Fr Lee Bennett writes:
After much prayer and deliberation, and after consultation with the Bishop of Chelmsford, I have to announce today my intention to resign as Vicar of South Benfleet. I will be received into the Catholic Church through the Personal Ordinariate of our Lady of Walsingham. My resignation will take effect on Palm Sunday 17th April, but I will cease public ministry next Sunday 6th March.
This has been the hardest decision I have ever had to make. My three and half years here in Benfleet have been amongst the happiest of my life. You have offered Helen, the boys and I, a wonderful warm welcome and our time here has been a real blessing. Together we have brought about a real and significant growth in the parish, and our vision of seeing St Mary’s become the spiritual heart of our community is well on the way to become a reality.
My resignation is not, as the media have portrayed it, due to my being a ‘disaffected Anglican’, but because I have come to realise that to be a Catholic Christian one must be part of the Catholic Church. The innovations implemented by the Church of England in recent times have done nothing at all to foster that full visible unity that is God’s will for his Church, indeed it has meant that full visible unity with the Catholic Church is further away than ever. This has been a personal sadness for me as I have much to be grateful for to the Church of England and for all that she has given me. It was she who taught me the faith, it was she who fostered my vocation to ordained ministry, and it was she who gave me the vision of unity that compels me to continue my journey of faith into the fullness of the Catholic Church.
I have spoken to the Archdeacon of Southend who will work with the Churchwardens and PCC to appoint another Vicar as soon as possible. During the interregnum the parish will be led by the Churchwardens Terry and Norman along with our readers Marian and Sue. Fr Ron has kindly consented to lead most of the worship during this period. I have put into place a programme for the season of Lent, and things should remain pretty much the same as they are today, just without my presence and leadership. It is vitally important that you stick together and support each other during what will be a difficult time.
I will not be alone in setting up the Ordinariate in this area; a number of people from this congregation will be joining me on this pilgrimage of faith starting on Ash Wednesday. We will worship alongside our brothers and sisters at Holy Family Church. We hope to be received fully into the Catholic Church in Holy Week, and I hope to be ordained a Catholic Deacon on May 14th and Priest on June 11th.
You will continue to be very much in my thoughts and prayers as you continue your journey of faith. I hope we part as friends, even though I know my timing and method of going will cause hurt to many of you. Believe me when I say that this is not my intention. Please forgive me any hurt that I may have caused you during my time here as your Vicar. And I hope and pray you can find it in your hearts to pray for me, Helen, Tim and Luke, and your friends here at St Mary’s who join me as we continue our journey of faith.
May God continue to pour out His blessing upon all that we do together in Christ’s name.