We gathered in a pleasant room in Francis Street, just behind Westminster Cathedral, in what was at one time the Catholic Central Library. The gathering was to announce the launch of the Friends of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, and welcoming us was Peter Sefton-Williams, an active Catholic known well to me as he is currently chairman of the British section of the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.
Peter was there to introduce the idea of the Friends. The Ordinariate was established by Pope Benedict XVI, to welcome into full communion with the Catholic Church members of the Anglican Communion who wanted to “come over”, bringing with them their Anglican traditions and liturgy. In January of this year the first Ordinariate priests were ordained – former Anglican bishops – and one of them, Mgr Keith Newton, is now the Ordinary and leads a growing team of clergy .
These men have given up secure homes and incomes – as Anglicans they had “parson’s freehold” and lived in houses owned by the Church of England of which they had use until retirement. On joining the Ordinariate they naturally forfeit all that, and the Ordinariate needs to find funds to give them an income. They are already busy and working as pastors to their flocks.
We met two of them, Father Paul Burch, Fr Jonathan Redvers Harris, both married with children. Both men are ministering to congregations who came into full communion with the Catholic church with them. At present, such Ordinariate groups use local Catholic churches – the hope is that one day they may be able to have churches of their own, perhaps in a sharing arrangement with the Church of England.
Funds are badly needed to help these Ordinariate families, and to develop the whole venture. More and more people are likely to join the Ordinariate, and we are witnessing a crucial time of change and development in the story of Christianity in Britain. The prayers for unity that have been offered up by so many people over the years have not gone unheard. The universal Church will be enriched by the Anglican tradition which the Ordinariate will cherish: beautiful liturgy, Evensong, glorious music, Anglican hymns.
The Friends of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham has some notable patrons – among them Charles Moore the well known journalist, Lord Nicholas Windsor, Sir Adrian Fitzgerald, and the Duke of Norfolk. Now the important things is to encourage people to support the venture. Funds raised will help to pay for clergy salaries, homes, and basic administrative costs.
As we sat and heard the plans being discussed, I remembered being in that very building when the debate was taking place in the Church of England Synod about the ordination of women, back in November 1992. I was busy in what was then the reference room of the Catholic Central Library, and because we were all so interested in the subject, we listened to the debate on the radio. We knew – everyone knew – that if the London meeting voted to create women priests, then the C. of E. would split, and the future would present a whole range of dramatic alternatives. Twenty years later, and thanks to a Papal initiative and the courage of Anglicans prepared to tread long a steady path towards a worthwhile goal, we have the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham.
There was much to discuss at this launch of the Friends and questions came freely from journalists and bloggers. The Ordinary, Mgr Keith Newton – a man of vigour, humour, and great common sense – tackles everything with good cheer. The atmosphere was talkative, lively and friendly. As things finished, there was wine and more talk, and then some of us finished things up with a meal together. Watch out for further news on the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham.