Beckenham & Bromley Ordinariate Group: Statement from Fr Simon Heans

27 02 2011

From Fr Simon Heans of St Barnabas, Beckenham, who writes in his Parish Magazine, having announced his intention to resign last weekend:

I announced my resignation as vicar of St Barnabas after the Parish Mass last Sunday (20th Feb). It will take effect after the Parish Mass on Sunday March 6th. As I explained then, those of us who are seeking to enter the Catholic Church via the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham are required to observe a Eucharistic fast during Lent which means that none of us can receive holy communion in that season. For me, as a priest, it means in addition that I will not be celebrating Mass then either. Therefore I have asked Fr Michael Shields to take my place here on Sundays during Lent and Holy Week which he has graciously agreed to do. When he is not available he has kindly arranged for Mass to be celebrated by another SSC priest.

This decision has been a difficult one and has certainly not been taken lightly. I regret very much the breaking of relationships that it inevitably involves, but if you have been reading letters from me in this magazine over the past six months, or were able to be present at the meeting with the Bishop of Tonbridge and Fr Ashley Beck after the Dedication Lunch, you will know that it has been in my heart for a long time to respond positively to Pope Benedict’s offer to Anglicans of a home in the Universal Church. This is where I believe Anglicans truly belong.

I say that advisedly because I believe Anglo-Catholicism to be the authentic expression of Anglicanism (the ‘Anglican patrimony’ about which Pope Benedict writes in Anglicanorum Coetibus) and I look forward to the day when the Ordinariate will welcome Archbishop Rowan, and indeed Bishop James of Rochester, into it! The appeal of the Ordinariate for me is precisely that it proposes a corporate reunion of Anglicans with the Holy See enabling us to fulfil the ecumenical vision which inspired countless Anglo-Catholics in the last century who worked and prayed for the restoration of the Church of England to the Universal Church and so for the healing of the breach that occurred at the so-called ‘Reformation’. Closer to home, it offered me, as I thought, the chance of bringing you, the people of St Barnabas, with me into that union, the oneness for which Our Lord prayed (John 17.21), which was the inspiration for many of the faithful priests and people who have gone before us in this church of St Barnabas, Beckenham.

There are seven people in the Ordinariate Group for Beckenham and Bromley as I write. All are from this parish, but I was contacted the other day by two people from Bromley who wish to join, and I hope that others will come forward. Details of our meetings, which will take place on Tuesdays (7.30 pm) in Lent at 11 Village Way, are available on the Ordinariate Portal website. I would like to stress that the Group is open to enquirers until Ash Wednesday. A commitment will be made then so in the meantime please contact me if you are interested in coming to the preliminary meetings which are also being held on Tuesdays at 7.30 pm in St Barnabas.

One or two people have protested that I am splitting the congregation by doing this to which my reply is that Catholic Anglicanism, as the name implies, has always had something of a split personality. There have been those who have seen themselves as Catholics first and Anglicans a poor second. This position, it has to be admitted, was and remains more popular among the priests of parishes like ours than among the laity. Then there have been those (who I think form the majority of the regular congregation at St Barnabas) who are very much ‘CofE’. They are involved in the life of the church, either because it is their parish church, or because they have family or friends in it. They are not really interested in the Catholic faith and so do not practise it by, for example, receiving holy communion on holy days as well as Sundays, making sacramental confession, invoking the prayers of the saints, especially those of Our Lady, praying for the departed, etc, but have nevertheless come to accept, even to enjoy, the ritual of Sunday worship in such churches as ours.  I respect that position, not least because I was drawn into Anglo-Catholicism many years ago as a callow schoolmaster at Lancing College by just that experience. However, it is not my position now.

I would like to end by quoting from the pastoral letter Fr Keith Newton (who is heading up the Ordinariate) wrote when he resigned from the see of Richborough because it explains very well what my position now is:

Some of you will be thinking that I am leaving just at the time when… leadership… is vital. But there are different ways of understanding leadership. Some may think that the leader should stay to the bitter end like the captain of a sinking ship, but the example in scripture is that of the shepherd and every instructed Christian knows that the eastern shepherd leads from the front rather than following the flock from behind. That is what I hope I am doing. I am leading the way and I hope and pray that many of you will follow me in the months and years ahead.

He goes on to say that he is unable to be the bishop of those people who want to stay in the Church of England because his ‘priority is union with the Universal Church.’ Because that is also my priority, I can no longer be the vicar of St Barnabas. Fr Keith  concludes by asking forgiveness from those whom he has ‘let down and disappointed’, which is a request I too would like to make my own as I sign off my final letter for this magazine. I hope you will wish my family and I well as together we enter into full communion with the Catholic Church. I will certainly remember with affection those of you who remain at St Barnabas to maintain that Anglo-Catholic tradition from which I have learnt so much, and which has led me to seek what I regard as its fulfilment, viz., unity with the See of St Peter.