For the past several months I’ve been attending what was, until recently, a Continuing Anglican parish right here in the neighborhood. It goes by the name of the theological mystery which most entrances me: Incarnation Catholic Church. It now belongs to the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter. What that is is explained here. The parish’s history began (as best I recall) as a breakaway group from St. Michael’s Episcopal, also in the neighborhood, right up the street, in fact, instigated by Father Bruce Medaris, former U.S. Army general officer and an acquaintance of my grandfather dating from World War II. Father Medaris gave the eulogy at my grandmother’s funeral, she being a lifelong Episcopalian. (My grandfather was an atheist). Medaris had been greatly bothered by recent theological trends in his church, and thus established the Church of the Incarnation, which billed itself at the time as part of the Anglican Catholic Church. It was clearly in schism from Episcopalianism and, I presume, from the Church of England, if such a phenomenon can be said to exist in that communion. Though I don’t know if Medaris himself became Catholic, the difficulties he was having are probably explained well in this Christendom Review article by Arthur Dasher, also a former priest of the Episcopal Church. Dasher (who attended the Church of the Incarnation) did become Catholic, but last I heard had not been ordained a priest. I regret to say that I’ve lost touch with him, but will try to remedy that.
In any case, the Church of the Incarnation eventually became Incarnation Catholic Church, presumably for the very reasons explained by Mr. Dasher. The building Father Medaris raised claims to be “the first church building in North America that had never been other than a Continuing Anglican church.” The church itself is small, its membership supposedly “growing,” with a large social hall and a school for pre-school and pre-K children called St. Vincent’s Academy. The pastor is Father William P. “Doc” Holiday, a former marine, a career police officer, and eventually police chaplain. I believe he was ordained a Catholic priest a couple of years ago, and is clearly still “eaten up with the zeal of Thine house.” He’s not the greatest of preachers, but his enthusiasm becomes yours. Catholic theology is a treasure chest he can’t dig to the bottom of. He seems to know all the stories in the Old Testament. He addresses sin squarely. “You say you committed adultery out of love? Yes, you did. Love of self.” He’s a man’s man, and therefore a woman’s man as well. (Nothing salacious intended, for those of you with dirty minds.) When my wife praised his homily one Sunday, he thanked her for “not snoring.” During the liturgy over which he presides, there is no cowardly acquiescence to gender-neutral language (“who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven”). The fact-facing “many” is not changed to “all.” Most of the Eucharistic prayers are offered facing the altar. I get to hear a lot “thees” and “thous” and “thines” and other formulations thought lost forever: “being of one substance with the Father,” and “the remission of sins.” Congregants take communion at the altar rail, kneeling, and under both species. Some of the women wear veils (as did my Episcopalian grandmother) and some do not. At the sign of peace there is no disruptive handshaking or hugfest. People do their glad-handing after Mass. The Mass always begins with a Hail Mary and the first lines from John’s gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…,” and always ends with the “defend us in battle” prayer to Michael the Archangel. And, perhaps most importantly, the Blessed Sacrament, its candle always lit, of course, resides between Masses in a receptacle behind the altar, directly beneath the crucifix.
So I like this little place, and will pray that its reputed growth is real and continues apace, and will support it with as much of my substance as my stingy self can bear to part with.