American National Catholic Church grows in area
LEWISBURG — Over three years, the Holy Spirit American National Catholic Church has grown from a house church to meeting in church buildings in Lewisburg and Sunbury.
The Rev. Kerry Walters, the founder and priest of Holy Spirit, was an Episcopalian deacon for 10 years before taking the two-year journey to find the right fit for him within Christianity.
“My theology and spirituality is squarely in Catholic tradition,” Walters said. “But I knew Roman Catholic wasn’t an option for me.”
After doing extensive research he discovered the American National Catholic Church, which is an independent Catholic jurisdiction that does not align itself with Rome. Some of the beliefs are the same, but there are a few sticking points, he said.
Unlike in the Roman Catholic faith, women can be ordained, LGBT couples can be married and people who are divorced can remain as a part of the church, he said. There are no restrictions to those who wish to take communion.
Other than elected bishops who serve for five years, there is no hierarchy that controls all of the parishes.
Priests are allowed to marry and are not paid for their work. Instead they are to be among the world, working and learning.
“We do that deliberately to constantly remain in touch with concerns of the world,” Walters said.
By being a part of the community, he is able to learn about other Christian and non-Christian faiths that allow for his understanding of God to expand.
“You realize God is so mysterious that not a single one of us has it completely right,” he said.
Similar to the Roman Catholic Church, the Holy Spirit American National Catholic Church believes in the seven sacraments, prays the rosary and celebrates Mass.
The church began in Walters’ house along with a few other people who met regularly. The groups continued to grow until they felt they needed a larger space.
Now, the church has around 20 parishioners who meet at 5 p.m. on the first, third and fifth Saturdays at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, 32 N. Front St. in Sunbury, and 10:15 a.m. on the second and fourth Saturdays at St. John’s United Church of Christ, 1050 Buffalo Road in Lewisburg.
Every other Mass there is a homily discussion that entails Walters reciting the daily readings for that day then having open discussion about it, he said.
“The conversations we have are extraordinary,” he said. “The ideas that come out of parishioners minds never fail to blow me away.”
He said it is an enriching experience.
Pat and Dom Conca, of Danville, have been a part of the church since the beginning when they were meetings at Walters’house.
“It’s been exciting to be a part of something that is just beginning and blossoming,” Pat Conca said.
The concept of the church’s inclusivity to welcome people of all walks of life was most appealing for the couple. They said they like the idea of women being seen as equals and that everyone participates in the church.
Since being a part of Holy Spirit, Pat Conca said she and her husband participate in Bible studies, which is something they never did before. They had been familiar with the Bible from readings during Mass but never had studied it in a group setting.
The couple said they find the acts of charity the church participates in is fulfilling for them.
“It’s not only taking care of our spiritual needs, but other small outreach projects,” Dom Conca said. “It’s nice to get involved in things like that.”
During Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter, the church will put together food baskets to give to families in need.
Juli Corrigan, of Lewisburg, said she also appreciates being able to give back to the community through the church.
She saw an ad about the church a year and a half ago that caught her attention. It said the church was progressive and all were welcome, which struck a chord with her.
During her time with Holy Spirit, she said she enjoys that there is a focus on the gospel and Jesus’ commandments rather than following rules.
“The church has allowed me to focus more on what I should be doing rather than worrying about what I shouldn’t be doing,” Corrigan said.
As the church continues to grow, Walters said he hopes the congregation can find a permanent location where it can host free dinners, have a clothing closet and be able to worship on Sundays.
Frequently asked questions
What’s the background of the American National Catholic Church (ANCC)?
We were founded in 2009 as a contemporary expression of Catholicism. We trace our independent lineage through Roman Catholic Bishop Carlos Duarte-Costa of Brazil.
Bishop Duarte-Costa was a prophetic herald of the reforms of the Second Vatican Council. In as early as 1936, he called for the celebration of the liturgy in the vernacular while facing the people, a greater role of the laity in the liturgy including as Eucharistic ministers, and reception of the Eucharist in both bread and wine. His call for married clergy and general absolution has been realized in the ANCC.
We are absolutely committed to the implementation of the full vision of the Second Vatican Council, believing that the Council’s work and wisdom was a high water mark in the history of the Church. We are heirs of that legacy, committed to its ongoing implementation.
We continue a rich tradition of grace-filled sacraments and a lived commitment to social action. In parishes and prisons, in hospitals and hospices, the ANCC is daily witnessing to the redeeming love of a welcoming God – a God whose love is beyond our wildest imagining.
Do you consider yourself Roman Catholic?
No, the American National Catholic Church is a valid expression of Catholicism outside of the Roman Church and the Vatican.
How are you similar to the Roman church?
We share the following beliefs with the Roman Church:
Radical monotheism of God
Scientific biblical-historical scholarship
Salvific Act of Christ
Economy (i.e., plan) of salvation
How are you unlike the Roman church?
We are radically different as follows:
Power/decision-making: congregational model
Bishop, elected (presiding model)
Priesthood, ordained (married/women/GLBT)
Full sacramental participation by all
GLBT, fully-inclusive; gay marriage
Disagreement regarding the absolute authority of the Pope
Full implementation of Vatican II
Respect and value of individual conscience
Novus Ordo, Roman Missal, 2nd Edition
What is your position on other issues that often exclude people from the Roman Catholic Church?
Women Clergy: We embrace the wonderful gifts of women. While in Spring 2011, the Roman Church removed an Australian Bishop for daring to even entertain questions regarding women’s ordination, we welcome the movement of God in the ordained ministry of women.
Married Clergy: We welcome married clergy, knowing that their lived experience provides an invaluable gift for ministry. The Roman Church has forever closed the option of married clergy with its claim of divine intention and tradition.
Divorce and Remarriage: We empathize with the pain of a failed marriage and receive our divorced and remarried brothers and sisters as full members into our Church. The Roman Church maintains that marriage is indissoluble.
Family Planning: We support a couple’s decision regarding family planning, believing that they are in the best position to decide their most appropriate option. The Roman Church only permits natural family planning.
Gays and Lesbians: We affirm the dignity and worth of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered persons, recognizing in them unique gifts particular to our time. We are honored to officiate at sacramental gay marriages. The Roman Church teaches that homosexuality is “objectively disordered” and all same-sex acts are sinful.
What is the formal education of your Bishop?
The Most Reverend George R. Lucey, FCM is the presiding bishop of the ANCC. He is in the third year of a five-year term. Bishop Lucey is a solemnly professed member of the .
Bishop Lucey received a Bachelor in Sacred Theology (S.T.B) and a Master of Divinity (M.Div.) from Regis, the Jesuit Pontifical College at the Toronto School of Theology at the University of Toronto.
He earned a Master of Education (M.Ed.) from Cleveland State University, Cleveland, OH and a Doctorate in Psychology (Psy.D.) from Graduate Theological Foundation, Mishawaka, IN
Do you do a criminal background check of your clergy?
Absolutely. Prior to beginning the ANCC application process, all potential applicants including seminarians, those seeking affiliation into our religious community, the Franciscan Community of Mercy, and those interested in incardination (i.e., those formerly ordained) undergo an extensive criminal background check.
Do you do any psychological testing of your clergy?
Yes. An important part of our evaluation of all applicants is a comprehensive psychological assesment.
What type of education and experience do you require of your clergy?
In a word, exhaustive. We have a rigorous selection process in which only 2 percent of applicants are selected to study for the priesthood or for incardination into the ANCC. All applicants must provide certificates of Baptism, Confirmation, and Ordination (if applicable), and certified copies of undergraduate and graduate transcripts.
Applicants must complete an in-depth personal narrative, provide professional and personal references, and undergo extensive interviews with the vocations and formation staff. In addition, applicants must complete an ANCC retreat where they are evaluated.
All clergy must receive comprehensive training in theology. Further, all ordained priests are required to successfully complete extensive supervised pastoral internships in addition to a minimum 12-month deaconate assignment.
For ordained Roman Catholic clergy wishing to incardinate, after successfully meeting all started requirements, there is a two-year discernment process before full incorporation into the ANCC. On a case-by-case basis, temporary authorization to administer the sacraments (“faculties”) may be provided.
Our selection process is exacting and those we call to priesthood are among the most select. The people of God are entitled to prayerful, educated, pastorally sensitive, and well-rounded priests.
Is your decision-making process hierarchical as in the current Roman church or collegial as suggested by Vatican II?
“Upon all the laity, therefore, rest the noble duty of working to extend the divine plan of salvation to all (persons) of each epoch and in every land Consequently, may every opportunity be given them so that, according to their abilities and the needs of the times, they may zealously participate in the saving work of the Church.” (Lumen Gentium #33)
Taking our lead from the wisdom of the Second Vatican Council, ANCC laity and clergy join together in the Priesthood of Jesus Christ.
We believe in a congregational or shared model of leadership where our parishioners join with locally-called clergy in discerning the movement of the Holy Spirit in the Church. This is decidedly different than the hierarchical, top-down model demanded by the Roman Catholic Church.
At the national level, the ANCC has an Executive Committee in which laity and clergy dialogue to provide essential guidance and leadership for the Church. At the local level, parish councils provide the same level of leadership.
In addition, the financial control of the ANCC is in the hands of the laity. All assets, including bank accounts, are both owned and controlled by the pastoral lay leadership.