by Dwight A. Moody
During the Easter Vigil this coming April, my long-time friend Tory Baucum (and his wife Elizabeth) will be received into the Roman Catholic Church. He will be 60 years old and will have traveled a most circuitous route to reach this destination.
“Will there be yet another stop on your journey?” I asked him.
“Where else is there to go?” he responded.
I don’t know the answer to his question, but I know that he started his road to Rome at the most unlikely place of all.
Deep in the heart of Texas. Baptist Texas, that is. League City, near Houston, at the First Baptist Church, where he was baptized, all the way under and coming up wet, as an 18-year-old high school senior.
“I was clueless,” he now says about his studies at Criswell College, where he came to know the president Paige Patterson, the fundamentalist crusader who led the takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention. But it was his private reading of those warm-hearted evangelicals (Stott and Lewis, to name two) that watered the Anglican seeds planted inadvertently by his lapsed Episcopal mother.
“I went to Israel and Egypt and found myself in the company of Episcopal missionaries,” he said with a laugh. “They were smoking and drinking and talking about gospel work, I did not know those three things ever went together!”
He returned to the intensity of fundamentalism at MidAmerica Baptist Seminary in Memphis and then on a summer assignment in Pittsburgh working with young adults. It was there he ran into me, exactly how neither of us remembers; but I was fresh out of seminary, pastor of a small Southern Baptist church, and already discontent also with the religious environment of my formation and education.
“Take a look at Trinity Seminary,” I recall urging him, referring to the evangelical version of Episcopal education on the outskirts of Pittsburgh. He did, and flourished, and finished with two degrees, and then took off for Little Rock but not before he was confirmed in the Episcopal Church and ordained as a priest.
“My dean was a godly man,” Baucum recalls about the dean of the cathedral in Little Rock where he served as assistant. “My two years there were a positive experience.”
But it was back to Kansas City that marked the midway in his life journey: midway because it was here that he spent his childhood and it is here he will be received into the Catholic Church in just a few weeks.
There he went in 1990, minister to St. Andrews and later at All Saints both congregations of the Episcopal Church. And there he met and married Elizabeth, and there they started their family.
“I like the life of the mind,” he has said to me more than once across the years—thirty five now, it has been—and that is, no doubt, what pulled him back into formal studies: this time, at Asbury Seminary in Kentucky, where I had begun my theological studies twenty years earlier. He wrote a dissertation comparing the catechetical strategies of Augustine and John Wesley, earning a PhD degree and teaching courses along the way.
“I was connected to Canterbury, teaching at Asbury, and attending worship at the storefront Orthodox church not far from our home,” he explained in an effort to describe the ecumenical instincts he has nurtured from childhood.
“While in the Lexington area, I met the Catholic bishop, Ronald Gainer, and also his guest, Raniero Cantalamessa, the pope’s preacher.” Gainer is now bishop of Harrisburg while Cantalamessa continues to serve, since 1980, as Preacher to the Papal Household. Both men, one American and the other Italian, made a deep impression of Baucum.
Then Truro Anglican Church in Fairfax, Virginia came calling. They represented the conservative exodus from the American Episcopal Church, troubled by progressive moves toward women and homosexuals in ministry. Baucum accepted their call and for thirteen years has preached in the politicized atmosphere of the national’s capital. He also accepted my invitation to join the board of directors for the Academy of Preachers; and so, once again, our lives intertwined. And it was during those days that he first started talking to me about leaving the doctrinal and ethical struggles of the Protestant world and entering the Roman Catholic Church.
“My wife and I are returning to Kansas City, our home,” he said with happiness. “We will be working through the archdiocese and nearby Benedictine College to minister to families, especially among the poor.”
Not all of us travel such a road in our determination to be faithful to Jesus; but he has, and I am glad, even as I anticipate for him another rich season of ministry and mission, another stage of searching to be the person God wants him to be. That is my journey also, and yours, even if our version of it does not lead all the way to Rome.
Blessings, Tory, and prayers for you. May God fill your life with joy and purpose, and rest.