a way to affirm the Catholic faith, that is, a way to affirm orthodox or right belief, while at the same time being able to worship God and practice the Christian life according to the Anglican tradition and patrimony,” he told CNA Dec. 7.
“The Catholic faith and Anglican use are a great combination,” Gipson continued. “Catholics have welcomed us warmly. They’ve extended the right hand of fellowship to us, and I’m really grateful for that.”
Gipson and his wife Mary Frances were received on Oct. 28 into the Catholic Church at Houston’s Our Lady of Walsingham Church through the Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter.
He was ordained an Episcopal priest in 1971. He served as rector of the Church of the Ascension in Knoxville, Tenn. and was dean of the Cathedral Church of the Advent in Birmingham, Ala.
For 14 years before his retirement in February 2008, he served as rector at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas. The church’s parishioners include former President George W. Bush and his wife Laura Bush.
Gipson and his wife have been married for 48 years. They have two adult children and two grandchildren.
He said he was drawn to the Catholic faith in part because of the Church’s “clarity” in teachings and the “unity of faith amongst the faithful.”
“What I yearned for and sought was a more centralized understanding of authority, the magisterium, the teaching authority, which could much more quickly and much more definitely interpret scripture and decide on the faith when it was in dispute and settle those issues.”
Gipson said Monsignor Jeffrey Steenson, the head of the U.S. ordinariate, and the theology faculty of the University of St. Thomas were among those who helped him become Catholic.
“My hope is to be ordained to the priesthood of the Catholic Church,” Gipson said. “I would like to practice that priesthood in any way that’s useful to the ordinariate.”
“I’ve been a parish priest all of my life in the Episcopal Church, for 42 years,” Gipson said. “That’s where my enthusiasm is, at the level of the parish, teaching and preaching, pastoral ministry.”
There are at least 69 candidates for the Catholic priesthood undergoing formation for possible ordination in the ordinariate. The ordinariate has ordained 24 priests since its launch in January. Many of them are married men ordained under a special dispensation in place since 1983.
Gipson said he is “deeply grateful” for his 58 years in the Episcopal Church
“The clergy and the people of the Episcopal Church gave me and my family more in the way of acceptance and support and generosity and love than we could ever have imagined or have deserved,” he said. “Each day serving was a blessing. It prepared me for, and gave me a yearning, for the Catholic Church in its fullness in all aspects of Christ’s Church.
The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion have faced much controversy in recent decades over the interpretation of Scripture, the ordination of women as priests, Christian sexual morality and other issues.
“I see the controversies as an outcome of the nature of authority in the Anglican Church and the Anglican Communion,” Gipson said. There are 34 provincial churches in the communion which are autonomous.
“Without a magisterium to interpret and define the faith, what Anglicanism relies on is dispersed authority rather than centralized authority,” he added.
“What I realized of course is that the Anglican tradition about authority is a part of the identity of Anglicanism, and Anglicanism does not wish to change that manner of authority,” Gipson explained. “The Anglican Communion wishes authority to be dispersed. I decided that I could not ask Anglicanism to change its identity for me, so I was the one that had to do the changing.”
He asked Catholics to show “patience” towards new members of the ordinariate and the Catholic Church.
“We’re just learning how to be good Catholics and there’s a lot to learn,” he said.