A long Anglican road to Rome

In the fall of 1979, a cluster of Episcopalians made another trip to Rome seeking a haven for Anglo-Catholic believers anxious to exit their increasingly divided church. Vatican officials agreed that it was time to petition their new leader, the young Pope John Paul II. The document was prepared and then signed on the altar of the North American Martyrs at Rome's North American College. In it, members of the Society of St. Augustine of Canterbury and other like-minded clergy made a blunt request.

"We pray and beseech your Holiness to receive and accept us into the Roman Catholic Church," they wrote, "for we are sheep not having a shepherd and would return to the care of that Holy Apostle singularly commissioned by the Divine Lord to feed his sheep."

The pope soon said "yes." But that simply opened another chapter in a long, long, story, one that continues decades later.

There is certainly more to this story than headlines about a sudden decision by Pope Benedict XVI to commence sheep stealing in the wake of his "Anglicanorum Coetibus ("groups of Anglicans") pronouncement in 2009. This document allowed Anglican priests and congregations to join new "personal ordinariates," the equivalent of national dioceses, while retaining key elements of their liturgy, music and other traditions. The plan allows for married men to become priests, but not bishops -- as in Eastern Rite Catholicism.

In England, The Times knocked this 2009 plan, saying, "Rome has parked its tanks on the Archbishop of Canterbury's lawn." Today, tensions remain high on both sides of the Atlantic after a Jan. 1 announcement that the ordinariates are set to open.

It's almost laughable to call these developments "sudden" or the result of unilateral actions by the pope, said Father Allan Hawkins of St. Mary the Virgin Catholic Church in Arlington, Texas, a priest in the Church of England before coming to America. The roots of these events even predate the Episcopal Church's 1976 vote to ordain women as priests and later to the episcopate.

"The end of the '70s was important, but this really goes back to the Oxford Movement," said the 77-year-old priest, referring to a mid-1800s surge toward Anglo-Catholicism. While the ordination of women "made headlines, it was just a symptom of what was happening deep down. ...

"So many of us had yearned all our lives to be part of a church with a clear sense of authority. That yearning is what pulled us to Catholicism."

Converts had been "trickling into Rome" for decades, he noted. Still, more Anglicans made the move under the "Pastoral Provision" announced in 1980, which stopped short of creating a separate, Anglican-friendly "personal ordinariate."

Another pivotal moment came in the early 1990s, when the Church of England voted to ordain women. At that point, it appeared a sweeping "Roman Option" might become a reality, and the late Cardinal George Hume said the time was right for the "conversion of England for which we have prayed all these years. ... It could be happening -- a realignment of English Christianity."

But some in the British hierarchy stalled, including liberal Catholic who feared waves of traditionalist converts committed to conservative approaches to liturgy and doctrine. The key Vatican official in these talks, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, finally exclaimed: "What are the English bishops afraid of?"

Ratzinger, of course, is now Pope Benedict XVI. His years of personal contact with Anglicans seeking shelter eventually led to "Anglicanorum Coetibus."

Thus, on Jan. 22, Mount Calvary Church in Baltimore will enter the U.S. ordinariate -- the first Episcopal congregation that voted to take that step. Father Jason Catania, it's priest, expects to complete his own journey sometime this coming summer.

At that point, he will do something that once seemed unthinkable. Catania will kneel at his parish altar, as a Catholic priest, and recite one of Anglicanism's most famous texts -- the Prayer of Humble Access from the 1662 edition of The Book of Common Prayer.

"That's the prayer just before Holy Communion, the one that begins, 'We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table,' " said Catania, quoting from memory.

"That's when I will know that this has really happened, that we are finally home."

And with your spirit, once again

There is nothing new about church leaders arguing about worship, including whether the rites have become too casual or superficial. Take St. John Chrysostom, for example, who complained about the irreverence he saw in the churches of Constantinople. Back in the old days, he said, people knew what it meant to solemnly observe the holy mysteries. Alas, some believers seemed to be going through the motions -- in the 4th century.

The archbishop urged his flock: "When I say, 'Peace be unto you,' and you say, 'And with your spirit,' say it not with the voice only, but also with the mind; not in mouth only, but in understanding also."

Some of those words will sound familiar for Catholics who have tuned into the fierce debates surrounding the historic changes that arrive in their sanctuaries on Sunday, Nov. 27, the first day of Advent. This is when, after eight years of work by a global commission of bishops, American Catholics will begin using a new English translation of the Novus Ordo Mass that, four decades ago, was approved by the Second Vatican Council.

Critics say this new translation is too rigid and predict mass confusion in the pews. Supporters insist that its complex and poetic cadences more accurately reflect the Latin source text and will bring American Catholics into harmony with Catholics worldwide who use similar translations in their own languages.

No one disputes the sweeping nature of the changes, said Anthony Esolen, who teaches English at Providence College. So far, he has written 90,000 words of commentary on the Latin text and this new translation for the Magnificat Roman Missal Companion.

The bottom line: Rome ordered a new English translation of "every prayer said at every Mass for every day of the year and every purpose for which a Mass may be said," he said. Worshipers should prepare for many phrases that will sound both new and old.

"These prayers are theological and scriptural poems," he explained. "Everything in the Latin is built on scriptural language and images. ... Once you see all of these verbatim words of scripture, the argument of how to do the translation is essentially over. All of these clear references to scripture needed to be in the new translation. You don't have much of a choice."

Once of the most obvious changes comes at the beginning, when the priest faces his congregation and says, "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all." In shorter versions of this invocation, the priest will either say, "Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" or "The Lord be with you."

After 40 years of responding with "And also with you," American Catholics will now reply using the ancient phrase, "And with your spirit" -- which is "et cum spiritu tuo" in Latin.

This new translation goes downhill from there, according to Bishop Donald Trautman of Erie, Pa., former chair of the U.S. bishops' liturgy commission.

"When the bishops at the Second Vatican Council made the historic decision that the liturgy of the church should be in the vernacular, there was no mention of sacred language or vocabulary," he argued, in a much-quoted analysis for the progressive magazine U.S. Catholic.

"The council's intent was pastoral -- to have the liturgy of the church prayed in living languages. Translated liturgical texts should be reverent, noble, inspiring and uplifting, but that does not mean archaic, remote or incomprehensible. While the translated texts of the new Missal must be accurate and faithful to the Latin original, they must also be intelligible, proclaimable and grammatically correct. Regrettably the new translation fails in this regard."

The Vatican's instructions to the translators, said Esolen, did stress that "pompous and superfluous language must be avoided." However, this doesn't mean that the poetic touches found in the Latin -- such as "venerable hands of the Lord," "immaculate victim," "consubstantial," "it is truly right and just," "the Powers of heaven" and many others -- will repel modern worshipers.

Pious language, he added, can have a holy purpose. After all, it's possible that if Catholics are never asked to turn to God and "use words like 'beg,' 'implore' or even 'pray,' there's a good chance they will forget how to 'beg,' 'implore' and even to 'pray.' "

Fix your ugly Catholic church?

The sanctuary walls are, as a rule, made of flat wood, concrete and glass wrapped in metals with an industrial look -- often matching the furnishings on the stark altar. The windows are frosted or tinted in muted tones of sky blue, lavender, amber or pink. If there are stained-glass images, they are ultramodern in style, to match any art objects that make sense in this kind of space. The floors are covered with carpet, which explains why there are speakers hanging in the rafters.

The final product resembles a sunny gymnasium that just happens to contain an abstract crucifix, the Stations of the Cross and one or two images of the Virgin Mary.

"The whole look was both modern and very bland," said Matthew Alderman, a graduate of the University of Notre Dame's classical design program who works as a consultant on sacred art and architecture.

"It was a kind of beige Catholicism that was ugly, but not aggressively ugly ... and these churches looked like they were in a chain that had franchises everywhere. It was that whole Our Lady of Pizza Hut look that started in the1950s and then took over in the '60s and '70s."

The problem is that many Catholics believe that this look that represented an urgent response to contemporary culture -- especially after Vatican II -- has now gone painfully out of date.

Few things age less gracefully than modernity. However, few parishes can afford to "take a wrecking ball" to their sanctuaries. This is also highly emotional territory, since any attempt to change how people worship, whether they are modernists or traditionalists, will collide with their most cherished beliefs.

Thus, after years of studying intense debates on these issues, Alderman recently drafted a manifesto offering easy, affordable ways for make these sanctuaries "less ugly and more Catholic." He posted it at "The Shrine of the Holy Whapping," an online forum created by several Notre Dame graduates to host lighthearted discussions of serious Catholic subjects.

While some of his proposals are specific -- such as removing carpeting to improve church acoustics -- the designer said the key is for parish leaders to find a way to "bring a sense of tradition and beauty to their chancels and naves without having to break the bank." His basic principles included these:

* Do everything possible to return the visual focus to the main altar and the tabernacle that contains the reserved sacraments, the bread and wine that has been consecrated during the Mass. This can be accomplished with a few contrasting coats of paint, stencil designs in strategic places, the rearranging of altar furniture, a touch of new stonework or even the hanging of colored drapes. In many cases a platform can be added under the altar to make it more visible or a designer can darken the lights and colors around the pews, while increasing the light focused on the altar and tabernacle.

* Reject any strategy that tries to hide decades of modernity behind a blitz of statues and flowers in an attempt to create "a traditional Catholic theme park," he said. Too often, the result is "strip-mall classicism" that assumes that anything that looks old is automatically good.

"You don't want something that looks like its fake and plastic," said Alderman. "The worst case scenario is that you have bad taste stacked on top of bad taste, with some of the worst excesses of the old layered on top of all those mistakes that were driven by modernity. ... This kind of schizophrenia is not a good thing in a church."

* It's important to "work with what you have, and don't work against it" while focusing on a few logical changes that actually promote worship and prayer, he said. A chapel dedicated to Mary can appeal to those who are devoted to saying the Rosary. Candles and flower arrangements can focus attention on a statue of the parish's patron saint.

In the end, argued Alderman, "You may not be able to turn your 1950s A-frame church into Chartres, but if you try to find art that harmonizes with its perhaps now rather quaint attempts at futurism, while at the same time seeking to reconnect it with tradition, the result may have a pleasing consistency. ...

"While it may lack the grandeur of Rome or Florence, it can still become a beautiful, unified expression of the faith."

Quiet Lutheran worship wars

If members of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod have heard it once, they've heard their national leaders repeat this mantra a thousand times: "This is not your grandfather's church." That's certainly what musician Phillip Magness experienced when he took a sabbatical at Bethany Lutheran Church in Naperville, Ill., and began a research tour after the 2006 release of the Lutheran Service Book. Since he led the committee charged with promoting the new hymnal, Magness wanted to see what was happening in the conservative denomination's sanctuaries.

"What I found out is that we're a lot like Forrest Gump's box of chocolates," he said. "It says Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod on the sign, but when you go inside you have no idea what you're going to get. ... Some of our churches are playing with the structure of the liturgy and some are playing with the content and our whole synod is trying to find out how to draw some boundaries."

One pastor wanted to offer five worship services in five musical formats to meet the needs of what he perceived as five separate audiences in his church.

The "TLH" service was for members still attached to the 1941 volume called "The Lutheran Hymnal." Then there was the "Valpo" audience, which yearned for the "smells and bells" approach to high-church worship popular at Valparaiso University in Indiana. Then there were fans of the pop "CCM" music found in the "Contemporary Christian Music" industry. The "Gen X" crowd wanted its own post-baby boomer music.

The fifth service? It would feature country music.

These struggles are particularly poignant for Missouri Synod Lutherans, who are part of a 2.3 million-member denomination that occupies a tense niche between the larger, more liberal Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the evangelical megachurch marketplace.

It's crucial, said Magness, to understand that the churches linked to Martin Luther are part of the Protestant Reformation, but it's hard to pin a simple "Protestant" label on their approach to piety. Missouri Synod Lutherans, for example, have much in common with evangelicals, especially in terms of biblical authority and conservative morality. However, some parish leaders are not sure they want to make radical changes to modernize their worship services.

Magness, for example, is one of about 30 Missouri Synod musicians known as "cantors," an honorary title once held by Johann Sebastian Bach and many others in Lutheran history. Magness has created "Liturgy Solutions," a company that helps churches of all sizes maintain Lutheran traditions, while mixing old and new music.

"We know that culture is not static," he said. "We want to find the way to proclaim the church's message in ways that remain reverent and appropriate, yet sound fresh today. Otherwise, we'd be singing chants in Latin every Sunday."

The problem is that many pastors resort to forming separate congregations that worship under the same roof -- variations on a "traditional" vs. "contemporary" split. What is "traditional" worship? That's whatever older church leaders were doing before new leaders decided to change what Magness called the "soundtrack" for worship.

Sadly, these worship wars often drive off some faithful members, losses that negate whatever growth followed the changes that were adopted to attract newcomers.

Magness believes that church leaders should attempt to work with all their members to create services that are faithful to the past, but not stuck in the past. A common warning sign that trouble is ahead, he added, is when pastors begin altering the words of crucial prayers and liturgical texts -- even the ancient creeds.

The bottom line, he said, is that dividing a church into separate, even competing, worship services rarely produces growth. At least, that isn't what is happening in the Lutheran congregations he has studied.

"Maybe the saints prefer a place where the real practice of the church -- preaching the Gospel in its truth and purity and administering the sacraments rightly and reverently -- are much, much more important than whether Jack's son gets to play his trap set in church or whether the patriarchal families get to pick all the hymns because they don't want to sing any new songs," said Magness, at a national worship conference.

"I do know this: the congregation that works out these issues the old-fashioned way provides a better confession of 'one Lord, one faith and one baptism' than the congregation that doesn't share the Lord's Supper together."

Wafer madness

Editor's note: Tmatt did not write a column for Scripps Howard this week, due to last-minute travel to Atlanta for the funeral of my wife Debra's mother, Jeanne Bridges Kuhn. The following is a post written for, which will interest many of my regular readers. To read the interactive version of this post, click here. * * * *

There is no question what the Roman Catholic Church calls the holy bread that is consecrated during the Mass. It is called the “host.” Anyone who knows anything about Catholic liturgy knows this.

Now, how do you describe or define the host? Those seeking to be reverent tend to call it “consecrated bread.”

The problem, of course, is that the special bread used in Western Rite services is not simply unleavened bread. As the old saying goes, there are two acts of faith involved in meditating on the host during a Mass. The first is to believe that it is the Body of Christ. The second is to believe that it is, in fact, bread.

Thus, many people refer to the host in a variety of ways. Some people insist on calling the host a “wafer,” a term that angers many Catholics. However, there are Catholics who use this term. Still, most simply call it by its traditional name — a host.

It is true that, if you look up definitions online, there is an ecclesiastical definition for “wafer” that applies. Thus, you end up with these two clashing definitions:

1. A small thin crisp cake, biscuit, or candy.

2. Ecclesiastical -- A small thin disk of unleavened bread used in the Eucharist.

So, is this unique bread the consecrated “host” or some kind of supposedly holy cookie? That seems to be the question.

I raise this because of the interesting and very detailed story that ran in the Boston Globe the other day about rites of “perpetual adoration,” a tradition that is explained well right at the top by religion-beat specialist Michael Paulson. However, many will stumble, or even scream, right at the lede:

The adorers sit in silence before the wafer.

Some settle cross-legged on the floor by the altar. Others kneel in a favorite pew. They read, or say the rosary; they pray, or think, or just allow the mind to wander. Hour after hour, day after day, they take part in an unusual Catholic ritual that appears to be making a modest comeback — a quest for silence in a noisy life, a desire to be part of a team, a hunger to feel closer to God.

The ritual, called perpetual adoration, is, at one level, strikingly simple: around-the-clock, people take turns sitting in a chapel in the presence of a consecrated wafer. But at another level, the ritual reflects an embrace of the teaching of Catholicism that many find hardest to understand: the belief that, during Mass, bread and wine are literally transformed into the body and blood of Jesus.

The lede seems to settle the issue. It’s a wafer. The Catholic church may say that it is the Body of Christ, or even consecrated bread, but it’s a wafer. For many readers, this rite is an act of faith. Others will consider it a mild form of madness.

I think it’s likely that they Globe newsroom stylebook even settles this language question (I’d love to know the actual answer, in fact). The story uses the term “wafer” eight times — including in a direct quote — and the term “host” only once. I found it interesting that the term “host” is left undefined. If the term is so common that it does not need to be defined, then why not use “host,” oh, eight times and the term “wafer” once? Just asking.

I also wondered if this statement is true:

Later this week, in a Back Bay shrine, the Archdiocese of Boston will celebrate the return of perpetual adoration to Boston for the first time in decades. Volunteers at St. Clement Eucharistic Shrine are signing up 336 people — two for every hour of the week except during Mass — who will agree that, starting Saturday and continuing indefinitely, they will spend an hour a week in the presence of the consecrated wafer, a practice they understand as spending an hour a week with God.

That’s interesting. I had no idea that perpetual adoration was this rare, since I have heard about the practice in a number of contexts through the years. Are there no monasteries in Boston? Did this particular archdiocese ban or discourage the practice for some reason? I’m curious.

Please understand that I am not attacking the Globe report (and certainly not Paulson) on the “wafer” vs. “host” issue.

Still, I have no doubt that many Catholics were not offended by the drumbeat references to their adoration of a “wafer.” However, I am sure that some were offended and there is a good chance that some traditional Catholics still read the Globe.

My question is more basic: What was gained by using the blunt “wafer” reference in the lede? Is the word “host” so strange in a heavily Catholic region? Why not open by saying that they are kneeling before the “consecrated bread” that they believe is the Body of Christ? A reference to the belief of the worshippers would be accurate, even for skeptics. Correct?

Behind this question is another: Should journalists cover the beliefs of others with some sense of respect for the language that they would use? What is accomplished by using language that is sure to offend many of the “stakeholders” — that’s a journalistic term used by and in some other academic settings — who will care the most about the accuracy and sensitivity of this fine story?

There is no question that the Catholic church calls this a “host.” And there is no question that the Boston Globe calls this bread a “wafer.” I am asking this question: Why does the “wafer” language need to win in this debate? Is there a way to be both neutral and to show respect?

Beyond Orthodox folk dancing

These were the sad, sobering conversations that priests have when no one else is listening.

Father John Peck kept hearing other priests pour out their frustrations on the telephone. Some, like Peck, were part of the Orthodox Church in America, a church with Russian roots that has been rocked by years of high-level scandals. But others were active in churches with "old country" ties back to other Eastern Orthodox lands.

"These men really felt that their churches weren't getting anywhere," he said. "They kept saying, 'What am I giving my life for? What have I accomplished?' I kept trying to cheer them up, telling them to look 20 years down the road. ... I told them to try to see the bigger picture."

Eventually, the 46-year-old priest wrote an article about the positive Orthodox trends in America, as well as offering candid talk about the problems faced by some of his friends. He finished "The Orthodox Church of Tomorrow" soon after arriving at the Greek Orthodox mission in Prescott, Ariz., and sent it to the American Orthodox Institute -- which published the article in late September on its website.

Bishops, priests and laypeople -- some pleased, some furious -- immediately began forwarding Peck's article from one end of Orthodox cyberspace to the other. I received some of these urgent emails, since I am an Orthodox convert whose name is on several public websites.

After a few days, Peck asked that his article be pulled offline. Now the question is whether, after a scheduled Oct. 16 conference with his bishop, he will still have a job.

While his article addressed several hot-button topics -- from fundraising to sexual ethics -- Peck said it was clear which theme caused the firestorm.

"The notion that traditionally Orthodox ethnic groups (the group of 'our people' we hear so much about from our primates and hierarchs) are going to populate the ranks of the clergy, and therefore, the Church in the future is, frankly, a pipe dream," he wrote. The reality is that many American clergy and laity -- some converts, but many ethnic leaders as well -- refuse to "accept the Church as a club of any kind, or closed circle kaffeeklatsch. No old world embassies will be tolerated for much longer. ...

"The passing away of the Orthodox Church as ethnic club is already taking place. It will come to fruition in a short 10 years, 15 years in larger parishes."

Church statistics are, as a rule, almost impossible to verify. However, experts think there are 250 million Orthodox believers worldwide -- the second largest Christian flock -- and somewhere between 1.2 and 5 million worshipping in the 22 ethnic jurisdictions in North America. That huge statistical gap is crucial.

The problem is that Orthodoxy is experiencing two conflicting trends in America. Some parishes and missions are growing, primarily due to an influx of converts -- especially evangelicals -- from other churches. Meanwhile, many larger congregations are getting older, while watching the children and grandchildren of their ethnic founders assimilate into the American mainstream.

Thus, many Orthodox leaders are excited about the future. Others are just as frustrated about their problems in the here and now.

Thriving American parishes, said Peck, are finding ways to blend some of the traditions of the old world with strong efforts to build churches that welcome newcomers, whether they are converts or the so-called ethnic "reverts" who rediscover the church traditions of earlier generations.

The best place to see the big picture, he said, is in America's Orthodox seminaries. One study found that nearly half of the future priests are converts and that percentage is sure to be higher in the evangelistic churches that emphasize worship and education in English.

"When I talk about the churches of the future, I'm not talking about churches without ethnic roots," said Peck. "What I'm talking about are churches in which there are no barriers to prevent people from working and living and worshipping together. It doesn't matter whether the people inside are Greek or Hispanic or Arab or Asian or Russian or Polynesian or anything else.

"All of these people are supposed to be in our churches, together, if we are going to get serious about building Orthodoxy in America. It's no longer enough to have folk dancing and big ethnic festivals. Those days are over."

Memory eternal, Robert E. Webber

During one of his early visits to London, Billy Graham was confronted by an Anglican leader who causally dismissed the entire crusade effort.

"Young man," said the priest, "I do not approve of your style of evangelism."

"I'm sure that what I'm doing isn't perfect," replied Graham. "But I like the evangelism that I'm doing better than the evangelism that you're not doing."

Robert E. Webber knew that collision of styles inside out.

The theologian spent most of his career working with people on both sides of the cultural divide captured in that familiar anecdote about the world's most famous evangelist. It helped that Webber -- who died April 27, after an eight-month struggle with cancer -- had lived and worshipped in both camps.

As a graduate of the proudly fundamentalist Bob Jones University, Webber knew all about the style of evangelism that many believers can condense into a single blunt question: "If you died tonight, do you know where you would spend eternity?" Yet, as a convert to the Episcopal Church, he also knew how to talk to those who are offended by any discussion of evangelism or, as unsophisticated folks call it, "saving souls."

"The problem with evangelism is that churches either do it or they don't," Webber told me, before a Denver speaking engagement in the mid-1980s. This was about the time that he began to emerge as an influence on progressive evangelicals, in large part because of his strategic years teaching at Wheaton College, home of the Billy Graham Center.

"I think every church that is alive has within it people who are gifted at evangelism," he added. "If a church doesn't have these people, then there are some tough questions that have to be asked. ... You may be dealing with a dead church."

Media tributes to Webber this past week have focused on his trailblazing work encouraging evangelicals -- through his writings, both popular and academic -- to begin weaving strands of ancient rites and prayers into the fabric of contemporary Protestant worship. An ecumenical document rooted in his work, entitled "A Call to An Ancient Evangelical Future" (, challenged its readers to "strengthen their witness through a recovery of the faith articulated by the consensus of the ancient Church and its guardians in the traditions of Eastern Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, the Protestant Reformation and the Evangelical awakenings."

Webber's convictions can also be seen in the titles of his books, such as "Worship Is a Verb," "Ancient-Future Faith," "Worship Old and New" and the once-scandalous " Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail." In 1998, he founded the Institute for Worship Studies (now known as the Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies), a high-tech global graduate school based at Grace Episcopal Church of Orange Park, Fla.

This liturgical approach was a hard sell, especially in the age of media-driven megachurches offering services tuned to fit the fast-paced lifestyles of suburbia.

"The truth is that we Americans are a-historical," wrote Webber, in "The New Worship Awakening," a book rereleased several times during the past dozen years. "Most of us know very little about history and probably care even less. What we are interested in is the now, the moment, the existential experience. Unfortunately, most churches in this country have the same mentality."

However, there was a flip side to his tough message targeting evangelicals.

Webber was convinced that far too many liturgical Christians -- Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans and the Orthodox -- have abandoned the task of evangelizing nonbelievers and those estranged from the faith. In their rush to reject what Webber called a "Lone Ranger," "hit-and-run" style of evangelism, the leaders of these flocks have veered into apathy and silence.

There is also a chance that many of them no longer want to discuss sin, evil, repentance, grace, death and, horror of horrors, heaven and hell. These eternal concerns are not going to fade away, said Webber.

"What lies behind the views of people who see these doctrines as negative, as subjects to be avoided, is probably an embarrassment about the historic Christian faith," he explained. "Until a church is ready to reckon with historic Christianity, it is not going to be interested in evangelism. ... So I am probably not even talking to what you could call the average, mainline, liberal church."

One man comes home to Orthodoxy

When Peter Maris' father arrived from Greece the U.S. immigration officer couldn't understand his last name and "Margaris" became "Maris."

When his mother's Jewish parents arrived from Poland they added "ski" to their name because they thought "Rafalski" sounded Catholic and, thus, would be safer.

And when Kathleen Rafalski married Dennis Maris, she immediately joined the St. Demetrios Orthodox Church in Hammond, Ind.

"They were married in the Greek church," said Peter Maris, 42. "She learned to speak Greek. She learned to cook Greek. She did everything she could to show her commitment to the faith."

Then came the parish Christmas party when his mother brought a plate of Polish cookies. His father didn't tell this story often, because it was too painful.

"Some of the women got upset," said Peter Maris. "They told my mother, 'What are you doing, bringing those in here? We don't need you and we don't need your Polish cookies. We are Greek.' "

The family walked out and never returned.

Now, nearly four decades later, Maris has come home to Eastern Orthodoxy -- just in time for "Pascha" (Easter in the West).

This is one man's story, but it contains elements of stories told by thousands of converts in an era when this old-world faith is growing in a land already packed with Protestant and Catholic churches. In most communities, Orthodox parishes are known as the "Greek church" or the "Russian church" or carry some other ethnic label.

This is one man's story and it happens to be a story that I first overheard in the fellowship hall of my own Orthodox parish. What is different about this minister named Maris is that his story combines both the joy and pain experienced by "converts" and "cradles" -- those born into Orthodoxy -- who are learning to live and worship together in an ancient church that is quietly sinking its roots into modern America.

Maris has tasted the bitter and the sweet.

There are an estimated 250 million Orthodox believers worldwide -- the second largest Christian flock -- but only 1.2 million in the 22 ethnic jurisdictions in North America. While a few leaders have raised eyebrows by claiming a 6 percent annual growth rate, an accurate count would have to account for ethnic members who are drifting out of Orthodoxy as well as converts who are joining.

It's safer to count U.S. parishes and watch clergy trends. The convert-friendly Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese has, for example, grown from 66 parishes to 250 parishes and missions in four decades. Also, a recent survey found that 43 percent of today's seminarians are converts, a percentage that must be higher among the Antiochians and in the Orthodox Church in America, which sprang from Russian roots.

Maris is unusual, since he was baptized Orthodox before finding his way into evangelicalism. He met his Baptist wife at Chicago's Moody Bible Institute, did graduate degrees at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia, and worked in Korean Presbyterian and Chinese Christian churches before being ordained as a priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church.

"For the longest time, I could only see Orthodoxy through the eyes of my childhood," he said. "For me, Orthodoxy was an ethnic ghetto. ... In many ways, I came back to the church kicking and screaming. But in the end I knew this was where I was supposed to be. There was no place else I could go."

Maris can still speak some Greek and he has been experiencing flashbacks to early memories of the taste of Communion wine, the smell of incense, echoes of Byzantine hymns and glimpses of an icon of Jesus, high in a sanctuary dome.

However, he also remembers his parents' conflicting emotions as their new American dreams clashed with old ethnic traditions. He witnessed similar dramas in Korean and Chinese churches.

"You want to keep the language and you want to keep the food and all of that, somehow, gets mixed in with the traditions of the church," he said. "Then the parents discover that they just can't communicate with their kids and the kids just can't appreciate what is happening in church because that's all wound up with the ethnicity thing. ...

"At some point you have to claim the faith as your own -- you can't inherit it. In the end, you have to believe."

Trying to market the Mass?

It's the kind of devil's advocate question that Roman Catholic priests discuss when no one else is listening.

How short do you have to make a Mass to appeal to parishioners who don't want to get out of bed to go to Sunday Mass in the first place? Would more people attend if Mass was 40 minutes instead of 50?

"There are priests who can do a weekday Mass in about 22 minutes and the people know that father has left his car running out back and his golf clubs are in the trunk," said Father John A. Valencheck of the Diocese of Cleveland.

"Sunday Mass is supposed to be different. I have trouble getting it done -- I hate those words 'getting it done' -- in less than 50 or 55 minutes. I don't know how to do everything we're supposed to do in less than that. ? But all of this should lead us back to a crucial question: What are we doing at Mass in the first place?"

The people who really have to watch the clock are the priests and lay leaders in the giant suburban parishes that surround America's largest cities.

This is especially true in the Bible Belt, where the children of northern Catholics kneel next to increasing numbers of Hispanics and many Protestants who have converted to the ancient faith. Thus, the pews and parking lots are crowded, while a declining number of priests struggle to offer services that please the old and welcome the new.

But there's another reason that many American Catholics want to edit and tweak their ancient rites. They know that Protestant megachurches offer rock-concert-quality mass media, ample parking, free babysitting, health clubs and every conceivable form of special programs for people of all ages, but especially the young.

Valencheck's parish office recently received a postcard -- addressed "Occupant" -- from a megachurch promoting its free Starbucks coffee and Krispy Kreme Donuts.

It's hard for Catholics to compete in this marketplace, he noted, in an essay entitled "Mass Marketing Mass" in the Adoremus Bulletin. The ultimate temptation is for priests to embrace the "bedrock assumption that the Mass is a painful event" and that they need to make major changes in order to survive.

"One solution is to make the Mass pass as quickly as possible, apparently on the assumption that the people who are there do not want to be there, so the object is to get them in and out before they can register the full measure of their boredom," wrote Valencheck. "The focus of the Mass is now placed on those who do not want to be there."

Then there are Catholics who are determined to make the Mass more entertaining. This can lead to sappy pop music, pseudo-megachurch media and priests who offer chatty sermonettes while presiding over liturgies that have been truncated until almost all of the ancient mysteries and traditions are gone.

The problem, Valencheck noted, is that an "entertaining innovation can too quickly become grating and we are right back to the problem of being boring." And then there are efforts at popularization that veer close heresy, like the popular YouTube video of the Halloween costume Mass in a California parish that ended with the priest recessing out of the church -- dressed as Barney the purple dinosaur.

It's crucial, said Valencheck, that priests continue to have faith that parishioners and visitors will respond to an "old school" Mass that is offered with dignity, grace and, yes, a sense of quality. The details of the rite must be beautiful, so that they point to the mysteries that are beneath the surface.

"There is a way to carry a chalice that says, 'This is just a cup and it really doesn't matter if you pay attention or not,' " he said. "Then there is a way to carry it that says, 'This is a chalice. Get down on your knees and meditate on that.' ...

"It's like when you tell someone that you love them. You can just say the words. But there's also a way to pause and look right in their eyes and tell them that you love them in a way that let's them know you really mean it. There's a way to give our words and our actions weight and gravitas. Priests have to remember that."