Fr Jeremy Davies: How to swim the Tiber safely

29 11 2010

Father Jeremy Davies was brought up in the Church of England in Suffolk. His grandfather had been an Anglican vicar. Father Jeremy has been an administrator of Barnet parish, in London, for six years. The opinions expressed are his own.  These comments appeared on Reuters.

I have no regrets in becoming a Catholic, not withstanding a few setbacks along the way. I am minded of Blessed John Henry Newman’s journey of faith which was far from easy, often tortured. But never again do I have to justify why I call myself a priest, a constant bone of contention among my peers in the Anglican Church or explain why I won’t marry divorced couples in church.

I may struggle at times with Catholic teaching, but I love the clarity with which the Church speaks on faith and morals. I believe what my bishop believes and I share in the transmission of that faith at the local level. I have been Administrator of Barnet parish for six years now and never once has anyone denigrated my priesthood, either as a former Anglican or as a married man. In fact, quite the opposite. Our numbers at Sunday Mass are on the rise, the number of activities is ever increasing and the sense of well-being in the parish is palpable.

That is not to say there are some things I still miss about the Anglican Church. The beautiful buildings for one.  I was brought up in rural Suffolk amid beautiful medieval churches one of which was my family church for thirty years. Conversely, the church in which I minister today is a 1970’s disaster which is in desperate need of improvement. I also miss enthusiastic congregational singing which is a hallmark of Anglican worship.  I’m dismayed by the lack of a good a repertoire in Catholic parishes, though there are definite signs of improvement in my parish.

My family were generally okay about my decision to leave the Anglican Church, though couldn’t see what all the fuss was about. My grandmother, who had herself been married to an Anglican vicar, was very upset at first but came to understand my reasons eventually. My father-in-law, coming from a strongly evangelical background, was the most outspoken.

Yet even he, when he fell seriously ill, came to appreciate the depth of Catholic spirituality. We grew closer than either of us could imagine in those months before he died. I shall always be grateful to him for that. My wife, though she has not become a Catholic, has supported me all the way. Indeed, I could not have made this journey without her. We have a private family life when time allows but she’s very understanding about the long hours I have to spend in the parish. Finding the balance between home and parish life is not easy, something I share with many married couples in our country.

To those who are coming into the Ordinariate I wish them every blessing. It will not be easy to adjust to the new life. Spiritually, it is a coming home, culturally it is a foreign land. It is not until you come into the Catholic Church that you realise the impact of the hierarchy. Parishioners will have to get used to first referring to their bishop and to teachings of the Church before looking to each other for guidance.

For the priests, there is a lot to be said for a slowish process of enculturation. It takes time to get used to the ways of the diocese. But after a while, having found their feet these new Catholics will be eager to explore the delights of this gloriously diverse and colourful Church. It is truly a catholic Church, something you also don’t appreciate fully until you’re a member. There will always be misunderstandings and set backs, the institution is far from perfect, but as a visible sign of Christ’s presence in the world, I know of no better place to be.