David Fenton comments on the Ordinariate Meeting at Holy Trinity, Winchmore Hill, in this month’s Forward in Faith journal, New Directions:
Courtesy and Tact
It was with some curiosity and keen anticipation that I made my journey to Holy Trinity Winchmore Hill by four different modes of public transport from South East London. This was to be the first public meeting in London of people interested in the Ordinariate. Who would be there, what was on the agenda, what might be revealed so soon after the resignation of the five bishops?
Proceedings commenced with a dignified Mass of Our Lady, concelebrated by five priests, with no homily, no polemics. A portrait of Blessed John Henry Newman watched over us! We were ushered into the lower hall and crammed snugly into the available space after some rearrangement of the seating.
Welcoming us, the Parish priest explained that an extended act of worship would be taking place upstairs with drums and trumpets. Salvation by decibel as it is called in South London! There were about 60 people present of a decent racial mix appropriate to North London, and ages from twenties to eighties. The gender split was about fifty, fifty. There followed unusually eloquent speeches (from the heart to the heart) by four clergy from North East London and Essex. Their presentations were notable for their enthusiasm, their humility and their single-mindedness. They were all very different in style. The situation we were in was likened to a diver on the high platform being asked to dive into an empty pool. By the time he reaches the pool it will be full we were assured. They were looking forward not back. They spoke without bitterness or recrimination. They needed to re-establish the integrity their catholic roots in order to further mission unencumbered by the problems of the Anglican Communion and the activities at the General Synod.
The Pope’s offer of an Ordinariate was a treasure to be cherished. It became clear that interested parties in their parishes were well advanced in preparation. One was already holding sessions attended by well over 100 people where the local RC priest was teacher and the Anglican priest was facilitator. Difficult questions on marriage and divorce and contraception had been addressed. People in irregular relationships were urged to come forward for their cases to be considered. We were reminded that the Church has two faces, one calling us to perfection, the other of infinite compassion. Concern was expressed for the physical and financial well-being of clergy who took the plunge. They were confident that they would be provided for in this journey of faith. We were not to worry, God would provide.
The view, perhaps fostered by the Archbishop of York, that Ordinariate members would be second class Catholics, was roundly dismissed and there was testimony from one lady of a very warm welcome for her by her Catholic friends. It was pointed out that it would be far more straightforward to join the Ordinariate than to take the individual route which would take a minimum of two years. Indeed since the meeting it has been announced that the first lay faithful will be received into the Ordinariate in Holy Week 2011. The mood of the meeting was generally upbeat and supportive. There were one or two awkward questions. “How could we follow a Pope who did not consider us to be Christians?” “I was confirmed by Bishop Trevor Huddleston, why should I be confirmed again?’ These and other questions were handled with great courtesy and tact by the gang of four who felt that the sacrifices they were being asked to make were tiny compared with the gifts that were being offered. We were all Christians by virtue of our baptism. We were not being asked to be re-baptised when we joined the Ordinariate. The clergy were not going to be asked to deny their ministries at ordination ceremonies. What is the patrimony that we bring to the Ordinariate? The patrimony we bring is you and me was the memorable answer. I recall that it was the Bishop of Ebbsfleet who said that Anglo-Catholics were not a problem to be solved but a treasure to be cherished. There was a moving intervention from a TAC priest who worked among the disadvantaged. He said he would no longer feel isolated with the Ordinariate in existence.
People in Ordinariate deserts who wanted to join should adhere to the nearest group that could be found. It was important for interested parties to network via the internet and email. They were even upbeat about the possibility of being able to share Anglican parish buildings, though others were more sceptical. It was pointed out, amongst many good humoured jokes about Essex, that regions of London and Essex had very different cultures. North, South, East and West were all very different. The approach and pace of people joining the Ordinariate might differ significantly in these regions. It was assumed there would be an Ordinariate group at Gordon Square and at other centres in London as things developed. Once the Ordinariate was up and running it would be easier to establish networks and groups.
Further meetings of this group would be called in due course. Applications forms for joining the Ordinariate were handed out at the end of the meeting. They referred to the Ordinariate in England and Wales. One wondered what would be happening in Scotland.
The seeds have germinated very quickly. The gang of four were certainly eloquent ambassadors for the Ordinariate, communicating a certain exhilaration and joy, ready to overcome the difficulties that lay ahead. I left the meeting with mixed emotions. I was sad that the Church of England would be losing pastors and congregations of such calibre and courage. They would be leaving behind brothers and sisters. Nevertheless I was infected by the exhilaration communicated by those who were convinced that they were moving to a better place on their earthly pilgrimage. I hope they will shine as a beacon to their Catholic and Anglican friends alike.
I pray that those who feel compelled by conscience to join the Ordinariate will be richly blessed on their journey.