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.)