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Double Belonging

By Marie-Louise Ternier-Gommers

05/31/2017

Marie-Louise Ternier-Gommers

“True ecumenism goes beyond theological dialogue; it touches our spiritual lives and our common witness. As our dialogue has developed, many Catholics and Anglicans have found in each other a love for Christ which invites us into practical co-operation and service.”
— Joint declaration by Archbishop Rowan Williams and Pope Benedict XVI (2006)

It is with gratitude and joy that I begin this new column. The title “Double Belonging” will likely evoke a smile in some and puzzled looks in others. I hope the layers of meaning in this title will become clear over time.

The first layer of meaning refers to the fact that, after being a lifelong Roman Catholic and in active ministry for several decades in this beloved tradition, I felt called to move into the Anglican tradition. I use the term called quite deliberately. A call arises from a deeper place than just a superficial desire or a “well, I just felt like it one day.” A genuine call pulsates with the promise of fullness of life and is therefore harder to resist or ignore. Feeling “called” usually brings more positive than negative connotations, and is characterized over time by a movement toward rather than a turning away from something.

Jesus himself said, “In my Father’s house there are many rooms” (Jn 14:2). My denominational transition was a move from one room in the Father’s house to another. By no means did it entail leaving the Father’s house! If this remains hard to grasp, then I wonder if our ecumenical dialogues and agreements of the past 50 years have been for naught. My transition was not caused by a weakening of faith, but rather its opposite: it was driven by a deepening and an expanding of faith.

Having said this I do not intend in any way to make light of this decision; it is in many respects monumental and comes at a cost. While many responses were surprisingly supportive, I foster special gratitude for those who honestly expressed a struggle, disapproval even, in accepting the path I have now chosen. I knew not everyone would “get this” and not everyone needs to. In fact, it’s those who disagreed who taught me the most. The more life decisions are grounded in a deep personal experience of faith and church, the harder it can be for others to “get it.” We ought not be surprised at all that some will look on in bewilderment, even shaking their heads.

Certainly it stings when a dear friend says disapprovingly, “You’re jumping the mother ship; how can I possibly support that?” Apart from the limited definition of the “mother ship” (according to Vatican II’s Decree on Ecumenism significant elements of the “mother ship” exist beyond the Roman Catholic Church) I am called to honour this person, deeply honour her. Recognizing the spiritual challenge is crucial and, if engaged with honesty and humility, it can be a grace-filled exercise. This spiritual challenge already moves me to respond from within an Anglican ethos of mutual affection while standing in different places and seeing different things, yet making loving space for one another.

I made my transition public in the hope it could serve the greater good of the church catholic. My commitment to ecumenism and Christian unity has gone with me and is already finding new creative expressions.

Before finalizing this ecclesial move I asked a wise spiritual mentor if this type of denominational move could in fact serve Christian unity. He replied yes, but added that the reason it often doesn’t is because the move is not done well or not done for the right reasons. So I vowed to God, my church and my bishops (Anglican and Roman Catholic) to live my new church belonging in the service of Christian unity. It is, as I see it, part of our call as Christians to heal and restore our churches into one Body.

I hope and pray that we will continue to grow together to see first our unity in God in Jesus Christ before stumbling over our divisions: “We must never forget that we are pilgrims journeying alongside one another. This means that we must have sincere trust in our fellow pilgrims, putting aside all suspicion or mistrust, and turn our gaze to what we are all seeking: the radiant peace of God’s face” (par. 244, “The Joy of the Gospel,” Pope Francis).

Marie-Louise Ternier-Gommers is a published author, retreat leader, spiritual director and popular speaker. She is the pastoral minister for the Anglican and Lutheran parishes in Watrous, Sask., while preparing for ordination in the Anglican Church of Canada. This column is being co-published by the Prairie Messenger and the Saskatchewan Anglican. Marie-Louise blogs at http://graceatsixty.wordpress.com