Today, in a snowy London, I had a long talk with a young woman who, with her family, will be joining the Anglican Ordinariate. It brought home to me, for the first time, what a great adventure this is; how poignant will be the journey that is being made by the Anglican bishops and clergy.
The public mood concerning the Ordinariate in Britain has changed. The headline in The Times which announced that the Pope had “parked his tanks on the Anglican lawn” looks out of date and sour now. The recent Papal Visit changed things, helped to bring fresh air and a completely different atmosphere. There is now a recognition that this is all a movement of history, a time when you can hear the clock ticking and notice things that stand out in sharp relief against the background.
Mostly, those who are joining the Ordinariate speak about truth, and the authority of a Church that guarantees truth. They discuss – with much humour, goodwill and some wry comment – just what is meant by the Anglican “patrimony” they will bring with them. Hymns? A general Anglican ‘feel’ to the liturgy? A sense of mission to the whole community? Specific traditions such as Harvest Festival? They face, with regrets but with realism, the loss of the use of beautiful churches, of familiar homes and of financial security. They are walking with courage.
Catholics in Britain have, on the whole, been slow to respond to the news of the Ordinariate as it develops. They are busy with their own lives, and the TV news has been dominated by other things: Wikileaks, the forthcoming Royal Wedding, economic problems, student riots. Some groups of Anglicans “coming over” with their own traditions and having their own structure and leadership – doesn’t seem a very big deal, and, indeed, it just seems a logical development of the various ecumenical discussions and initiatives over the years.
But what is happening is of huge significance. It marks a new chapter in the spiritual history of our country – a country which the Holy Father, in discussing his recent visit, described as a “noble land.” The land which produced St Thomas More also produced William Wilberforce – and both figures were mentioned by the Holy Father in his talks and sermons, together with Cardinal John Henry Newman, beatified as the highlight of the Papal pilgrimage.
The Ordinariate sees a coming together of traditions and memories, patterns of worship and ways of expressing belief, that have been stamped into our long history, and those who are pioneering it are making a journey of faith that merits the support and prayers of those who will be living and working with them in the same Church over the next years.
Something great is unfolding. I am not sure that we have begun to acknowledge all of this in any adequate way.
We need to do so now.