By Lou Baldwin
Special to The CS&T

BALA CYNWYD – Catholics of a certain age who might visit the Church of St. Michael the Archangel in Bala Cynwyd should find the liturgy familiar. The vestments, position of the altar against the wall to the east with the celebrant facing it and the service are very much the same as a pre-Vatican II Mass. However, many of the hymns would be unfamiliar, and the language is strictly English.

St. Michael’s, whose small congregation currently worships in the chapel of West Laurel Hill Cemetery, is one of the traditional Anglican congregations that hope in the near future to become a Roman Catholic parish. {{more}}

If they do so, it will be as part of a personal ordinariate for Anglicans who join the Catholic Church as authorized by the apostolic constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus (Groups of Anglicans) issued by Pope Benedict XVI in October 2009.

One such ordinariate has already been established for England and Wales, and several others are under consideration, including one for the United States.

Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington was appointed by the Vatican to oversee implementation of Anglicanorum Coetibus in the United States. There is no timeline yet for establishing an Anglican ordinariate in the United States.

St. Michael’s is one of the traditional congregations that split off from the Episcopal Church, which was established after the Revolutionary War as the American branch of Anglicanism, because of growing doctrinal differences.

A number of them joined together to form the Traditional Anglican Communion (TAC) and the Pro-Diocese of the Holy Family in the Anglican Church of America, and of this group, six bishops and 61 clergy have submitted documents requesting Catholic ordination for the ordinariate.

Twenty-nine parishes, including St. Michael’s, have voted to seek membership in the ordinariate.

“In our case we didn’t leave because of liturgy, we left because of doctrine,” said Father David Ousley, pastor of St. Michael’s. “The Episcopal Church had moved; we hadn’t,” he said, listing differences on such matters as women’s ordination, sexuality and abortion. “These are things we think Scripture is clear on,” he said. “We send people to the March for Life in Washington.”

The Anglican ordinariates are similar to an Ordinariate for the Military in the sense they are non-territorial, perhaps covering an entire country.

There are certain differences. For example, married Anglican priests can be ordained as Catholic priests for incardination in the ordinariate, but married bishops can only be ordained to the priesthood, and not as Catholic bishops because married bishops are not in the tradition of either the Catholic or the Orthodox churches.

Because most Anglican and Episcopalian bishops are in fact married, the ordinary for the ordinariate (which is the equivalent of a diocese), may be a priest, not a bishop.

Most important to the laity, the Anglican Ordinariate can adhere to most of their traditions, including at St. Michael the Archangel, use of the 1928 edition of the Book of Common Prayer and the Hymnal of 1940.

St. Michael’s itself traces back to St. James the Less Episcopal Church, founded in East Falls in 1846. Most of the congregation and the pastor, Father Ousley, left the Episcopal Church in 2006 to found St. Michael’s.

“Personally, I think this is an extraordinary opportunity to heal a schism of 450 years, and I’m grateful to the Holy Father for making this opportunity available for us,” Father Ousley said. “It allows us to keep our Anglican heritage consistent with the Catholic faith.”

Mark Johnson, who as Rector’s Warden holds the highest lay office at St. Michael’s, was Methodist by birth (as was Father Ousley). He came to the Episcopalian faith as an adult, although his wife, Angela, was an Episcopalian from birth.

Both he and his wife considered leaving the Episcopal Church to become Catholic when they stumbled upon St. Michael’s and the movement to found an Anglican ordinariate in the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church on the Internet.

Instead of becoming Catholics they joined St. Michael’s because “we feel we have a responsibility and we think this is an amazing opportunity to bring other Anglicans with us,” he said. “We will be in communion with the true Church and the Holy Father. We are thankful and hope to be an example for others that all of these denominations can’t be what Christ had in mind for His Church.”

“I’ve found this past year in which we are considering the ordinariate to be illuminating,” said Christine Jordan, another parishioner. “The study of the Catechism has given me confidence and hope in our parish finding greater stability in a faithful body that has kept the faith and transmitted it to succeeding generations for two millennia.”

She believes the Holy Father’s desire to receive the heritage of Anglicanism into the Roman Catholic Church is particularly good news.

“It seems to me a most charitable beginning to heal a long-standing schism,” she said.