Simon Ellis explains why discussion of a distinctive Anglican patrimony should not distract us from the most important aspects of our faith as Catholic Anglicans

Fr Philip North, who is now Vicar of the St Pancras team but until recently was the Administrator of the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, asks a pertinent question of the proposals in Anglicanorum Coetibus: ‘what will be the shape and substance of our ministry [as priests] under these arrangements?’ His letter [NEW DIRECTIONS December] is a response to the discussion in November’s NEW DIRECTIONS on the question of Anglican patrimony as outlined by Fr Geoffrey Kirk. Fr North describes a typical diverse day spent at mass, school assembly, the crematorium, lunch with a local councillor, an inter-faith forum and a community meeting. And then he leads us to suggest that this summarizes the Anglican patrimony more than Fr Kirk’s evensong, churches and pretty music.

Main consideration

I think his comments, and the comments many of us will be making over the next few months, sit under the more important consideration of what is of primary importance about our faith as Catholic Anglicans. I do not think we could put it better than Archbishop Geoffrey Fisher, who, on 30 January 1951, said in a speech he made at Westminster Central Hall on returning from a tour of Australia and New Zealand:

We have no doctrine of our own – we only posess the Catholic doctrine of the Catholic Church„ enshrined in the Catholic Creeds, and those Creeds we hold without addition or diminution… the Church„ of England was in existence long before the Reformation, and while it was deeply affected by the travails of the Reformation, it emerged from them in all essential reflects the same Church„ as before within the One Catholic and Apostolic Church„ [Church„ Times, 2 February 1951].

It is my hope that over the coming months, we shall not be too distracted into a big discussion about any distinctive patrimony with a small ‘p’ and not lose sight of the Patrimony described by Archbishop Fisher. Of course we love choral evensong and cathedrals and good music (not that Rome can’t offer some of that). I was a cathedral chorister at Ely Cathedral for four of the most magical years of my life. Whenever I walk into Ely Cathedral it still takes my breath away (once I have got over being charged for entry!). I know this is a big part of my ‘personal’ Anglican patrimony.

Pastoral implications

And yes, Fr North is right in pointing to the distinctive pastoral and evangelistic patrimony that we have here as a result of being the established church. I have responsibility for a beautiful Grade 2* building mentioned in the Doomsday book, dedicated to St Laurence and originally dating from the time of King Canute. The church is situated in the market place in the centre of the post-industrial Midlands town of Long Eaton, next to one of the largest shops in Europe and within walking distance of the local (VA) primary school and diverse housing. Is this – and so much more – part of the patrimony we will take or leave behind?

Whatever the answer to that question, a more important question surely is what might the cost be to us personally and corporately if we cling to an Erastian church and refuse to consider the Ordinariate? Even with all the pastoral and evangelistic opportunities that we currently value, can we make the best of them, belonging as we do to a church that does not cohere in terms of faith and order? Pastoral and evangelistic outreach take place from a context and feed in to a eucharistic community.

We have the cure (not care) of the souls of all who live in the parish, so we are calling people to the font and the altar and the community of faith which gathers around the bishop. If that bishop’s orders are possibly irregular, and the priests and deacons he or she ordains irregular, and the teaching in the diocese is unorthodox, then what price have we paid for the patrimony we cling to?

I am sure that I am not called simply to say mass at a 3.30 slot at the local Roman Catholic church for a dwindling Anglican Ordinariate congregation, as Fr North posits. I think we may see that the Roman Catholic bishops’ commission will announce something more imaginative than that! In any case the Apostolic Constitution (VI.4) encourages a wider ministry than simply the Ordinariate, as we ‘cultivate bonds of unity within the presbyterate’ and ‘promote common pastoral and charitable initiatives and activities’. So Fr North’s day may not look too different in the Ordinariate: mass, school assembly (or mass), crematorium, meeting with Polish Catholics to discuss a new social centre, lunch with CAFOD representatives, a visit to the local refugee centre to administer the sacrament and offer pastoral care.

Wider ministry encouraged

Indeed, we could go further and say that it might not look so very different a day as that experienced by Roman Catholic and Non-Conformist leaders who already have a diverse ministry despite the lack of establishment advantage. In any case, many of us have to admit that establishment offers nothing in many contexts nowadays, and I am not just referring to parishes where the majority are on the move or of another faith. We’re all in a post-Christendom mission field.

Within this context, Fr North’s comments are hugely relevant, but only in the contrasting sense of what we could take with us into the Ordinariate. Anglican patrimony should be about a mindset, not a set of historic advantages. We take a methodology and philosophy which would be about forging links with organizations and individuals which would form a bridge between the established Roman Catholic structures and the remnants of our structures and networks. We would be able to think imaginatively about occasional offices and how we pastor people and use the opportunities for God’s mission.

Endless options

To take some examples, the really important thing about our funeral ministry is not the, say, 80 funerals we officiate at during the year, but the way we visit and assist the bereaved and follow up with remembrance services in November. The really important thing about our evangelistic ministry is not the Alpha course we offered for 20 people last year, but the sensitive and thorough preparation, delivery and follow up, which included an away-day at a monastery or retreat centre.

And the important thing about our ministry in our church schools is not, in the end, the endless energy expended over governance or appointments but our unconditional care of the children: surely this would be replicated in an Ordinariate, perhaps with a new Scout pack or Air Training Corps ministry. -ere are endless organizations who still want some kind of Christian presence for a chaplain/padre or other leader: you just have to put yourself about and the offers come in, for example, from non-league football clubs, ASDA or the local police force (to name some of the ministries offered by Ebbsfleet clergy). And all of this ministry within the Ordinariate will cohere with the church universal proclaiming ‘that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all’.

Fr North’s inspiring ministry at Walsingham, marked by celebration, beauty and fun, was also memorable for the searching questions he asked in particular of the young pilgrims attending the annual youth pilgrimage. He invited them to get off their sofas and consider offering their lives to God and working out the context of his calling (for some as priests and religious) within the worlds of youth culture, school, college and work. For example, he provoked the youngsters who attended the youth pilgrimage in 2007 (‘Be Open to the Spirit’): ‘Get out of the comfort zone of familiarity… and into the Comfort Zone of the Holy Spirit.’

A different habitat

Can I be bold and suggest that Forward in Faith priests are being called to get off the sofa of familiarity and status! -e Lord has surely provided an answer to our prayers for a secure future for Catholic life within an Anglican patrimony. It may not be what we were praying for; it may not even turn out how we imagine, but surely we should grasp this gift from the Vatican and recognize this historic turning-point in ecumenical relations?

Our Catholic Anglican brothers and sisters who decide to be left behind in the Church of England and wider Anglican church will ‘survive’ but in a radically different habitat. They will be like the animals who are unable to advance quickly enough to keep apace with global warming. Conversely, those who move into the Ordinariate are not promised a comfy habitat, but surely one where they can thrive and grow. Faith (and a sense of humour) will be all that is required.

As we continue to digest Anglicanorum Coetibus I know that we are all being called away from our familiar comfort zone, our particular sofa, to further reliance on the Comfort Zone of the Holy Spirit. And as T.S. Eliot put it:

We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
For a further union, a deeper communion
Through the dark cold and the empty desolation
The wave cry, the wind cry, the vast waters
Of the petrel and the porpoise.
In my end is my beginning. [Four Quartets] ND