BOWLING GREEN — When people walk into Christ Episcopal Church in Bowling Green, they aren't told to think a certain way or to mold their personal views to fit those of the church. It's one way the church thrives, and it's a big reason why several converted and joined the only Episcopal church in Bowling Green, the Rev. Michael Blewett says.
"We've got rich, poor, middle class, highly conservative, highly liberal. You name it, we've got it," he said. "And they make it work."
The Episcopal church made national headlines recently. Pope Benedict XVI has founded the first Roman Catholic "ordinariate," which is similar to a diocese, in the United States for former Anglicans, particularly Episcopalians. The Anglicans first formed in the 1500s as a group of ex-Catholics who split from Rome. One of the biggest differences between Catholics and Episcopalians is that the latter do not follow the pope.
The new diocese is the first structure specifically for disaffected Anglicans, and it's part of an effort that Benedict XVI started years ago to persuade Anglicans to convert, according to reports.
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The new branch, called the Chair of St. Peter, will be led by the Rev. Jeffrey N. Steenson of Houston, a Catholic priest and former Episcopal bishop who is the father of three children. Anglican priests who already are married are allowed to become Catholic priests, and parishioners can keep some Anglican traditions, such as songs and prayers. But they must be full Catholics and owe their allegiances to the pope.
An estimated 2,000 Episcopalians — out of about 2.3 million in the United States — and 100 Anglican priests have converted to the Catholic church. Many leave because they disapprove of the direction they say the Anglican church is going, specifically its acceptance of gay and female clergy.
However, several people — from all branches of Christianity — converted to the Bowling Green Episcopal church partly because it's widely accepting, Blewett said.
One of the hallmarks of the Episcopal church is its openness. The church has a creed, but it spells out the church's spiritual beliefs, most commonly a belief in Jesus Christ, Blewett said.
Still, parishioners will never decipher Blewett's stance on social issues through his preaching. He usually preaches for about 10 minutes, and he never incorporates political or social points into his sermons, he says.
"We don't want people to check their brains at the door," he said. "We don't want to tell them what to think."
Cindy Peterson has attended the church since 1989, when she moved to Bowling Green. She had attended a Presbyterian church before then, but she was drawn to the Episcopal church.
Now, she loves the people, and the liturgies are moving, she said.
"This just was the church home for us," she said. "It was a God thing — we were led here."
The Bowling Green Episcopal church was formed about 1845 and has grown to about 700 parishioners. They're encouraged to pray often, and the church offers morning and evening prayer time. There's lots of hymnal and choir singing and even some chanting during services.
For Blewett, a Michigan native, the priesthood is in his blood. His wife also is ordained, and they both come from a line of priests. He was an opera singer before entering the seminary, and he has been in Bowling Green for more than three years.
He has heard of the national news stories and the squabbles between Christian branches, but he rarely pays attention, he says. They're not what the church is about, and they don't bolster his faith, he says.
"It's your typical liberal-conservative fight," he said. "I can't find Jesus anywhere in the midst of these fights."