John Foster offers some practical suggestions on how a diverse constituency can maintain a united front and face the future
We live in interesting times. For those of you who have joined SSWSH we need to forge a future together. We must not forget that our constituency is a large one and covers many different types and styles of parish and organizations from the Prayer Book Catholics through to the Anglo Papalists, from those who attend the Anglo-Catholic Charismatic Celebration and the Walsingham Youth Pilgrimage to those more comfortable with the Extraordinary Form of the Mass. All of these expressions of our Catholic faith in their different ways seek to keep it alive, to express and spread the historic faith of the Church to the modern world. This article seeks to suggest some ways forward which might bring us all together.
We need as a constituency to explore the possibility of church planting, ensuring that in dioceses that do not have resolution parishes there is at least one parish that could serve our constituency. A mission church with a priest, perhaps paid for by the Catholic Societies, who could act as a chaplain to those who have been un-churched by the ordination of women. It would of course require people to travel, perhaps great distances. It may mean sharing a car so an elderly neighbour can get to mass, or organizing a minibus to pick people up. All of these things are possible and must be done if we are serious about our future and about the conversion of England. Such parishes could also be planted in parts of dioceses where there is no Catholic presence.
In some towns and diocese the reverse is true. I can think of one northern town that currently has seven churches of our constituency (and had at least three more that have either closed or rescinded resolutions under pressure from the diocese).
These seven churches are currently served by six clergy. This will not be sustainable in the future. As deaneries are reorganized we too need to think about new ways of running these parishes. This may mean some will need to close but where this is not possible clergy will have to become better at sharing resources.
We may have to look to groups like the Company of Mission Priests to found again clergy houses where three clergy live together in order to serve six parishes in a town. The CMP model did work and may be the way in the future that we can work parts of our constituency. It may be that Catholic clergy on the ground will feel able to group together in their own deaneries as a way of offering support and sharing resources between parishes.
Role of the laity
We need to consider the training not only of our clergy but also of our laity. As Clare Rabjohns has pointed out in this publication, not everyone is called to be ordained but that does not mean they are not called to serve the Church, and that may mean receiving training and guidance from the Church.
We need to be looking for young women and men to be parish workers, youth workers, teachers and evangelists. We need to provide them with solid Catholic teaching.
Young Catholics can often feel isolated (this is why things like the Youth Pilgrimage are so wonderful as young people come together and share their faith). Is it time perhaps FiF or indeed SSWSH brought together a youth council to organize events to support young people in these difficult times, to offer advice about courses to help them live out their vocations? We do very well with those seeking ordination, but we need to expand our horizons to equip all our young people (and the not so young) to preach the good news.
Our constituency is wonderful when it is together, when we go on pilgrimage with one another, when we share our faith. We do perhaps need to find better ways for the Catholic Societies and parishes to communicate with one another. In the 1930s there was a publication called the Anglo-Catholic Annual which contained details about safe parishes, religious communities, societies’ events and the like. Perhaps the time has come for a revival of this just so we all know what is happening. I know from personal experience that some Saturdays might have three different events in our constituency and I can go to none of them! But just knowing is a good thing as it allows us to pray about these events. Such an Annual might be a good way for societies to share noteworthy sermons, homilies or lectures. So much goes on in our constituency that we never hear about.
Serious about theology
Many of our critics accuse us of being interested only in ritual, in not caring about theology or intellectual thought. We know that this is rubbish. I hope as a constituency we might find a way of supporting young catholic theologians lay and ordained, whether through an academic conference, say, on the priesthood in this year of the priest, or simply convening a day for catholic liturgists, theologians and biblical scholars to come together. We have some great minds in our constituency who have much to share with us and the Church, and who can further develop the work we do. We need to show that we take these things seriously before it is too late and we find ourselves relegated to history. ND