Sunday, August 15, 2010

Why in Texas?

Tarrant County Courthouse in Fort Worth, Texas
One of the readers of this blog asked some questions in the comments section that I thought would be fun to answer. He asked:
"Speaking of Texas, why are there more Western Rite Orthodox parishes and missions there than anywhere else? Why are there more Anglican Use Catholic parishes and missions there than anywhere else?"
I have often thought about this and I have a few intuitions. These are certainly not any thing near to being dogmatic, but they are at least intuitions based on experience and some reflections about the Great Republic of Texas. The common image of Texas is of hot-headed cowboys on horses, of guns in pick truck windows and a particular twang in their speech (if they're from West Texas, it's a drawl in East Texas--I'm from where the West begins, Fort Worth, so it's a light twang unless I'm tired and then it can be heavy). Every one also thinks that the Baptists run every thing there and that there is no real room for anything else.

[Have you ever heard how you keep a baptist from drinking all of your beer on a fishing trip? Invite two baptists, they'll watch each other to make sure they don't drink and you can drink all of your own beer!]

The truth is that there really is something to this. About half of the Anglican Use parishes are in Texas, and a large proportion of the Western Rite Orthodox are also in Texas. These parishes are spread out throughout the state, so it's not a narrowly defined demographic. Those who constitute these parishes are mixed in ethnicity as well, although most of them do tend to be of Anglo extraction. The parishes vary in size a good deal too (the Anglican Use parishes are certainly larger than the WRO parishes though--more on that later). But comparing each of the two groups to themselves, their sizes still vary amongst themselves. The level of giving in these parishes also tends to be very steady and usually self-sacrificing.

So what is it in the water there that makes this possible? The first thing that comes to mind is that Texans are very traditionally minded people, except for Austin perhaps which is known to be the most liberal city in the state. But even in Austin the can be found a goodly number of traditional folks. Texans value the past and there is no place in the US that is more keenly aware and in love with its history than Texas. When I was a kid we had to take a year of Texas history in the 7th grade and I'm told that they now have to take two years of Texas history before graduating from High School. To get an Associate's Degree in Texas one has to take a semester of Texas government. If one wants to be certified to teach in Texas, he has to take a semester of Texas history (in addition to Texas government). Texans know who they are and are proud of it. This translates to the Church. Texans respect that which is established and can point back through time to the beginnings. Traditions and a long history are something that's highly valued.

Now there are a lot of baptists in Texas, but there are a whole lot of them that are looking for something more. But that baptist foundation has been very helpful to the state. They believe in a genuine right and wrong, and they believe there is such a thing as sin and hell. Consequently, Texans believe that there is a morality that is right and that folks should follow it. When churches begin to vier off from the center mark, folks get restless in their pews and they'll take off for somewhere that is perceived to be more solid. This has been one of the great contributing factors to the growth of the AU parishes and the WRO parishes in Texas. They want something that is permanent and not subject to current trends (remember, Texans are traditional folks).

Texans also like something that challenges them. We all think that somewhere deep down inside of us we're really all John Wayne. I even knew a guy in college that tried to walk like the Duke. It was amusing. Liturgical worship with fasting rules and obligations clicks with us--after we get over the initial shock of it if one comes from the baptist church.

Related to challenges is the desire to set out a conquer. Texans think BIG and they aren't afraid to take risks. They keep in their hearts something of the pioneering spirit of going out and making something new. This means in churches, they are perfectly willing to pour themselves into building a parish against all odds if they believe in what it teaches and believes. In too many places elsewhere folks are more like settlers than pioneers. They want to come in a settle once all of the work has been done and the indians have been pushed back. Texans don't mind the work or the fight. And part of that will go into their own pockets. They will support their church, open the pocket books and give. And they'll work too. Often times folks with either work or give. Texans do both.

Texans have that sort of John Wayne go get 'em mindset, but they are taught to be "Southern Gentlemen and Ladies". Now I've lived in North Central Florida and I can say without a doubt Texans are not southerners. We're Texans. But we were all taught--very strictly--to be gentlemen, to know our manners, to open doors for women, to say thank you and greet folks with a smile. Texans are polite and friendly. This helps in growing parishes and making people feel welcome.

And we'll go toe to toe with someone who crosses us. And we won't respect ya if you aren't willing to stand up for what you believe in. We don't want you to be mealy-mouthed and shifty in your thoughts. If you believe something, stand up and say so. We respect men for being men. That is not such a little thing in growing an AU or WRO parish. When men are serving the altar, men will come to the parish. Where things have been feminized, men don't come.

Another element, which is exceptionally important, is that Texans are generally religious people. People will talk about their faith openly and not get offended. It's common conversation. The general attitude is that one is part of a church of some sort. This helps to freely speak about what we believe and bring people into the Church.

Finally, I think the stronger economy that Texas has helps. Things have slowed down there, but it's still moving along. Money certainly helps to build churches. You can't do it without it.

The potential in Texas is enormous. It is truly a ripe field that I think has been prepared by God for this time. If it sounds attractive, then get your gun into your pick-up and head to the promised land, just remember it's a big place that needs big people with big ideas.


  1. Thanks for answering my questions - except one - why aren't you back in Texas where you should be?
    I thought that might be the reasons that EDOFW is staying put and not even committing fully to ACNA - very smart.
    I also forgot to add to my list the growing number of EF Missions & Masses being celebrated in Catholic Churches and the FSSP just took possession of a formerly closed Catholic Church, MATER DEI in Irving.
    Texas - WHAT A STATE!

  2. I'm where the bishops want me right now. So I serve and pray. Meanwhile, my heart still lives in the North Texas plains under the big skies.

  3. One more thing - do you really think Saint Michael's will bolt the WRV for the Ordinariate? It's been years since I visited so I'm out of touch, Father Michael was still living but looking poorly, a wonderful priest and pastor.

  4. I'm not sure what they'll do. I would suspect that St. Michael's will stay put because they have a pretty stable community (there are only 4 or 5 that I would call stable in the WRV). I really couldn't say what they might do if the WR were no longer an option for them. I would guess that some would leave for other pastures, and that some would become ER. But who would do what, or how many would be on either side, I really couldn't say. I have always been impressed with the folks I've met from there. They are fine people.

  5. it is funny that you mention that the Anglican Use are larger than the Wr Orthodox. I think that the reason for this is not the question of the numbers of Anglicans or those more attracted to the Bosporus over the Tiber, but because the AU parishes are much better at attracting unhappy Roman Catholics who prefer a more traditional rite whilst in the wr parishes almost no Byzantine ethnics come, and the parishes must rely almost solely upon conversions. I do know that in Las Vegas the original parishes of St. Mary's in the end had almost no real Anglicans as members but was full of traditional leaning Roman Catholics.

  6. I think there is a lot to having a more common "brand name," so to speak. Most people has no earthly idea who the Orthodox are and so the amount of work getting past that is a big distraction--especially when you have to present it in a Western form. I agree that the AU are able to attract unhappy RCs, but it will be interesting to see how long that will last. It may last a long time and then again with the issuing of the Summorum Pontificum and more Latin masses becoming available, the draw might not be there so much.

    I'm not sure though. Because against that I have a hunch that most people have pretty well bought in to having the vernacular used, but would love to hear it in a more beautiful form. That's just a hunch.