with thoroughly modern aims

Darren Smith on the origins of the Additional Curates Society and how it works to address the challenges facing the Church today

The story of the Additional Curates Society’s origins is fascinating. It speaks about the changes in society in mid-nineteenth century England, as well as the significant movement in the life of the established Church at that time. We were in the throes of the Industrial Revolution on the one hand and the Tractarian movement on the other. The two are welded together in an interesting fashion by our founder Joshua Watson, whose achievements were considerable throughout his life. He was of course the founder of the National Incorporated Church Building Society which built new churches, and the National Society which provided schools for the people moving to live and work in the new industrial areas.

Spiritual needs

The Additional Curates Society was established to provide for the spiritual needs of people who were moving into the new industrial estates. The clear intention was that people in these new towns should have priests to teach the Christian faith and minister among them, providing the sacraments of the Church. Joshua was joined in his endeavours by a large number of people who shared his vision and generosity. In 1837 the subscription of £500 from King William IV opened the fund and the Additional Curates Society was born.

Joshua Watson numbered among his friends major figures in the Oxford Movement: Newman, Keble and Pusey. Joshua Watson and his companions set out to put into practical effect the ideals of the Tractarian movement by ensuring that the Christian Gospel should touch the lives of the poorest in the land. The priesthood was seen as a precious gift from God in the mission of the Church. The ‘Apostolic Succession’ was important and from the very beginning to this day ACS has insisted that grants be given only to priests ordained and licensed by the bishop.

Financial burdens

The remarkable thing is that over 160 years later nothing has changed. The Society has remained true to its founding father’s vision. In the early days grants were used to pay the stipends of assistant curates, often in full. As the Church assumed responsibility for paying the stipends of curates, ACS began assisting in paying for housing and expenses.

Today the great financial squeeze experienced by everyone has meant that dioceses and parishes are being faced with new financial burdens and it is here that the ACS seeks to relieve these difficulties, particularly in the less affluent parishes of the land. More and more dioceses are looking to amalgamate and reduce full-time posts to half-time or house for duty. Interestingly as a society we seem to be going back to basics and, with coalition with other Catholic Societies, are seeking to ensure that the poor and populous parishes of England and Wales are still served by full-time stipendiary priests as we make up the shortfall and restore parishes back to full-time ministerial posts.

Upcoming events

The work of resourcing the Church’s ministry is also about the encouragement of Catholic vocations within the Church of England. As part of the God Calling initiative the Society is proud to be involved in not only the annual vocations conference which will take place this year once again at St Stephen’s House, Oxford, on 10 September, but also befriending and enabling those who feel called to bring their vocations to fruition in these challenging times. Our proud boast has always been that ‘Every penny donated goes toward providing priests for parishes’, and the ACS has demonstrated by all of its practical work that we certainly are here for the long haul. Our recent rebranding has coined a new strapline: ‘Passionate about priesthood’.

On 24 September at St Luke’s Church, Southport, the Society will be celebrating its Northern Festival. Bishop Tony Robinson will be the celebrant and preacher. Mass begins at 12 noon and will be followed by refreshments. A celebration of the past, present and future. Do join us as together we recommit ourselves to the process of praying for and paying for priests in our beloved Anglican Catholic tradition. Further details of the society can be found on their website or by telephoning the General Secretary on 0121 382 5533.