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Former Episcopal bishop Lipscomb now a Catholic priest

Father John Lipscomb was the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Southwest Florida. He converted to Catholicism in 2007, a few months after his retirement, and was ordained a priest this week.

ATOYIA DEANS | Times

Father John Lipscomb was the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Southwest Florida. He converted to Catholicism in 2007, a few months after his retirement, and was ordained a priest this week.

LUTZ — John Lipscomb, the married, 59-year-old former bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Southwest Florida, was ordained a Catholic priest Wednesday.

The morning after, he expressed joy and a sense of relief. He's at peace, spiritually. He's just a priest now. He's not the boss.

"The part of the job that never fit was sitting in judgment of other people's lives," he said. "I'm at a point in my life where I want to do the things God called me to do, and not have to make the kinds of decisions that are impossible to make anyway."

"We're happy that John has found his place," said Jim DeLa, the Episcopal Diocese's director of communications. "If this is it for him, God bless him."

Twelve years ago, Lipscomb was elevated to lead nearly 40,000 Southwest Florida Episcopalians in a ceremony that included a chorus of trumpets at the Cathedral Church of St. Peter in St. Petersburg.

Over the next decade, he fought Parkinson's disease and caught malaria on a mission to Kenya. In those same years, dissension tore his church apart. In 2003, he joined 19 bishops in a "statement of sorrow" over the naming of V. Gene Robinson as the first openly gay Episcopalian bishop.

On Wednesday, he was ordained in a private ceremony in the chapel of the woodsy Bethany Center spiritual retreat in Lutz. He is the spiritual director there. His wife, Marcie, and about 100 diocesan priests attended the ordination. His two grown children couldn't be there.

Miami Archbishop John Favalora ordained him. Bishop Robert Lynch, head of the Roman Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg — 425,000 Catholics strong — gave a welcome. It was Lynch's longest outing since colon surgery in July. Lynch has been a mentor to Lipscomb since his conversion two years ago.

Said Lipscomb: "Tears were shed."

He becomes a Catholic priest just as Pope Benedict XVI has invited hundreds of thousands of disenchanted Anglicans to convert en masse. That includes married Anglican priests. The papal offer last October is aimed at Anglican communities that have opposed their church's liberal stance on gay marriage and the ordination of women priests and gay bishops.

Lipscomb's ordination was in the works long before that offer. He converted to Catholicism in 2007, a couple of months after his retirement. His ordination was made possible under a process initiated by the late Pope John Paul II. Bishop Lynch assisted him.

He hoped to become a Catholic priest from the moment he converted. "But it wasn't why I came into the church."

He didn't criticize the Episcopal Church then, nor will he now. He said he has arrived at where God has led him — "to a fullness in life."

His Parkinson's and malaria are under control. He looks fit and rested. Under his job as spiritual director at the Bethany Center, he'll organize retreat programs and workshops and help visitors "deepen their spiritual journeys."

He'll be available to celebrate Mass in area churches.

But he won't be bossing, or disciplining or placating. He said he understands Catholics are as contentious — if not more so — as Episcopalians. But his personal ministry isn't a combative one.

"I won't be confronting cultural issues that are not fundamentally important to the Gospel."

This is Lipscomb's third church. His father was a Baptist preacher. He credits his wife for making him an Episcopalian. The two converted to Catholicism together.

His chance at a second spiritual career was "a gift not expected." He uses a word he learned as an young Episcopal priest in Louisiana to describe that gift.

The word is Creole — lagniappe.

It means "a little something extra."

John Barry can be reached at jbarry@sptimes.com or (727) 893-2258.

Former Episcopal bishop Lipscomb now a Catholic priest 12/03/09 [Last modified: Thursday, December 3, 2009 9:55pm]

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