Even before he was ordained an Episcopalian priest in 1963, the Rev. Lucien Lindsey prayed for unity among churches.
On Dec. 12, 50 years and a day after being ordained an Episcopalian priest, he became a part of the first steps toward unity among the Anglican and Catholic churches when he was ordained a Roman Catholic priest.
It was a historic moment for the Diocese of Savannah. Though Episcopalian priests have been ordained into the Catholic church within the diocese before, Lindsey is the first Anglican priest within the diocese to be incardinated into the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, which was created by Pope Benedict XVI on Jan. 1, 2012. The ordinariate is similarly structured to a diocese, with an ordinary, equivalent to a bishop, reporting to the pope. The Ordinariate brings Anglicans into full communion with the Catholic Church while allowing them to maintain elements of their Anglican heritage.
“With (unity) as kind of a continuing and lifelong prayer, the whole process of what opened up with the Anglican Ordinariate being able to be unified with the Catholic Church has been something that’s been in the background of my mind the whole 50 years,” he said.
The Anglican Church split from the Roman Catholic Church in the 16th century, after a disagreement between the Catholic Church and King Henry VIII over the the annulment of the king’s marriage led the king to form the Church of England.
“We’ve had that separation from the Anglican community and Catholic community for over 478 years,” said Bishop Gregory Hartmeyer of the Diocese of Savannah. “Pope Benedict XVI was the one who was able to bring the unity between those who want to return to the Catholic faith. (Now) they can do that with a profession to the Catholic faith and papacy.”
Lindsey, who has been assigned to St. Mary on the Hill Catholic Church, did not set out to bridge a gap.
He was working on a cattle ranch in the late 1950s in Oklahoma when he felt called to be a priest. On Dec. 11, 1963, he was ordained. Since the 1970s, he began to grow increasingly disheartened with some of the changes he saw taking place within the Episcopal Church, and began to feel a sense of disunity.
“It was becoming increasingly difficult to maintain the faith position that I had grown up with and had been accustomed to and committed to all of my life,” he said. “With that going on, that was certainly a matter of prayer for me. I was just looking for a way I could continue to grow spiritually.”
Lindsey felt the Catholic Church offered that opportunity for both himself and his wife, Jeanne. He said the transition period has been richly rewarding spiritually.
That the Catholic Church recognizes Lindsey’s marriage as valid though he is a priest is very important to him.
“One of the neat things about my ordination down at Savannah was that the Bishop Hartmeyer very graciously recognized her role in that 50 years of ministry. That just really touched my heart a lot, because she has been such an important part of that,” he said.
Lindsey will maintain some of his Anglican traditions at St. Mary, such as an Anglican Youth Mass he will conduct on second Sundays at 3 p.m.
Hartmeyer said he hopes that Lindsey’s ordination will open the doors for continued discussion with other communities that separated from the Catholic Church during the Protestant Reformation.
“It would not surprise me if dialogue does not continue to offer similar gestures to the Lutheran community,” he said. “I hope to see greater dialogue with other faiths to bring a greater sense of unity to the Christian world.”