20Apr

Revd Alastair Ferguson

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Until yesterday Revd. Alastair Ferguson was active as the vicar of St. Michael and all Angels in Withyham, East Sussex. An Anglican parish in the Diocese of Chichester. But that changed at the end of Mattins when he announced to his congregation, that with immediate effect, he was stepping down to follow his conscience and join the Catholic church, via the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, with his wife, Denise. At the request of the diocese he now begins a period of extended leave that is owing to him.

Once the announcement was made Cardinal Newman’s beautiful prayer –‘support us all the day long’ -was read out and the final hymn was the Eastertide favourite, ‘the strife is o’er the battle done!’  Members of the congregation were then invited back for drinks in the rectory garden, a magnificent old property, and as you can see the party was gatecrashed by cassocked riff-raff from nearby Pembury in Kent…

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Father Alistair, a former GP, and Denise will be worshipping with us at Saint Anselm’s over the coming weeks as they discern where God is calling them next. This represents great charity on my part- I want readers to understand- given that he is a graduate of Oxford (like Fr. Nicholas) whilst I am a light blue!

What courage Fr. Alastair and Denise are showing to leave behind so much with no clear answers for the future, save this strong desire to walk the path of unity and a genuine belief that God is calling them to it! We must pray for them and make them truly welcome!

Like Fr. Jack, who joined us only a few months ago from Robertsbridge,  Fr Alastair surprised the Anglican authorities when he announced to them his intentions. Being typical country parsons- prayerbook catholics from a rural setting- these are not the unashamed Romanists you once found in town centres, those people assumed were the obvious candidates for Ordinariate life. No, it is not the lovers of exotic liturgy who seem drawn to Rome today but those, who with gentle but firm resolve, simply wish to stand by the faith of the ages and delight in that authentic Anglican patrimony which the Ordinariate upholds.

This does not surprise me. ‘Being catholic’ for many Anglicans today is an aesthetic choice. A love of dressing up and enjoying the trappings of ceremonial. But that isn’t what Catholicism itself is about. So little wonder- in these days when the Catholic claims of Anglicanism have fallen- it is orthodox hearts and missionary minds, not the gin and lace set, who are finding their way home.  Because if you claim to be Catholic, as these men came to realise, the game is up on Canterbury’s shore. Only protestants and liberals can survive with intellectual credibility. A fact to threaten belief not liturgical proclivity.

Perhaps God himself is not particularly interested in preserving ‘the Anglo-Catholic sect’ in any case. But that he used Anglo-Catholicism in the last two centuries to soften protestant hearts ahead of the true work of unity that is now unfolding within the Ordinariate. The calling home of those separated from Rome at the reformation who are now in danger of being led even further from Catholic truth as the C of E abandons its self proclaimed via media to promote its current liberal creed.

Alastair and Denise- we delight in welcoming you into the life of the Ordinariate. May your witness inspire many others to follow, indeed my prayer is that the whole Church of England might one day wake up and see the unbelievable potential and gift that the Ordinariate presents it. That we might all be one. The abandonment of the experiment of liberal modernity and the schismatic tendency of protestantism to reclaim the authentic truth and unity of the Holy Catholic and Apostolic faith.

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51 thoughts on “Revd Alastair Ferguson

  1. Ed, I think you’re right that his chosen path to unity is courageous but why on earth do you take every opportunity to criticise Anglican Christians who are walking the more difficult path than you?

    You think the game is over for the CofE, that’s a perfectly valid point of view that the majority of the world’s Christians disagree with…including this current Pope.

    Your lack of grace and constant insults levelled at my church says far more about you than I think you appreciate. You’ve clearly got baggage and if your cause is to advance you need to deal with it because you could easily become a stumbling block to those who might follow you.

    One minute you are praising the growth of Christianity in China (granted on your Facebook page) which is overwhelming Protestant, then you dis non Catholic Churches at each opportunity. You can’t have it both ways and be taken seriously.

    I wonder if on some level you’re angry more people didn’t follow you? Does it anger you that The Ordinariate is a failing project that is obviously going to fizzle out and die? Or could it be more personal than that, do you perhaps get angry that many of us look at you and think you’ve taken the easy path?

    1. Paul I simply point out that the via media is over and Anglicanism has chosen a liberal Protestant path. The existence of Rt Revd Libby Lane proved that. There is no attack – just a call out to those wishing to be catholic. I think the anger comes from those who want to pretend the c of e can have its cake and eat it where being part of a universal church is concerned.

    2. Fr Paul Hamilton,

      You say that the Ordinariate is a failing project that is bound to fizzle out and die! Where on earth did you get that crazy idea from? It could not be further from the truth.

      Take, for example, the Darlington Ordinariate group. It goes from strength to strength. Since it moved to the little village of Gainsford there have been 20 adult converts received into the group, and is now a very active force in the village.

      You could also take the Sheffield group, which has grown in size fivefold since it was formed. What about the Torbay group, which is raising the funds to purchase its own church? I could also mention the group based near London Bridge Station, the Buckfast Abbey group, the Sevenoaks group the Salisbury group and the Portsmouth group, all of which are very prosperous. There are many more doing pretty well, including one based in Pembury in Kent, which besides having two priests of its own, has welcomed a further three Anglican clergy to the fold.

      I understand that the Ordinariate has 86 ordained priests, more than a dozen nuns, one hermit and several studying for the priesthood. In addition, there is a steady inflow of new lay members.

      I really do not understand how you can think that an organisation that is growing on so many fronts can be a failing project!

      1. Ok, Paul Waddington, I’ll take that challenge. Let’s compare the growth of the Ordinariate and the CofE over the last 3 years in three crucial areas. Conversion, biological and transfer. To be fair to the fledgling project shall we keep it to percentages?

        1. I will take the challenge. According to the press release accompanying the most recently published C of E statistics, average Sunday attendance has been declining at a rate of about 1% per annum. In fact, an examination of the figures reveals a decrease more like 1.5% per annum.

          I do not have figures for the Ordinariate overall, but we do know that the Darlington Ordinariate group has increased its numbers by 20 new members in the last three years. This is an annualised increase of more than 8%. Another example is the Sheffield group which has grown five fold since its inception, admittedly from a very small base. I accept that I have chosen the more spectacular examples, but there can be no doubt that oveall there is growth.

          I now challenge you, Fr Paul Hamilton, to put the counter argument!

          1. With pleasure.

            Firstly it’s not sufficient to say ‘I don’t have the figures’ if we’re going to have a discussion. By the way I’m happy to continue this by email if Ed doesn’t want his blog used for this, then we can publish discussion if you wish.

            You quote the growth of The Ordinariate without answering my questions. How much of this growth is conversion growth? How much is biological growth? How much is transfer growth? Perhaps you haven’t researched the figures because you know that the vast majority of the growth is transfer. The ordinariate so far has been a huge sheep stealing project.

            Now to the CofE. If you examine the figures you will see that the vast majority of our decline is natural decline, that is to say people are dying faster than we are replacing them as we are in the last generation of the habitual church attender.

            So let’s take a look at our conversion growth (after all it’s that which matters) and you find a quite different story. All around the country there are examples of this sort of growth. For example three dioceses which I’m involved with, Chelmsford, Wakefield and Blackburn all report dozens of congregations that are seeing new disciples. I can be far more specific if you want me to be.

            Now take a look at the research of Dr George Lings of the Church Army mission centre, Sheffield. Looking at the whole CofE one can detect a pattern of conversion growth where three important factors are present. Biblical belief, flexibility in worship (time and style) and a passionate leader…priest or lay person.

            So let’s consider the growth of the Protestant church as a whole…the church which is invalid as far as you’re concerned. Consider China, consider Asia, consider Africa. The truth is that there are staggering examples of growth, change, miracles, prophecies properly examined, documented and recorded both within and not within the RC church. The truth of the matter is that the assertions made on this blog by Ed and others that the CofE and the Protestant church is doomed and on a descent towards liberal anarchy are shallow, pompous, pharisaical and have little basis in a proper analysis of the present day history or reality itself. They are angry words that protest too much to be convincing.

            Let me conclude this section of our discussion with a question, “The Ethiopian Eunuch who came to faith through Philip and returned to Ethiopia rejoicing. The church he planted around him, was it a genuine church in full communion with the Catholic Church as you would define it?

  2. Well I’ve just re read your post to see if I was being harsh and I don’t think I am. What is most disappointing is your over simplifications. Your response and so called ‘proof’ of the death of genuine catholicity is a classic example. But if you think that’s reasonable that’s up to you I guess.

    1. The Anglican Church, in the guise of the C of E, has for some decades now been making statements of desiring to heal the breach and reunite with the Catholic Churches and come back into communion with the Petrine Office. Note that that effort, of itself, recognizes the reality of the breach. But, the internal manipulations which have matured in recent events make a wholesale reunion impossible (perhaps deliberately so?). The Catholic Church, recognizing that there are many who do desire reunion has made it easier for them to do so. They now have two doors open. Join the ‘standard’ Latin Rite Church in Britain or enter via the Ordinariate. To make simple statements of fact attacks nobody. If you are not in communion with the Petrine Office, you cannot call yourself Catholic because it is that communion, since Apostolic times, which is diagnostic of membership. In some ways, I am reminded of a menu item I once saw for vegetarian chile con carne. That is an impossible and misleading label because the carne (meat), which is an essential ingredient , is missing. No one, to my knowledge, is saying that there is not a genuine vocation of service and effective implementation of that vocation in the Anglican Communion. What is on offer is an invitation to come home and enter the fullness of, and repair, the service which has been broken.

      1. Pat, you should read more church history and scripture if you truly believe that.

        Leaving aside where the heck the title ‘Catholic’ actually comes from there are some huge gaps in history of churches giving deference to Rome and some so called Popes (on the occasions you had one rather than 2-3 rival Popes) are assumed not proven, this is conceded by Benedict 16 in his recent book.

        Do you seriously think the Ethiopian led to faith by Philip went home rejoicing to a church in communion with Rome as you have just defined it?

        1. I have read a lot about the history of Christianity from various viewpoints. I have lived long enough to be in retirement (sort of) for almost as many years as I have worked. You might want to read that passage again more carefully with a knowledge of the time-frame in mind,. The Petrine Office would not have been established at Rome then but, the Ethiopian was baptized into the new Church at his and God’s own desire – I think we can suggest he was rejoicing. Also be aware that the English language can mislead.’ Rome’ is often used to refer to the Catholic Churches in communion as a whole, because they are in communion with the Petrine Office now based there, not just to the Latin Rite. I do know how the term Catholic came into being from its Classical Greek roots via the Koine Greek of the New Testament to us. Seemingly, we will have to agree to disagree. But, I would suggest, if not already done, a careful and prayerful reading of the Church Fathers as well as the New Testament. In my professional activities I have always advised my students (not anything to do with Christian theology but a totally different fiels) to consult the primary sources whenever possible because secondary sources can misguide. If He wants to lift the veil He will but you can always refuse the invitation. Anyway. I respect your dedication and pray for you.
          God Bless.

          1. Thank you for your prayers Pat but the important parts of my questions remain unanswered.

            The suggestion the Petrine office was established in the way you suggest is a huge historical assumption.

  3. Fr Ed, I can’t help thinking that Fr Paul Hamilton might be right when he suggests that “if on some level you’re angry more people didn’t follow you”. Whether angry is the right word, are you angry/surprised/shocked/horrified/embarrassed/irritated or whatever that some members of the congregation of St Barnabas’ Tunbridge Wells chose to stay put when you implored them to do otherwise?

    1. I am now very happy overseeing a parish brimming full of life and energy. No this is very wide of the mark. My experience is that the anger/irritation/horror etc that you mention flows only in one direction- and it tends to come from those who stayed.

      1. Oh Ed, that is just priceless. As a regular reader of your blog I find your attempt to suggest anger etc is flowing in one direction towards you not from you absolutely hilarious. In fact I just laughed out loud and everyone turned to look at me in KFC

        1. I didn’t suggest it flows to me per se. I just pointed out the rage of those who remained. It is something all of us in the Ordinariate have experienced. And I think every impartial reader of the blog will have noted.

          1. Yes you did, “My experience.” Even if you were being more general the point still stands and any impartial reader of your blog can see it.

      2. Classic reaction of those who elected to stay put.
        I’ve seen the situation often enough in folk in other fields (often leading professionals who should have known better) who have had their foundations challenged to recognize the fear reaction. As I am sure you know only too well it is difficult for someone to accept that key elements of what they have based their life and work on might be mistaken. But give them time and a lot of prayer – you might be surprised.

        1. And Pat, that is the classic reaction of the Pharisee. Convinced in their own rightness and refusing to believe God’s work is present and active beyond their own belief.

          1. But it is you who is convinced of your own rightness. You ask why I keep suggesting Anglicanism has been given over to liberalism. So lets mention gay marriages being conducted within it, women bishops, silence on abortion, support of artificial contraception, remarriage of divorcess, refusal to discipline clergy who publically profess disbelief in central tenets of the faith- I could go on. ALL OF THESE WERE UNTHINKABLE 50 years ago. That is called massive move in a liberal direction.

            Yet you insist on telling us I am overplaying the criticism and we are asked to imagine that orthodox belief is flourishing.

            Which one of us is convinced by their own rightness? Which by facts that are hard to argue against?

          2. “refusing to believe God’s work is present and active beyond their own belief”

            And where pray have I said that? I seem to recall having stated the opposite. It would seem to me that perhaps you have been so indoctrinated, probably unwittingly, that you cannot see anything which does not fit your own prejudice. So the question might arise as to where the pharisee might be – does it not?

  4. All very best wishes to Fr Ferguson, a fine priest who I first met in Yorkshire (where the tree-planting photo was taken) and later in Sussex.

  5. I know what Paul Hamilton means. I think I am an outsider in this instance, not an Anglican and living in Johannesburg. I also find Ed’s railings against the Anglican Church repetitive and irritating. If I was an Anglican I would probably find them insulting and off putting. It would put me off the Ordinariate because I would automatically assume that other Ordinariate priests would have a similar attitude as well as a rather old fashioned understanding of Catholicism. For example, Ed is always going on about Modernism which immediately sounds archaic!
    I was much amused by his berating of Anglo-Catholics and their love of dressing up etc when he revels in it himself! St Barnabas TW was hardly ‘Prayer Book Catholic’ and he has brought over to Pembury all the “essentials” such as Eastward facing, the”Big Six” Candles, Birettas and no doubt Maniples as well. After all ‘manipulus’ means a hand-full! It’s all a bit of a joke, isn’t it?
    So why do I read the blog? The Anglican broedertwis amuses me because essentially Ed is an Anglican in attitude and argument. You can take a man out of the C of E but you can’t take the C of E out of the man because that is his background. Unfortunately we don’t get much theology but once in a while he does allow his spirituality and his caring about others to show through the Anglican bashing and his other shibboleths. If only we had more of that because I am sure that is the real Ed, the rest is sound an fury signifying nothing.

      1. Yes, Ed because when you hold forth it’s very much an old fashioned Anglo-Catholic form of argument. In fact what you are saying is almost certainly what you would have previously said within the C of E with a few minor adjustments. It reminds me of the old saying that if the Nashdom Benedictines crossed the Tiber the only change would be the name of the bishop during the Mass.
        I’m sure many Catholics would be quite bemused by what you are banging on about other than a small minority.
        Even more amusing is that you’ll be using an adjusted BCP after using the the recently superseded Roman Missal as an Anglican….it’s very confusing to an outsider.

        1. Give some examples of how my thinking is in any way Anglican. Because the reality on the ground is that the growth within Saint Anselms is mainly from cradle Catholics and young families and that not one person has ever suggested we are not entirely Catholic in our preaching and teaching. So I ask that you back up this very vague generalised point with evidence.

          1. Don’t put words into my mouth. I didn’t say anything about your preaching or teaching and didn’t impute that it wasn’t Catholic, Orthodox or what you will. All I am saying is that the way you argue on this blog is very Anglo-papalist Catholic because that was your formation and what eventually brought you to the Ordinariate. What is distasteful is your invective about the church that formed you and anyone who disagrees with you…even Catholics…..because it masks your true persona.

  6. Fr Ed, if I am not wrong, your decision to join the ordinariate was personal, you had a free will in doing so, and that nobody pushed you to do so. I am just wondering as to, how do you feel when someone refers to you as stolen sheep?

    1. Quite so. those who came with me feel very offended when they are referred to as sheep and when people suggest they are so weak as to be easily bullied. each made an honourable decision with their own free will and rejoice in it.

      1. Well there’s pretty good biblical justification for calling people sheep, that title wasn’t meant to be an insult…far from it.

        Granted people made their own decisions and were not bullied into it. I also concede that it wasn’t the reason for the creation of the Ordinariate…but I stand by my comments because you have made us weaker by going. Thankfully many of the Ordinariate churches that were left are thriving again, but we would have been stronger if you’d have stayed rather than creating an elaborate theology that once believed in authentic Catholic presence dispersed through the whole body of Christ that suddenly became invalid at the creation of the ordinariate. It makes no sense.

        1. Weaker for what Paul? To what end do you now imagine you are working? Do you honestly imagine women bishops will be reversed? do you honestly think the liberalising nature will be reversed? How so? It is over the Church of England has abandoned its Catholic order and moved away from the via media. It has chosen via its synod to be liberal and protestant. You need to embrace that reality.

          I was an Anglo-Catholic member of the SSC. We always made public a firm desire to work for unity with Rome. We also promised that a Code of Practice would not do. When offered unity then naturally we went. What should we have stayed behind for? What sense in not joining the Ordinariate? How could we have continued to claim to be in any sense Catholic if turning down an opportunity to blossom within the sanctuary of Rome in order to remain in a church that had just proclaimed a clear end to any hint of via media to make itself manifestly liberal and protestant? To support you in what? Deluded notions that nothing has changed really? A pretence that the C of E is Catholic really and that all the innovations of recent years are just localised accidents? That is to bury a head in the sand.

          Catholic order is no longer preserved within the Church of England as women bishops make clear. Rome and Constantinople both warned synod very clearly that this would have grave consequences where unity is concerned. Why do you imagine you c`n carry on as if no changes happened at all? And to what end?

          1. Ed, many of this things you mention were present when you were an Anglican and you had the courage to provide a strong witness to truth and the blessings God bestows on congregations and individuals who seek to follow the orthodox faith.

            Are recent developments going to be reversed? Probably not. All the more reason for those of us who remain to display true orthodoxy because it will get worse if we leave.

            I know that seems odd to you but it really does come down to the belief that genuine catholicity and orthodoxy can subsist within congregations the are not RC. Genuine Christ centred faith is his to define, not yours or even your churches.

        2. Fr Paul Hamilton, if it bothers you that members of the ordinariate made the c of e weaker by their departure, what message then do you have for us Catholics, considering what happened during the reformation in England? Were we weakened strengthened?

          1. You can’t take two totally different epochs of history and apply an action. That would be madness.

          2. “You can’t take two totally different epochs of history and apply an action”

            Why not, you seem to have done similar in your post of 20 April? Your mention of the time of the 3 claimants to the papal office does just that, Incidentally your reading of the events might have been over influenced by protestant propaganda. Gregorovius, who could not be called a friend of the Papacy, said. “A temporal kingdom would have succumbed thereto; but the organization of the spiritual kingdom was so wonderful, the ideal of the papacy so indestructible, that this, the most serious of schisms, served only to demonstrate its indivisibility” (Gesch. der Stadt Rom im Mittelalter, VI, 620). At best one of the claimants was legitimate at worst we had a situation of Sede Vacante (which we can cope with). Modern scholarship (even outside the Church) tends to regard the Roman Popes as valid. I’d suggest that The Lord allowed the situation to develop to teach the Church some valuable lessons. The events of the time tend to confirm The Lord’s promise to maintain his foundation – He did not say it would be trouble free only that it could not be destroyed. I, for one place my trust in Him and in His words. It might also explain the movement of non-Catholic theologians like Prof.Scott Hahn to the Catholic Churches. While we are on the subject, my understanding from Orthodox sources is that they recognize the primacy of the Petrine Office but have differences of view on how it should function.

            As for weakening churches, remember that the Catholic faith which built and serviced the churches, abbeys, cathedrals and was the only source of social welfare was driven underground in Britain. It did not vanish but continued to function, more or less quietly, until it could do so openly again. In no way is the C of E the same church ( to give just one example the Catholic Church has no problem should the monarchy be abolished; not the case for the C of E methinks).

  7. It is the likes of Fr Paul Hamilton, and the arguments they present, that make this blog great fun to read. No matter how much they are put down, they rise up again to fight their cause. I was particularly amused to read that the Ordinariate is a huge sheep steeling project!

    1. Glad I can entertain you Paul Waddington. I seem to recall you accepting the challenge to debate this further. I answered your questions in full and raised a few more. Still waiting for your response.

      So laugh all you like but the world can see that you can not answer my questions regarding the so called ‘decline’ of the Anglican church and Protestant movement as a whole.

      Your position on such invalidity and decline is indefensible, biblically, and historically. It also makes no sense when we look at the contemporary situation.

      Continue discussing here if you wish or you can email me at psh@btinternet.com. If Ed allows we can publish the results on his blog and/or on mine or wherever.

      1. The Church of England publishes a remarkably detailed digest of statistics. The latest figures can be found in Statistics for Mission 2013. Here are a few key extracts:

        Average weekly attendance (All Ages) in 2013 was 1,009,100 compared with 1,050,200 in 2012. This is a decrease of 41,100 or 3.9%

        Average Sunday attendance (All Ages) in 2013 was 849,500 compared with 863,500 in 2012. This is a decrease of 14,000 or 1.6%.

        In the executive summary, it refers to a decline in attendance of about 1% year on year over the last decade.

        Unfortunately, neither the Catholic Church or the Ordinariate publish this type of statistical information. As a trained statistician, I wish they did, but we have to rely in anecdotal evidence for the Ordinariate. There is plenty of that. One very good example is the Tunbridge Wells group. At Pembury they started with a church hall which was used as a Mass centre, but had other uses during the week, preventing it from being converted into a proper church. Soon, a new building will accommodate the weekday uses (mainly I think a play school), allowing the original building to be a full time church.

        The same group was started by two former Anglican priests. Since then, an additional three former Anglican clergy have joined, or are planning to join, the Ordinariae using the Tunbridge Wells group as an entry point. You could say that this is a 150% increase in clergy for the group, although because of the small numbers I would not want to use this as the main plank of my argument.

        I have previously given other examples of growth in the Ordinariate (Darlington, Sheffield and Torbay).

        I do not have the time to go further, but I would have thought that this is evidence enough for any sane man.

        1. Dear Paul,

          How convenient that you do not have time to go into it further and how convenient that you can only refer to anecdotal evidence to make your points. I’m afraid your points are not enough for any ‘Sane man’ as you put it – even if that is a passive aggressive way of calling your opponent in debate ‘insane’. Quite funny really.

          You say you are a trained statistician so I can only imagine that the incompleteness of your argument is to win a debate rather than get to the truth.

          Doubtless you would enjoy it immensely if Fr Ed’s analysis was correct, that the CofE and Protestant church as a whole is in liberal free fall and on a one way ticket to destruction, but I’m afraid this isn’t the case and you will have to try a little harder (as will Ed) to convince anyone that this is the case.

          There are two crucial missing elements to your argument. I’ve done you the courtesy of giving you the bait but you haven’t bitten. Firstly you conveniently omit demographics from your arguments. As an Ancient church our demographics reflect the population as a whole and we have many silver seniors who are dying off faster than we can replace them. This masks the conversion growth in our church where the three elements are present that I mentioned to you. Your analysis is incomplete and you know it. There are some very interesting signs of growth in the CofE, but you won’t consider them…even though I’ve told you where to look.

          Secondly, the invalid, protestant church that is suffering so much from being separated from Rome (as you would define it) is in massive growth in many countries around the world. I can quote you many other examples if you wish but I suspect you’ll ignore them as you’ve ignored the other ones I quoted.

          Finally I know these sound too tidy and for the purposes of this blog they are. It’s not all as simple as I am suggesting, I concede that, but my points are broad brush strokes over the pattern of change in my church.

          If you and Ed want to convince anyone of our invalidity, you’ll have to do much better than that.

        2. How can you compare anecdotal evidence with national statistics! I can give you plenty of anecdotal evidence of Anglican churches that are growing. (Holy Trinity, Brompton for example). Surely a statistician should know that you must compare like with like.

  8. So there you go again Ed, quoting the liberal part of the Anglican Church (not CofE cos some of the things you mention are not a reality in England) and arguing that this means we’re all doomed and on a liberal decline into destruction. The facts just do not support your view and your lack of objectivity speaks volumes, it really does. So does your claim that Catholics are recipients of anger not givers of it and then your celebration of Mother Angelica’s anger towards liberalism on your next post.

  9. While I continue to wait for Paul Waddington’s response let me suggest one further weakness in his hypothesis. He quotes the decline in ‘Sunday’ worship. Much of the CofE’s numerical growth has been on other days as we’ve learnt to contextualise into this frantic 21st century.

    Still waiting Paul. You did accept the challenge to debate your view that my church is in decline.

    1. But isn’t the one of the defining marks of being a Christian that you keep holy the Sabbath? i.e. go to church on a Sunday? Obviously it’s good that Anglicans (and others) go on other days but I struggle with a mind set that says “We are succeeding if the people who choose to do other stuff on a Sunday (sports/ garden centre or whatever) show up now and again during the week.”

      Surely it is a failure in evangelisation not a success if the lures of the “frantic 21st Century” trumps one of the Commandments? And to what extent can it be relied upon as a sign of growth? At least in the sense that Christian evangelisation/ conversion has always been understood hitherto.

      1. You make an important point Mary B that I respect enormously. The tension between prophetic counter cultural declaration of truth and incarnational meeting within the mess of ordinary life is always a difficult one and one that I fear Ed’s current state of mind is ill equipped to deal with.

        I think in response I would offer that the church made the decision to change the sabbath from Saturday to Sunday, which is totally fine but it does not have the authority to insist that Sunday is the only valid time for worship.

        Providing worship and opportunities for people to meet with Jesus on the other 6 days is important as is the hope they’ll come into the Sunday fold. So far in my 22 years of ministry my experience has been that providing the natural space for people to grow within the mess of ordinary lives begins to change people who become Sunday people in the truest sense of the word.

        1. Thanks for this Fr. Paul. I understand what you are saying but I can’t agree. Firstly although the church did indeed change the day of celebration of the Sabbath that was a very long time ago! And surely the church does have the authority to insist that Sunday is the one day that you must observe? Unless you are saying that the church has no authority in this regard at all.
          Of course other days are valid but Sunday is the Big One; or has everything that has been taught for two thousand years been wrong?
          Secondly it’s really not hard to go to church on Sunday. As I told my kids it doesn’t take long and if you can go out with your mates or whatever you can spare an hour for God.
          Thirdly however this may be missing the point we were debating which is “Can/should you call those who start to show up now and again on a weekday but not on a Sunday converts in the sense that you did so as to prove that the C of E is not in decline?” I suppose if you can/should (and that, in turn depends on the definitions you are using) then it isn’t. If you can’t/shouldn’t then it is.

  10. Thanks Mary, interesting points and I can see where you’re coming from but it doesn’t sit well with me for a few reasons.

    Firstly something being changed or taught a long time ago does not make it infallible. A tradition without substance is just an ancient error, so I think we need to be careful when using history to back up truth, especially when in the first few centuries of our faith the church met when it could, however it could and this was not a challenge to its validity.

    The mission field was different then and it is different now which means we need to take the orthodox, credal faith and go where the people are in mission and in worship. I agree that Sunday is the ‘Big one’ that’s perfectly reasonable, but if people come to faith through new pattern of worship meeting at different times is this really so bad? Isn’t this what your church is doing by having a Saturday evening Mass for those for whom Sunday is impossible? Am I really wrong to count these as a part of the numerical growth of the CofE?

    All the evidence suggests that conversion is a process and the interesting thing that supports your position as that people do drift towards Sunday within that process. But a converted soul in church on Thu evening is valid in my book. So much so that when people quote the decline in ‘Sunday’ worship as authoritative without looking at the full picture it suggests to me that they’re trying to win an argument rather than get to the truth – kinda sad 🙁

    1. Hi Fr.Paul.
      I do understand likewise where you are coming from. You will also be aware that Vigil Masses on a Saturday or Eve of a Holyday of Obligation follow an ancient patten of the feast starting the evening before and hence are totally legit and not just for those who can’t be bothered to get out of bed on a Sunday. Actually my mother in law was never totally comfortable with them I have to say but that’s a different story.
      Anyway I suppose my (Catholic) position is that the Church does indeed have the authority to teach in these matters (if not the Church then who?!) and therefore, if the Church says whether it was a long time ago or now, that Sunday obligation is a Sunday obligation then that’s it; this is something very firmly within the teaching authority.
      I suppose actually in a nutshell that sums up the difference between the Catholic position and that of the Reformed Churches in the question of authority.
      It is of course good that people come to church on a Thursday evening and the more so if that means they start coming on a Sunday. Although do you have anything more than anecdotal evidence that people “drift towards Sunday” as part of a conversion process? I ask because I’m genuinely interested not to score points.
      At the end of the day however I suspect we are not going to agree about this because, even in these secular days, a deep rooted difference between Catholics and non Catholics exists in these matters.Some very dear friends of ours who are wonderful people and sincere Anglicans, he is a church warden and she holds a position within the Diocese, screwed up a few years ago when the clocks went forward overnight on Holy Saturday. Result :- when they woke up on Easter Sunday morning they were too late to attend the service in their local church. When they told us this when they came for dinner on Easter Sunday night our next question was “Where did you go then?” . They looked totally baffled and said they haven’t gone anywhere. For a Catholic of any meaningful degree of practice not to scoot round immediately to find a Mass to attend – even at the other end of the city – on Easter Sunday of all days would have been pretty unthinkable.
      That’s why I said that your definition of conversion dictated what you made of the statistics you quote. It’s not right or wrong just a question of premise.
      On two points of interest however: firstly how is it established statistically (if it is established) that the people who turn up on a Thursady evening are new faces and not just people who have decided to turn up one Thursday evening instead of or as well as Sunday?
      Secondly is it the case, rightly or wrongly, that the long accepted international statistical measure of Christian religious affiliation is indeed Sunday attendance and nothing else? I seem to recall it is but I don’t say that makes your points any less valid from a ” bringing to faith” perspective.

  11. Well I agree the church has authority to make changes but while the church is dispersed and there exists ‘separated brethren’ who are ‘mysteriously linked’ it’s important for dialogue to take place to see what the Spirit is saying to the church. People like Ed who like to call us ‘invalid’ really make themselves look foolish in my view.

    What interests me is the idea of a Universal Ordinary Magisterium needing to look where the unity lies before ruling something to be truth. That’s where the authority of the church lies, looking to see what God is saying to his people and seeing where unity lies. Sadly too often in history this has been assumed by your church and in my church there has not been enough looking and we confuse this notion and turn it into a democracy. Not helpful. Either way I think both models have their weaknesses.

    That probably addresses your question of authority as I am uncomfortable with how your magisterium has evolved and have little confidence in their ability do the double listening to God and society that is required.

    While I admire the Catholic who wouldn’t dream of missing Mass on the Sabbath, I’ve seen too many Catholics who are fearful God pleasers with a pious religiosity that prevents them from truly loving our lord and receiving his love. I guess it just sounds too legalistic too me to be a healthy relationship with the Father.

    You are right that many stats do quote from Sunday attendance while better ones look at the bigger picture.

    My experience of people drifting from Thu to Sun is anecdotal and local but if you get in touch with Rev’d Dr George Lings at the Church Army centre in Sheffiled, he will give you all the data to answer your points.

  12. Thanks for this Fr. Paul. But what would a ” universal ordinary magisterium” look like? Who would appoint it? Who what/ who would comprise it? And how would it be judged authentic and authoritative?

    And, again with respect, are you really in a position to dismiss anyone, Catholic or not, as a fearful God pleaser incapable of a genuinely loving relationship with Our Lord? Isn’t that just a bit, in fact a lot, sweeping? If Fr. Ed made a remark like that about Anglicans wouldn’t you be on your high horse and rightly so?

  13. Well a U.O.M is a Roman Catholic idea that if my memory serves has only been around since the 18th C. It’s the RC idea around Papal infallibility; far from saying every word a Pope speaks is infallible (which would be madness) he has the authority to discern that where there is unanimity among the Bishops on an issue of faith and doctrine, he has the power to say such unanimity has to be of the Holy Spirit and is therefore infallible. Again, I am only going from memory but I think this has only happened 3 times.

    For my money this is getting us off on the right track and I think there is a lot to be said for it. It’s not without its problems of course but it is looking to the people of God more than the magisterium to see what the Spirit is saying to the church. Also, we have good scriptural evidence for God changing his mind (even though some resist this) and I’d rather look for evidence of this in God’s church not in a closed room in Rome…BTW I am fully aware that this also carries many problems too.

    As to your other comments I don’t think this is the Catholic default position and apologies if it looks like I said that. I know many good and godly Catholic Christians who are devout and truly worship God in the Mass. I have a tendency to pick my Protestant friends up on their occasional assumptions that Catholics don’t worship God – it’s just not true IMO. What I was trying to clumsily say is that too much legalism can lead to this default position if we’re not careful. The anger in Ed’s posts and his sweeping statements and condemnations are (in my view) dangerously close to this.

    At the end of the day my church as weaknesses and so does yours. But that’s what makes the view of our invalidity so ill advised IMO. Surely a fuller definition of genuine catholicity such as Ed used to adhere to, would make more sense to enable us to benefit from this? Furthermore it doesn’t make any sense of what God is doing in the world…there’s a whole lot of conversion growth going on out there and only some of it is Catholic.

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