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Church members seek 'authentic' faith

St. Francis of Assisi Anglican Catholic Church offers tradition service in Gainesville

POSTED: March 2, 2014 6:22 p.m.

It’s been nearly a year since St. Francis of Assisi Anglican Catholic Church on Thompson Bridge Road in Gainesville first opened its own doors after worshipping in borrowed locations for years.

Since then, the congregation has grown by more than a third, averaging about 40 people during its Sunday service. And its members span different ages, races and religious affiliations.

Sid Blankenship, a member of St. Francis for a year, finds Anglican Catholicism familiar.

“My father was an Episcopalian and my mother was of the Roman Catholic faith,” he said. “Both of those churches changed, and this is what I was used to growing up.”

David Pearce recently joined St. Francis, along with his wife, Mary. He is planning to be confirmed in March and is training to be an acolyte, or a person who assists the pastor in services.

“I like the formality of the services,” he said. “I find solidarity and comfort in its structure.”

Pearce plans to be an active church member.

“I’m fairly religious and I’m going to see where this takes me,” he said. “I’d like to possibly become a deacon, but probably not any further than that.”

For Jonah Bruce, the pastor of St. Francis, joining the Anglican Catholic faith wasn’t simple or quick. He was raised in the Southern Baptist church. However, while studying medieval literature in pursuit of a master’s degree at Louisiana State University, he realized the ancient church didn’t resemble his own.

“I started asking myself ‘How do I know who is telling me what Christianity really is, because it can’t be some of these things that are completely opposite to one another? Where do I go for a source of authority?’” he said.

During the next few years, Bruce participated in many denominations and held several leadership positions, but never quite found the right fit.

“I was looking for the authentic look of the church. What the church looked like in the beginning needs to be what it looked like in the year 500, the year 1000, the year 1500 and now,” he said. “What is the thing that is common through all of that? It was bishops, priests, deacons and a certain doctrinal content that I found in the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Anglican Catholic Church.

“I chose this church because I’m not a European or someone from the Near East, so it made since for me to find one with a historically English background to it.”

The Anglican Catholic Church originally stems from the Episcopal Church and is separate from the Anglican Communion, which centers on the Archbishop of Canterbury. It was formally established in 1977 in response to a perceived departure from historic and apostolic faiths in many Anglican jurisdictions, according to the church’s website, www.anglicancatholic.org.

“By (Anglican) Catholic faith, we mean beliefs and practices that have always been held by Catholics and Orthodox, but in an expression that is particularly English,” Bruce said. “Most of the cultural expressions in Roman Catholicism are European, especially Italian, and most of the expressions in Eastern Orthodoxy are Greek, Syrian or Near Eastern. Our beliefs overlap in large part with (these groups), but we worship in an Anglican expression.”

Those coming from an Episcopalian or Roman Catholic background will find many similarities in Anglican Catholic Masses and services.

“Our Mass looks a whole lot like the old traditional Roman Latin Mass, only it is an Elizabethan English translation,” Bruce said. “There are some changes to it to suit our theology, but basically if someone was familiar with the Roman Latin Mass, they would feel pretty comfortable with what we’re doing.”

After joining St. Stephen’s Anglican Catholic Church in Athens, Bruce spent 10 years studying to become a reverend. After transferring to St. Francis, he assisted the Rev. Shaughn Casey, who was the church’s priest at the time. Bruce then assumed the priest position when Casey was called to serve in the Air Force Chaplain Corps in February.

Bruce hopes to see the church grow, both spiritually as well as in numbers, though he thinks it is expanding at a sustainable rate.

“Most important, I want to see these people get on fire for Christ and live the Gospel,” he said.


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