From the Guardian:
A Church of England bishop says congregations will breathe a “sigh of relief” this week when hundreds of worshippers defect to the Roman Catholic church, potentially drawing a line under the schism over the ordination of women.
Up to 900 Anglicans, including 60 clergy, are preparing to be received into the Roman Catholic faith in special services during Holy Week.
The Right Rev Christopher Hill said congregations losing clergy or laity to the Personal Ordinariate, a Vatican initiative allowing Anglicans to convert while keeping elements of their spiritual heritage, would allow the church to move on after being “racked” by the issue of women priests.
Hill, who is the bishop of Guildford and chair of the Council of Christian Unity, said while there was sadness at congregations losing their clergy or co-worshippers – in some instances both – there was reason to be positive.
“Where a decision has been made then those who go will have a bigger agenda, as do those who stay. They can leave this issue alone. It has racked these congregations. It has absorbed a lot of energy. Where a church has had such an exodus, there will be a sigh of relief that a decision has been made.”
The Vatican created the Ordinariate in October 2009, following requests for help from traditionalist Anglicans in Australia and the US – disagreement about women in the Church of England’s priesthood has raged for decades. Uncertainty surrounding who and how many would take advantage of the papal offer has hung over some of the hundreds of parishes opposed to female clergy.
For the congregation of St Barnabas, in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, the loss of a priest and 72 worshippers has caused personal and practical difficulties.
All but two members of the parochial church council – the executive body of the parish – have left, and people with no prior involvement in the running of the church have been forced to help out.
Christine Avery, a churchwarden who has been praying at St Barnabas for 20 years, said: “We have to make ends meet and it’s a big church. Everyone is doing jobs they never thought they could do. But there’s a great atmosphere and we want this church to stay open.”
On Palm Sunday a reduced but resolute congregation threw themselves into a Sung Eucharist and a procession along the Camden Road.
Avery, and others, say they have noticed that people who had stayed away from St Barnabas have returned, as have some who said they were leaving for the Ordinariate. The church is by no means united on women’s ordination, but one worshipper implied there were fewer divisions than before the 70 departures.
Priests from the area – including a retiree – are covering services during Holy Week to ensure there are no gaps.
“That has been a breath of fresh air,” says churchgoer Ruth Willis. She misses St Barnabas’ former priest, Father Ed Tomlinson, a friend she says has a “larger than life character and a beautiful voice”.
“As a worshipper you follow your faith without getting involved in politics. Having heard about the Ordinariate and being weighed down with the pressures that Ed was under, it’s as if a pressure has been lifted. We come along and we have our worship.
“The congregation is not as big as it was and what it’s meant is that we’ve all had to step into the breach. But everyone is very enthusiastic. It binds us together.”
Willis, who describes herself as herself as “quite independent”, considered the option of leaving “very closely” and attended all the talks about the Ordinariate.
“It’s very sad,” she said of the people who chose to go. “I understand why they left. They took on board all the problems Ed has been having. But there is a lot of loyalty to being Anglo-Catholic in the Church of England. It’s in a difficult area.”
In the diocese of Chelmsford, Essex, where more than 100 people from three parishes have left for the Ordinariate, priests also expressed optimism.
The diocesan bishop, the Right Rev Stephen Cottrell, has waived the parishes’ quota – an annual payment towards the central church “pot” – for a year while they adjust to their changed financial circumstances.
The Rev Duncan Dalais is helping out at St Margaret’s, Leytonstone, in east London, which has lost 90 from its congregation of 120 and a priest. He said: “They seem to be quite resilient. They don’t feel left behind, they see it as a positive choice to stay.
“The impression I got was that there was pressure on them to go, especially as most were going.”
At St Margaret’s annual meeting, he noticed people asking questions and showing an interest in the life and running of the church. The subject of women’s ordination is not an all-consuming one for many parishes, even if they have passed resolutions opposing their leadership, he suggests.
“Some parishes get locked into that issue and it’s the be-all and end-all. For St Margaret’s they won’t be worrying about whether there will be women bishops. For the immediate future it will be about mission and growth – things that the church should be doing. They are forward looking. They will look outside and see there is life. I think they will flourish.”
The slow drip of Anglicans towards Catholicism may quicken but most traditionalists are waiting to see what happens next year – when a key piece of legislation returns before General Synod – to see what kind of provision there is for those opposed to the ordination of women as bishops.
Last year in an acrimonious and protracted debate they, along with the conservative evangelicals, tried and failed to secure alternative leadership or extra dioceses that would protect them from female ministry. All that stands between them and a woman bishop is a code of practice – a guide on how to deal with traditionalists – which has yet to be written.
However, Anglo-Catholics and conservative evangelicals remain convinced they can either influence the final vote in 2012 or that the House of Bishops will amend the legislation to give them the provision they demand.