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.)

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