Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Why I left ECUSA, Part 5: A new beginning . . .

The fifth (and final) in a series outlining why my family and I believe it is time for us to leave the Episcopal Church (read Part 1: A brief history, Part 2: A crack appears, Part 3: The deluge, and Part 4: The end). UPDATE: And don't forget the Addendum: Roma รจ chiamata.

So, we decided we needed to leave the Episcopal Church sooner than I had thought we might. The problem with leaving a church is that you are not just leaving a building and a service style, you are leaving people and a culture, an ethos if you will, that, if you have been brought up in ECUSA like I have, is very grounded in your soul—a certain way of doing “church.”

And now it is gone.

There are a few things I do know, however, that have become the parameters and priorities for my family (every person and family making this move or deciding to stay in ECUSA will have their own priorities, so please don’t think I’m criticizing anyone’s decision—I know how difficult this can be):

  • To be biblically sound

  • To have a discipline structure in place

  • To offer youth programs that emphasize Christ

  • To be part of a greater Christian community

  • To be fairly close by
I am not interested in joining another mainline Protestant denomination. If the idea of an Anglican Communion (which has had some groups leave, but no official splitting) is important to me—to feel part of a larger global Christian presence—then joining the Presbyterians, the Lutherans, the Baptists, the Methodists, etc. would be a step backwards. Fragmentation is not a gift of the Holy Spirit, and the breaking apart of these denominations over various reasons seems to me to show that they are not a full expression of God’s Spirit in this world. I'm beginning to have serious doubts about the long-term efficiacy of the Protestant Reformation.

Also, all of these denominations seem to be just a few years short of finding themselves where ECUSA is now on the issues of biblical authority and church discipline.

I also, for better or for worse, am not interested in joining one of the continuing Episcopal churches (APA, REC, etc.), even though it seems as though there has been great movement to start bringing those together with Common Cause and the Anglican Communion Network. For a family with children, these churches seem awfully isolated and small, and they are not technically part of a greater global Christian family.

So, with those parameters, that leaves us with several options:
We started our exploration at our local community church, which has great youth programs and a lot of outreach (and is very close by). We knew there might be a problem when we walked into the “church” (really an auditorium) and our son said, “Where’s the altar?” I will say, it was a great Bible study, but not a church service as we recognized it. The service consisted of about 30 minutes of praise music from the band on stage, a few prayers, a great “sermon” (talk) from the pastor (very committed and Bible focused), then another song, another prayer, and we were done.

We decided it would make a great Wednesday night Bible study, but left something lacking for a church service. I also feel community Christian churches are sometimes too personality driven. A particular pastor develops a following that starts a church. What happens when he retires? Or deviates from the Christian path? There is nothing behind a community church to keep it focused on anything other than what the pastor wants.

In San Diego, we have quite a few Anglican churches up and running, under the Southern Cone and Uganda, thanks to Bishop Mathes’s pastoral skills. The churches have worked hard together to create an Anglican presence here. One of the churches, St. Timothy & St. Titus, has taken the lead in organizing the youth and has done a great job in putting together retreats and programs that draw all of the Anglican kids in the area, including from Orange County. Unfortunately, St. TnT is quite a ways away and one of our priorities is proximity. My husband commutes every weekday down to San Diego and the last thing he wants to do on a Sunday is have another commute. It also makes it difficult for us to get involved in weekday activities if the drive is too far. There are two Anglican churches somewhat closer to us and we are looking at both.

But my concern with the Anglican churches, which I am still working through, is two-fold.

First, even though these churches have left ECUSA, there is still a lingering miasma of hurt and contention, within the churches and sometimes the clergy. These churches were part of the failed institutional structure of the Episcopal Church. That is not so easy to discard even though they have moved under another Anglican entity. I will say that the service with ++Gregory Venables at St. Anne’s Anglican in Oceanside was a joyous, forward-looking event that all of the local Anglican church participated in. If that feeling of moving on and focusing on God can eventually become the dominant thrust in these churches, that would be wonderful indeed.

My other concern is the overriding one of discipline in the Anglican Communion. Right now, there is none. Will that change? What is to keep what happened with ECUSA from happening again with another group? There is no there there to look to. The Instruments of Communion are broken and ignored. How will that change?

Lambeth seems geared towards keeping anything from happening or any decision from being made definitively. And I don’t believe an Anglican Covenant will fundamentally change anything. We have our Covenant Agreement, it’s called the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer. If a covenant does end up being adopted at some point, I think one of two things will happen. Either the covenant will be so anemic as to be pointless or the covenant will be ignored. Neither of these outcomes will bode well for the Anglican Communion.

So that moves us down to the Orthodox Church. I’m the first to admit I don’t know that much about it except that it strives to remain as the closest idea of the early church. Other than that, it seems to be present in this country divided into ethnic groups. We have the Greek Orthodox, the Russian Orthodox, the Armenian Orthodox, etc. With the last name of Coletta, I’m looking for the Italian Orthodox and I don’t see it (well, actually I guess that’s the Roman Catholic Church). There are Antiochian Orthodox churches in the area but they are way down in San Diego and too far away. We do have friends who left ECUSA and now go to the Greek Orthodox Church nearby who have invited us to visit with them (thanks, Jeff and Claudia!) which we will have to do before we make any final decisions.

And now we’re at our last possibility—the Roman Catholic Church. First off, there is one right up the street—less than five minutes by car (so how shallow can I be? Hey, try me!). We have been a few times, and to see the number of children there makes you realize right away that you’re not at an Episcopal Church! My main concern here is that there are areas of doctrine I’m not sure about (although I’m willing to give the church the benefit of the doubt—after years of ECUSA doing its own thing, there is something nice about admitting that I personally don’t have all the answers and that maybe, just maybe, the greater Church does know a thing or two that I don’t, since she has been thinking about them for 2,000 years).

But going to the Roman Catholic Church in a sense closes the door on being Anglican. You don’t just start going to a Catholic church—you join a Catholic church. You become Catholic. You can’t get away with saying, well, we’re just going here for a while. No, you have to commit to becoming a Roman Catholic. That’s a big step and not to be taken lightly.

So here’s my chart:

CommunityLocal AnglicanOrthodoxRoman Catholic
To be biblically soundYYYY
To have a discipline structure in place??YY
To offer youth programs that emphasize ChristYY?Y
To be part of a greater Christian communityNY?Y
To be fairly close byY?NY

(I have no idea why there is such a big gap here-sorry!)

So, we are still in discernment and will be visiting churches over the summer and I will be doing more reading on various doctrinal and theological differences . . .

and we will see where God directs.


Perpetua said...

Dear Anne,
Thank you so much for sharing your thought process on this decision!!!

Anonymous said...

Dear Anne,

I swam the Tiber five years ago. I never wanted to be Roman Catholic. I never imagined it and I was very, very reluctant to even explore it. It felt "foreign" and "medieval" and ... well ... "weird". I came from a completely Protestant background.

But, like you, I had few options. Like you, I considered the Orthodox Churches as well. In checking out the Roman Catholic Church, I started with the Catechism and then just started reading and reading. It was hard going. And then something magical and very unexpected happened. I was understanding the RCC point of view... finally! It was a gift ... no question.

The RCIA process was helpful ... there was no pushing, no pursuing. In fact, the attitude was "please do not join us if you cannot subscribe to our beliefs." There was also the attitude of "take all the time you want to check us out." I have to admit that I was surprised by this.

I am home ... finally. I cannot imagine being anywhere else.

I do not know where you will end up. I will hope and pray that you will find a church that will give you that solid sense of being in the right place ... the place that you can grow spiritually ... the place where you feel God has called you.

Bless you during this difficult time.


Hening said...

I'm going to an Albanian Orthodox festival in a couple of weeks. You just would have to swim the Adriatic from Italia.

The Greek Orthodox Church is very much about being Greek. I lived with a wonderful Greek family as a teenager, and their father was the local priest. Some of the theology regarding Christ's place in the Trinity along with Whom the Holy Spirit proceedeth from is different from the West. Hope you like incense and icons. We have a Greek man in our church, who loves the Episcopal service since it translates the closest to the Greek Orthodox (according to him). My mentor in college was a Greek Orthodox priest and he primed me to accept that every word we speak and appliance we use originated in ancient Greece (i.e. Constantinople was the first city with street lights).

Having been a Catholic, and having served on a large church council, you would be surprised to discover the theological diversity in the pews. I spend time at a local Trappist monastery on retreat and with my spiritual director, and they have no problems discussing faith and sharing Christ with a postmodern product of the Reformation.

You are like the landing party on Star Trek since we'll all more than likely be beaming (up actually)out at some point with the madness that has infected our beloved church. Keep reporting in, landing party.

Joel said...


Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Having relocated from your parish to an area infested by the loony left, I understand the trade-offs you articulate. (Right now we drive 35 minutes to a 1928 BCP parish).

However, I think you prematurely write off other Protestants. In particular, Lutherans and Calvinists have a better developed theology than those who follow the Henry VIII/Elizabeth I "Anglican fudge." And there are some sizable national denominations left (LCMS is larger than PECUSA) that haven't joined the "mainline" progressive heresies.

I would encourage you to check out LCMS (some conservative, some moderate) and WELS (fundamentalist) branches of Lutheranism. They have liturgy, an altar, although no bells and smells. (Join the Lees if you want the latter). The WELS parish in Carlsbad seems very vibrant with their K-8 school, and there are several LCMS parishes in North County.

I would also suggest Presbyterian if you're OK with Reformed theology (which is most of the community churches). PCA is theologically conservative, and North Coast Presbyterian in Encinitas seems like a large, successful parish.

Finally, openly Christian celebrity Patricia Heaton has gone to the EPC (see article) which seems also to be theologically solid.

Let us know what you find.


jleecbd said...

A few points.

I think you're moving along in the right direction. You are right in that joining Rome (or the Orthodox Church) is joining, as in, leaving behind that which you were a part of. You make vows before God. It is not a step to be taken lightly.

That said, I'll fill in a couple of blanks for you on your chart :).
The Orthodox Church in this country, for reasons of expediency (Turkish invaders, communism, etc.) fragmented into multiple ethnic jurisdictions, when it was originally under the authority of the Russian Church, as the original Orthodox here were in Alaska. Many people pray and are actively seeking away to eliminate the jurisdictions here. Now, of course, the sin of pride has entered in, so it will be a long road.

That being said, I can, and have, attended Orthodox Churches in any of the various jurisdictions. When in town, I attend the Greek parish. However, I've been to a wedding at a local Russian Church, have attended chant classes and the like at one of the local Antiochian parishes, and have worshipped at an Antiochian parish in Detroit when I was there recently. If I travelled to Serbia, Russia, Albania, Greece, Ethiopia, Syria, etc., I could attend an Orthodox Church in any of those places and be welcome.

For the youth programs, I'll point you here, and mention that our youth participate in a nationwide Oratorical festival every year where the best get to travel to Boston for the finals. The speeches are on some aspect of the Orthodox faith.

At any rate, be blessed in your journey. Any questions, you know where to find me :) (on the train, can't afford the gas to San Diego anymore!).

Anne Coletta said...

Thanks to you all for experiences and knowledge! It really helps to know that we are not alone in this, wherever we end up!

Anonymous said...

I greatly appreciate your blog and the explanation of the detail you and your family are going thru in your journey. Have you ever read any essays by Frederica Mathewes-Green ? Her husband is a former Episcopal priest, currently an Antiochian Orthodox priest. is an excerpt of the begnning of her book about her family's trip across the Bosporus.

Anne Coletta said...

What a coincidence, anon! Right after I posted this series, I thought, oh, I forgot to mention Frederica Mathewes-Green - she was the subject of one of my first blog posts here on her essay "From Pro-Choice to Pro-Life." When ECUSA became officially a member of the RCRC and I started researching all of this, she was one of the first writers I encountered - and she made so much sense! There is also a tangential connection in that she is from Charleston, and while I don't know her, I know of her family. She is a true blessing!

Carolina Girl said...

Anne - I found your blog researching my Carolina Huguenot geneology for my kids.

I was moved, if not heartbroken, for your plight.

I was raised Baptist (too conservative and out of touch), married a Catholic (during my agnostic college years), baptized our kids United Methodist (too liberal and becoming more liberal), and, like you, saw the Roman Catholic church as my only option (they seemed academic, conservative, and ritualistic - my entire wish list was covered).

But I never got out of the starting gate at RCIA classes - what busy mom has time for that??

And as began to watch Catholic TV and research the faith online, I realized they are very diverse, even cultish at the fringes.

Be careful, my dear friend.

Historically, all religions and churches have been motivated by power and wealth, not to mention authority over populations or political strength - and corruption always follows.

Sadly, you and I are witnessing it and as mothers, it is like experiencing our home destroyed by an enemy. Try to remove yourself from the immediacy of it, and look at it from an historical perspective. Our Huguenot ancestors were persecuted by Catholics, and Catholics have been persecuted as well.

Raise your kids to THINK, and they will be fine. Don't rely on a church to raise your kids - you clearly have SO much to offer them - let them know why you left and instill in them the values for which you are fighting. I can't imagine you'll find a conservative church anywhere in California (haha - cheap shot!).

Best of luck to you - God help the good and moral and people of this world, of all faiths!!

Anonymous said...

Your recap of the community church sounds like my new church. In a world of biblically unsound teaching, i RELISH a place that has a strong biblical sermon. I DONT mind that its informal and not sacramental. That stuff isn't what Jesus preached about (the formal service part).