Wednesday, 21 January 2015

The Eyes have it

Well there you are, history rewritten - supposing you watched the first part of Wolf Hall. There was the saintly Thomas Cromwell, honest and upright, devoted to the English Bible, bearing nobly the death of his wife and daughters - oh, and he had wanted to teach her Greek too - how very Humanist of him! You might say just like Thomas More and his Family - except that here we have already been shown what a dastardly fellow More is .. at least in the opinion of convent-educated Hilary Mantel. Not content with blackening him, we also have seen her show Stephen Gardiner as a real snake in the grass.

Now in that I feel Ms Mantel has gone little too far; just because he upheld the faith which England had always held, she must show him as a complete rotter. The photography was marvellous, lots of chiaroscuro; not so the characterisation, all either utterly black or purest white.

The pity is, a picture is worth a thousand words; and we shall see many such pictures over the course of the next five episodes. They are likely to distort people's opinions for years to come.  For me, though, the more accurate picture is given us by a contemporary, rather than an embittered would-be historian. So which of these men would you sooner trust?

Thomas Cromwell

Or the persistent Catholic who preceded Cromwell to the block, and who has been declared a Saint of the Church?

Thomas More

Holbein saw them both; and I think the eyes have it, the eyes have it.

Monday, 12 January 2015

Southwark Sunday

Milling after Mass
After a family party in Dorking on Saturday night, where to go to church next morning? We decided to head into town, to find the Precious Blood, London Bridge - one of the two Ordinariate churches in the Great Wen. Dorking to London is not far on the map; but on a Sunday morning it was a nightmare. Why does anyone try to drive in London? They cut off roads which appear continuous on the map, others they make one-way - always the opposite way to where you heading. After some interesting diversions, we made it, with ten minutes to spare.

Anglican Patrimony? Parish Priest greets people after Mass
 It was, though, worth the journey. A marvellously diverse congregation, and an example of how the Ordinariate might develop. Apparently the church had been in danger of closing until the Archbishop of Southwark and Mgr Keith decided to put an Ordinariate priest,  Fr Christopher Pearson, in charge. There were enough former Anglicans not to be simply swallowed up by the existing congregation, Fr Christopher had experience of that part of London in his Anglican days, and both communities have come together very happily.

Father gave me the privilege of being Principal Celebrant, which I enjoyed - I hope others did too. Then there was a little more patrimony; the bunfight. I did not quite workout the geography of Church and Presbytery, so I was not clear if we were in the house or the sacristy,but it was all very jolly and we met many people, among them some old friends. Antonia Lynn (trained at a certain House in Oxford) travels in from Ewell, and others come from a distance to find lively worship offered in a recognisably Anglican Manner (recognisable, that is, if you were a well-instructed Anglo-Catholic.)

We were given more hospitality - lunch in a pub in Tabard Street-  shades of the Canterbury Pilgrims.

Then we set off for home and found ourselves entangled in the cars of home-going shoppers as we crossed Southwest London, so that the journey was even more wearing than getting to O'Meara Street in the morning. But it was STILL worth the trip. As if to encourage us, we'd been given a SIGN in the sky outside church - disappointingly there was not also "In hoc signo vinces" but perhaps that is just understood.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Chance Meeting

After Mass this morning in New Milton, children were gathering at the crib. One family told me they were visitors, from Byfleet. I knew it well half a century ago, when I served my second (Anglican) curacy in the parish of Woodham, with responsibility for the church on the Sheerwater estate. The visitors told me the Catholic church on the estate had closed down; and so had the one in Byfleet, so they had to travel to find a Mass near their home.

Crib beneath the altar in Our Lady of Lourdes, New Milton
In some dioceses churches have been able to be kept open because there are Ordinariate priests to serve them. In our own area  St Thomas More parishioners have a former Episcopalian priest, now in the Ordinariate, looking after them. He is one of several ex-pats in Portsmouth Diocese, indeed New Milton has a great young Polish Priest and there are two Nigerian clergy nearby.

Whereas the Catholic Church suffers, in this country at least, from a shortage of priests, in the Church of England it is congregations which are declining. I doubt if many churches in the C of E would have had sixty at a morning eucharist -  yet we had that many at New Milton today. So if Anglican clergy find it hard to face a move into the Ordinariate, perhaps they might listen to an appeal to "come over to help us". Of course they must first believe what the Catholic Church believes - but already there are many who do, except that they also think that their church is still somehow an authentic part of the Catholic Church.

Apres Messe
On another tack altogether, it was very good being with our Ordinariate Group yesterday in Bournemouth. One of its best features is the fellowship we enjoy after our mid-week Mass - so I though you might like to see a few of us gathered round the coffee and biscuits on the last day of the old year.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Harmonious relations

After a rather unecumenical post, here is better news. The Service of Lessons and Carols today was led by an augmented choir; our own little group, together with singers from other churches, Anglican and Catholic.

Choir rehearsal
Preparing Lunch
We had a brief business meeting after Mass this morning, then joined in a bring-and share lunch. We seem to be getting rather good at these, and as always there was enough of the leftovers to fill twelve baskets full. The picture was taken as the food was being set out - this was at about the half-way stage, before the hot dishes came out of the oven.

There were visitors, Canadian friends who live in Bradford on Avon but who drove over for Mass just in order to experience the Ordinariate Use. They said it was well worth the journey and that they will be back another time. We are almost at the end of our first trial period with the Ordinariate Use. Mixed reactions, but we decided this morning that it was worth another outing - and so we shall be using it throughout Lent in 2015. Perhaps it is especially well suited to penitential seasons?

Shared lunch - a great time for meeting.

Our Organist, Peter Cook, sported his plum jacket for the occasion - you can see him on the right responding to tricky musical questions over lunch.

One of our visitors joined the washing-up brigade - he can certainly come again!
Post prandial

Now we are gearing up for the Festival; a Mass of the Christmas Eve Vigil on Wednesday morning, then the First Mass of Christmas at 10pm that night. On Christmas morning we can join our local Catholic parishes. Then we are giving Organist, singers and servers a chance to rest on Sunday 28th, when there will be a simple said Mass (many of our people will be away with family). Happy Christmas, everyone!

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Bigots all

Many in the Church of England will have been thrilled to hear that the first woman bishop has been nominated. It would be sad, though, if that announcement were to lead to bitterness; and so far as I can see there has been none from those opposed to this new move.  So I was sorry to receive a green ink letter today with a picture of the newly appointed lady, headed "Church of England names Rev Libby Lane first women (sic) bishop".

The Revd Mrs Lane
No problem with that apart from the grammar, but beneath it the caption went "Wishing all the Anglo-Catholic bigots a Merry Christmas and a Peaceful New Year!" Were I an Anglo-Catholic that might have stung me a little. As I am not it is really no concern of mine what the Church of England does - I maintain an interest simply because so many of my old friends continue (I am not sure how) within that body. No, I am sorry for the person who, in his or her jubilation at the appointment, felt it necessary to rub salt into the wounds of those who hold legitimate theological views about the steps the Church of England is taking.

There are, I suppose, two good things to come of such vitriolic mailings. First, it might make some realise just how hated they are by the triumphant majority, and so get them looking once more at the Catholic option. The other is that the (anonymous) mailer used a first class stamp, and I still hold some Royal Mail shares.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Parish Ministry

One of the places where I used to visit as a Flying Bishop was Northwest Norfolk. There, a little group of parishes around Watlington had asked for the PEV's ministry, as had two other benefices in that little part of North West Norfolk. The Watlington group was in reality just two churches, in Runcton and Watlington, though the title of the Rector's post included Tottenhilll with Wormegay. A few miles away were three other parishes, Barton Bendish with Bechamwell and Shingham. Then in 2003 Fincham, Shouldham with Shouldham Thorpe and Marham were added to the Rectory of Barton Bendish. Today in what the Daily Telegraph inelegantly calls "Appointments in the Clergy" it seems these two collections of parishes have been lumped together. Barbara Burton is priest in charge now, we read, of Barton Bendish w Beachamwell and Shingham, and Marham, and Shouldham, and Wereham and Watlington, South Runcton, Runcton Holme w Watlington, South Runcton and Runcton Holme with Wallington and Thorpland and Tottenham w Wormegay. All this chunk of Norfolk is in the Diocese of Ely. And lest the Revd Ms Burton should feel underemployed she is also Rural Dean of Fincham and Feltwell.

Now certainly these are small places, though many living in them will remember when there used to be at least three incumbents living in and caring for those parishes. With the decline in numbers of clergy (decline which women's ordination was supposed to reverse but did not) it becomes increasingly difficult for the Church of England to claim that it has the cure of souls of every person in the land.

St Edmund Downham Market in the deanery of Fincham & Feltwell

Downham Market was one of my larger concerns back in those days. It belongs still to the Society of SS Hilda and Wilfred. Not sure if Hilgay and Southery, also in that deanery, are in the care of the present Bishop of Richborough - I doubt it since they call themselves 'liberal catholic' on their website. They are working with the Grimshoe Benefice (five churches) so perhaps more amalgamations are on the way. At least the Catholic Church does not have such a problem of so many ancient buildings in small communities. It is also capable of taking drastic action if a parish no longer viable because of having too few worshippers. All of us, Catholics and Anglicans, have a great responsibility to pray for and foster new vocations. The harvest is still plentiful, the labourers ever fewer. Pray therefore the Lord of the Harvest that he will send labourers into his harvest - and pray that the leaders of the churches will be given the wisdom to continue ministry to the whole nation and not just the bits that can afford it.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

A Thousand Ages....

So - forty years don't amount to much in the sweep of the Church's history. This weekend though there is to be a celebration of forty years which means a great deal to me. In 1974 there began an experiment in ecumenism which has outlasted many other much grander schemes (do you remember ARCIC? The agreements on Ministry? On the Eucharist? Or the proposals on Petrine primacy?).

St John's Farncombe
Forty years ago the Catholic Priest in Godalming was concerned that whereas the northern part of his parish had developed hugely, there was no Mass Centre there. So he wrote to me asking if he might use one of the schools for a weekly celebration. As Rector of Farncombe I was also chairman of Governors, not only in our two church schools but also in the more recently opened school in Binscombe. I thought it would be possible; but surely it would be better to use the Church? Unlike a school hall there would be no need to set up a special altar, move the furniture and so on. We had after all recently re-ordered St John's in accordance as we believed with the intentions of Vatican II. It would surely serve for a Catholic Mass as readily as for our celebrations of Holy Communion. Clergy and people in both communities were happy with the idea.

It was more difficult to persuade the Authorities that this was a workable solution - a Roman Catholic Mass celebrated on Sunday between our two Church of England morning Eucharists. Eventually both bishops gave their consent - provided it was acknowledged that this was just an experiment.

So it began - and so it has continued - a long-running experiment. After I became a Catholic in the wake of  'Anglicanorum Coetibus' I was delighted to receive a letter from someone whom I had prepared for Confirmation all those years before. He said he had lapsed after a while, but rediscovered the faith at University, and had become a Catholic. Now he was living back in Farncombe and he and his family were able to worship regularly in St John's where his journey of faith had begun.

This weekend Catholics and Anglicans are joining in a festal Evensong. The Rector will sing the Office, with the present Catholic Priest giving Benediction - and I am to preach. It will be a very moving occasion for many of us. Sad, though, that something which began forty years ago has not since then become commonplace. With church buildings becoming an increasing drain on resources, surely the Churches should be looking at more opportunities for sharing? In many places Churches are having to 'diversify'- becoming post-offices or libraries during the week, and used for worship only on occasional Sundays. How much more important that parishes should share their gifts with other Christians. It might give new life to that experience which so surprised pagans in the first century that they said, "See how these Christians love one another".

{The photograph is from the Farncombe Church website: and shows the most recent alterations to the building - 
a new timber floor and greatly improved lighting.)