Joan Lewis (EWTN): History in the making

4 02 2011

EWTN journalist, Joan Lewis, who writes the blog Joan’s Rome, has been in London to speak to various people exploring the possibility of joining the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, and also Fr Keith Newton, the Ordinary:

Hello from London! I have been here about 48 hours and have learned more than I imagined possible in that time (13 hours of conversation Saturday and Sunday) about the Church of England, the Anglican Communion (the various Anglican and Episcopalian Churches worldwide, Anglican Catholics, and the new Ordinariate for Anglicans coming into full communion with Rome. Literally minutes after my arrival late Saturday afternoon at the vicarage of St. Agnes church in the Kennington section of London (not to be confused with Kensington), I was engrossed in conversation about the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham – the first one erected by the Holy See – with Fr. Christopher Pearson, a St. Agnes staff member, a young seminarian who had just been ordained a deacon in the Anglican Church and a young man specializing in ecclesial law.

As you know from my previous column, Fr. Christopher, the vicar or pastor of St Agnes, had arranged for a meeting with parishioners interested in joining the Ordinariate with the new Ordinary, Fr. Keith Newton, a former Anglican bishop who was ordained a Catholic priest on January 15. That was Saturday morning and, although flight times did not allow me to make the meeting, I did learn about it after my arrival and I will be interviewing Fr. Newton tomorrow.

Father Christopher told me there were about 90 people present for the meeting Saturday, a number of whom were from outside his parish. I have learned that Anglican parishes are generally quite small – unlike the parishes that most of you might be familiar with, parishes that could number from hundreds of families to several thousand. To give you an idea: on average, a “large” Anglican parish might number 55 people. St. Agnes is one of the best attended, I have learned, in the area.

Much of what I learned took place at the Saturday meeting will be told in later postings on this blog as I attempt to study all my notes, make sense of the tons of information I have digested so far and then try to weave a tapestry that encompasses – succinctly but accurately – what led to the current crisis in the Anglican Communion, how the Ordinariate was born and the joys, sorrows and challenges facing those who come into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church.

Yesterday I attended Mass at St. Agnes at 10 am. Had I fallen blindfolded from the heavens into this church at the start of Mass, I never would have known it was not a Catholic Mass. Father uses the Roman missal and everything – vestments, liturgy of the Word, the Eucharistic prayer, songs – would be recognizable to any church-going Catholic. I could not, however, partake in communion and so I did go to a nearby Catholic parish for noon Mass.

Father Christopher introduced me after Mass (he and many others are very familiar with EWTN!) and I was able to speak to many parishioners as we shared coffee afterwards in an adjacent hall. I did not know I had a fan club in Kennington!!

Parishioners had questions and observations about the Ordinariate but two emotions dominated our conversation – great joy and yet heartfelt sorrow. There was much joy at the idea of “coming home” to Rome, of being in full communion with Rome or, as one woman, with a beautiful smile on her face, told me, “We are getting back what once was ours,” in a reference to Catholic England before Henry VIII changed a few things in the course of history!

And yet there was sadness. Those who leave an Anglican parish to join the Ordinariate will have to find a new spiritual home, a new physical home. You cannot have a parish that is half Catholic and half Anglican. In the case where the entire parish does not join the Ordinariate, those who join will leave behind many close friendships – perhaps even family members. They will leave behind a physical building to which they are also attached – and many here have long and beautiful histories. Father Christopher’s very life as a priest has been intertwined with St. Agnes for 17 years! Where will he go when he is an ordained Catholic priest? However, the Ordinariate does intend to keep pastors and their faithful together.

One man expressed his sadness in an interview with SkyNews when they came to St. Agnes to do a story on the Saturday meeting. He said, in a pained voice, “I am angry because I don’t want to leave the Church of England but I cannot with integrity stay.”

I have to leave in several moments for an appointment so will sign off now. I don’t know what the next days will bring but I will do my best to bring you some news every day.

God bless!