St. Timothy's congregants vote to become Catholic

Catherine Bellis was baptized at St. Timothy's Episcopal Church on Ingleside Avenue. She met her husband, Walter, singing in the choir. They were married there and raised eight children in the Catonsville parish where she taught Sunday school and served in the altar guild.

And when the congregation gathered in the parish auditorium Feb. 10 and voted to leave the Episcopal Church and to join the Roman Catholic Church, the 101-year-old parishioner voted with the majority.

The Episcopal Diocese of Maryland issued a press release Feb. 20 announcing the vote, saying 80 of 100 parishioners were present for the vote.

Of that group, 55 were voting members. Nonvoting parishioners included children and members who have not been active enough or belong to other faiths

Of the voting members, more than 80 percent voted in favor of leaving the Episcopal Church and more than 75 percent voted to join the Catholic church as part of the Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, according to the release.

The ordinariate is similar to a Catholic diocese and designed for Episcopalian and Anglican communities in the United States and Canada seeking to join the Catholic Church, according to Susan Gibbs, spokeswoman for the Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter.

As part of the ordinariate, established by Pope Benedict XVI in 2009, the group retains its Episcopalian traditions and heritage, while it is still considered fully Catholic. Other ordinariates have been established in England and Australia.

Catherine Bellis was among those who voted for the change.

"I've been here all my whole life," she said at the fellowship after Sunday services Feb. 24. "My decision was given to me by the Lord when I did not know what to do."

Bellis said she had searched her soul and prayed for an answer about whether to leave the religion of her birth and join the Catholic Church.

"The Lord said, "Do it,'" she said. "Whatever the Lord says, I do my best to carry out."

The vote came after months of study and prayer and was followed by a show of solidarity, said Lydia Temoshok, a parishioner for five years.

"After the vote, everyone joined hands in unity," she said.

A motion was made to accept the two proposals.

"It was unanimous," Temoshok said.

The vote was held in the presence of the Rev. Scott Slater, canon to the ordinary (bishop) for the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland, and Rev. Scott Hurd, vicar general for the Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter.

"It's been a long time coming," said Emory Stagmer, senior warden at the church.

St. Timothy's is the third congregation in the Baltimore area to join the Roman Catholic Church in this way. Christ the King Anglican Church in Towson and Mount Calvary Episcopal Church in Baltimore joined in 2012.

In addition, four former Episcopal churches were ordained for the ordinariate, according to Susan Gibbs, spokeswoman for the Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter.

The Episcopal nuns of All Saints Convent in Catonsville joined the Catholic Church in 2009.

Painful change

A split in the parish in 2003 resulted in the rector at the time and some two-thirds of the members leaving the parish.

"That was tough. Some of us decided to stay," Temoshok said.

Concerns about assessments paid to the Episcopal Diocese as well as doctrinal and moral issues continued to trouble the parish.

"This congregation believes very much in the historical Christian faith," Stegmer said.

The Rev. Terry Sweeney, St. Timothy's rector, said discussions about the vote took many months of discernment and prayer. For the past six months, parishioners studied Catholic catechism and discussed some of the beliefs that are different between the two churches, such as devotions to Mary, Jesus' mother, and Holy Eucharist.

Father Hurd and Father Carleton Parker Jones, chaplain at All Saints Convent, helped them in their studies, Sweeney said.

Several parishioners praised the speakers who came during their weekly prayer and study sessions.

"You saw the goodness, the light and the sweetness," Temoshok said.

Sweeney said the Episcopal bishop, the Right Rev. Eugene Taylor Sutton, knew of the parish's period of discernment.

"I am grateful that the bishop gave us that time," Sweeney said.

As they neared their decision, Sweeney said parishioners set three goals: to remain united, to continue their ministry to the Gospel and the maintain their building and their property.

Sharing space

Although they have been told to find a new worship space by Easter, the congregation holds out hope they can remain at St. Timothy's, Sweeney said.

"Our hope is to stay there, maintain the ministries and grow as a Catholic church under what they call the Anglican patrimony," he said.

Parishioners remain concerned for the 12-acre property on Ingleside Avenue they've helped preserve since its founding in 1844. And they hope to continue the many ministries that keep the parish involved in the Catonsville community.

"This is where we belong," said Temoshok, a psychologist who helped set up a counseling service. "This is a commitment we made."

"We could continue and come to some kind of agreement," added Ed Caffyn, a former member of the vestry. "That's what I pray for."

A Montessori school and Christian home-school program rent their space from St. Timothy's. The parish runs a food pantry and counseling center, an annual Night in Bethlehem program and it is the site of a growing MOPs (Mothers of Preschoolers) program, as well as extensive baseball fields and a skateboard park.

"It's a fairly busy church," Sweeney said.

Although the number of parishioners who chose to remain in the Episcopal Church was small, church officials say they will continue operating the Catonsville community. The property belongs to the Episcopal Diocese.

Parishioners noted that they would welcome their fellow parishioners who decided to remain with the Episcopal Church.

"There's no reason there couldn't be an Episcopal service here," Stegmer said. "We have a deep and abiding love for these people."

"There will still be a St. Timothy's Episcopal Church," said Sharon Tillman, director of communications for the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland.

The process for naming a new priest for the parish still was not clear she said.

But, she added, "There are still about 15 people worshiping there right now as Episcopalians."

They anticipate holding a welcoming ceremony in the Easter season, according to Sweeney, who said he plans to retire April 1.

In the meantime, a 10:30 a.m. Sunday service is held for the new congregation at St. Timothy's.

The parish will continue to hold a 9 a.m. Sunday worship service for the members remaining with the Episcopal Church.

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