This interview between Graham White and Fr Simon Ellis took place on Sunday 20 February 2011 on BBC Radio Derby:
GW: Now I’m sure you’ve heard of the Ordinariate, the new organisation set up by the Catholic Church for those clergy who wish to join it from the Church of England. Well, my next guest will be swelling their numbers by one. Fr Simon Ellis is leaving St Laurence in Long Eaton to cross the floor, so to speak, to Catholicism and, as the times of his Sunday services don’t allow him to come across to the studio this morning, he’s on the line to me right now. Fr Simon, good morning.
SE: Good morning, Graham.
GW: Now I said that you’ll be helping swell the numbers in the new Ordinariate but do you know how many priests have actually joined now?
SE: In the first wave, which is those that are going this Lent, there should be about sixty priests across the country with small numbers, to start with, of lay people.
GW: And is this right across the country or is it concentrated in one particular part?
SE: It’s right across the country – England and parts of Wales and I think there’s one priest up in Inverness, so there’s something up in Scotland – but essentially England, really.
GW:And we’ve actually seen about half a dozen bishops do likewise, haven’t we?
SE: We have. The way it was intended was that they could go first to set the thing up and encourage people to come on board.
GW: From speaking to clergy that you know, is this just going to be the tip of the iceberg?
SE: That is the $64,000 question because I think there’s a huge number of people who are members of the Church of England who are waiting – not just for things like what provision is going to be made around the question of women bishops, it’s going to be the wider questions, probably the bigger questions, actually, of things like the question of marriage, gay marriage, all these things that are on the agenda and people are waiting to see because they think “Well, is that actually the church I belong to? Is that the church in which I was nurtured?”
GW: So can I ask you why you personally came to the conclusion that you just had to leave the Anglican Church?
SE: Very simply, yes. We’ve always been interested in unity – all Christians hopefully are – we saw it that the problems were being exacerbated over the last 20 or 30 years. Most the decisions that the Church of England has made has rendered unity with the wider church almost impossible. I think unity with the historic churches of Rome and Orthodoxy is now really on the back-burner and I don’t think anything serious is going to happen for three or four hundred years.
GW: So is this really – perhaps to horribly over-simplify it – but is it mainly down to attitudes to women and homosexuals in the church that’s causing this mass departure?
SE: Absolutely not. The whole point is that it’s about a methodology – it’s about what the church believes, as rooted in scripture and it’s about how we hold together the truth and present it in an articulate way, and a compassionate way, of course, to a modern world which is seeking so desperately truth and meaning and love and peace and everything. But the Church of England, in trying to appear contemporary – I don’t think it even knows why it’s making half the decisions it’s making. So for example on women priests, it’s never been articulated: is this an actual innovation, which I’m hearing from some people, or is it already there in the scriptures but it was just brought to the fore by this generation. And because we hear those two different reasons it’s quite clear that we are incoherent on just about every level.
Now, it’s easy for me, as a convert, to throw dirt and get very… and I’m not bitter at all because the Church of England has been my home for 43 years and it has been a time of great blessing and it will be a great wrench to leave the Church of England – and I know that I’m going to maintain all my friendships, but even so it’s going to be a wrench and it is with a heavy heart that I leave. But I also know that the Catholic Church will be my home and I’m sure the home of many, many more, over the next 5/10 years.
GW:What has the attitude of the Church of England been to you there? Has there been any attempt to persuade you to stay?
SE: Well, people have been very generous but the point is, on a structural level what was promised in 1994 for traditionalists in the Church of England – which was supposed to be, not just to last for a few years or for twenty years, it was supposed to be in perpetuity – and which is now being dismantled and that sends out, really, a clear message. So despite all the personal messages of goodwill and so on I’ve had from all sorts of colleagues, structurally the Church of England is saying, really, “There’s the door”.
GW: So what’s this going to do to your life, not only as a priest, but also as a family man? What are the practical implications?
SE: Well I think on one level I hope it won’t be too traumatic because like all of us we have a life that we lead that isn’t really, in the end, determined by what time we get to work or… it’s an inner life that we have, so I hope on that level things will be maintained. But it terms of where these new congregations will get up and running, where they will exist, where the clergy will live, and whether or not they will take some part-time other work to supplement incomes – that’s all the detail. But because we feel so confident about what we’re doing, and we’ve had such a welcome from the Catholic Church, and I have to say also some lovely messages from our Anglican colleagues including the Bishop of Derby and the Roman Catholic Bishop of Nottingham, we feel very greatly blessed.
GW:So what’s the timetable then? When do you give up your post at St Laurence?
SE: My last Sunday is in two weeks’ time, 6th March, and then we go with our groups into Lent – as you know, the period before Easter – that’s the sort-of warm-up period, if you like, and then we are received properly into the Catholic Church at Easter.
GW: Well I hope you’ll keep us in touch and tell us how things go and where you find that you’re eventually based. Fr Simon Ellis, thank you very much for joining us this morning at BBC Radio Derby.
SE: Thank you very much.