Sunday, 12 March 2017

Welcome to the Ordinariate.

Mgr Andrew Burnham (in the Catholic Herald) had some very helpful comments about Philip North and the options before him, There was one sentence, though, that worries me. He suggests that an Anglican Priest seeking to join the Catholic Church has two routes, If he comes with a group of Anglicans he might join the Ordinariate, but otherwise he must use the Diocesan route.

Now certainly 'Anglicanorum Coetibus' begins by being concerned with groups approaching the Holy See; but it not is and cannot be interpreted as applying only to group submissions. If it were, then the whole Ordinariate project would have no future - yet it was not set up by Pope Benedict as just a temporary measure.  Priests die, and there must be replacements for them. Slowly the Ordinariate might produce its own ordinands. Before then, individual priests (or bishops) seeking union with the See of Peter should look first to the Ordinariate. Just as any lay person with Anglican previous can seek to join the Ordinariate, so can any Anglican minister. There will be no certainty of Catholic Ordination until he has first become a Catholic. Then if he wants to be ordained into the Catholic prieshood he should first approach the Ordinary. In some cases there might not be an obvious opening for him in the Ordinariate, and he will be advised to seek help from a Catholic diocesan bishop. But there are and must surely continue to be many opportunities and needs for new priests within the Ordinariate. Some existing groups are struggling simply because their pastor is single-handed, and has many other responsibilities besides his Ordinariate group.

Not all Anglican clergy wanting to become Catholic priests have any hope, realistically, of bring a congregations with them. There are chaplains to schools, hospitals and other institutions where such group submissions are impossible. There ae parishes where at best only a handful of lay people might agree with their Vicar on this issue. The important thing is that the Ordinariates must become ever more approachable and flexible,  always opening doors  to those outside the Catholic Church - and to some inside it, too.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

An Honoured Place

What possible right does a Roman Catholic priest of the Ordinariate have to make any comment on events over the fence in the Church of England?  I think I have two pretty good reasons for writing just now; first, because I was there when the Church of England said that catholic Anglicans held and would continue to hold an honoured place within it. That was one of the reasons I felt it right back in 1995 to try to make that promise a reality, and accepted the post of Bishop of Richborough. Then we were told that the Church of England could not determine finally what was right concerning women's ordination. We were in a time of discernment, until all the Churches, Eastern and Western, came to a common mind. Today the inability or unwillingness of the Church of England to allow an Anglican with doubts about the rightness of women's ordination to become a diocesan bishop seems to be a breach of those promises, one more nail in the Anglo-Catholic coffin.

Archbishop Justin Welby and Bishop Philip North
That would be reason enough for me to express an opinion; but there is another reason I presume to write now. When Philip North trained for the ministry at St Stephen's House, I was its Principal. In his year the academic achievements of that small college were outstanding. Of a handful of candidates who entered for degrees in Oxford University's Honours School of Theology, four were awarded Firsts. One of them is Philip North. There are few Bishops, Anglican or Catholic, with a more impressive academic grounding. There are even fewer with Philip's generous pastoral heart.
As he withdraws from the post of Bishop of Sheffield, to which he was recently nominated, I simply want to express my sadness for Philip, and for the Church of England. It is no joy to any Christians when fellow Christians are hurt - when one member suffers, every member suffers. If the Church of England is diminished by the activities of a so called 'liberal' group, intent on driving out any who disagree with them, then all the Churches are wounded too. Worse still, it is a wound in the Body of Christ Himself.

Then pray for the Church of England, and for Bishop Philip. He wants a place where he can minister to the poor and the neglected for whom he has an especial care. Pray that he may find that place.  Pray for the women in ministry in the Church of England, many of whom have tried to support and encourage Philip, and have valued his pastoral care - even while others have refused his ministry. Pray too for the whole Church of God, all baptized Christians, for a spirit of penitence and reconciliation in this holy season of Lent.

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.