The blessings of Rome

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Yesterday I began reflecting on three years within the Ordinariate recalling a difficult start. Today we move onto happier pastures as I reflect on what has gone well.  The blessings for those pioneering this venture from within the Catholic church.

One of the obvious joys is belonging to a church with a clear central authority. You know where you stand as a Catholic and that provides a rock on which to build. Dissent might exist, as it does everywhere, but the teaching office makes clear what is dissent and what is not.  How different from trying to uphold catholic belief within an ecclesial body whose doctrine is never fixed but rather open to debate and change by majority vote. Where things quickly shift, it seems, with every wind blowing in from the prevailing culture.

As Anglo-Catholics we formed a marginal voice. With sincerity we attempted to convince ourselves and others that the Church of England was Catholic really if only she knew it. Yet all around us was evidence pointing to a different reality. The mainstream C of E being as clearly protestant as it was becoming increasingly liberal. It meant we were ever more marginalised with every passing change. So it is a blessing to leave the margins of life for the mainstream, which is where we belong as Catholics. Our views entirely normative and no longer seen as dangerously popish or extreme!

The blessing is twofold. First we no longer need to perform theological gymnastics. That desperate attempt to explain how one can be Catholic within a Protestant body. And secondly we are no longer defined in the negative. The ones against everything…from women’s ordination, to abortion, to remarriage of divorcees and so on and so forth. Now we are defined in the positive. It is enough to say “I am Catholic”. Nothing more and nothing less.

This is important because it aids mission. In Pembury I am able to serve as parish priest for all Catholics even though I myself am a member of the Ordinariate. Why? Because we are together members of the Latin Rite. A church utterly united at the altar. Growth is therefore organic. Evangelism straight forward. How hard it was explaining before how we were “out of communion with X” but in communion with “Y” Catholic and yet not in communion with the Pope!! What a blessing to be in a church of total unity where, despite different in style and opinion, we are nevertheless one.

Another blessing comes in being able to offer something unique to the body we have joined. And there is no doubt that the Ordinariate has left an impression wherever it has operated. The way we celebrate Mass, a strong musical tradition. The style of preaching. All are little clues as to how the Ordinariate is very much part of the reform of the reform. We Ordinariate clergy actively embraced the Catholic church so there is also passionate fidelity to the magisterium and no time for dissent! Another gift to the church we have joined.  As mentioned yesterday the days of “them and us” are over. We are now a community that works! In Pembury a church breathing with two lungs, one Ordinariate and one diocesan, putting down  roots and building for the future. A future made possible because of the Ordinariate or there would be no resident priest.

The arrival of a new  Rite Mass has also been a blessing even if it is not suitable within every context where the Ordinariate is unfolding. But it is there and it is important. We have a liturgy that works. Occasional offices reflecting that English patrimony of Anglican days. This helps us retain an identity and thereby witnesses to unity.

We demonstrate, in lived out practice, how ecumenism can occur. Perhaps others will follow in God’s time? That is certainly our prayer. It might seem impossible today but so did the fall of the Berlin Wall. So just maybe a day might dawn when the entire  C of E will opt to end reformation divide and come home. Accepting unity with Peter but embracing the Ordinariate Rite liturgies as an expression of cultural identity? Or might the Eastern Orthodox  embrace the model but tweaked to their particular need? I do not know- nor do you- but I am aware that the CDF are asking us to live out something that is seen as important to them. And I do believe God has a plan in all of this. The spiritual battle experienced testifies to it.

And finally a blessing has come through new friendships. This Easter I was struck by how united Saint Anselm’s now is. Friendship and trust has blossomed between Ordinariate and diocesan Catholics.  We are one family growing  in love. It shows that we are not some loony fringe, as outsiders sometimes imagine, but a happy and healthy part of the whole. Catholics who delight in being Catholic!

Ultimately becoming Catholic stands out as one of the greatest decisions of my life. My prayer is that one day we might end divide and all may be one. The Ordinariate is small at this three year stage. But ultimately the future is nothing to worry about because, no matter what God opts to do with us, we are already home and happy. The biggest blessing of all.

Three years on- part one- a difficult start.

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It is three years since I became Catholic alongside 71 members of my local Ordinariate group. This week I am going to use this blog to reflect on those years and ask where the next few might be leading. Today I begin by recalling a tremendously difficult start…but one which would lead to so many blessings. I would do it again and love being Catholic more than words can convey!

When the Ordinariate was first established it caused shockwaves within the ecclesial world. The Times newspaper struck first claiming Rome’s tanks were parked on Lambeth’s lawns! Other broadsheets quickly added to the language of division. Ordinariate folk described as “defectors” as if our journey was one of National betrayal not principled witness. All of which made the early days fraught with tension and fear.

What the headlines revealed was bygone bigotry on the part of the press. Nobody explored favourably why we walked this path to unity or pondered what Pope Benedict was actually trying to achieve. They simply pulled out the “Protestants vs Catholic” card which proved anything but helpful. It just encouraged people to adopt negative mindsets. The result being that awful conflict and controversy which dogged the first groups as they followed their conscience and, they still believe, God’s call.

I don’t think it could have happened any other way though. Which is why Pope Benedict claimed the Ordinariate to be a prophetic gesture. The press belongs to an Establishment that has nothing to gain if English Christians look to Rome as opposed to a Parliament controlled Canterbury. So inevitably the media undermined us. And inevitably what followed was swift ejection and condemnation by those whose loyalty lay with the established order. We were sent from churches with nothing and with tails publically between our legs. Any notion of sharing or working alongside the Anglican community was clearly off the cards.

Within the Catholic world too the odd brick bat lay waiting. There is a breed of Catholic, you see, whose notion of unity is not to have Anglicans embrace wholeheartedly the teaching of Rome! Rather they dream of a day when dissent wins out and Rome is reformed to better reflect a post modern liberal consensus. These people soon made it clear we were not welcome and conspired to make life difficult. Didn’t we realise how embarrassing our presence was at local ecumenical gatherings?! You are meant to talk unity and retreat to safe corners- not actually do unity that confirms Catholic teaching in the process! Surely the liberal Anglicans are right??!!

Within the hierarchy too were those who did not delight in Pope Benedict’s vision. Little wonder for the Ordinariate required resources yet was implemented without their consultation or approval. In one or two dioceses this led to a painful time for Ordinariate members. Thank goodness my own situation in Southwark was a happy one because the hierarchy here were both generous and supportive. I salute them!

All of this paints a picture of the tense backdrop which framed our inception. It is by no means the whole story- tomorrow I will start to look at the positives which far outweigh these historic negatives- but it is important to note the pain of the transition for it is a part of our story. The fact is that our going has been tough.

Any fair assessment of the Ordinariate must therefore take on board this difficult nature of our start.  The truth is that we came with nothing, were given little and had to overcome many an obstacle and prejudiced view. Which meant our growth was often stifled, and our development stymied. Yet three years on we are still here and ready at last, I believe,  to begin the mandate given.

Let me use a gardening analogy to explain. The planting of the seed involved breaking up of the earth; a time of pain, challenge and hardship. But since then, though there is not much growth to be seen yet, we have been embedding ourselves within the Catholic soil of England. A vital part of an organic process. Forging friendships and gaining the trust of those in authority. It means the fear and suspicion is subsiding and we have moved from being them to becoming us. Ensuring we are not a ghetto outside the Church but an active and necessary part within it.

A part of the team. Chaplains, governors, priests and people who are very much part of the landscape today. A people known and understood and even liked! Time was needed for this to take place. It is called organic growth-a development that is slow but naturally occurring. Which is why I predict the next few years will bear much fruit as the shoots appear and the nature of the is unique plant unfolds. But more of that later this week…

Easter joy!

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It has been a special Holy Week with bumper attendance at services. Indeed it was almost standing room only on a couple of occasions. Well done the Saint Anselm’s faithful who turned out in force for the Triduum and were there in strength this morning. Easter joy abounds in our parish then where we are experiencing recent growth to swell our ranks alongside familiar friends.

At the end of the Easter Masses a special announcement was made. Well three actually, which is rather appropriate….

Firstly we have been granted planning permission for an extension which will allow us to transform the dual use hall into permanent sacred space. Secondly we have been allocated a grant by county Councillor, Chris Hoare, to work on the grounds. And finally the unveiling of a new crown for Mary- a labour of love given by one of our parishioners – a jeweller. It is delightful and will be kept securely away from premises outside of service times!

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One of the most uplifting aspects of this week revolved around feedback. Several people telling me they were profoundly moved by the liturgy. Thank you then to choir and servers. Everyone really did combine to do this parish justice. Not for the first time we punched well above our weight as a little village church.

This morning chocolate also featured heavily. With lots handed out at the end of Mass to compensate for the eggs the foxes had eaten overnight thus spoiling the children’s hunt! But the largest egg of all went to the local hospice, courtesy of one of our parishioners. How lovely that Saint Anselm’s community was able to offer a treat to those who spent Easter receiving care for terminal illness.

Below we see the volunteers at the hospice receiving the egg with gratitude. Happy Easter to all!

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Holy Saturday

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It is easy to imagine Christ being dead as a moment of inactivity within the Easter story. But the time between Good Friday and Easter were anything but dormant for this was when Christ vanquished hell and ensured the faithful people of the first covenant shared in his gift of life eternal.

Here at St Anselm’s it has been anything but quiet too! This morning flower arrangers, cleaners and sacristans filled the church with joyful bustle as we go ready for the celebrations. As this went on the children were enjoying a workshop- making cookies, Easter hats and decorations and creating the Easter garden. It is pictured above.

And in a quieter corner the last of the penitents took advantage of Christ’s sanctifying grace as they prepared their souls to greet him. A great day and tonight promises to be a fantastic celebration. We are nearly there…

Good Friday

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This morning began with children’s stations of the cross at 10am. An informal opportunity to pause and consider the way of sorrows from the perspective of young people.

Afterwards time was spent in the confessional before we gathered, alongside baptists and Anglicans from the village, for an ecumenical act of witness. As you see each church marched with a cross. Saint Anselm’s winning the award for most visible thanks to Dave’s fluorescent jacket. Ouch my eyes!!

It was then back into the confessional ahead of adult stations at 1:30. This year we used a set written by Pope Emeritus Benedict which were poignant and hard hitting. And then back into the confessional for fr Nicholas and myself during the silence in church that lasted till 3pm

At 3pm the Celebration of the Lord’s Passion took place. As ever an austere and solemn occasion. The choir were in magnificent voice and the servers were excellent. It was the best Good Friday I can remember in a very long time. And, as was the case last night, the church was full.

Maria Desolata took place this evening and we are now ready to prepare for the celebrations to come. Children’s Easter workshop tomorrow at 10am. Church cleaning and decorating from 9:30am. Confessions all morning. At 8pm it is the Easter Vigil. Can’t wait!

Maundy Thursday

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The Mass of the Last Supper took place at Saint Anselm’s yesterday followed by the watch at the altar if repose until midnight. It was very well attended and there was a real sense of appropriate devotion throughout.

Today we have children’s stations at 10am, the ecumenical act of witness at 11:15 on the green, stations of the cross at 1:30, the celebration of the Lord’s Passion at 3pm and Maria Desolata at 6:30pm. A priest will be available for confession throughout the day.

Holy Week services

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Tuesday: Mass and address 8pm
Wednesday: Tenebrae 8pm

Maundy Thursday: Mass of the last supper 8pm
(Followed by watch till midnight)

Good Friday:
children’s Stations 10am
Ecumenical service on green 11:15am
Stations of the Cross 1:30pm
the liturgy of the Lord’s passion 3pm
Maria desolata 6:30pm

Holy Saturday:
Church decorating and cleaning from 9:30am
Children’s Easter workshop 10am
The Easter Vigil 8pm

Easter Day:
Sung Mass, Maria consolata & blessing of Easter garden 9:15am
Said mass 11am

Easter joy early!

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I was going to save the announcement till Sunday- but the modern media arm of the local planning department beat me to it by emailing correspondents- but the wonderful news this week is that we have been granted planning permission to build a parish room at Saint Anselm’s!!! Hurrah!

This means we can move forward and create permanent space for worship – a church to call our own. All in time for Easter Sunday. Coincidence or a sign of providence? I favour the latter!

Ride on, ride on

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Yesterday was a beautiful spring day in Pembury and also the beginning of our Holy Week celebrations. Above you see photographs taken at the first Mass with people gathered on the village green where the liturgy began.

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After the blessing of palms and reading of the Gospel the procession headed down the road towards he church. The choir and congregation in good voice as we processed, mirroring countless Christians the world over.

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At the doors of the church the choir sang the traditional refrain before the crucifer knocked and the doors, representing the gates of Jerusalem, were thrown open. We then processed to the altar and Mass proceeded with the collect and dramatic reading of the Passion. A great start to Holy Week with both Masses well attended. Slowly but surely we are growing!

Because children matter…

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Isn’t the photograph above charming? Do click on it to see it enlarged. It captures the joy that young people bring to the world.

This Holy Week the children of Saint Anselm’s community are not being forgotten but will be at the heart of our celebrations. Indeed there are two very special things lined up just for them.

On Good Friday morning at 10am there will be Stations of the Cross for children. These will focus on concerns that children face and help the young people to walk the way of the cross with Jesus.

On Holy Saturday morning, again at 10am, there will be an Easter Workshop. This is always great fun. As the adults decorate the church for Easter so the children take part in craft activities and create the Easter garden. All children are welcome at both of these Holy Week events.