By SAMANTHA SMITH, Staff Writer | Published April 4, 2022
BISHOP—In a red brick building on Macon Highway, less than 20 minutes away from Athens, the faith community of St. Aelred Church gathers for Sunday Mass.
In the quaint church building, parishioners arrive and choose their seats from the wooden pews and extra chairs set up towards the rear of the church. The soft green walls bring the focus to the altar, which includes a crucifix on top of a wooden tabernacle, sitting at the center. It is surrounded by candles on either side.
“Our parish life is small and intimate, modeled after the English rural church where everyone knows the people in the pews next to them,” said Father Gregory Tipton, pastor of St. Aelred Church. “We are a small, humble group of personalists in the vein of St. (John) Newman tending to our own little share of God’s vineyard, trying to save some souls of those around us.”
St. Aelred Church is a parish of The Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter (POCSP), which was created by the Vatican under Pope Benedict XVI on Jan. 1, 2012.
The purpose of the ordinariate (equivalent of a diocese) is to provide Anglicans a path to become Roman Catholic, while retaining elements of their worship traditions and spiritual heritage, according to the POCSP website. It exemplifies the Second Vatican Council’s vision for Christian unity, where diverse expressions of one faith are joined together in the church.
Currently, the ordinariate has more than 40 parishes and communities across the United States and Canada. Its chancery is located in Houston, Texas.
Bishop Steven J. Lopes is the first bishop of the ordinariate. He is a member of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The three personal ordinariates in the world are Our Lady of Walsingham in the United Kingdom, the Chair of Saint Peter in the United States and Canada and Our Lady of the Southern Cross in Australia.
“There really is a robust treasure of liturgy and parish life and unique expression of the one Catholic faith in the ordinariate parishes,” said Father Tipton. “From the one God comes the diversity of Catholic expression.”
A Georgia native, Father Tipton was ordained a priest of the ordinariate in June 2019. Previously an Episcopal priest, he joined the ordinariate to become a full member of the Catholic Church.
“If you’re southern and you want to be Catholic, the ordinariate has a natural and providential draw, like coming home to something ancient yet familiar,” said Father Tipton.
A Catholic Mass celebrated in most parishes is of the Ordinary Form, which is from the third edition of the Roman Missal. Ordinariate parishes use the Ordinariate Form from “Divine Worship: The Missal,” a book of liturgical texts promoted by the Vatican in 2015. This missal uses Prayer Book English, a language obtained from Anglican classic books.
Prayer Book English “is preserved in the Our Father that most people know and say at Mass,” Father Tipton said. “Our entire Mass is in this register of Sacral English, a form of English reserved for speaking to God.”
The Mass at St. Aelred Church is also celebrated ad orientum, with the priest facing the altar instead of the community.
“I did not know what I was missing all these years,” said Whitney Boroski, a parishioner at St. Aelred Church. “That makes a huge difference in us realizing that we are all part of the sacrifice.”
Boroski, 43, is a cradle Catholic who started coming to St. Aelred Church with her family nearly two years ago. They previously attended St. Joseph Church in Athens.
“I love the Mass,” said Boroski. “It is the most beautiful Mass I’ve seen.”
By using a different form of the Roman Catholic missal, there are distinct differences in the ordinariate Mass and traditions.
Boroski and her husband, John, were able to have all three of their children, Emma, Caroline and Charlotte, confirmed together on Dec. 6, 2020 at St. Aelred Church.
Children can be confirmed as early as seven years old at ordinariate parishes. The order of sacraments received is baptism, confirmation then first communion, which was the tradition of the Catholic Church through the early 1900s.
“That was huge for us, that we didn’t have to wait for them to be 16 and older,” said Boroski.
Father Tipton encourages Catholics and all those interested in converting to come to St. Aelred Church to get the full experience of Mass and the parish community.
“It is the kind of liturgy you have to see, and see regularly, to experience its full breadth and depth,” said Father Tipton. “After saying this form of the Mass in the Roman Rite for two and a half years, I have fallen deeply in love with it and the kind of devotion and Christian life it helps me to aspire to.”
A spiritual bond
Father Tipton enjoys the personalism of the ordinariate, which encourages people to bond with one another.
“The best way to evangelize and find God is to be holy, and that starts with a friend asking you to come to Mass,” said the pastor. “Then to breakfast or lunch at the parish hall, then to hang out with some friends a few days later, then to try praying Evensong with us, then to asking questions about faith to your new friends or the priest … to suddenly finding yourself wanting to be Catholic and enjoying it.”
Ahmaud Templeton, 42, and his family came to St. Aelred Church about six years ago. The Templeton family has enjoyed the friendships they’ve made with parishioners over the years.
“We’ve had some pretty strong bonds of friendship with a number of people here,” said Templeton. “Having strong friendships … particularly ones that actually survive some challenges, it’s nice to have. I would call them spiritual friendships.”
Templeton was Episcopalian prior to becoming Catholic. He and his wife, Kate, attended St. Joseph Church in Athens. They are parents to Percy, Boone and Mary.
We have a good relationship with the priests at St. Joseph Church, said Templeton.
“They vouched for Father Tipton … and (have) really been incredibly supportive. There isn’t any competition,” he said.
St. Aelred Church is made up of about one-third converts, another third cradle Catholics and another third are “reverts,” those who have come back to practice their faith.
“This makes for really good and healthy dialogue,” said Father Tipton. “We can all help spot each other’s blind spots and can approach the same issues from different perspectives.”
St. Margaret of Scotland Church in Flowery Branch is also a parish in the ordinariate. Father Tipton celebrates Mass for a forming ordinariate community in Hendersonville, North Carolina.
St. Aelred Church also has a Catholic home school enrichment program—St. Thomas More Academy. It is in its first year with 40 enrolled students.
“I love that our people are devoted to Christ, want to learn more, are willing to step out on a limb and try new practices of the church,” said the pastor. “They want to learn how to pray, to fast, to give alms, to do the works of mercy, learn more about Scripture, to raise their children in the faith, to seek God, to come to his kingdom.”