Bitter cold. The wind slicing through you as you stand at a bus stop. Too cold for snow – a few sharp icy bits flutter down: some real snow would bring relief and make things just a little warmer, but for now it’s just stark ice on puddles and people wrapped up in scarves and padded coats and woolly hats.
We had a fund-raiser for the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham last week in the Hinsley Room at Westminster Cathedral but the freezing weather kept people away. We served coffee and snacks and showed a great film about Blessed John Paul – we made £100 which isn’t bad, but would have had double the numbers on a milder evening. Then today we had a coffee-morning in Kensington, with a talk from Mgr Andrew Burnham, one of the Anglican bishops who joined the Ordinariate last year and is now working on its liturgy and helping to guide the various local groups. A roaring fire, a comfortable room, and good company – his talk went well and again we raised some money. Things are happening little by little. But it is little, and the Ordinariate needs to grow.
It is a fragile plant. The clergy – over 60 of them and with more to come – work hard, but things are difficult. The idea was that whole Anglican parish groups would “come over” together, and this has happened, but often the parish groups are small – 30 people here, 25 there. At present they attend a local ordinary Catholic parish Mass or they have their own Mass with their priest, in the local Catholic church, using a “slot” that may or may not be convenient, such as 3pm or a Saturday evening. Meanwhile the (often glorious and beautiful) church they have left stands virtually empty with its future uncertain. The possibilities for evangelisation are huge – that is what the Ordinariate is for, why Pope Benedict launched it – but for a group to flourish and grow it needs its own church.
At this stage, the Ordinariate certainly can’t acquire any Anglican churches. That is a legal and human impossibility. Things may change. Local groups may find they are able to make local arrangements. There are many empty churches around. It is a question of time and patience, prayer, good neighbourliness, penance and trust.
And the Ordinariate needs – badly needs – a central London church which can be its own. It needs to be the “seat” of the Ordinary, and have a small office headquarters: it needs an address and a sense of being identified with that address, just as the Jesuits are identified with Farm Street and the Oratorians with the Brompton Road. Above all, it needs a church where the beauty of the Anglican heritage in music and liturgy can be shown in fullness, where people will come with joy and where there is a sense of “coming home.”
Meanwhile the Church of England synod continues to be muddled on ordaining women as bishops. A final decision will be made in July, but the eventual surge towards female bishops looks unstoppable. It’s a mess: more Anglicans who seek truth and authenticity and sacramental assurance will look towards Rome: Pope Benedict knew this when he established the Ordinariate – it exists precisely to welcome these people. But these early days are tough ones.
The Friends of the Ordinariate was launched last year, and there have been some donations. Larger sums are needed. It seems almost absurd to think about film-evenings and coffee-mornings, but it all helps to spread awareness and stir consciences. It is not every generation of Catholics that gets to play a part in the healing of a 400-year schism. The Catholic history of Britain is a tortured one – literally, in the case of martyrs. To bring healing to history, to help usher in a new chapter, is a great adventure, and central to the evangelisation of our country.
Britain is bleak – spiritually, culturally, morally. There is widespread recognition of this – the Prime Minister has spoken of “broken Britain”, we had riots in various cities last summer, everyone knows about violence and crime and the absence of good happy family life. Britain needs the Gospel, and men who have joined the Ordinariate to serve as priests are ready and keen to evangelise. We need this new dimension to our life of faith, capable of reaching out in a new way, speaking to people whose old prejudices about Catholicism can melt as they become aware of an Anglican cultural dimension, a liturgy that resonates in a special way, a sense of unity with a tradition with which they feel vaguely familiar.
In the bitter cold, I’m sitting here planning various summer events in support of the Ordinariate. Things feel very bleak at the moment, but Spring is on its way. In England, that is an enchanting season with gentle rain and sudden sunshine, a time of growth and new life Pray for us.