Last January’s dissolution of the Life in Jesus Community was painful for its longtime members. More than three dozen people were active in the liturgically-based community in Libertytown – worshipping and receiving sacraments within the tradition of the Charismatic Episcopal Church.
Although they still grieve their loss, three married couples who were active in the dissolved group have found a sense of peace and a new spiritual home. Father Jason Worley, pastor of St. Peter the Apostle in Libertytown, received them into the Catholic Church during a Sept. 26 Mass at his parish.
“It was a glorious night,” said Carolyn Nolan, coordinator of adult religious education at St. Peter. “They were just beaming. They have always been very Catholic in their thought and this was the logical step for them.”
The Life in Jesus Community was originally part of the Episcopal Church before affiliating with the Charismatic Episcopal Church – a separate denomination. In the last months of its existence, it was no longer associated with a denomination and was known as the Communion of Corpus Christi.
Before breaking up, Nolan said, the community had explored becoming a rite within the Roman Catholic Church.
“All of us have a great love for the sacraments – especially the Eucharist,” said Will Barber, who joined the church with his wife, Carole. “In the Roman Catholic Church, there’s no question you are receiving valid communion. We were seeking fullness in truth.”
Carole Barber said she has long been attracted to the Catholic faith. She recounted a story about growing up as a Lutheran and tagging along one day with her Catholic friends when they went to confession at St. Bernard in Baltimore.
“I remember seeing the crucifix for the first time,” she said. “I felt so reverent and so awe-inspired. It was as if the Lord was saying this is truth and love.”
Barber said her childhood Catholic friends were great witnesses to the faith. She credited them with planting the seed of her own Catholic faith that would blossom later in life.
“I remember asking them why they went to confession,” she said, “and they told me they really wanted to go. That sacrament is powerful. It changes lives.”
Although the Life in Jesus community had liturgical and spiritual practices that were very similar to the Catholic Church, Carole Barber said, “something was missing.”
“I’m home,” she said.
Joan MacDonald, who joined the church with her husband, William, said she was attracted to the Catholic Church’s long history.
“The thing that is drawing me now is the stability of the Catholic Church,” she said.
All the newcomers said they have been warmly embraced by the parishioners of St. Peter. They got to know them long before their conversion, as the Life in Jesus Community allowed St. Peter to use its facilities for worship while the Frederick County parish was constructing a new church after its building was destroyed in a fire.
After some members approached Monsignor John Dietzenbach about joining the Catholic Church, St. Peter’s former pastor extended an invitation for them to undergo an accelerated initiation program especially designed for them.
“He felt compassion for them being without the sacraments,” said Nolan, noting that the community members had already accepted most Catholic teachings before they started the program. “We worked things out pastorally and they are now taking RCIA to continue their studies.”
Several other former members of the community are also considering becoming Catholic. They include Sister Grace Noyes, a professed religious sister of the former community, who is now enrolled in RCIA at St. Peter.
Sister Grace follows in the footsteps of Sister Anna Steenburg, who joined the Catholic Church at St. Peter last year and is now discerning a religious vocation within her new faith. Four other sisters are now leading a lay life.
“I crave stability,” said Sister Grace, who was raised a Congregationalist before joining the Episcopal Church and then the Charismatic Episcopal Church.
Sister Grace said she was inspired by the example of the All Saints’ Sisters of the Poor, a community of former Episcopal nuns in Catonsville who joined the Catholic Church in September. She also feels a spiritual closeness to St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, a convert from the Episcopal Church.
“I can’t tell you the gratitude for the faithfulness of the Catholic Church despite 2,000 years of persecution,” Sister Grace said. “It’s an unbroken line since St. Peter’s day.”