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

“Anglican Patrimony”
August 9, 2010, 1:39 pm
Filed under: Opinion | Tags: , , , ,

A friend and colleague said to me recently that it will be a sad thing to leave the Church of one’s Baptism. Well, yes, up to a point, Lord Copper. Actually, there is a great deal about the Church of England (as an institution) that I don’t think it will be sad to leave at all. How many prospective movers are saying, “I shall really miss the Deanery Synod”? Or perhaps, “The Archdeacon’s visitation was the high-spot of my year,” or, “I always looked forward to the monthly mailshot from Church House.” We shall not miss the bureaucracy and bungling of the Established Church structures (and of course we shall inevitably have to face, in time, bureaucracy and bungling in the Ordinariate. Human nature is human nature! I have rarely met a priest in either Church who is entirely satisfied with his Bishop.)

But what we shall not need to miss, because we shall take it with us (otherwise what is the point of Anglicanorum coetibus at all?) is our English and Anglican way of doing things, liturgically and pastorally. We have a sense of continuity with the English past which de facto is not present in the English Roman Catholic community, in part because during the “Second Spring” welcomed by Newman there were clergy such as Faber who thought that to be truly Catholic one must be Italianate. And did not the great Manning (for whom I have had a soft spot ever since I read that to the day of his death he kept a memento of his dead wife on his person) say that he had ceased to work for the people of England, but rather for the Irish occupation of England?

We shall and must bring into the fullness of Catholic Communion the very best of our Anglican heritage, and since we shall do so as “groups” (coetus) we shall do so in concert with many of our present friends and associates, from our parishes, from Forward in Faith, from the Church Union and so on. Those in the “first wave” will be pioneers, facing initial difficulties and teething troubles I am sure, but laying the foundations for a renewed English Catholicism that will be distinctive and equipped for the mission of re-Christianising our country.

As well as our way of doing liturgy (never mind the precise liturgical texts, there has been too much attention to such matters, which only experts and pedants find interesting) we have a tradition of spirituality, going back to writers such as Walter Hilton and Richard Rolle, and extending in the twentieth century to writers like Evelyn Underhill. Little of this tradition is familiar to modern Roman Catholicism, as it exists in the pews.

We have, too, a tradition of priestly scholarship, not just in the glory days of the nineteenth century, but since. Until recently, we have enjoyed the luxury of a leisured clergy that has, even in the midst of pastoral care, found time to pursue historical and biblical study. In my youth, I recall the fine translations in the Penguin Classics series, by men such as Fr Clifton Wolters and Fr Leo Sherley-Price, who were parish priests as well as scholars. And on the Roman side, have not some of the most noted names in this genre (such as Ronald Knox) been formed within Anglicanism? We have been used to a predominantly graduate clergy, with wider knowledge than is often found elsewhere. In Anglo-Catholic parishes known to me, the standard of preaching is very high, whereas when I have heard a really good Roman Catholic preacher I have often been tempted to wonder whether he is in fact a convert.

We also have, not least, a tradition of trusting the laity with responsibility, at parish level and beyond. In forty-odd years of parish ministry, I have found collaboration between clergy and laity one of the strengths of our system, whereas I have observed a certain defensiveness among many Roman Catholic priests towards lay involvement. “We tell you, you don’t tell us!”

To me, all this is part of our Anglican heritage, which we should treasure, preserve and be ready to share.


7 Comments so far
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With respect, I think you’ll find that there are good cradle Catholic preachers and bad ones – just as there are good and bad Angloid ones. This is true of all the different areas of parish life that you mention. It is naive and mistaken to think differently. My mother was a Methodist (now a Catholic, DG!) and used to tell me that all good Methodists liked to sit at the back of the church. I told her that that’s what we (used to) say in the CofE. Then I became a Catholic. Guess what? The sign of a good Catholic is one who likes to sit at the back. We have much more ‘culturally’ in common than is thought. You will be surprised, if you swim the Tiber, how similar these things are. What IS definitively different is Communion with the Holy See.

Comment by JOHNNY

Well, I may be exaggerating a little, and I don’t pretend my experience is all that wide. Nevertheless, there are differences, which are noticeable, in terms of general ethos. The new Ordinariate is expected by the Holy Father to bring something fresh to English Catholicism, and I think he is right. I shall be surprised if the new Ordinariate parishes do not have a distinct “feel” to them, which will be recognisable to visitors.

Comment by Fr Paul Spilsbury SSC

One striking thing about the RC Church in England is that it does not evangelise – it depends upon fresh waves of newcomers to this country, such as the Irish (see Card. Manning, supra) and now the Poles.

It seems unlikely that there will be sufficient former Anglicans to constitute separate Ordinariate “parishes” (it is hard enough to maintain existing parishes within the Church of England) but if they should come into existence, will the chief characteristic not be that they are very insular compared to RC congregations down the road?

Comment by Julian

There is some truth in this, although there has also been a steady stream of converts, not all from previous Church backgrounds. As to the Ordinariate, my experience of the See of Ebbsfleet, which has very scattered parishes up and down the country, is that it has succeeded very well in establishing an “Ebbsfleet” identity and esprit de corps, with much common action. The existence of a Council of Priests and a Lay Council to assist and advise the Bishop has the further effect of introducing clergy and laity from geographically distant parishes to one another. The regular visits of the Bishop to parishes have also cemented a sense of unity. I fully expect this to be carried over into the Ordinariate, combined with a willingness to play a full part in the life of the surrounding Catholic dioceses, just has been done in relation to Anglican dioceses.

Comment by Fr Paul Spilsbury SSC

Not sure if you write that as a Catholic, Julian. In the parishes I know and in which I’ve worked, that’s simply not true. RCIA groups are filled with indigenous enquirers (often from the CofE) in large numbers (growing, currently, every year: in our diocese we have to have two Rites of Election now to cope with the numbers). The Poles come as do the Keralans (who are full of faith) and Africans. They bring a richness but quite often they establish their own-langauage Masses and communities. The Catholic Church is growing, growing, growing … The Mass evangelises, essentially, and spouses and families do a great job in evangelising their family-members. I don’t want to be defensive but, what are the signs of the CofE showing growth in evangelism?

Comment by Johnny

I shall be very happy if the Ordinariate takes its place within the Catholic spectrum alongside Poles, Keralans, Africans etc. The divided state of the CofE makes a coherent approach to evangelism nigh impossible. I want us to be part of a Catholic Church which knows what it believes and proclaims the Gospel to the nation, while preserving the particular gifts God has given us over the years.

Comment by Fr Paul Spilsbury SSC

Johnny, indeed there are fresh waves of immigration bringing people into Roman Catholic congregations, but this is not evangelism. Nor is it evangelism when Anglicans are required to undergo RCIA.

Not all of the Church of England is committed in practice to evangelism, but as a Reformed church it is in principle outward looking, and its history as the established church means that it considers itself to have a spiritual responsibility not only for the paid-up members, but for the whole population.

It is significant that initiatives such as Alpha (which is growing and planting churches across the country) and Fresh Expressions are coming from the Church of England, while the RC Church which once upon a time evangelised much of the world appears content in most parishes across Europe simply to open the doors and wait for visitors.

Why is this?

Comment by Julian

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