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Parishes joining the Ordinariate will have no difficulty finding a home

Mostly, it will be the one they already have

By on Wednesday, 3 November 2010

St Stephen's, Gloucester Road, London: shared happily in the early 1990s by Anglicans and ex-Anglican converts

St Stephen's, Gloucester Road, London: shared happily in the early 1990s by Anglicans and ex-Anglican converts

“Hundreds of priests and parishioners,” reported the Telegraph this week, “are expected to take up the Pope’s offer to convert to Roman Catholicism and join a new body for Anglicans who disagree with the ordination of women bishops when it is established next year.” Well, we did know that. But then the Telegraph homed in on one of the expected difficulties in the way of the Ordinariate: where will members of these new parishes actually go to when they have left their often dearly loved church buildings?

One of the very few negative features of leaving the Church of England is that one is leaving a body of church architecture as lovely as any in Europe, and – in this country at least – joining a Church hardly notable for the architectural quality of its church buildings: many, indeed, are downright depressing. And, of course, as the Telegraph reported in its latest piece on the Ordinariate: “Church authorities have insisted that defectors will not be able to retain their parish buildings when they leave the Anglican family.”

However, in what the Telegraph calls “the prospect of a historic compromise”, William Fittall – who might be described as the Sir Humphrey Appleby of the Church of England; he is secretary general of the General Synod – said it would be “entirely possible” for those groups or parishes who join the Ordinariate to be allowed to share their former churches with Anglicans who remain in the Church of England.

I would go further: I think it highly likely. The fact is that maintaining its historic buildings is one of the Church of England’s biggest problems. Nothing is more logical than that the members of congregations who (in the Telegraph’s elegant usage) “defect” should share the building they are used to with those who elect to stay in the C of E, and should continue to contribute to its upkeep.  

We have in fact seen all this before, in the case of two parishes in the Anglican diocese of London and Catholic Archdiocese of Westminster. Until they were without notice brutally closed down, these Anglican convert parishes existed successfully for around two years in the early 90s, in the aftermath of the C of E’s original decision to ordain women; both stayed happily in their original church buildings.

The suddenness of – and total lack of consultation surrounding – the Archdiocese of Westminster’s suppression of these convert parishes was scandalous; it is a precedent, indeed, which does something to explain why the potential Anglican converts do not wish, this time, to be under the direct authority of the English hierarchy. They do not trust our bishops; and I do not blame them.

One of these parishes in particular, St Stephen’s, Gloucester Road, was pastorally immensely successful. Relations between the two congregations using the building were excellent. The new Catholic parish grew to over twice its original size; in the end, only about one third were members of the original parish. It had become an accessible way into the Church, not only for former Anglicans, but for lapsed Catholics to return.

I believe that this model could become normal; and my confidence that the Ordinariate will be an immensely fertile and creative pastoral enrichment of the life of the Church in this country is not based only on wishful thinking. It has happened before. And I am sure it will happen again, many times. The convert Anglicans have a great deal to learn, of course; that goes without saying.  But they also have a great deal to teach.

  • Myfanwy Alexander

    For over twenty years, here in rural Wales, the Catholic priest of Welshpool has celebrated Mass every week in the Anglican chruch of Llanfechain. It works very well, both practically and spiritually

  • W Oddie

    Excellent. That's what we need to know. Other examples, please

  • nytor

    “a Church hardly notable for the architectural quality of its church buildings: many, indeed, are downright depressing”

    I recommend this book which demonstrates that the Church in this country does have a rather marvellous architectural heritage.


  • nytor

    I would draw your attention to another such situation: in the 90s (or it may have been in the early years of this decade, actually, I forget), when the historic Catholic church of St. Francis Xavier in Hereford was closed for a year for repairs, the parish used the Lady Chapel of the neighbouring Anglican cathedral for Mass with full permission of the Dean and Chapter.

  • PhilipH

    I feel that it would be better for these convert parishes to share an existing RC church where that is possible, and leave their old churches behind for the CofE to dispose of as it sees fit. That could well help with the RC church's maintenance costs, and it would be a wonderful opportunity for the converts to get to know the existing RCs. It would also be closer to their true spiritual home.

  • Hertsman

    St Alban's Catherdal has (had?) a weekly Catholic Mass one lunchtime. At Much Hadham, Hertfordshire, the lovely Gothic Church, built largely between 1225 and 1450, is shared between the St. Andrew’s Church of England (Anglican) congregation and the Holy Cross Roman Catholic congregation.


    The C of E parish church in Kirby Stephen has a weekly RC mass

  • Steven Laidlaw

    Sorry Kirkby Stephen (not Kirby!)- Cumbria.

  • Guest

    Well, most of those lovely Anglican churches were originally Catholic so why can't we have them back?!

    I agree, most modern Catholic churches are not particulary attractive but, aside from the spirit of Vatican II destroyers, the buildings were done with costs in mind. Which, of course, makes for the “cheapest option, please” to win out. Sometimes the economics of the situation does play a large part. Anglicans never had that problem as they just stole their churches……. :)

  • Sigfridii

    There will be far too few converts to justify church-sharing agreements, which come into existence where a significantly sized RC congregation agrees to share a building with the Church of England. These are rare because the RC church is usually unwilling to share either a building or the cost of maintaining it. Nor are most Anglican churches designed for the neo-Calvinist liturgy adopted by Rome after Vatican 2, making them unsuitable for use by RC congregations.

    What will likely happen is that former Anglicans – priests and people – will share the local RC church where there are enough of them to form a congregation (an unlikely scenario) or simply attend mass there in the normal way in the absence of a former Anglican priest. As there are thought to be less than a dozen active clergy planning to convert to Rome, they will not be able to provide for the scattered lay converts around the country.

    The problem will be easily solved: it will barely exist.

  • W Oddie


  • Sigfridii

    What a scintillating analysis!

  • Davida6

    The University of California-San Diego Newman Catholic Student Center rented/shared space first with Lutherans (about 30 years) and later with Good Samaritan Episcopal Church in San Diego, California. It is a remarkably cordial and respectful arrangement in a city known for exorbitant real estate prices. The Episcopalian priest who welcomed the Catholics to share space at Good Samaritan is a former Catholic who converted. Ecumenism here was wonderful for the students. They know we are Christians by our love…

  • Patrickjs

    RC Mass been held every week for years in St Mary’s Church, Wingham, Kent, and in St Mary’s Church, Nettlestead, Kent. Paddock Wood RC parish have weekly mass in East Peckham Methodist Church, and Faversham RC Parish holds a weekly Mass in Teynham Methodist Church and has an RC mass in St Michael’s C of E, Throwley 3 times a year and invites all the Anglicans along!    St Thomas of Canterbury RC in Canterbury has Masses in the Cathedral, sometimes in the crypt, and on St Thomas Day, at the Cathedral’s High Altar! You cannot do better than that!