VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — A Virginia Beach church with a blended congregation of Roman Catholics and Episcopalians has overcome a year of challenges regarding its services.
Catholic and Episcopal clergy have performed services together and shared leadership duties at the Church of the Holy Apostles for 36 years.
In November 2012, Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo, leader of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Richmond, ordered the church to change its worship. DiLorenzo said allowing Catholics and non-Catholics to participate in a combined communion liturgy violated Roman Catholic norms.
Months of discussions were held with theologians and with Catholic and Episcopal diocesan officials before a solution was found, The Virginian-Pilot reported.
The church now conducts a less formal rite, Morning Prayer, instead of the traditional Mass. It’s followed by the Eucharist with Catholic and Episcopal prayers offered separately at different altars.
Under Catholic norms, “anybody can lead Morning Prayer — lay person, deacon, priest, bishop — on both sides,” the Rev. Michael Ferguson, the church’s Episcopal pastor, told the newspaper.
Initially, parish leaders were told that Catholics and non-Catholics would have to celebrate the Eucharist in different rooms.
But the only other room available, the fellowship hall, was too small under the city’s fire code to accommodate a second Eucharistic service, Ferguson said. “Thanks be to God and the fire marshal.”
Another alternative, conducting two Eucharistic services at different times, was dropped after parish leaders noted it would require mixed couples to worship separately.
Michael Cherwa, president of the parish vestry council and a Catholic layman, called the past year “a struggle, but I think the community was revitalized due to the trauma we went through.”
“This year has taken a toll on me,” said Cherwa’s wife, Annette, an Episcopalian. “But things are settling down, and I’m more accepting of the changes.”
The Catholic part of the liturgy is conducted by the Rev. Robert Perkins, who has been temporarily assigned as the parish’s Catholic priest.
The church’s longtime Catholic priest, the Rev. James Parke, was removed by DiLorenzo in November 2012.
Dominick Hankle, the diocesan theologian, has been assigned by DiLorenzo to the parish staff as a lay pastoral associate.
Hankle, an assistant professor of psychology at Regent University, teaches Bible classes at the church and helps in visitation and other ministries. He said he also acts as a liaison to the diocese.
“In the past, the diocese didn’t step up and make a communication connection with this parish,” Hankle told the newspaper. “If I do anything, I’m an information channel for these guys.”
Hankle said DiLorenzo “never intended to damage this community. As long as we stay within the norms, he’s fine with it.”