Fr Christopher Phillips: There’s Something About Little Acorns

22 05 2011

Fr Christopher Phillips is the pastor of Our Lady of the Atonement Catholic Church in San Antonio, Texas, a church of the Pastoral Provision. He contributes to the Anglo-Catholic:

When I have a few spare minutes, I enjoy looking at various parish websites, and reading the histories of different parishes. I make it a point to read the background information for some of the large and famous Anglo-catholic parishes — those places renowned for their beautiful edifices, magnificent music, varied devotional life, and active parish apostolates. Of course, most of them are now on the downward slide, sad to say. Although it was always a struggle to maintain an advanced sense of Anglo-catholicism, today’s Canterbury Communion Anglicanism makes it nearly impossible. But there are still remnants of it, holding on by fingernails alone, and the history of those places is fascinating.

Almost without exception, accounts of the beginnings of such parishes include something like, “Saint So-and-so Parish began by meeting in the home of Mr. and Mrs. So-and-so,” or “The parish held services at first in the local school room.” The majority of those parishes which rose to greatness began in the back rooms of general stores, or in Grange halls, or in the homes of some generous founding member. These histories usually go on to recount the story of constructing the first wooden frame building, and then having to break ground for a larger facility in a better location. The very first Anglican parish I served in Bristol, England started out in a temporary wooden structure which I think began its existence as some sort of army storage shed. After some years it moved uptown and upscale to a permanent church building. Similar stories make up the history of the subsequent two parishes in which I served. Of course, by the time I arrived in these places, they were settled into lovely churches and had stable numbers of people supporting the parish. It wasn’t until my family and I arrived in San Antonio that we had the experience of starting “from scratch,” in a series of borrowed or rented buildings, and having to unpack storage closets to set things up for Mass.

I mention this because I know so many of the parishes coming into the Ordinariates are in those very circumstances. Yes, a few already have lovely and permanent church buildings; however, most of our communities will not be in that situation. In fact, many who are reading this may feel like the Children of Israel right after their escape from Egypt, on the move and yearning for a permanent home. It was several years before our own parish was able to have its own place, with its own address, no longer having to give a long explanation of why someone else’s name was on the sign in front of the place where we were meeting.

If you’re part of an Ordinariate-bound group which finds itself in that situation, take comfort in the fact that it’s not forever. Lots of us started that way, but our circumstances didn’t stay that way. Find encouragement by reading the histories of many of the more famous parishes — whether Anglican or Catholic. You’ll find pieces of your own history there. And remember, Jesus Himself was born in a borrowed stable.


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