Field of Dreams: if you build it, they will come!

The Ordinariate in Bristol?
March 15, 2010, 2:15 pm
Filed under: Opinion | Tags: , ,

What follows is an entirely personal view.

Let me start by saying that, in my opinion, the offer of Ordinariates for groups of Anglicans desiring unity with the Holy See is the most significant ecumenical initiative made by Rome at least since Pope John XXIII established the Secretariat for Christian Unity. It has long been a complaint among Anglicans that effectively the only way open to individuals to be in communion with the Holy See has been by joining their local Catholic diocese through the rite of confirmation. This has meant abandoning their previous communal life, traditions and customs. It is now officially recognised that there is such a thing as a distinctly Anglican heritage which is worthy of preservation, and which can in fact enrich the Catholic Church as a whole.

It goes without saying that this does not imply any diminution of the substance of the faith. Many, though by no means all, Anglo-Catholics have had no difficulties with this for a long time. They can accept the Catechism of the Catholic Church as representing the substance of what they believe- far more so than, say, the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion to which they are nominally committed.

It is clear that in various parts of the world there are Anglicans who have already decided to accept the Pope’s offer, and are now working out the practical implications. The position is less clear in this country- other than that it is most unlikely that everyone will agree! As far as my own locality is concerned, I shall be surprised and rather disappointed if there are not in and around Bristol a sufficient number of people willing to accept the offer, to make a viable if not initially large congregation. However, I do not think it is realistic to expect that, in the first instance, they will own buildings of their own. The legal ownership of churches is not vested in Churchwardens or PCCs, so that even if a majority in a parish wished to take up the offer, they could not (as it is put) “take their buildings” with them. What I think a new congregation (made up of people from various parishes) would need to look for is some arrangement to share or possibly lease a church or churches. There are more church buildings than the Diocese of Bristol can maintain nowadays, and the Diocese of Clifton has similar difficulties. With good will, there is surely scope for some practical arrangement.

Such a congregation will be composed of people who already know one another, either in their former parishes or through Forward in Faith, the Church Union, or the like. They will have clergy they already know, possibly an Ordinary (Bishop) they already know. They may have to compromise over some liturgical details- some will have been using BCW (or even BCP), some the Roman rite. None of these, in my view, is ideal; but I would hope that, for pastoral reasons, a good modern rite is adopted for the Eucharist, with BCP for the Offices. One of the parts of Anglican heritage to be cherished is its musical tradition. Another is the close co-operation of clergy and laity in administrative and pastoral care of the parish. It will be exciting, and occasionally frustrating, to work this out in practice.

If there is an “Ordinariate” parish in Bristol, I hope that it will remember that its first responsibility will be to live and proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ, confidently and faithfully. There is an opportunity to renew and re-integrate the very best of our Anglican heritage within the context of English Catholicism. This is what I have already termed my “Field of Dreams”. If it is built soundly, the people will come- not simply from existing congregations, but more importantly from those who have not yet known Jesus Christ.


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