Thursday, 9 February 2017

Attachment to Buildings

Torbay Mission
Why is it that the American Ordinariate seems so far ahead of us in England?  Part of the reason I suggest has to do with buildings. Whereas in the States it is sometimes possible for the Ordinariate to purchase a former Episcopal church, this never happens here. Indeed there are some Anglican bishops who have said they would be more ready to let a church go to the Islam than to the Ordinariate. It is very rare indeed (I only know of the Torbay Mission) where a church building has been bought by the Ordinariate - and that was formerly a Methodist, not an Anglican, church,

It all stems, I think, from history. Until the 1530's every church in England was Catholic. After Henry VIII - and once his bastard daughter Elizabeth I was on the throne - every church was nationalised for the 'Church of England'. At different times, churches have  occasionally been handed over to other Christian bodies. French Protestants, for instance, were given the use of some churches when the Huguenots were exiled to England. In the 20th Century, some churches have been given to Orthodox communities, or they have been permitted to buy or share them.
Sikh Gurdwara: once St Luke's
Also in the 20th Century there have been instances where other religions have bought or been given church buildings - the former St Luke's in Southampton is now a Sikh Temple. The occasions when Catholics have been able to take over or use an Anglican building are very few indeed. In 19th Century Arundel there was a great legal battle when the catholic Duke of Norfolk presumed to rebuild the ruins of the Chancel of the Anglican Parish Church where his ancestors were buried for a Catholic Chapel.
Slipper Chapel
In Walsingham, the equally ruinous Slipper Chapel was rescued from its use as a barn and brought back into Catholic worship. There is the former chapel of Ely House, London home at one time of  the Bishops of Ely which had been sold and laicised long before. And that is about the sum of it.
Ely Chapel as it once was

In London, though, where Catholic congregations customarily fill their churches to bursting, the good old Church of England hangs on to its buildings even when congregations are down to a mere handful - in the hope perhaps of realising a good sum from a developer.

Italianate Wilton
I was reminded of all this on visiting Wilton. There the old church was pulled down in the 19th Century and only the chancel left standing. In its place a sumptuous Italianate church was bult by the local grandee, the Earl of Pembroke; and it was fitted out with stained glass, carved woodwork and stone from all over Europe - the aftermath of the French Revolution and other upheavals. It must have seemed perfectly reasonable to the noble Lord that these Catholic artefacts should become decorations in an Anglican building.

We are very wedded to our buildings and our history, in a way which it must be hard for others - especially Americans I think - to understand. Perhaps the time is coming when Parliament will recognise that the Church of England is no longer the religion of the country, and that it would be sensible to find other bodies to take over some of the buildings which it struggles to maintain - but don't pray for it too hard. St Paul's erstwhile Cathedral would make such a good Mosque.

Saturday, 31 December 2016


Soon after the walls came down in Europe there began convoys of aid to many former Eastern Bloc countries. At St Stephen's House in Oxford we wondered what we might contribute; and decided that since education was our goal, we ought to give opportunites to come to study with us. Many people chipped in, and we had a succession of visitors. Perhaps the most memorable was Nicolai Moȿoiu. He came from Braȿov, in Romania, where his father was a parish priest. His wife was an oncologist, and Nicolai was destined for the priesthood. After a year in Oxford, during which time his wife also was able to go to the John Radcliffe hospital and see something of cancer treatment in Britain, they returned home. A few months later I was invited along with one of our students to Romania to witness Nicolai's Ordination.

It took place in a remote village in the foothills of the mountains of Transylvania. We set off soon after 7am in the dark. Snow became deeper as the cars climbed to Poiana Mereu. We passed many on foot making their way towards the church. This was not simply an Ordination; it was also the Consecration of a newly built church, and alongside Nicolai was another man who had been made Deacon with him a week earlier They were now both to be ordained Priests. The Church was to become not just a parish church, but also the church of a restored Monastic Community.

Welcoming the Bishop - his Deacon at his side. Nicolai the tall figure on the left, the young p-p in pink on the Bishop's left
A little after 9am the Bishop came, to be greeted with bread and salt a Crucifix and the Gospels, while the snow fell round us. The Deacons took him into the church. Stay close to me the bishop told me; not easy in such a throng, but there behind the Ikonostasis he was duly Vested for the Liturgy by the Deacons.  We circled the outside of the Church and the Bishop signed it on all sides with a brush loaded with oil on a long pole. When it came to preparing the altar, this was no prissy western performnce. The mensa was thoroughly scrubbed by assistant priests with their sleeves rolled up using water from plastic bowls. The oiling was no mere dribble but a thorough basting. When the whole Liturgy seemed to be drawing to a conclusion around 1pm the Bishop decided this was the opportunity to tell people their duties; which he did for another forty minutes.

 Then he was taken to rest for a while, until late in the afternoon we all met in the Village Hall for a feast. This was in pre-Advent, so fish was the main part of the meal. On the table were bottles of Whisky, containers of very good local wine, and teapots of what looked like very weak tea. It is water, said the Bishop to me: Water indeed! Firewater, rather - Tzvika, the local plum brandy.

Nicolai,  me and the Bishop as the Feast began

I was reminded if all this by a couple of photos (above) which I came across in preparing to move house: and in view of recent correspondence elsewhere about Consecration Rites thought it might be interesting. The three most imortant things I learned from Romanian Orthodoxy? That the liturgy was put into the vernacular in 1662 and no one seems to hanker after Slavonic; that it is perfectly normal for priests to be married: and that  Deacons are far more important for the functioning of the Liturgy than are priests.

Monday, 19 December 2016


If there are no posts here for a while it is because we are moving; from Lymington where we have been happily for the past fifteen year.  We shall have to leave many friends, and the Ordinariate Mission in Bournemouth. And at least this post should not annoy or embarrass anyone.

St Thomas More, Iford: Bournemouth Ordinariate Mission's shared home
We have to downsize though - in particular we shall have a much smaller garden - and  we should have better transport links to at least some of our family. So Salisbury will be our new setting.

We had a very happy farewell after Mass on Sunday in Lymington, then further goodbyes over lunch at Brockenhurst - though in fact I hope still to help out locally until we depart - particularly with two Christmas masses in Lymington, and a few weekday celebrations until the removal vans come on January 10th.

Downsizing: our Edwardian Terrace
We look forward to getting to know the Salisbury Ordinariate Group rather better, and also the parishes in and around Salisbury - in the Catholic Diocese of Clifton.

Friday, 18 November 2016

Fanaticism - the Ornaments of Churches Considered

A bench end in, I think, a Suffolk church. A poppy-head, they call it, though that is a distortion of the original term (poupée, doll's head). This is especially doll-like; a carved infant in swaddling clothes. It came to light when I was sifting through old photographs in preparation for a move. But look closely at the doll. It has been defaced, just one among thousands of pieces (we would call them works of art) which were so hated by 'reformers' in the sixteenth century upheavals during the Tudors' reigns, or a century later under the Commonwealth.

This Puritan spirit has surfaced in many churches at many times. It was thriving in the East during the Iconoclast controversy. It spurred on the 11th Century reforms of Citeaux - though the Cistercians built great white-washed barns for themselves rather than destroying the churches of others. 
In the eighteenth century there were Parliamentary debates about whether it was fitting that stained glass originally made as a gift from the Dutch to Henry VII for his Chapel in Westminster might be allowed to fill the East Window of the Church of St Margaret Westminster - the parish Church of Parliament. That window had almost miraculously survived from the sixteenth Century, hidden by a succession of guardians; the last Abbot of Waltham, the Earls of Ormond, then Thomas Bullen (Anne Boleyn's father!). At one stage George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, owned it; and sold it to General Monk, who buried it through the Civil War. When New-Hall where it was installed by Monk fell into decay it was sold again; and eventually was bought in 1758 by a Parliamentary Committee set up to repair and restore St Margaret's. 
A little over a century later battles raged over liturgical attire and practice, and whether the Bishop of Lincoln might be permitted to wear a surplice and light candles in his private chapel. So perhaps it should not surprise us that the spirit of Puritanism is also found in Islam. Whether depictions of the Buddha or Pagan Temples in Palmyra, to ardent Muslims these are not works of art, they are an offence to true religion and only fit for destruction. We may not approve of the destruction, whether in our own history or present day Islam, But perhaps we can make a start at understanding people's motives, even if we do not approve of them - what was that about Cecil Rhodes' statue in Oxford?

Palmyra: now destroyed

Friday, 28 October 2016

Naked I came into this World .....

Too Much Stuff
Downsizing, they call this exercise which my wife and I are currently undertaking. I was in the mid-cull of some more books when the phone rang. "How are you, Michael?" I asked when the caller told me who he was. "Dying" came the reply. And so he is, in a hospice preparing to make a good death.

That phone call shone a new light on what we are doing with a move. We are getting ready to die. So we certainly should not grumble about it, as I had been doing. It is a great opportunity for deciding what our successors might find useful or consider beautiful (as William Morris has it). If an item does not measure up to either, and is not essential for our daily living in the next few months, then OXFAM or the tip is the answer. A few special books might find particular good homes. Newman's 1843 Sermons from the University Church in Oxford are in the very middle of the picture above, and the Bournemouth Oratory must have a library.  But no books will be needed on our last voyage. Here we know we are just strangers and pilgrims (so good to have Our Lady of Walsingham for our Ordinariate's Patron), so let's try to value every opportunity for letting go of the encumbrances of STUFF.

More Stuff

Please pray for Michael Walter, Priest of the Church of England, and for St Christopher's Hospice.

Saturday, 17 September 2016

Bridges & the Ordinariate in Dublin's Fair City

A first visit to Dublin has set me wondering. Bridges - Pope Benedict as Pontiff - Pontifex Maximus - the Bridge-builder - and the Ordinariate as a Bridge. In Dublin, where the population is predominantly Roman Catholic, there is a Catholic pro-Cathedral (below). It is a fine neo-Classical building. But why only a Pro-Cathedral?

One explanation I heard was that when the Irish Free State was set up a century ago it was supposed that the Church of Ireland, the Anglicans that is, would happily hand over one of the two ancient Cathedrals which had been in their possession since the Reformation. They could hardly need two such buildings within half a mile of each other.

Christ Church Cathedral

St Patrick's
Today a century after the 1916 Rising Christ Church and St Patrick's are both in the hands of the Church of Ireland. The former seems to do a great tourist trade, though it is largely a Victorian rebuild.  St Patrick's, too, had a make-over thanks to a Guinness (picture left). There seems to be a very generous spirit among the Irish. In the Castle State Apartments, which are used for grand events (such as the visit of the Queen to Ireland) the reception Hall still has on its walls portraits of Victoria and Albert, and of most of the Viceroys. The Chapel within the Castle also has the names of former Viceroys (together with St Patrick) carved along its balconies (below). Yet none of this has been vandalised. Other places which were once under Colonial rule have generally been less merciful towards their former overlords.

St Patrick & the Duke of Devonshire

Best of all, outside the City Hall stands a postbox proudly bearing the cipher of Edward VII. Is it possible that in England we could improve relations between the Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches? Not with another endless round of ARCIC conversations but with a more generous attitude to sharing. Perhaps the best thing I did in fifty years of ministry as an Anglican priest (perhaps the only really good thing) was to start the experiment of the shared use of St John's (Anglican) parish Church. That was forty years ago, and both Bishops were determined it would just be an experiment. The experiment seems to be working, and still between the early Communion service and the later Parish Eucharist there is a Roman Catholic Mass in St John's. I know there are other instances of such sharing - but it ought to be commonplace. In many Anglican parishes a small congregation struggles to find the money to keep the building standing; yet often (and this is mostly true in our larger Cities) a neighbouring Catholic Church is bursting at the seams and has to have a succession of Masses throughout the day to accommodate everyone.

There are so many other things we could and should share. Within the Ordinariate I think particularly of our friendships. Can we not engineer meetings when Roman Catholics and Anglo-Catholics might meet socially and talk freely about our concerns, instead of sniping and point-scoring at a distance? I think I am still a life member of Forward in Faith - yet I do not even receive New Directions any longer, nor am I invited to the annual Assembly or any of its meetings. What are we afraid of? So many Anglican clergy have remained in the Church of England for good and honourable reasons, and we Roman Catholics should honour this instead of implying that they are just cowardly. It is good that Fr Paul Benfield writes about Anglican matters in our Ordinariate magazine. Perhaps there could be a reciprocal arrangement for New Directions? [And since writing this I find that such an arrangement already exists; Simon Cotton has a column. Sorry I did not know this before I wrote - just hope we can increase and build on all the contacts we have]

When Newman left the Church of England, he described it as The Parting of Friends; yet I have a copy of Pusey's University sermons, a copy he had given to his daughter Mary. In it he has written a footnote in his own spidery hand telling of a very kind correspondence between him and Newman forty years after Newman had left the University Church in Oxford. (His memorial, rt. in the Dublin Catholic University Church). We really should be keeping all our friendships in better order, if we are to make the Ordinariate a bridge rather than an obstacle between our two communions.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Liturgy: the work of the People

“We do not come to the Church to celebrate what we have done or who we are. Rather, we come to celebrate and give thanks for all that Almighty God has done, and continues in His love and mercy to do, for us.  What He does in the liturgy is what is essential; what we do is to present our ‘first fruits’—the best that we can—in worship and adoration. When the modern liturgy is celebrated in the vernacular with the priest ‘facing the people’ there is a danger of man, even of the priest himself and of his personality, becoming too central."

Of course Cardinal Sarah is right. There are these dangers in vernacular liturgy celebrated facing the people. I could wish though that the good Cardinal had also pointed up some of the dangers in a liturgy not "understanded of the people" (Cranmer, I believe) and also in 'ad orientem' celebrations.
It is possible for a mass to become so liturgically correct, so observant of every foot-note in Fortescue and O'Connell,  that those celebrating (not least, but not only, the Servers) can lose sight of what they are about. I have witnessed 'North end' celebrations in the Church of England which were deeply devout and prayerful. Equally I have seen priests celebrating Mass facing the apse who have been quite switched off - and certainly inattentive to the needs of the worshippers as they gabbled the Latin and dropped into supposedly pious inaudibility, while self-important servers fussed about the altar. 
When we began to adopt the westward facing Eucharist in my CofE days I tried, with my curates, to recognise some of the pitfalls of that change. We spent time together with members of the congregation working out how best to introduce liturgical change. Yes, one could become too informal, more a ringmaster than a celebrant. It was more important than ever to focus on the sacred elements rather than on one's fellow worshippers. Those dangers are still present now that I am a Catholic . Attentiveness, attention to the text, clarity of speaking, refusal to rush, all these and more are needed to give the Mass its proper dignity. There is no place for idiosyncratic modes of speech, or elaborate gestures.
The Ordinariate, I hope, brings with it as part of its patrimony a reverence for "the beauty of holiness". But this does not depend on choreography of Byzantine complexity, Latin vestments more suited to the Knave in a pack of cards than to the reality of the human body, or language from fourth century Rome or sixteenth century England. Repeatedly through history there have needed to be reforms, usually of over-elaboration and clericalism in worship which have treated the laity as mere pew-fodder. We should be grateful to Cardinal Sarah for reminding us that all our worship ought to be focus on the Almighty. Perhaps, though, his particular remedies are only suitable for relatively few Cathedrals and greater churches. More important by far is to get the music sorted out. Drop the meaningless ditties of the 20th Century or the maudlin attention to death of the 19th. Restore to the Catholic Church some of the treasures of hymnody and psalmody from previous generations [and our own], and there is a chance that the people will discover something of God in the Church's worship. For where two or three are gathered together in his name (and no advice in scripture on which way they should be facing) there is the Lord in the midst of them. (Matt.xviii 20)