Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Scott Anderson on the New Evangelisation and the Ordinariate

Scott Anderson, for many years vicar of St Andrew's, Willesden Green, and now a member of the South London Ordinariate Group, has written a thoughtful piece in the Catholic Herald on the useful role the Ordinariate can play in the Pope's programme of a New Evangelisation.

Although a sub-editor has given his words the trouble-making title "Ex-Anglicans are eager to lead others across the Tiber," this is not what he is talking about. The provision of Ordinariates for groups of Anglicans is a pastoral response, not poaching. Poaching the members of other Christian churches and uniatism have been repeatedly repudiated by the Catholic Church for a century, especially in the light of the teaching of Vatican II, as not just an offence to charity but destructive to the trust and hope needed for reconciliation. Poaching is a tactic used by a small number of unrepresentative Pentecostalist and extreme Protestant churches that have more in common with extreme sects and a loose hold on orthodox Scriptural theology. No matter how hard people convince themselves that fishing in other churches' ponds is mission, it is lazy. It is a waste of energies that could have been devoted to those who had never before had any encounter with the living Christ in his people, or who had not realised that it was Christ they were encountering in their society and culture, or who had forgotten an encounter that had once meant something to them.

Scott Anderson makes a useful point. The size of the Ordinariate groups in England is small and here lies their present value. It would waste that value - as some commentators, including bishops and even some Ordinariate priests, hope - if they are constrained to "integrate" or "assimilate" with their host parishes and dioceses. For one thing, this is expressly deprecated in Anglicanorum Coetibus. Yet people are at liberty to go and particpate where they like; and by the same token diocesan Catholic lay faithful may find they gravitate to Ordinariate groups and feel a sense of belonging and collobaration there: the Spirit blows where it is inclined to. Only last week I met a Caribbean Latin Catholic who regularly attends the Divine Liturgy at the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral - a different rite in a different language, but a place and a community where instinctively she recognises her point of communion with the Church. Thus there is space in the Universal Church for everyone to follow the course by which they are drawn into the Kingdom. The Ordinariate, even in its embryonic state, is one of the vital new spaces like some of the new ecclesial movements that have emerged in our own times and conditions in society, for people to respond to as the "point of communion" when no others quite work. This is an evangelistic tool we would lose if the Ordinariate's groups were all assimilated with geographical parishes. All clergy know that there are faithful Catholics in our parishes who do not attend our church - they go to the Cathedral, or other churches in central London, or to a monastery or a religious house, or a chaplaincy, or somewhere other than where they live, or somewhere they can be anonymous. There is no reason why Ordinariate groups cannot serve, alongside the extensive variety of Catholic liturgical and pastoral life that is already there, as new places for people to belong to the Catholic Church in a way they could not before. Anderson likens the Ordinariate's groups to "church plants," small established bodies whose mission is to go where either there is no readily visible church, or there are rising new elements of society which do not identify with the existing church provision. They are meant to be supplementary to what the Church and its pastors are already doing, corroborating it, not compete against it. They are meant to reach the parts that others cannot reach.

To be honest, "church plants" in Anglican dioceses have a mixed record. Some faithful congregations (often High Church ones) with decades of solid pastoral efforts and a valued presence in their local communities, even when this does not translate into numbers on Sundays, have felt their struggles undermined and the effectiveness of their witness openly criticised by the arrival of a young, lively and often well-funded new worshipping church on their doorstep. They complain that their fortunes may have been different if the same investment and confidence had been placed in them as in the new ventures. They also say that the new arrivals do not seem interested in collaborating and sharing resources. Doubtless people thought the same of the old Anglo-Catholic mission churches of a century ago and more. On the other hand, parishes which no longer fulfil their earlier mission, because the local population has changed or even disappeared, have been revived by the planting of "Fresh Expressions" of the Church of Christ. Thus new groups have come in and transformed a church otherwise in decline. In the Catholic world, one can cite the entrusting of St Charles Borromeo, on Ogle Street, to meet the needs of the Neo-Catechumenal Way; the exciting restoration of St Patrick's, in Soho Square, as a centre for evangelisation in central London; and the devotion of SS. Gervais and Protais in Paris to the Jerusalem Community. Is the Ordinariate also a "fresh expression", able to respond to new needs, opportunities and gaps in the Church's mission?

If it is not, I cannot see what other purpose it serves, beyond a merely temporary means of transitioning numbers of Anglican clergy and faithful into the Catholic Church. Everyone agrees that this is not ecumenism, neither mission, nor respectful of the unique heritage and identity that God has given his Church through the Anglican tradition. That is why the Apostolic Constitution notes the enduring significance of Anglican patrimony as needed by and for the Catholic Church as a whole. For ecclesiological purposes, the Catholic Church desires the Anglicans' patrimony for being better at realising the Universal Church in all its bearings (cf the Decree on Ecumenism, Vatican II). For practical and ecumenical purposes, it seeks it for relating better to the Anglican Communion in the search for complete restoration of unity (inevitable, because it is the prayer of Christ). For evangelistic purposes, it wants it for extending the way it can relate to the multi-faceted cultures, shapes of society and networks through which people live and belong in the present age - and win them for Christ and his Kingdom. Clearly we need as many different evangelisations, structures that attract people's capacity for belonging, and spiritualities for this very new "old Europe" as the Church has inventively developed in the past.

Anderson cites the example of his own South London Ordinariate Group. It seems to have found a home in the parish of the Precious Blood, once a hive of local pastoral and missionary activity in the hands of the Salvatorians, and now depopulated with a very different cultural and social milieu grown up around it. The group has been welcomed alongside the existing parishioners as an invigorating new presence. Can Precious Blood, which might otherwise have faced amalgamation or closure liek many other inner-city churches, serve as a beacon of the distinctive mission that the Ordinariate alone can add to that of the wider Catholic community, and that the Catholic Church as a whole can thus bring to society in a new phase? Can it be a place where we can find the eagerly awaited Anglican Use of the Roman Rite, as a fresh liturgical expression of our Catholic Church's dialogue with the culture, public life and society in which we find ourselves? Can it be a place where, like the Salvatorians up until the present, the Ordinariate priests and people can consolidate their mission to draw people to an encounter with "Christ in his Mysteries" and his people? After all, such sacramental and liturgical evangelism was a driving impulse in classic Anglo-Catholicism at its finest.

One of the appealing perspectives shared by Monseigneur Keith Newton at various ordinations has been the hope shared by him and his clergy to be of service to the priests and people in the dioceses and parishes alongside which they serve. 120 new priests and deacons in 18 months are a considerable gift that God has called into the Catholic Church, on top of the 500 or more new Catholic priests who have trodden a similar path in the two decades before, to say nothing of many thousands of the lay faithful. It would be a shame, however, to use this gift in a short term way that plugs holes for which dioceses need to form a longer term strategy, or that solves the immediate problem of where to house younger clergy with families and give them jobs and sustainable incomes. Both are important; but in the medium to long terms, if the mission of the Ordinariate as a God-given and vital component in our efforts at the New Evangelisation is to play its full part, we need to be able to locate the Ordinariate in worshipping communities, not just as an also-ran or a chaplaincy provision, but as a reality in its own right, where we can tune into its religious and cultural language, allow its distinctive liturgical voice to be heard, and appreciate the special orientation of its proclamation of the Catholic Faith that other Catholics may lack, but which can strengthen ours, as much as ours strengthens theirs.

Scott Anderson calls for dioceses and religious orders to take the brave step of looking at their parishes where there is either a pattern of declining use or under-use, or else an obvious turning point a change in mission and direction has arrived. Could it be, he wonders, that such churches be entrusted to the priests and people of the Ordinariate for a "fresh expression" towards the New Evangelisation of Old Europe, like parishes and mission churches were earlier entrusted to religious orders? Doubtless this is more easily said than done. It is not obvious that such places exist near where the present batch of groups are, or vice versa. And there will be communities of Catholics less disposed to embracing an Ordinariate identity, or an Anglican patrimony that is not their own. All that we are saying is that there is common cause to be made here - and some imaginative opportunities not to be missed.

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