The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

August 24, 2013

A church first in Valley

By Evamarie Socha
The Daily Item

— LEWISBURG — A Union County resident who holds a doctorate degree in philosophy and is an ordained Episcopalian deacon plans to start in Lewisburg only the ninth American National Catholic Church in America and the second in Pennsylvania.

Like the Roman Catholic Church, Kerry Walters said the American church celebrates Mass and its priests administer sacraments, including marriage, communion and last rights.

Unlike the Roman Catholic Church, the American church welcomes homosexuals, gay marriage and women as priests and does not follow edicts from the Vatican.

Walters, just announced as the latest clergy to join the American church, has fielded a handful of inquiries since his intention to create a Lewisburg chapter was announced Wednesday.

He invites people to explore an “inclusive religious community” with the spirit of the first-century church. “Inclusive” means welcoming to people and ideas the Roman Catholic Church isn’t known to embrace.

Established as an independent Catholic jurisdiction in 2009, its clergy have all been ordained in apostolic succession, an unbroken line of succession that began with the apostles and perpetuates through bishops, Walters said. It’s considered essential for orders and sacraments to be valid.

“We stress the same things as the Roman Catholic church: belief in Jesus and the Trinity,” he said. “Everything else from there is a conscious decision. ... What we believe in is the depth of heart.”

The early church was a loving, vital church, said Jim Gettmann, author of “Responding to the Shofar’s Call” and who operates the website “Who is God, Really?” “The church functioned like an open and loving community, sharing what they had with those in need,” he said.

Somewhere along the line, the Roman Catholic Church ventured from that, becoming less about loving and helping one another and more about following dogma.

That “first-century spirit,” a church for people who follow Catholicism but want to worship in one accepting of differences, is the difference.

“I don’t think Jesus would say no women priests, no gays in the church,” Walters said. “We stick with tradition but try to figure what Jesus would do.”

The American National Catholic Church “seemed like the next logical step,” said Walters, who was ordained a deacon in the Episcopal Diocese of Central Pennsylvania in 2005.

According to the American National Catholic Church’s website, the church’s liturgical form of worship is consistent with that of the Roman church and similar to the liturgy used by Anglicans.

Nearly eight in 10 American adults describe themselves as Christians, according to Pew Research. Of those Christians, about 30 percent are Catholics.

Walters has studied philosophy his whole life. He holds a doctorate in it from the University of Cincinnati, a masters from Marquette University and a bachelors from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

He has taught philosophy at Gettysburg University, Xavier University in Cincinnati and at the University of Essex in England. He’s written more than 30 books and more than 100 scholarly articles on philosophy.

The American church does what Walters calls “an intense grilling” of priest applicants, including background checks. Of the more than 200 requests for ordination the church receives each year from hopeful clergy, it ultimately accepts just two.

Walters recently received an email “begging me to rejoin Mother Church,” he said.

While the email writer had issues, Walters said the clergy he’s spoken with about American church have been wonderful.

“I was worried. I felt people may find this radical,” he said, adding some American church clergy have caught flack, most notably in New Jersey, where the church is based and where there are the most parishes. There are seven ANCC parishes from Connecticut to North Dakota, Walters, said.

“Resistance has come from the top down,” he said, meaning from as high up as diocesan bishops down to local parish priests.

And Walters doesn’t understand why that is.

“We can’t be a threat” to the Roman Catholic Church, he said. “They’re an elephant, we’re just a mouse.”

n Email comments to esocha@dailyitem.com.