Ebbsfleet 9/22/2010

The Bishop of Ebbsfleet's October 2010 Pastoral Letter

Joining the Ordinariate

In this, the third of a series of Pastoral Letters, I promised to address the issue of the English Ordinariate. In August I looked at what had happened at the General Synod in York and in September I looked at the business of electing a new General Synod.

Those who join the new Ordinariate, offered by the Pope in Anglicanorum Cœtibus in the autumn of 2009, will do so for one of two reasons. One reason would be that, looking hard at the General Synod, past and future, there seems little prospect of adequate provision for Anglo-catholics in the Church of England. We don't need a glasshouse with a special climate, or an Indian Reserve where we can do strange dances round a totem pole, follow strange customs, and wear strange clothes. Still less do we need some kind of nursing home where we can live out our days in peace and quiet.

In our view, Anglican the orders of bishop, priest, and deacon, and Anglican sacraments, are either the ancient orders and sacraments of the Church, as they have been handed down to us from the time of the apostles, or they are not. You can't muck about with orders and sacraments! If Anglo-catholic orders and sacraments are not the same as those of other Anglicans, we are not proper Anglicans, and if Anglican orders and sacraments generally are not the same as those of other Catholic Christians, East and West, then our orders and sacraments are not Catholic. Our main problem is not with our own orders and sacraments at this present moment in Anglo-catholic parishes, but what has been happening with other Anglicans. This has already begun to affect our orders and sacraments and what they will be in the future.

There are stories of people no longer being baptised 'in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit'. There are stories of people – even a dog! – being admitted to Holy Communion without being baptised. There are stories of people no longer using wheat flour and grape for the Eucharist or making up the order of service as they go along. There are stories about lay people presiding at the Eucharist. There are marriages of two people of the same sex. These are mostly stories from overseas but, leaving aside what is happening in the Anglican Communion, we are now challenged in England by the prospect of women bishops, an unscriptural development. In short, the first reason for joining the Ordinariate might be that Anglo-catholics are no longer confident that they belong to the Catholic Church whose Faith and Order has been handed down from the apostles. If we finally came to that conclusion, that would be a good reason to seek to join one of the ancient branches of the Church, East or West. If we made the decision to explore the ancient branches of the Church, that, in turn, might be a reason to choose to join the Ordinariate, part of the ancient Church of the West.

The second reason for joining the new Ordinariate is, I think, a better one. It is not about leaving anything behind but about joining something new. It is not about leaving a body which has gone astray and belonging to a more reliable body. The second reason works something like this. Anglo-catholics have always thought of themselves as separated from Rome – from the Pope – by circumstances of history. Henry VIII's divorce from his first wife was made possible by divorcing the whole English Church from the Holy See. The King was to be in charge of the Church and not the Pope. It is for this reason that we have been brought up on a diet of 'No popery!', the propaganda of the Tudor state and of Stuarts imperilled by the gunpowder plot. It is for this reason that the heir to the British crown cannot be a Catholic. Anglo-catholics have generally regretted this and seen it as necessary to do all they could to bring about a reconciliation with Rome. No one has been more enthusiastic about the work of ARCIC, the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission, this last forty years, than Anglo-catholics. And yet as the work of ARCIC goes into its third phase, Anglicans and Roman Catholics have grown further apart. It is for this reason that the Holy See has responded to the plight of Anglo-catholics with the offer of an Ordinariate. In short, the second reason to join the new Ordinariate is because it is the way – and for the foreseeable future the only way – that groups of Anglicans can become reconciled with Rome, and embrace the ministry of Peter. It is the only way of pursuing together our ecumenical agenda, the urgency of which becomes more obvious, the more Christianity is under attack by secularism.

Joining the Ordinariate is not a matter to be considered lightly. Clergy who do so put their stipends and pensions, their homes and their security at risk. In some cases the response of laity will be so enthusiastic that whole congregations might be able to move together, with their parish priest. In most cases, the Ordinariate groups will be church-planting new congregations, congregations of perhaps only thirty or so people to start with, but thirty enthusiasts nonetheless. Such congregations of activists will probably grow rapidly, but there, of course, lies another risk. There are many clergy and laity who would love to possess the courage for this pioneering venture but they simply do not. Not everyone is at heart a risk-all pioneer. Not everyone can be: we all have real responsibilities to families to balance against the radical demand of the Gospel.

And where do Ebbsfleet congregations, their clergy and people, stand in relation to all this? I want people to make decisions about the future carefully and prayerfully. I set out a prospectus for some of this a few years ago. There are, I think, three different responses to the present emergency. None is right for everyone. One is what I called the 'non-jurors', those who soldier on, know that they are a dying breed, but are content to be witnesses of what they have always believed and practised. Some mainly elderly clergy and congregations are of that view. The second group are the 'solo swimmers', individuals who go off on their own and join the local Catholic congregation. The third group is the 'caravan'. By this I don't mean a holiday home. The 'caravan' in biblical times was something like the trek of the Children of Israel from Egypt to the Promised Land, via Mount Sinaï. The caravan is large and ramshackle, camels and people trudging along, children running around and playing . There are new-borns in the caravan and people dying. People join and people leave. The beginning of the caravan is somewhere ahead of us, over the horizon. The back of the horizon is way behind us, further than eye can see. This, I think, is, for many, the Ebbsfleet journey. This was the theme, the Exodus theme – Marching towards the Promised Land: a Land of Milk and Honey – at our joyful Festivals of Faith.

May God bless you as you faithfully seek to serve him in his holy Church.

+Andrew

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