The renewal of the laity – an opportunity lost and found

paschal candleIn  the late 1960’s, early 70’s, Renewal in the Holy Spirit arrived among us in the UK.  It had come from the United States, and not from the Pentecostals (and certainly not from the liberals) but from Anglo-Catholic Episcopalians.  For all sorts of reasons it hardly touched English Anglo-Catholics but was taken up enthusiastically by Evangelicals.  I still believe it would have brought new life to a struggling movement.

The recent death of Fr Ivan Clutterbuck, Organising Secretary of the Church Union during the same period, reminds me of his call for the catechesis and formation of the laity.  Again, it went largely unheeded, but was taken up by the Evangelicals through things like Alpha which has become a worldwide phenomenon.  In September I hope to meet an Alpha group in Abbeville, close to where I live in France, and run by the Catholic parish.

Here is what Fr Clutterbuck tried to do in his own words:

Since the 60’s at least there has been a great cry from the laity. We want sound teaching:and this has been answered by an outbreak of study courses.  Provided these steer clear of liberal ideas, this is excellent.  We are realising at last that the present malaise of the Church can be laid at the door of irresponsible speculation which has all but removed the Jesus of the Gospel from our eyes…  Provided too, that we do not end up with another round of discussion groups.  What is needed is teaching with authority… When the course is over, what then?  How shall we employ our instructed pupils for there is nothing more frustrating than getting qualitified and then finding there is no employment?…  It is here that a movement called the Lay Apostolate may come to our aid.  It began in the First Great War in Belgium where a Catholic parish priest, Fr. Cardin, saw his most promising young men being lost to atheism in the factories.  So he formed them into groups of Young Christian Worker (Jocists) and trained them to go on the attack against unbelief.  This movement spread to France and then to other countries.  It was developed in different ways but always the object was the same: sound teaching and mission.  It operated on the edge of the main church and brought many back to faith.  Twenty-five years ago, the Church Union adapted this strategy for use in parishes round the country and there was considerable support – over sixty cells were formed.  Programmes for study were made available in a still difficult situation.  Priests began to see the value of having lay people, men and women, who could share some of his duties with him.  So they were trained for a ministry which had always been theirs but which had been lost over the centuries.  The lay apostolate is based firmly within a parish and the parish priest is in charge.  In this way the danger of wrong teaching from outside is eliminated.  The priest uses his lay ‘apostles’ according to the local situation.  So it is clear that he must be prepared to share his priesthood as far as Catholic teaching allows.  The slogan for the lay apostolate has been from the beginning “The Growth of the Church” (Croissance de l’Eglise in France) and growth is measured by increase of numbers at the Sunday Mass.

Blessed John Henry Newman wrote:

I think certainly that the teaching Church is more happy when she has enthusiastic partisans about her … than when she cuts off the faithful from the study of her divine doctrines and the sympathy of her divine contemplations, and she requires from them an inplicit faith in her word, which in the educated classes will terminate in indifference, and in the poorer in superstition.  (In consulting the faithful in matters of doctrine)

I have argued that the immediate future of the Ordinariate in the UK lies in the presence of motivated laity – formerly Anglican, now in Communion with the Catholic Church – within the structures of the Church in England and Wales. There are those, I know, who fear absorption and the loss of the identity of the Ordinariate.  My own slogan, for what it is worth, would be ‘Integration not Absorption’.

If then we are to maintain and develop the integrity – the cutting edge for mission – of the Ordinariate, then we need to dig into the Anglican Patrimony as it relates to the enabling of the laity.  It is the bit of the patrimony of which our Blessed Patron so bravely speaks in his generation, and which Fr Clutterbuck sought to develop against a background of Anglo-Catholic disdain!  But he was right, and unless the Ordinariate and the wider Church in our land moves along these lines it will continue to haemorrage its life-blood, its people.

Whatever and wherever the members of a local Ordinariate group are on Sunday it is that weeknight group which is vital.  Here the numbers round about 20 are right for prayer (or the celebration of the Eucharist if the priest-pastor is present); for continuing formation in the Scriptures and the Catholic Faith; for discussion of how we not only defend but also share the Faith (apologetics/evangelisation); for the easy welcome and nurture of enquirers and new members; for sharing the needs (hospital, bereavement) of the group and for practical action (visiting, referring to the chaplain for the sacraments).  If this can be done with supper, then both fellowship and the rumbling stomachs of busy people travelling long distances can be met.

I hestitate to say that this is what the whole Catholic Church in the UK needs – I am not in a position either to know, or to say it!  But my guess is that Catholics have lost the powerful pillars which supported them fifty years ago (school, family life, social life, guilds, many more priests and religious).  Catholic life can no longer be sustained just by Sunday Mass attendance.

I look forward to hearing of the experience of my French friends in their Alpha group, and to see how they have received and integrated part of the modern Anglican patrimony into the life of the Catholic Church.







About Scott Anderson

Formerly an Anglican priest (ordained 1975) received into the Catholic Church in February 2012, and ordained to the Diaconate on 27th July 2013. I took early retirement, and divide my time between London and northern France. I am deeply committed to the Ordinariate as a gift of the Holy Spirit in the search for unity. Like many Ordinariate members I feel a personal gratitude to Pope Emeritus Benedict, together with loyalty to our Holy Father, Pope Francis. My blog tries to make a small contribution to the growth of the Ordinariate by asking questions (and proposing some answers) about the 'Anglican Patrimony'. I have always been fascinated by the whole issue of growth and decline, and therefore concerned for appropriate means of evangelisation in western Europe. I believe that the Holy Spirit is constantly renewing the People of God and that we must be open to him. My love of music and motorcycles will occasionally surface in my posts. On Saturday 19th October 2013, I was ordained to the Priesthood at Most Precious Blood, Borough, by the Most Revd Peter Smith, Archbishop of Southwark, for the service of the Ordinariate of our Lady of Walsingham. I continued to serve the Ordinariate group and Parish at Most Precious Blood until the end of 2014. Subsequently, I helped in the care of the Ordinariate Groups at Hemel Hempstead and Croydon, and in the Archdiocese of Southwark, until the beginning of September 2015. With the agreement of my Ordinary, Mgr Keith Newton, the Bishop of Amiens appointed me Administrator of the Parish of Notre Dame des Etangs (Pont Remy) in Picardie, France. This appointment is to last for a year, to give the Bishop the opportunity to assess the future of the parish.
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4 Responses to The renewal of the laity – an opportunity lost and found

  1. Pingback: Ordinariate Pilgrim: The renewal of the laity | Ordinariate Expats

  2. Rhiannon says:

    You’ve inspired me to get out of the bookcase “the yellow book” ( O’Connor’s’ Pentecostal Movement in the Catholic Church (1971) which I don’t think I’ve read since we were in Plaistow Probably very outdated, now –

  3. Harry says:

    Have you read “Catholics of the Anglican Patrimony” by Fr Aidan Nichols, published recently.
    Sorry I couldn’t make it to you ‘deaconing’. BTW 19th October is my birthday, all I’ll admit to is being over 21.
    I belong to a group of 2 so any group based activities are obviously extremely limited. We have become closely involved in our local parish and I hope it is ‘Integration not absorption’

  4. Harry says:

    Further on ‘Anglican Patrimony’ – this website has a very interesting analysis of the development of Anglican Liturgy in the section “Mixing Liturgical Books”. ;o))


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