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.)

Saturday, 29 November 2014


Tomorrow in Bournemouth we begin celebrating Mass according to the Ordinariate Use. We shall do so for a month, to immerse ourselves in its words and actions. In part (the better part) this Use derives from the Book of Common Prayer - devised by Dr Cranmer and amended in the reign of Charles II. So there are great translations of ancient Latin collects. Just look for example at the one appointed for the week before Advent.  "Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people, that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded". Compare that with the clumsy version in the most recent Roman Missal translation: "Stir up the will of your faithful, we pray, O Lord, that, striving more eagerly to bring your divine work to fruitful completion, they may receive in greater measure the healing remedies your kindness bestows". No contest.

So I have nothing against the language of the Book of Common Prayer. The prayer of humble access (moved to follow the Agnus in the Ordinariate Rite, instead of breaking up the Canon as Cranmer did) is a fine prayer. So too is the thanksgiving after Communion (albeit a little wordy for daily use). What I do find hard to take, though, is the god-wottery of the American Book which has been imported into the Ordinariate Use. For those unfamiliar with the word, god-wottery is defined in the Oxford Dictionary as 'an affected quality of archaism, excessive fussiness and sentimentality'. These, I fear, are the very things which many English members of the Ordinariate find so unhelpful.

First the archaism; we have been happy saying "and with your Spirit". Is it helpful to change this to "thy" spirit, last used by some of us half a century ago - and to younger ones totally unknown? Perhaps in remoter parts of the Pennines people still 'thee' and 'thou' one another, but for most of us this is just archaism for its own sake. Now some would argue that this is hieratic language and to put everything into the "you" form would be to treat Almighty God with too much familiarity. But that is exactly what Our Lord taught us to do! It is retained in the Latin of the Lord's Prayer (qui ES is coelis .. ES being the singular, informal address.) French and Italian and all those languages which make a distinction between the second person plural and the second person singular invariably address the Almighty in the familiar 'tu' form. That is what the prayer book did by speaking to the Lord as "Thou". By reverting to this usage, long dead in England, we now put an artificial distance between us and him which neither Our Lord not the Prayer Book intended.

Then, the excessive fussiness. Why have a threefold repetition of "Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof; but speak the word only and my soul shall be healed"? The phrase 'vain repetition' comes to mind. And why introduce multiple kissings of the altar? Or duplicate genuflections?

As for sentimentality, I leave it to others to look through the Propers of the Book of Divine Worship. Perhaps we shall be spared some of its mawkishness when our own Propers are produced. Even so, I'm afraid that the Ordinariate Use has missed a great opportunity for finding beautiful and accessible language for today's worship. It might have begun by excising the most obvious archaisms; what is wrong with "Stir up, we beseech you, Lord, the wills of your faithful people, that they, plentifully bringing forth the fruit of good works may by you be plentifully rewarded"? But we will try to use the rite we have been given to the letter, and by the time Advent ends perhaps I shall have been persuaded of its beauty and charm. We can only hope.

Not Black Saturday

After the madness of black Friday's sales, good to walk through Lymington and find the market as busy and happy as ever. It's pleasant to walk to Mass and be greeted by some of the stallholders and shoppers - "Morning, Padre", "Morning Vicar". Sometimes I even get called "Father". Back half a century ago when we walked from the clergy house to church in North End the Dockyard mateys on the way to work everyone called us Father - but then, Portsmouth had experienced a century of the Anglo-Catholic revival. By the 1960s there were four of us unmarried clergy looked after by a Housekeeper - besides the Vicar and two married priests-in-charge living near the three churches. There was a Sister on the staff too, a Nun of St Peter's Convent in Woking. I think that parish is now down to a solitary Vicar. O tempora, O Mores!

After Mass on Saturday there is always coffee and cakes in the old school (now called "Joseph's Place"- he seems to live across the road from Mary, since the Presbytery is now called Mary House. Today the cakes were especially lavish - probably to prepare us for the rigours of Advent

Then home again up the hill through the market crowds. Later today we may get to St Dominic's Convent where the Sisters are having a Christmas Sale - but not, I expect, a black Saturday.

You can get anything in our Market
Certainly not a BLACK market

Monday, 17 November 2014

After the Fall

Mass of St Hilda this morning at Lymington Church (Our Lady of Mercy). I offered the Mass for the Church of England, and especially for my friends who will have found today so hard - I well remember Synod on November 11th 1992, when I had to return to face those at St Stephen's House who really had believed (as I once did) that "the Church of England is part of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church". For me, that became an increasingly difficult position to defend .

But what picture could be appropriate for such a day? Maybe a series of lines drawn in sand, with an incoming tide sweeping them all away?  No, too unkind. Instead here are a couple of images from the garden. On this damp and dull day the dying foliage glows with one last burst of splendour. Of course, such visual parables cannot be pressed too far; for the Wisteria and the Maple there may be new glory next year. Institutions, though, simply wither on the vine.


Cheer up, though. There is new life - but maybe not for the branch severed from the trunk. Pope Benedict XVI (blessed be he) found a way of grafting us back into the stock where we belong. That way is still open for those brave enough to ask for it. It is called the Ordinariate.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

A Precious Stone Set in a Silver Sea

The Union Flag at Milford on Sea
Between the two Masses at St Thomas More today, that is after the Parish Mass and before the Ordinariate one, a little Anglican Patrimony. Fr Darryl had us singing "For those in peril", we heard the Last Post (recorded) and he recited "They shall not grow old". We kept two minutes silence, finished with another hymn and a verse of God Save the Queen (sorry we omitted 'Confound their Politicks') and still managed to begin the Ordinariate Mass on time at 11.15. After Mass we met baby Jack (who had slept throughout) who is to be baptized next Sunday.
Trying to catch the tide

After a late lunch we just had time to catch some spectacular moments as the sun set over Dorset and the Isle of Wight. There was even one hardy soul on a paddle board. I could not stop taking photos, so there might be a few more on Facebook.

Thursday, 6 November 2014


Despite leaving the Church of England, I am still in communion with an important part of it - the Pensions Board. After forty-one years of full-time ministry, I was able to sit back in 2001 and take things easy. Until, that is, five years ago Pope Benedict gave us the great opportunity of the Ordinariate.
So since 2011 I have once again been in pretty active ministry, looking after our little flock in Bournemouth and giving a hand in local Catholic parishes.

Our Lady of Lourdes, New Milton
This morning, as most Thursdays, I celebrated in the lovely Catholic parish church of New Milton. This enables the Parish Priest, Fr Marcin Drabcik, to take a day off - though he seldom does, being something of a workaholic. It is always a pleasure to say Mass in his church. Everything is beautifully ordered, and the people are very welcoming. I never leave without one or two people, and usually several of them, thanking me. Today we were about thirty. This is the usual Thursday number, though some weeks it is forty or more. Occasionally I have been able to help on a Sunday, particularly when Fr Marcin has gone to his native Poland. The most recent time was to lead a Pilgrimage from New Milton. Then, as on every Sunday, the church has been packed to the doors

There are Catholic parishes up and down the country welcoming former Anglicans to their altars. Indeed there are churches which might have closed but for the influx of Ordinariate clergy. If there is one message for my Anglican clergy friends, it is that you would be very welcome in the Roman communion, and you would be well used.  I cannot imagine a happier or more fruitful way of spending my declining years. But you don't have to be retired! I wish I'd had this Anglicanorum Coetibus opportunity earlier. In any case, don't leave it too late; you are needed now..