Mid-Summer Update: Living on the Fast Train, Rooted in St. Francis

Peter and Judy Davids

June 21, 2014

Dear family and friends,

It is time that we posted a newsletter on my blog that brought you up to date on where we are at, for that is better than brief notes on Facebook. While the more momentous events are recent, I am going to start with some history, which will be old hat to some of you, but is necessary to review to give the flow of what led up to the events of the past year. Peter and Judy at Reception OLW 140216

As you know, I (Peter – but Judy also) grew up in the Plymouth Brethren, a group that started as an ecumenical service, getting all denominations together around the Lord’s Supper, trying to bypass denominational doctrine and distinctives. As such it did not work, for it was like having sex before you have decided to marry, and the ecumenical character of the movement ended, but I remained convinced from the study of the history of the Plymouth Brethren that the Lord’s Supper is the center of worship and that the church should be one.

That was reinforced for me by many things, but especially when I attended the National Catholic Charismatic Conference for Priests and Deacons in Steubenville, OH, shortly after my 1979 ordination in the Episcopal Church. We (800 Catholic priests and deacons and 80 Episcopalian and Lutherans) experienced each other as brothers, prayed and worshipped with one another, but then also experienced the bitter separation at the Eucharist. 

Fast forward to August 2012 when we went to a John Michael Talbot concert/seminar at an Anglican Church (ACNA) north of Houston. Our desire to press deeper into the spiritual life had intensified (perhaps due to age and stage of life). We were looking for a group that would support that pressing deeper, thus a group that was into simple lifestyle (gospel obedience), contemplative prayer, deep rooting in the Christian spiritual tradition, outreach in both word and deeds of love, and also had a charismatic stream. [These themes are familiar to you who know us.] We had checked out a number of Anglican monastic groups, and went to that JMT event just because I thought I remembered that JMT was a musician and we like good music. We discovered that we had found the group that we were looking for, but it was quite Catholic as well as Franciscan (and Benedictine) in its spirituality. Both John Michael Talbot himself and other leaders in the group insisted to me repeatedly that there was no need or pressure for us to even consider becoming Catholic, as long as we could accept that most of the group were Catholic, We also met a number of non-Catholics in the group, the Brothers and Sisters of Charity, people who were permanently vowed but had remained rooted in their evangelical churches, but if one is Eucharist-centered as I am there was a real pressure unknown to the leaders of the group when at the Eucharist we had to go forward for a blessing, not for the body and blood of Christ. We applied as postulants anyway (in May 2013). We would, I had determined, join as Episcopalians and remain such. Then I thought I heard God saying to me “Why not?” when I said to him in my heart, “I do not need to become Catholic.” So I thought that I would just check out the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter that I had placed in the back of my mind when the Diocese of Pittsburgh split into Episcopal and Anglican halves.Personal Ordinariate coatofarms I discovered that the Ordinariate’s principle church, Our Lady of Walsingham, Houston, Our Lady of Walsingham was at a location that I had driven by many times to teach at Houston Graduate School of Theology (HGST). I discovered that the then-Episcopal priest who had led our marriage encounter back in our Sewickley days, Fr. Bruce Noble, was now a retired Catholic priest there at Walsingham. I decided to ask questions and was told right up front that there were no guarantees – I would have to lay down my Episcopal ordination with no promise that I would ever be ordained again. Far from putting me off, I realized that that was so much like God: die to self and leave the future to him. I determined to investigate this carefully.

Over the next weeks I did carefully read the Catechism of the Catholic Church – several hundred pages – to find out what was really believed. “Let’s get past the myths to the truth,” I thought. I read several critical Vatican II documents. I am a scholar, so I wanted to get back to the original documents, not what others said about the Catholic Church. I started attending the Saturday evening service there (the Vigil Mass). The liturgy was basically traditional Episcopal Church, what I had used all the time in New Brunswick, except the Eucharistic prayer, which was Roman. The hymnal was the Episcopal 1940 hymnal. I might add that all this time I was serving as an assistant at All Saints Episcopal Church, Stafford,which we dearly loved, as well as teaching at HGST and Houston Baptist University. We also went to The Gathering of the Brothers and Sisters of Charity in Arkansas, which is where Judy “caught up” with me (or, as I put it, “God wrestled her to the ground”) – that that is her story, which she has written up and will share with you if asked, so I will not try to tell it for her.

I had started out with a desire to be one with the spiritual masters from whom I had learned over the years (St. Anthony of the Desert, St. Francis, St. Augustine, St. John of the Cross, and many many more) and a general wish to step beyond the brokenness of the church, reinforced by my distress with the fractiousness of Protestantism. I became deeply convinced that the church needed to be one (not least when writing commentary on 1 Cor 1- 3 that summer at Lanier Theological Library – I remember stumbling out of the library one evening when that had become blindingly clear to me from the text that God wanted a unified church), and I became convinced that my calling to witness to this oneness was to join the Anglican rite of the Roman Catholic Church, i.e. the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, our church being, as I noted above, the principal church, Our Lady of Walsingham, Houston.

In December, 2013, the rector of Our Lady, Fr. Hough IV, Fr Charles Hough IVsaid it was time for us to make the move. Coincidentally, on Jan 21, 2014 we were received as novices in the domestic expression (i.e. we live in our own homes, not in a monastic community) of the Brothers and Sisters of Charity (you can learn more at the various hyperlinks). BSCD Reception as novices 140121

On Feb 10, 2014 I resigned my Episcopal orders and on Feb 16, 2014, Judy and I were received at Our Lady of Walsingham (the picture is above at the beginning of this post was taken just after the service). In doing this we had the blessing of our Episcopal rector and the support of our cell group in the Brothers and Sisters of Charity (BSCD). This move was accepted by both HGST and HBU (HBU renewed my contract for another two years as if nothing had happened and has approved my using the ¼ of my time they do not contract for for work with the Ordinariate). My sponsors at our reception included a former student of mine from Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry and the head of the apologetics department at HBU (who had been received at the same church a year earlier). Judy’s were her spiritual director and the regional minister of the BSCD who also was in our cell group.

My reason for posting this now is that it looks like, not just that we will be spiritually and in other ways happy members of Our Lady of Walsingham and continue to enjoy the BSCD (Brothers and Sisters of Charity, Domestic), both when John Michael Talbot is around and when he is not, but that I will also be ordained in the Catholic Church.  On June 20 I received the “nulla osta” from Rome, which indicates that there is no problem with my submitting the final documents for ordination, including evidence of appropriate formation. Eventually the whole file ends up on Pope Francis’ desk (he must sign permission for a married person to be ordained). The present plan seems to be that I will continue teaching for HBU, but will also help to set up an Anglican House of Study for the Ordinariate that will train former Episcopal and Anglican ministers for Catholic ministry (what is called “formation”) and I will also serve as a priest-in-residence at Our Lady of Walsingham (these are the two activities HBU approved). I tell people that I feel like I am on a train. I know that God is up there at the controls, but I do not know the end station or the time table. It seems like he has the train on full-throttle. It is clear that I can say “no” to God, but that he has an adventure for me that I have not dreamed of. Sometimes I get impatient with the process, but I am indeed receiving grace upon grace.

As for the rest of life, I have continued from time to time giving theological advice to the Vineyard movement. Judy has continued giving spiritual direction and doing some counseling with folks from a number of churches, as well as active involvement in a prayer meeting at All Saints (at least up until she left for British Columbia). I might add that our involvement with other groups of Christians is encouraged by the pastor of Our Lady of Walsingham, as well as by the Ordinary (and at least two documents of Vatican II, which also set the parameters).  

Judy left 4 weeks ago for 7 weeks, four with Buffi and Ian in Mission, BC, to help out when their second child, Eli, our ninth grandchild, was born (a few hours after Judy arrived). Eli Davids 140530 20140529_190006Judy helps care for 3-year-old Adana, among other things. Then she will spend 3 weeks with Elaine and Greg, whose eldest just graduated from high school. Gwen and Brent are still in St. Stephen, New Brunswick, with their four boys. That “four boys” tells you what Gwen is doing, while Brent is part of starting a new apartment management company as well as a very active father. I am leaving on June 22 to see the new baby and some of the others in the family; I also plan to go to Vienna in July for the International Society of Biblical Literature meeting as an invited respondent on a panel (HBU has paid for the ticket on points, and for some of the other expenses, and their willingness to do that is what made me decide to go). 

So there we are. That catches you up on some of the events in our lives, including the big ecclesiastical change. I realize that you get only the briefest outline of my reasons and virtually none of Judy’s separate reasons, but the main themes are there. Perhaps in dialogue with some of you, but definitely in a longer narrative I plan to lay out my journey in more detail. It took Thomas Howard two books, Scott Hahn one, Sheldon Vanauken a long chapter – I will have to join their company, but only after I am ordained.

All for now

Peace in the Lord

Peter

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About Peter H. Davids

I am Director of Clergy Formation for the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St Peter, a professor at Houston Graduate School of Theology, and a Catholic priest (and former Episcopal priest for 34 years). I am also a husband, father, and grandfather.
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