Forty-one years ago today, when I was a young man of twenty-six, I was ordained as an Anglican priest in St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, Providence, Rhode Island. I had been serving as a Deacon in St. Stephen’s Southmead, in Bristol, England, and would continue serving there as assistant curate. So that our families could be present, JoAnn and I, along with our infant daughter, made the journey to America for the occasion.
It was a grand affair. St. Stephen’s in Providence was known as “Smokey Steve’s,” and not without reason. Smack dab in the middle of the Brown University campus, it was (in those days) one of those wonderful Anglo-catholic ghettos, where those who went to “hear Mass” imagined that the whole world lived by the rubrics of the English Missal and sang from The English Hymnal, a world where the Thirty-nine Articles had more to do with the number of buttons on Father’s cassock than with the detestable enormities of Rome.
April 24th was a perfect spring day that year. Cliché as it sounds, it really did feel like the first day of the rest of my life. Little did I know what a fatal fall was waiting for the Episcopal Church – or maybe I just didn’t want to see it. But I do thank God for that day, forty-one years ago. It opened the door for my vocation to the Catholic priesthood, a gift that still astonishes me.