Everyone talks about converts "swimming the Tiber," but why swim when there’s a perfectly good bridge?

I’m referring to the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter — more commonly referred to as the Anglican Ordinariate. This ecclesial structure was erected by Pope Benedict XVI in October 2009 in response to numerous requests for a path to formal union with the Catholic Church from Anglicans.

There are now three personal ordinariates. The first, established in England, is called the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham. The second is American and is called the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter. The third, in Australia, is under the patronage of Our Lady of the Southern Cross.

The ordinariate allows for worship according to the Book of Divine Worship — an Anglican-style liturgy shorn of Protestant beliefs and infused with Catholic theology. The Mass is celebrated in an Anglican style, and other Anglican traditions are valued. Former Anglican priests who are married may be ordained for the ordinariate, and the ordinariate is governed by a former Anglican bishop or priest who is called the "ordinary." This man functions much like a bishop but cannot be consecrated as a bishop if he is married.

What is the future of the Anglican Ordinariate? Is it simply a bolt hole for Anglicans and Episcopalians who are disillusioned with the progressive agenda of their churches? The ordinariate could be much more, and to understand the potential of the ordinariate, we have to take a look at the history and present state of Anglicanism.

The Church of England was founded in the tumult of the Protestant Revolution in the 16th century. It then spread worldwide, as the English established their colonies.

Today, the Anglican Communion consists of a formal confederation of national churches historically linked to England and, therefore, to the Church of England. So, for example, the Episcopal Church of the U.S.A. is the American branch of the Anglican Communion. The Church of Canada is the Canadian branch of the Anglican Communion, etc. Each of these national churches is self-governing.

Beginning in the 1870s, with the foundation of the Reformed Episcopal Church, there began a movement of what is now referred to as "the continuum" or "continuing churches." These consist of Anglicans who, for a whole range of reasons, have broken away from their national church of Anglican Communion. There are now about 150 Anglican schism groups with a variety of traditions, worship styles and theological opinions.

Add to this heady mix a new stream of Anglicans. These are evangelical Protestants who never were members of an Anglican church but who have been attracted to the Anglican tradition. Instead of joining an existing church of the Anglican Communion, they have simply started their own Anglican-style church. So, in the early 1990s, the Charismatic Episcopal Church and the Communion of Evangelical Episcopal Churches were established. Clearly distancing themselves from the "continuing" Anglican churches, these new Anglicans — who have come from a range of Protestant denominations — see themselves as part of a "convergent church" movement.

The current trend of ecumenism with the Anglicans is with these two groups: the continuing and the convergent Anglicans. The Anglican Ordinariate was established in response to requests from continuing Anglicans, but it could also be a very appropriate home for the more unusual and innovative convergent Anglicans.

A few weeks ago, one of the convergent Anglican leaders, Bishop Tony Palmer, addressed a meeting of Pentecostal leaders in Texas. Bishop Palmer had become friends with then-Archbishop Jorge Bergoglio during a missionary stint in Argentina. After meeting with his old friend — now Pope Francis — Palmer gave a passionate speech calling evangelical Pentecostals to be open to the ministry of the Pope and full communion with Rome.

The Anglican Ordinariate could be a perfect home for such evangelical Protestants who long for the historic church, liturgy and all the riches of the Catholic faith, while still retaining the good things from their Anglican and evangelical heritages.

Traveling the path to Rome can be hard, and great sacrifices are necessary. However, new ways of understanding the journey are emerging, and fresh conversations are taking place — and exciting new relationships are being forged.

The Anglican Ordinariate bridge across the Tiber will still be difficult for many to cross, but it beats swimming!

Father Dwight Longenecker

is the editor of The Path to Rome,

a book of mostly Anglican conversion stories.

Visit his blog, browse his books

and be in touch at DwightLongenecker.com.