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Anglicans prepare for a dive in the dark

Mark Greaves meets the brave members of an Anglo-Catholic parish in Kent who are preparing to cross the Tiber together in Holy Week

By on Monday, 4 April 2011

Members of St John the Baptist Anglo-Catholic parish in Sevenoaks, Kent, stand in the Mall during the Pope’s visit to Britain last September (Photo: Claudia Aquilina)

Members of St John the Baptist Anglo-Catholic parish in Sevenoaks, Kent, stand in the Mall during the Pope’s visit to Britain last September (Photo: Claudia Aquilina)

At an Anglican theological college in Oxford two 25-year-olds were sitting by a computer. They had the Vatican website up and were clicking “refresh”. They had an inkling that a document was being published that day. Eventually, the words “Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus” popped up on screen. They clicked on it and read, for the first time, the details of Pope Benedict XVI’s historic offer to Anglicans.

The document was issued on November 4 2009. Then, the two young men – Daniel Lloyd and James Bradley – were studying to become Anglican priests. Two weeks ago they joined the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham. They are the only Anglican deacons – they were ordained last year – to do so. And they will both be putting themselves forward for the priesthood.

James Bradley, a bright, sincere and rather priestly guy, is with a group in Sevenoaks, Kent. There are 39 of them, all from St John the Baptist Anglo-Catholic parish. They range from a woman in her 80s to newlyweds and teenagers. Many of them have worshipped at St John’s all their lives; they were baptised or married or have family buried there. Yet they are willing to give it all up because they feel that this is what they need to do.

I meet them just before they are due to leave. Fr Ivan Aquilina, the parish priest, and Fr James, then deacon, are shortly to be homeless. Fr Ivan must vacate the vicarage by July. His son, in the midst of this, is revising for his AS-levels; his daughter is working on her GCSEs.

To my surprise, the group hasn’t really talked about the decision much, as Fr Ivan’s approach has been so low-key. He didn’t want to put anyone under pressure. “The last thing you want is a bandwagon,” he says.

One parishioner says the process felt “a bit secretive”. His main source of information, he says, was blogs. But Fr Ivan was keen for everyone to make their own decision. “That’s why there were no loudspeakers,” he says. Fr Ivan, who is from Malta, adds: “It’s like going to Walsingham: we go on the same bus but you have to buy your own ticket.”

James arrived at St John’s – from St Stephen’s House in Oxford – just a few weeks after the release of Anglicanorum coetibus. There was, he says, a “very positive atmosphere” about the Pope’s offer. But things only really got going towards the end of last year, when, on November 8, five Anglican bishops resigned.

Two weeks later, on November 20, the parish had an Ordinariate Exploration Day. Prominent Anglo-Catholic clergy sympathetic to the Pope’s offer were invited to speak. The church was packed, and some of the audience was hostile. An aggressive question prompted clapping. One parishioner says that “it wasn’t quite ‘no popery’, but it was something like that”. It was the first and last time the parish as a whole gathered to discuss the ordinariate.

In the following weeks, forms were handed out to people who wanted to join. Applicants had to fill in basic personal details, including date of baptism, and to sign a statement on the back which said: “I now of my own free will ask to be welcomed into the Personal Ordinariate of the Catholic Church…” Some signed this straight away; others are waiting until shortly before they are to be received in Holy Week. (After Easter, the forms will be passed on to the Ordinary, Mgr Keith Newton.) During the same period, Advent was proposed as a “period of discernment” for people to make up their minds.

By January, a group was clearly forming. For James, it was “a bit of a wake-up call”. He had not planned to join the ordinariate in the first wave. “I’m not usually someone who acts on impulse,” he says.
He talked to Fr Ivan, and together they decided they “just had to get on with it”. “It’s a difficult decision to make at any point,” he says.

One of the first people to decide was Robert Smith, a theology graduate. When Anglicanorum coetibus came out, he and his wife Frances downloaded it on to an e-reader. They wanted to digest it properly, so they went to a cafe in Sevenoaks and “picked it apart”. Their reaction, says Frances, was “wow, mostly”. Robert says: “We were thinking, this is such an unprecedented offer. There’s been nothing like it.”

I spoke to them over tea at their house in Bat & Ball, near Sevenoaks. Their living room is stuffed with books: whole shelves of Terry Pratchett alongside books on theology and Church history. They moved in just before they got married a year and a half ago.

Robert says that, after reading the Pope’s offer, he immediately thought “this is where I need to be”. He had considered becoming a Catholic before and knew the local Catholic parish, St Thomas’s. Frances, on the other hand, only committed to it at the last minute. She had been at St John’s all her life: she was baptised and married there, and her father, who is not joining the ordinariate, sings in the choir. She explains that she can walk round the church and say “I mended that, I painted that; I know what board to jump over because it tips”. “It’s home,” she says, “and always in some way will be.”

Frances says that what amazed her about the Pope’s offer was the way it allowed groups to bring with them their Anglo-Catholic heritage, “not leaving it at the door, but building on it”. She cites a 19th-century vicar, Fr Charles Lowder, who served the slums of east London and died from overwork. “That’s where we’re from,” says Frances. “It doesn’t matter what you wear, or how many candles are on the altar. It’s what you’re doing.”

Frances rubs her hands excitedly when I mention the papal visit. A group of parishioners went to the vigil at Hyde Park and were totally bowled over by it. Frances describes how, during Adoration, with tens of thousands of people there, “you could have heard a pin drop”. They weren’t the only Anglicans, either: at one point, the big screen zoomed in on a nun they recognised as Sister Carolyne Joseph from Walsingham; three months later, she and two other nuns left their community to take up the Pope’s offer.

The following day parishioners gathered in front of a big screen in the parish hall to watch the beatification Mass. Fr Ivan claims they had the first ever shrine to Blessed John Henry Newman, dedicating it only “four or five minutes” after the beatification happened.

The Pope’s visit deeply impressed another parishioner, retired academic John Moore. John, a professor of moral philosophy who left to work with learning disabled people and who retired last year, says he saw a lot of the Pope on television. “Here was this little man in his 80s, hard-headedly addressing issues [about the effects of atheism on society] that politicians are terrified of addressing. And not in an ethereal way at all, but in a way that was tough,” he says.

John says that news of the Pope’s offer was not, for him, a “John Kennedy getting shot moment”. The remarkable thing, he says, had been the last few months. “It’s suddenly moved from being an elevated discussion between clerics to us making personal decisions about our destiny.”

The process, John says, has been a bit of a muddle. Fr Ivan and Fr James, he suggests, were not able to talk openly about their plans because of fear of what the Church of England might do. He says: “It’s been pretty fragmented. I thought we’d have get-togethers, a bit of soul searching, a bit of mutual reasoning about why we were doing it. But there hasn’t really been that.”

He describes how, at the parochial church council, no one even mentioned that the parish was going to split. “We were talking about the usual things, a new glass door in the church, getting rid of the pigeon poo and so on, and I had to say: ‘I can’t do this’.”

Only a few weeks later, the ordinariate group attended their last service at St John’s on Sunday, March 6. Parishioners presented Fr Ivan with a cheque, and gave flowers to his wife, Claudia. Two or three people not joining the ordinariate told Fr Ivan and Fr James to get in touch if they were ever stuck for a meal or a place to stay.

During Lent the group are attending St Thomas’s Catholic parish. They will be on a Eucharistic fast and will have catechetical sessions every Sunday.

A few weeks in I call Ivan – he and Claudia are in the middle of house hunting. “I have to find a house by July,” he says. The Archdiocese of Southwark, he explains, has agreed to support him. Just before I put the phone down, he says: “Although things are not definite yet, I want to say I have a great sense of peace and joy, that shortly I will be part of the Catholic Church.”

I also go for lunch with James. Since he is no longer an Anglican curate, he is in mufti – corduroy trousers, a jumper and a shirt. His future is even more uncertain than Ivan’s. As an Anglican curate he already had the date of his ordination in the diary. Now, as a soon-to-be lay Catholic, all he knows is that he is to undergo further formation.

As a single man, he would be celibate. Obviously, he says, that has been a big decision. But he explains: “One day I walked into the church and I saw the altar and thought: ‘I want to stand at an altar and say Mass more than anything else in the world – that’s what I feel called to do, what I feel set aside for. [Celibacy] will be an ongoing struggle, but that’s what a sacrifice is.”

At the moment, for the ordinariate group, things are similarly uncertain. They do not yet know where their new home will be. James describes it as “jumping off a diving board in a very dark room, and hoping there’s water at the bottom”.

Another parishioner strikes a more defiant note. “It doesn’t matter where we go,” he says. “It could be in my house or the garden – as long as we stay together and follow the right things.”

  • Paul Williams

    As one of the group I can report that things are progressing well and that we have all been made very welcome at St.Thomas

  • Frances

    As Paul says we have been made very welcome at St Thomas. Thanks Mark for such a detailed and positive article, it has been worth the wait!

    A small clarification. Fr Lowder was known for his work in the East End dockland slums and for founding the SSC, but it was Fr Basil Jellicoe, another East End priest who worked himself to death at the age of 36. Both their legacies live on.

  • Little Black Censored

    They will be on a Eucharistic fast…
    Why, and whose idea was that?

  • Ken Purdie

    Very brave and Spirit-filled souls. A very safe journey and a very warm welcome to you all.

  • Stuart Dobson

    As a 60 year old priest in the good old c of e in a half time assistant job which I am looking down the barrel of loosing resulting from financial and other typical c of e pressures, to read Mark Greaves article took me back to the time in the 80′s when I was called to be God’s priest resulting from what was by any measure a terrible time in my life. A vocation, a wife, jobs later one wonders what it has all been worth. Those appearing in Mark Greaves article shout something that we all need to hear now and again. There is right and there is truth and they shall prevail. Not prevail you understand for our own good but prevail because we believe that in the end God will himself prevail and all this human church nonsense will seem so out of place so very wrong. I cannot express in words how many blessings I pray for those who are taking the ordinariate pathway. It was St Francis who declared that it was not words but love in action which authenticates the reality of the existence of God. Surely this pathway is truly love in action gathering God’s people unto himself. Even if it is ‘into the dark room – see what develops’ you have to give them credit for seeing beyond the horizon.

  • Robert Tobin

    I suspect the fast to be a result of the intermediate step of leaving Anglicanism and not formerly becoming Roman Catholic until Easter. Maybe someone can confirm this.

  • Little Black Censored

    Well, yes, but (a) why? (what was it supposed to achieve? It looks like an attempt at detox.) and (b) who? (Was it a stipulation by the RC bishops?)

  • Ryan Bloomfield

    As part of the Anglican Ordinariate Group in Bournemouth, I have actually appreciated the lenten abstinence from receiving the Blessed Sacrament.

    I suspect brothers and sisters, that there is nothing sinister in not receiving the Host. Quite the opposite infact, it has increased my awareness of the centrality of this great sacrament in my life; absence makes the heart grow fonder. No truer words spoken.

    Let’s not get caught up in the witherto’s and the whyfore’s concerning our Lenten obligation. Let us look forward with hope and joy when, this Easter, we shall be unified with Rome and in turn with each of you!

  • Irl Gladfelter

    This is not a dive in the dark. It is stepping into the light!

  • RJ

    The members of the Ordinariate are not yet in full communion with the Catholic Church. As the reception of Holy Communion is inter alia a sign of being in communion with the Church, receiving it now would be premature.

    It wouldn’t be normal practice for non-Catholics to receive. There are some exceptions, in special circumstances, if a person requests it and, I suppose, one can be morally certain that the person making the request shares the faith of Catholics in the Real Presence. You might like to check that in the Catechism, as I state it off the top of my head.

  • Little Black Censored

    This “eucharistic fast” applied to receiving communion in the Anglican church. Priests were required to abstain from celebrating Mass or receiving communion until their reception in Holy Week. That (it seems to me) was an unreasonable, if not tyrannical, requirement.

  • Alice C. Linsley

    I wish them well. I was called to Orthodoxy and they to Rome. Still other traditionalist Anglicans will stay and try to bring Anglicanism back to catholicity.

  • Bonydiver

    I was one of those preparing with others to enter the catholic church but recently felt it necessary to advise my former CofE pastor of my profound sense of unworthiness to be received into the RCC this easter. The reason being:

    During the catechesis sessions, I learnt the RCC allows people to call it’s Pope the ‘HOLY FATHER’, a title reserved for God himself.

    I learnt there is no direct scripture evidence of St Peter ever passing his office to Rome. None what so ever

    I learnt that the RCC demands absolute faith in it equal or above that by which Jesus called for in him.

    I also learnt that the RCC encourages people to refer to the Pope as the ‘VICAR OF CHRIST’ and this is what is inscribed on his dressage, the very title of Gods holy spirit. Apparently, they didn’t like the title of ‘Vicar of Caesar’.

    I learnt that CCC 937 has apparently been withdrawn from the latest compendium and no wonder because it sounds like blasphemy itself: ‘The Pope enjoys by divine institution supreme, full, immediate and universal power in the care of souls’

    Additionally, its seems the RCC also believes it is empowered presumably by divine intervention in marriages made to God by men.

    Of course Jesus never entrusted his church to fallible men such as the pope.

  • Ryan Bloomfield

    Guesses that Bonydiver was visited by the Seventh Day Adventists?

  • true catholic

    what is funny is that Fr Ivan is in fact a renegate catholic, who became protestant for a better financial position. I really doubt how one can be happy which such a new member in the catholic church.

  • beancounting42

    News to me and I’m one of the Ordinariate Group.

  • estimulante

    In fact, prviosly to becoming protestant, Fr Ivan had joined the Dominican Order in the Catholic Church and was preparing for the priesthood in the Catholic Church. But since he wanted to marry he left the Dominican Order.

    He left the Catholic Church and became Protestant in order to become a Pastor in order to enjoy the benefits of salary etc.

    His ordination as a catholic priest will be a disgrace to the Catholic Church

  • Bonydiver

    Or perhaps the real vicar of Christ?

    Really all I was looking forward was for someone to say ‘your wrong’ and here’s why?

  • Rjmvidal

    If fr Ivan ws baptised in the catholic church then he would be prevented from being a priest in the otdinariate. My understanding fron reading the general norms and the apostolic conttution is that a baptised catholic can not be a member or a priest of the ordinariate

  • estimulante

    I know with certainty that Fr Ivan was baptized in the Catholic Church. He was from the Catholic Parish led by the the Dominicans in the capital city of Valletta, Malta.
    I know that originally he was preparing for the catholic priesthood with the Dominican Order, but he left as he wanted to marry.
    Then he sought to become a permanent deacon in the diocese of Malta.
    In fact Fr Ivan Aquilina began to a attend a group for this purpose led by Rev Francis Bonnici, a catholic priest, who was then in charge of vocations in the archdiocese of Malta. But the introduction of the permanent deaconate in the diocese of Malta was shelved, and in fact this ministry does not yet exist in the diocese of Malta. These facts can be verified by Rev Francis Bonnici who at present is stationed in the Vatican.
    After this Fr Ivan emigrated to England and renounced the Catholic faith and become a protestant. He did this in order to become a pastor and enjoy the financial benefits.
    Certainly these are an impediment for the catholic priesthood.
    The are facts may be verified with the archdiocese of Malta.
    Those responsible for the Personal Ordinariate are in duty bound to verify these details with the archdiocese of Malta, because I think that according to canon law they are an impediment for the reception of Holy Orders.

  • true catholic

    I hope that the Personal Ordinariate in England does not begin with such false christians. The number is not important. Certainly priests should be people of good example and not people who look inly at their own financial interests.

  • estimulante

    For your information I am quoting Canon Law:
    Can. 1040 Those bound by an impediment are to be barred from the reception of orders. An impediment may be simple; or it may be perpetual, in which case it is called an irregularity. No impediment is contracted which is not contained in the following canons.
    Can. 1041 The following persons are irregular for the reception of orders:
    1° ………;
    2° one who has committed the offence of apostasy, heresy or schism;

  • estimulante

    I am happy to see that you want to ascertain yourself of the truth. You may obtain some clarification for your questions about the catholic church and the papacy by visiting the EWTN website ( On the specific subject: the Pope as the ‘VICAR OF CHRIST’, you may visit:

  • Mark Gliddon

    God bless them all. As a Anglican Priest convert, unmarried, James’s quote at the end summs it up for me. It is a sacrifice and something not many lay people truly understand but those mentioned in this article are sacrificing too. May our God and Church uphold them and support them especially in the times they feel alone and disconnected from the family that they have left. A quote from our Lord springs to mind ‘Those who have left family, lands and wealth for my sake and the sake of the Gospel shall recieve tenfold now and in the life to come’ (parapharased)

  • Bonydiver

    Thanks Estimulante. Unfortunately it doesn’t deal with the principal complaint I was making regarding the authenticity of its claim. It didn’t answer the factual basis of its scriptural existence or indeed its very apparent conflict with it.

    I suspect, having asked this to myself, virtually nobody, regardless of religious convictions or not, would ever mention the Vicar of Caesar or the Pope as the divine inspiration that empowered them in their lonely hour of need. Of course that was the real Vicar of Christ which we most humbly refer to under the title deed of the Holy Spirit.

    Anyone else?

  • Nat_ons

    Do you mean you don’t hope to have the angels of God, the Lord’s heavenly saints, and his whole body to be with you in the hour of need – only Christ, devoid of this incumbering body? As for Scripture not having explicit evidence for a pope as we know them, neither does it have any evidence whatsoever of The Holy Bible as we know it – should one turn from whatever other Christian Rites there are because of this lack? Moreover, is not ‘Holy Father’ as expressed of God in Scripture done so because he is the source of all fatherhood, this being holy to him; thus all fathers are called to be holy and deemed so .. if they commit themselves to God, Father, Son and Holy Ghost; a thing as true of Paul the ‘father’ in gospel ‘holiness’ – not merely a guardian – to the gentile Christians at Corinth, and to all of John’s children in each of his traditionally accepted letters?

    In seeking to divorce Christ from his body your troubles are made manifest, whether with popes, earthly authority, or the rule of the church catholic (in the life of Catholics). The Holy Spirit will lead you, of course, his kindly light does – if we let him; at the moment it seems he is testing you properly, and properly you are treating the test with due reverence; for, as you seem to well understand, merely mouthing the faith to stay with friends is not to live it prayerfully as one body with one Spirit. St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, Edith Stein, is a great modern type of this beautiful, frightening and terrible path in following Christ with the cross of salvation he has offered in calling you; so don’t fear this fence as if it the one and only seemingly insurmountable hurdle to overcome, there might well be many, many more as the Spirit guides – if you do sincerely seek communion with God’s beloved called to be saints at Rome ..

  • Anglocatholicse

    John Broadhurst was Baptised as an RC

  • Bonydiver

    Did Jesus delegate his suffering on your behalf to a lesser? Did the Apostles, Saints and Martyrs die in his name or that of another? What scripture directs you to offer prayers via an intermediary? The scriptures are the base rock of Christian faith and they are factual reference evidence for the Bible. It is this that evidences the rites and customs of our faith and not the catechism. Cc Par 185 ‘Every one of the faithful must adhere to such teaching with the obedience of faith’

    The bible is expressly clear, Call no man your father on earth, for you have one father who is in Heaven (Matt 23:9) This seems to refer in a spiritual or heavenly sense and so the question of the RCC blasphemous use of the title ”HOLY’ FATHER’ remains, indeed is it that you suggest the blood soaked popes around the inquisition periods were holy by some divine institution?

    A charge of division cannot be a sound affirmable basis to lay for no other reason other than a response to the questioning of the contextual use (or misuse) of holy scripture but it does seem that your response supports my searching question that it is the holy spirit that by divine institution is there at any hour, any day and any place to anyone who seeks it. Not one single Pope, nor any Cardinal or any one Bishop! Consider: “now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord” (II Corinthians 3:17-18). Consider: “The Pope enjoys, by divine institution, supreme, full, immediate, and universal power in the care of souls” Cc:Par.937 (now thankfully removed) My words in brackets!

    The Saints and Martyrs are dead but through the sanctifying blood of Jesus are made well. Is it not they who would surely uphold our prayers through him who gives life?

  • Mary

    I think that by announcing their intentions to leave the Anglican Communion and join the Catholic Church they were right to undergo a “Eucharistic Fast” When I left the Anglican church to become Catholic I too stopped taking communion becuase “I was no longer in communion with the Anglican Church” Since my husband and teens made the decision to join me later i still attended services with them as a family but did not go up for communion. I also attended Mass on my own and of course could not partake there either. It was a fast and a time of self inspection for me- not to mention the fireworks within the family and extended family.

  • Little Black Censored

    “…they were right to undergo a “Eucharistic Fast”
    That’s would have been fine if it was their decision, as it was yours. It seems to be very bossy to impose it on other people.

  • Lee

    Someone needs to check their theology especially quoting Matthew 23:9. I would suggest that thou goest and read it in Latin or Greek and then gather what the actual scripture is saying and how it falls into place with the surrounding scripture !


    I’m not too sure if you are suggesting the English translation is wrong? What possible betterment would be achieved by reading a Latin translation over our English transcription as my understanding is the original version was in Aramaic / Greek, certainly not Latin? Regrettably, I don’t have a Greek translation at hand but having read the meaningful purpose of Mathew 23 again (English version), consistency seems clearer than I originally emphasised on the subject matter so it appears I have understated the outrage.

    I was at least clear enough pointing out the wrongdoing of the RCC calling there leader the ‘Holy father’ further invoking direct scripture that leads me to make the point. Should you consider the emphasis placed on the subject matter is wrong, misleading or distorted that you offer some real scriptural checkable facts on which to challenge the above because?

  • Mary

    Well since they will soon be under the authority of Rome i don’t see why a few weeks should make the difference.

  • Janus

    I am in a CofE Parish where the Priest has made a decision to join the Ordinariate, and that his congregation will go with him – in 2012! So for the best part of a year those that are not going to make that journey – and there are a few – will have to put up with the snide comments from a few small minded lay individuals, and the slightly unpleasant existence within a divided congregation. My biggest problem is that the Priest who is so hard working, is accepting that his current priestly orders are not valid in the eyes of the RC, yet he presides at the Mass daily. To all of those that decide to join the Ordinariate, I wish them well, and I pray that their decision is the right one. Personally, I hang on to the hope that General Synod through the House of Bishops will come up with a viable solution to the current situation, thereby allowing the Anglo Catholics that remain to occupy that ‘honoured place’ within the Anglican Communion, and that we may flourish.

  • Jamesdegi

    Dear Bonydiver,

    In the end, it doesn’t really matter that much. I believe you’re focusing too much on Pope, Catholic, Anglican, Henry VIII… etc etc. First and foremost I’d rather call the Pope ‘Holy Father’ than acknowledge Henry VIII who killed two of his wives, divorced another two (couldn’t keep his leg off any woman it seems) as Supreme Head of the Church of England.

    Certain things in the Catholic Church are certainly scandalous. Others in the Anglican Church are scandalous too. Why? Because the Church (whichever one) is made of women and men who are trying to follow Christ and they WILL inevitably err along the way, same as the apostles, same as the disciples.

    Now I know you haven’t mentioned Henry VIII, but I hope you got the gist of my argument.

    And to conclude allow me to say that neither the Anglican Church alone nor the Catholic Church alone will get you to the Father. Belief in Jesus Christ, your saviour, the son of God will win you eternal life.

    That can be achieved whether you’re Catholic, Orthodox or Church of England.

  • Sandy

    Anglicanism was never catholic so cannot “be brought back”. It is protestant in its very essence and will die eventually.

  • Bonydiver


    Our Anglican Christian heritage and patrimony has never as far as I am aware by way of any doctrine of our Kings or Queens demanded we participate in an act of blasphemy against Christ unlike roman Catholicism.

    When you refer to ordinary men such as Henry v111, one assumes you weigh them against the self proclaimed extraordinary equivalents to Christ and G+d within the Roman catholic church such as Pope Benedict IX (1033 – 1045) murders and adulteries in broad daylight and Pope Innocent III (1198 -1216) killing over one million people.

    Agreeing with your second from last paragraph in it’s entirety and presume you being a RC act in breech of the Roman catholic oath. In particular the doctrine of obedience and teachings and faith in the pope and his bishops. ccc 890-891 which teach otherwise.

  • Kyriakose

    Just as Jesus who was born in a humble manger,let this humble beginning of the ordinariate without much fanfare, which the powerful look down upon become a great light that renews the Church and humbles the exalted.