Friday, August 13, 2010

What is Anne Rice, and others like her, Telling Us?

By Steve Valenzuela
Director, Small Faith Communities

Most people may have heard by now that one of our local celebrity church members (she lives in Rancho Mirage), popular author Anne Rice, has renounced her membership in Christianity, though she maintains she is still in relationship with Christ. In great post-modern style, she posted this decision on her blog. Her public renunciation is consistent with her earlier public renewal of faith and return to active practice as a Roman Catholic. She chronicled that journey in a wonderful book, “Called Out of Darkness: A Spiritual Confession.” From both her commentary about the decision and the many blogs and commentaries I have read, I doubt a book is in the works regarding this latest turn in her faith journey.

Unfortunately, Anne is not alone is this action. According to recent poll figures, in the United States there are over 30 million “former” Catholics. As National Catholic Reporter contributor Tom Gallagher put it “if the … 30 Million… were their own denomination, their church would be larger than the Methodists, Lutherans and Presbyterians - combined." I have heard this referred to another way, as well. Former Catholics make up one of the largest denominations in the United States. Amazing.

As an active member and minister in the church that baptized Anne and the other 30 million “formers” I can not help wonder, “what went wrong?” What do we, who maintain our faith within the Church, need to hear in these decisions to leave?

Sometimes I think our own beliefs and ideals can mislead us, causing many, like Anne and others to expect the Church, its leaders and members, to be something they were never meant to be: perfect examples of the faith we profess. Our belief in indelible marks and celebrations of public vows can give the false impression that once baptized, vowed or ordained, people somehow give up being human. A priest friend of mine likes to joke that he would be a great priest “if it weren’t for all those #@*% parishioners.” I think many of us who are active members would love to just believe in Christ, in the ideals of faith, hope and charity, in the great commandment of loving God with all your soul, strength and might and loving your neighbor as yourself, but we realize the real trick is putting into practice the beliefs and ideals we profess. The first place, outside of our families, we need to do this is inside the gathering of folks we call Church. God seems to have entrusted this whole faith enterprise to a very imperfect band of brothers (and sisters), namely us!

I am not sure one can truly be in relationship with Christ without being a member of His body the church. I know a lot of people claim they are doing just that. Still, I think this well documented exodus of so many means we have to rethink some things. How do we communicate who we are to each other in a way that is both authentic and human? What does it mean that some of us are “set apart” for leadership and service? How do baptized members whose views and experiences differ from Catholic orthodoxy fit into the larger whole? Anne claims her decision to leave is rooted in some of these concerns, especially from her perspective, how we seem to exclude those whose views and practices differ. Other denominations have courted her but so far she seems resistant to join them. I do not have a ready plan on how we should change, but I do believe 30 million people can’t simply be ignored. At the very least we need to ask them, “Why did you leave?” as we ask ourselves “Why do I stay?” Both answers will help us figure out what to do.


  1. Good reflection, Steve.

    As for the 30 Million, and my children are among them, I keep thinking of the image Roleheiser uses in The Holy Longing - that by their relatiohsip with those of us who remain in Communion, they are touching the "hem of the garment."

  2. Great reflection Steve.

    In the final analysis we are witnessing a symptom of a greater problem...a deep disenchantment with the ecclesiastical (institutional) church. Anne Rice like many people today are facing a crisis of faith.

    What is clear is that this is the turning point in the history of Christianity. This shift in personal world views, ideologies, religious movements or societies are no longer rooted in the language and assumptions of Christianity, though it had previously been in an environment of ubiquitous Christianity.

    I for one find the actions of Anne Rice to be necessary for the institutional church to begin paying attention to the needs of her followers. I stand in solidarity with Anne.


    Former Catholic

  3. Let's put this into plain English. My husband does not agree with our beliefs because of the "EXCLUSION" of those who haven't completed classes and sacraments.

    Although my faith does not waver, you have to admit that Jesus himself would not have prevented one person to receive The Body. He feels shunned that he's unable to receive the Eucharist although he believes in Jesus. I myself can understand the need for preparation, but when you have a willing recipient, what is the reason we DONT allow any to receive?

  4. It is true that, unlike many Protestant churches, Roman Catholicism does not have an "open" communion table where any believer in Jesus is welcomed. We generally only welcome to communion, baptized members of our Church and members of Eastern Orthodox churches (Greek, Russian, Armenian etc) who do not have access to their own sacraments or churches. Also, we teach that these recipients must not conscious of serious sins in their lives that have not been confessed and absolved (forgiven through the Sacrament of Reconciliation). Finally, we want persons to be formally prepared though some kind of educational program before they receive communion the first time. Much time and energy is spent each year in preparing children, adolescents and adults to receive communion and several other of the sacraments in parishes all over the world!

    I know that sounds like a lot and it is. We take the receiving of communion to be a pretty serious stuff because we believe it is HIM, not just like Him or a symbol of Him but HIM. Unlike many of those same churches who have open communion, we believe the bread and wine is transformed into to actual body and blood, soul and divinity of Jesus. We believe that while the stuff looks like bread (actually unleavened wheat wafers) and wine, once the prayers by the priest are prayed over these elements, we believe they are changed and this change is enduring beyond the worship service (Mass) itself.

    Years ago, as a college kid, I attended a wedding service of some friends who were very active in their college church. This very spiritual couple planned to have communion as part of their wedding. This experience really taught me the difference between communion in my church and in other, especially non-denominational Christian churches. As good friends, several of us showed up early and stayed after the service to help the couple set up then straighten up before the reception. One of the first differences I noted at this communion was that the couple only had communion together and it was not offered to the rest of the congregation. No one seemed surprised or concerned. A second difference was that they used Welch's grape juice instead of wine, which I knew because the Groom had asked me to pour it into the silver cup just before the service started. There were no prayers over or about the bread (Jewish matzo crackers in this case) or the grape juice. We were simply told that Jesus asked his followers to do this act as a remembrance of him and that my friends wanted to have communion as their first spiritual act as a married couple which they did right after they made their vows. It was nice, spiritual addition to this service. Finally, what really show me the difference was what happened with the elements afterwards. The communion plate and silver cup were brought to the back. The extra "bread" was tossed in the trash can and the grape juice went down the drain in the the bathroom. I was shocked at first, coming from the Catholic experience and understanding but soon realized that to them the elements were, and remained, just bread and grape juice.

    But for us, given our belief in the transformation, simply being a believer in Jesus is not enough. For us, communion links us quite literally to each other in this Church, not any Church, to all those who believe in what we believe and to those who believe in what we are doing in this sacrament, in what it means and how it can transform us into becoming the Body of Christ, His enduring presence in the world!

    -Steve Valenzuela, Director
    Small Faith Communities


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