Bethlehem Priory sits on North Limestone near Fourth Street and looks much like a neighborhood house. Originally, the front two rooms were used for hemp storage in the late 19th century, and then, more than once, the house got additions, renovations and even a vaulted chapel.
Now it's going to be a house of studies, retreat center and parish church for the Anglican Catholic Church.
Bishop Rommie Starks, who presides over the midwestern unit of the church from his base in Indianapolis, has been instrumental in establishing a permanent base for Anglican Catholics in Lexington. The church already has a presence in Northern Kentucky.
The church, which split from the Episcopal church in the late 1970s, uses the 1928 Book of Common Prayer and restricts the priesthood to men. Although Catholic, the church is not under authority of the pope at the Vatican, as members of the Roman Catholic Church are, Starks explained.
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He said Anglican Catholics — there are about 10,000 members in the United States — maintain a more classic faith than Episcopalians: It is "what they had before."
The church's new Lexington location — still a work in progress on its upper residential floor — will reopen at 11 a.m. Saturday with Mass, followed by a question-and-answer session.
The renovations on the main floor include a small chapel, which backs onto a small backyard and could hold about 25 to 30 people; a greeting room; a library, and a dining room.
The simplicity of the Anglican Catholic chapel, with its 1940-vintage hymnals, is part of its charm.
"There's a lot of beauty in worship that can be done without debating over contemporary issues," Starks said.
The building had long been the home of the Oblates of St. Benedict/ Servants of Jesus, but it had fallen into disrepair. Now it has been updated, cleaned and the walls painted shades of cool green.
The residential aspect of the house is "for men who want to experience what being a deacon or priest might be like," Starks said.
The church wants to conduct a street ministry in the area, directing area homeless to other resources for clothing, food and shelter. Starks hopes that community groups will consider the house for small meetings and that college students will come by.
"I hope we can offer a look-see into the past ... to see what they may have missed," Starks said.
North Limestone is a promising area for the church to establish itself in Central Kentucky, Starks said, because it's close to the University of Kentucky and Transylvania University. And, the location is in a transitional neighborhood that draws a diverse mix of incomes and needs, where Starks said he could see "what the houses were, and what they will be again."
The Anglican Catholic Church has parishes as far-flung as South America, India, Australia and England, he said.
"One thing we all have in common in the Anglican Catholic Church is tradition, a connectedness with what happened before," he said.