On the feast of St Barnabus, Saturday 11 June, seven Anglican clergy who began a spiritual odyssey many months ago came to the final stage of their journey. They were ordained Catholic priests within the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham at Brentwood Cathedral by Bishop Thomas McMahon. Bathed in light, the Cathedral seemed a world away from the busy Saturday streets outside, as its peace was broken only by the uplifted voices of the organ, choir and congregation and the solemn tones of the Bishop and the readers. The sweetness of the music, taken from ancient manuscripts, was such that it brought the odd passer by into the Cathedral to listen.
The seven Ordinands swore an oath of obedience and respect to their Ordinary, Mgr Keith Newton, before prostrating themselves around the altar for long minutes, as the congregation invoked the prayers of a litany of saints. After the laying on of hands and prayer of consecration, the newly ordained priests were invested with stole and chasuble by their brother clergy and were anointed with Sacred Chrism by the Bishop.
In his homily Bishop Thomas referred to the reading from the Acts of the Apostles for the feast of St Barnabus: “I want Barnabas and Saul set apart for the work to which I have called them – and so after fasting and prayer they laid hands on them and sent them off.” Addressing the Ordinands, he highlighted several words and phrases: “I am sure you feel in some special way ‘set apart’, ‘chosen’, called by the Lord in circumstances you would not have imagined.”
He said that, like Newman, the Ordinands might ponder ‘strange Providence’ and quoted the philosopher Kierkergaard, who said: ‘Life is lived forwards but understood backwards.’
In the Acts Barnabus is described as ‘a good man, filled with the Holy Spirit and with faith’ and he is also known as ‘the son of encouragement’.
The Bishop said: “He wrote no Gospels or letters of exhortation. His ministry was one of encouragement, being alongside, drawing out the best, supporting.” Bishop Thomas said he hoped such encouragement would be a hallmark of the Ordinands’ ministry to come, adding: “You are being ‘sent out’ in a new way and may your ministry express that same faith, goodness and power of the Spirit that Barnabus showed.”
The Bishop also gave thanks for the contribution that priests and people joining the Ordinariate had made to the life of the Church of England and for the depth of the relationship that exists between the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion. “We appreciate the new life and gifts you will bring to us,” he said, adding a quote from a joint letter issued with the Anglican Bishop of Chelmsford, Bishop Stephen Cottrell, earlier this year: “The setting up of the Ordinariate does not in any way deter us from the ultimate goal of that visible unity within the Church that is Christ’s prayer and which is shared by all Christian people.”
The seven clergymen ordained are:
Rev Lee Benfleet from St Mary’s in Benfleet;
Rev Ivor Morris from Ascension in Chelmsford;
Rev Robert Page from St Margaret’s in Leytonstone;
Rev Jon Ravensdale from St Michael’s in Walthamstow;
Rev David Waller from St Saviour’s in Leytonstone;
Rev Jeff Woolnough from St Peter & Paul in Hockley;
and Rev Canon Robert White (retired, last at St Thomas’s, Brentwood).
In total, more than 4,700 people across the country were received into the Catholic Church at Easter. It is estimated that around 900 of those people were members of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham; this includes 61 former Anglican clergy in addition to the five who have already been ordained as Catholic priests.
The Ordinariate has been established essentially for groups of former Anglican faithful and their clergy who wish to maintain as members of the Catholic Church, within the canonically approved and structured ecclesial life of the Ordinariate, those aspects of their Anglican spiritual, liturgical and pastoral tradition which are recognised as authentic by the Catholic Church.