Bernard Elsdon remembers how it was in 1992 and what a hash he made of swimming the Tiber

Like many folk of my retired generation, we grew up learning the warning phrases of our parents, in my case particularly those of my grandfather. He often told me that I was never in a hurry, as long as everything happened yesterday, and perhaps there was more than a grain of truth in that! And in his many other warnings.

Hasty reaction to the 1992 vote

Reading George Austin’s report from General Synod in last months New Directions brought many memories back to me, and how, in desperation, after the fateful Synod vote in November 1992, I had eventually moved off into the Roman Catholic Church, quite ignoring another of my grandfathers warnings to ‘Look carefully before you leap’. Had I done so, I would have avoided a great deal of additional pain and feelings of despair, both for myself and for members of my family.

The local Catholic bishop welcomed me with open arms, and said he very much looked forward to re-ordaining me. Inwardly, I felt I had to accept his decision, even though I believed to the depth of my being that I had been ordained many years before ‘for life’. My new parish priest was a sheer delight to be with, and I knew that he had many visions as to how I might be able to help him in the work of his parish of just under one thousand regular Mass attenders.

He knew of my own work in Anfield, in inner city Liverpool, of the two schools I had brought into being, the new Parish Centre, my twenty years assisting with Thought for the Day on Radio Merseyside, work as County Chaplain for the Scouts and Sea Cadets, and so on.

Looking forward to new work

The Bishop said that he would re-ordain me at Advent and my heart sank: this meant eleven months to wait. Then I discovered that I would not be allowed to receive the Holy Sacrament until officially received into the Roman Catholic Church, and that proved to be forty-two weeks of waiting, whilst attending courses, certainly very well run by lay folk, but every single bit of which I already knew inside out!

As I sat in church at Mass week by week, I was near to tears as I remembered the dominical command of Our Lord to ‘eat this bread and drink this wine’ in remembrance of him, but here I was being forced to disobey him in order to fit in with Roman Catholic domination.

A friend of mine, who had gone there four weeks earlier, ultimately waited for forty-six weeks. This was not Christianity; it was bullying! At least we were able to return home after Mass and celebrate in our own home, with my old sick communion set.

At last, October came and I wrote to the bishop to say how much I was looking forward to the ordination day, and if he wanted me to go on retreat, or read anything special, or meet with an advisor or guide, I would be happy to do so. I received no reply.

Advent came and went, as did Christmas, and it became clear that, for whatever reason, I was not to become a ‘Catholic priest’. By this time we had a new parish priest and when I went to see him, he just smiled broadly and said, ‘If the bishop says no, the bishop says no!’ and that was that.

Returning home in the end

After much prayer and advice, I returned to the Church of my birth. Even though I now simply sit quietly in the pews, at least it is home.

So be warned, all you who may be thinking of moving over to Rome, at this time. It most unlikely to be as simple as you think or would hope for, and may only bring yourself and your loved ones even more pain, especially if you are rapidly approaching retirement.

As my father would have said, ‘The grass is not always greener on the other side.’ How true! If only I had not leaped so quickly, before looking carefully.