Chaplains to the faithful – or missionaries to convert England?

Derby Ordinariate Group

Derby Ordinariate Group

“The Ordinariate will grow – God willing.” When someone said this to me recently I reflected immediately that, of course, God wills it to grow! To put it round the other way, could God ever will his Church and his Kingdom to decline? So with God pouring his grace into the Ordinariate, as a movement within modern Christianity for renewal, unity and growth, what has the Ordinariate and the wider Catholic Church to do to ensure that God’s will is fulfilled? To be sure, God is not going to force his Church grow if it has become lazy and cynical; he surely expects us to read the signs of the times we live in, and to plan effectively to proclaim the Good News. He want us to live it out and to use every opportunity to share the Faith with those who know nothing of his love and his salvation.

As the Ordinariate has stabilised over the past two years no one pattern of group life has appeared:  I have been able to locate at least four models. It is worth identifying these and thinking about the way they work (their dynamic). If there are others and if I am mistaken – especially about the groups of which I have no experience – then I hope to provoke others to show the contrary.

The ‘Once a month’ Group

An Ordinariate Group (former Anglicans, now Catholics, with their Priest-pastor) meets once a month on a Sunday. They meet in a Catholic Church where the Parish Priest is prepared to accommodate them, but at a time which fits in with the pre-existing ‘parish’ masses. This may mean 12.30 pm when most people are thinking about lunch or 4 pm when in winter it is rapidly getting dark. The Group members may well be travelling some distance (up to 50 miles in some rural areas). The nearest parallel as we try to think about this model is not the Congregation (the Group is too small and doesn’t meet every Sunday) nor yet the House Group (right size, most of them, but not frequent enough). It is rather the ‘special interest group’, like the Mother’s Union when we were in the C of E, or the Catenians in the Catholic Church. I know the Ordinariate is unlike both these groups in all sorts of ways – but the dynamic of the group (the way it functions) will be that of the monthly meeting of a special interest group. For a start, everyone coming will have been to Mass at their local Catholic Church on the three previous Sundays. They may well have started to get involved in their parish especially if they have made friends there. There may be discouraging noises from some in the Catholic community who ‘disapprove’ of the Ordinariate and want to see all former Anglicans ‘assimilate’ into the existing structures. What then, will make them go, once a month, to their Ordinariate Group?

Just going to Mass is not enough. It is early days yet for the Ordinariate Use, the special form of the Eucharist, and we cannot yet know whether it will become popular – and more important whether it has ‘pulling power.’ If it is just presented as an English version of the Extraordinary Form then one must ask: will people who like the old ways not just go to the ‘real thing’?  No, much more care and thought is needed to present the Ordinariate Use as a genuine part of the Anglican Patrimony rather than a re-creation of Congress Anglo-Catholicism. If the group is only meeting once a month then some time needs to be given to the gathering, and resources and preparation are vital. The presentation of the Mass needs to be appropriate to the numbers attending (otherwise it can come over as rather pathetic) and should be followed by rather more than tea and biscuits. Let the group sit down for a meal together. (If you have to celebrate at 12.30 pm, you’ll all need it.) Each member of the group needs to take responsibility for another so that people do not lapse unnoticed. The continuing formation of the group in the Catholic Faith cannot be met by a 10 minute homily, and confidence is needed so that everyone can argue for the Christian and Catholic Faith with their neighbours and colleagues. So after the meal the pastor must teach – or he must arrange for good and enthusiastic teachers to join them for an hour. This is not a ‘discussion group’ let alone a ‘little talk’, though there needs to be time for question and answer and that vital business of chewing over what has been given. Evening Prayer (Evensong) said prayerfully or sung to simple plainchant is probably best to end the day – a day which has been worth coming to once a month.

Our sisters

Our sisters

The ‘Once-a-week Group’

This Ordinariate Group meets every Sunday i.e. for everyone in the Group it is their Sunday Mass. It is celebrated in a Catholic Parish Church with the agreement (and one supposes, the sympathy) of the Parish Priest and presided over by a priest of the Ordinariate. Its time will be by arrangement with the Parish, which in a busy one may mean 12.30 every week – hardly the best time to attract people? It may be that the Parish Priest is prepared to countenance one of the regular Masses (say Saturday night) going to the Ordinariate, but then he may not want them to use the Ordinariate Form of Mass (and this may be important to some groups, though not to others).

In this situation it is important to identify the relationship of the Group to the Parish. It may be ‘Separate Identity’, rather along the model of a Polish or Nigerian Group which meet to celebrate a Mass in their own language, and where the priest is a ‘visitor’. On the other hand it may be ‘Close Relationship’ where the Ordinariate priest works with the Parish Priest on a part-time basis and the Ordinariate members are involved in the life of the Parish. This is a mutually enriching arrangement, and could well mean that the Bishop in the future wishes to give the parish into the care of the Ordinariate. It is also possible that the Group, in the future, may become assimilated into the Catholic Parish, especially if their priest moves away.

The ‘Ordinariate Church’

In the early days of the Ordinariate it was believed that whole congregations of Catholic-minded Anglicans would wish to enter the full communion of the Church. It was thought that the Anglican authorities might be able to ‘release’ these church buildings from their parish system, allowing them to be quasi-independent Ordinariate churches situated in Catholic parishes, but with a status rather like a monastic conventual church. In the event nothing like this happened. Even with the ‘majority’ Ordinariate Groups, there was still a rump left behind: the Anglican dioceses made it quite clear that the one Christian group they would never share with was the Ordinariate; and the Catholic hierarchy for various reasons seemed not keen on any sharing arrangement.  No group had the funds (or the confidence) to buy a redundant church (a Methodist chapel, for example). So in the UK we have little experience of how this model might function, but what of the theory? The Ordinariate Group and their Pastor will be large enough to function as a congregation, and financially viable. They will be able to find the skills, energy and enthusiasm both for maintenance and for mission. It is the priest who must hold the vision and be strong-willed enough to pursue it, while ready to listen and to enable the gifts of others. Such a vibrant congregation is likely to attract strong personalities. The priest must be able to help such people be part of the vision without dominating or insisting on their own interpretation of ‘how things should be done.’

young catholics

The Ordinariate Church will be strategically placed on good transport routes so that it can be a centre for individuals and for smaller groups. It will build up a library and catechetical centre both for the Ordiariate and for the wider Catholic Church. It will pioneer welcome and formation groups (‘Ordinariate Alpha!’) and work to keep open (from our side at least) the relationships with Anglo-Catholics still in the Church of England. This may not always be easy, as the ‘Christian Unity Movement’ has become stuck and complacent, and there are even some within our own Catholic Church who see the Ordinariate as a threat to this. The  worship must be a model – not necessarily elaborate or expensive – in its noble simplicity of the English tradition of liturgy. It must avoid eccentricity and fussiness. The younger men, who sometimes have a hankering for a past they never knew, need good formation in the principles of liturgy. Preaching must be of the highest quality.

The ‘Ordinariate Parish’

Soon after joining the Ordinariate I wrote an article for the ‘Catholic Herald’ in which I suggested that Ordinariate Groups should become ‘church-planters’ – i.e. core groups of dedicated people sent into decaying Catholic parishes at the agreement of the local Bishop and the Ordinary, to revive, renew and build up such parishes. I still believe that this model is the most appropriate for the U.K situation. Those Catholic bishops who have taken the risk have not been disappointed. This model has not led to ‘assimilation’ as was feared. Even where the standard liturgy is not the Ordinariate Use but rather the Ordinary Form of the Roman Mass, nonetheless Catholic parishioners seem quite clear about the many things the Ordinariate brings, and they like them.  What will happen to these parishes in the future? Some think that once they are going concerns, and the Ordinariate priest moves away, that the Diocesan Bishop will move the Ordinariate out. Does this happen with Religious Communities which run parishes? I think not. Some of our bishops may be cautious about the Ordinariate, but they are pragmatists. If their brother bishops give good reports of the Ordinariate, if the parishioners are happy, if the numbers are growing – then no Bishop is going to destroy this.


Each of these models functions differently, and for the foreseeable future we are going to have all of them. What is destructive is the failure to recognise the dynamic of the Group, to hanker after being something different, and to try to function and do things which are completely inappropriate for the size and situation of the group. Do very well what you are capable of; do not make a hash of what you clearly cannot manage!


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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22 Responses to Chaplains to the faithful – or missionaries to convert England?

  1. Pingback: Chaplains to the faithful – or missionaries to convert England? |

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  3. Harry says:

    You and I belong to opposite ends of the spectrum you describe. My group was small, could only meet once a month on a weekday evening at a convent (thank you sisters for your hospitality). Although it wasn’t 50 miles away, it was a bit of a drive. We did have rather more than tea and biscuits after Mass with a meeting which began to be reminiscent of the good old PCC. I became increasingly involved in my local parish, where there is support for the Ordinariate both face to face from individuals and an annual donation from parish funds. I now no longer go to the group and I’m afraid we never contemplated having a meal together or have continuing catechesis. Our group, I think, just didn’t have that critical mass to hold together, which must be an important consideration for the once a month situation. My contact with the Ordinariate is now going to major events if possible, reading the Portal and blogs, like this!
    Although fairly much a part of the parish, our separate identity is recognised and when we were talking about the Ordinariate with the Parish Priest here quite recent, he was sure that a major impetus for growth will be the implementation of the measure by the General Synod to allow women bishops. Whether this will result in more people coming in groups or as individuals remains to be seen, but this is an area in which existing groups will/should have an important role to play.

    • Dear Harry,

      What a shame!

      This is the problem with the once-a-month group. To be truthful, I do not think that critical mass is as important as CONTINUITY. Even a small group can (and, I believe, must) meet regularly and develop all the things that Fr. Scott describes in his Type 3. That is when they become attractive to others and critical mass will, please God, follow.

      It was good that your group met at the convent, not in the parish church. This potentially allows the group to develop a specific identity distinct from the parish.

      Why not go back and help make things happen? As Barack Obama would say: “Yes, we can!”

      David Murphy

      • But my point is that – without critical mass – the ‘once a month’ group cannot grow beyond a certain point. It just does not have the resources (people, skills, finance etc) to do so. In fact I would argue that all the experience of the last thirty years shows that, when Anglo-Catholic congregations have fallen below a certain critical number they have become INCAPABLE of growth. The keen people become guilty, believing they are not praying/working hard enough. It’s not that at all: it is the dynamic of the group size – and we just don’t get it!

  4. Harry says:

    Thanks for your comments David, but I agree with Fr Scott that there is a critical number, below which growth cannot happen and that was the case with my group. However a major factor for me was the difficulty I have in driving in the dark, which I had to do to get to our evening meetings. If I’d lived nearer it may have been different.

  5. I am one person! I have absolutely no critical mass (sorry! I forgot my waistline for a moment!).

    Yet I have tried to find an apostolate which I can manage with my resources, so I started blogging. Some few hundreds of people are reading my blog daily – no small number!

    Despite a few setbacks that I have experienced, I shall not stop until Mass is being celebrated in English on a regular basis in the two cities closest to my home. REGULAR is important, and with liturgy and apostolate come catechesis and fellowship.

    I may never become a large group. I may not grow, but I am certainly going to try to pave a way for the Spirit to convert a few hearts and save a few souls.

    I can’t hope for more than that. But prayer does work wonders, I am told.

    Living in the Diaspora is difficult, I know, but why give up? Or do we just abandon those groups who don’t have the critical mass to oblivion?


    • Harry says:

      Well, that’s me firmly put in my place!
      Perhaps any further exchange on this could be by email. Fr Scott will give you my address.

      Kind regards


      • Actually I was not trying to put anyone in his place, but just reacting to your and Fr. Scott’s despondency. I am of the more optimistic ilk (sometimes thought unrealistic, but who cares?)

        I certainly understand your night driving difficulties.

        Best regards


  6. Harry says:

    I’m not despondant, far from it, just relating my own experience of a very small group in an attempt to highlight the difficulties they can face. It would be good to meet you face to face sometime when we could have a longer discussion.

    Best wishes.


    • I’m certainly grateful for this conversation. I was beginning to think that it was only liturgy which provoked any controversy. I am certainly not despondent about the future of the Ordinariate in the UK, but I am sure that we need to learn from the history of Anglo-Catholicism in the latter part of the 20th century: indeed, from the pattern of decline across the Church of England. My question is simply this: why did the average Anglican congregation of 50 become despondent and decline, while the evangelical church-plant of 20 grew and grew? The answers have been there for the last 30 years, but we have great trouble accepting them. I wish I knew why.

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  8. Harry says:

    My first reaction is that the evangelicals offer a great deal of enthusiasm, fairly simple “bible based” religion and “services”, with modern music and worship songs that appeal. As catholics we could argue about the teaching which may come across to us as religion “lite” and the worship songs as at times banal making frequent repetitions of “I only just want to….” We can’t however criticise the enthusiasm and the combination certainly works, but how long does it last?
    As far as Anglo-Catholicism and the average Anglican congregation goes, they are both by their nature conservative and for Anglo-Catholicism at least the teaching is much more substantial and takes time to assimilate. A few years ago I remember one vicar being concerned that the Sunday Sung Parish Mass was not a good evangelistic exercise for newcomers and perhaps he did have a point.
    Secondly, the CofE is faced with a large number of parishes, in an area which probably only has one large Catholic Church one Baptist or URC and perhaps a large evangelical congregation or Church plant with the result that the resources of CofE parishes are thinly stretched.
    Like you, I’m not quite sure of the causes of decline, the last two Anglo-Catholic Churches I was in did in fact grow, almost doubling Mass attendance. I think this was due to taking a fresh look at the needs of of the congregation and trying to meet them. But also an increasing outreach to the non churchgoers, from personally addressed Christmas cards, encouraging adult catechesis and Visiting in Parish, trying to knock on every door on the parliamentary electoral roll just to say hello, we’re from you Parish Church and we’re there for you.
    With a Church plant, by a small group of very enthusiastic people there is the excitement of a startup and the impetus to make it work. With the established Parish, with a small congregation which begins to dwindle, a defensive attitude can develop and this results in loss of confidence and the congregation fails to attract new members and begins a downward spiral. This of course is not unique to the CofE, but affects other denominations. Even worse, in my view, are attempts to make services more “attractive”, “relevant”, “accessible” etc which, because they are frequently out of touch with those they are aimed at, fail to attract new members and probably lose some of the existing congregation. Just what is “Café Church” or “Messy Church”?
    I think the Ordinariate is in the position of being a “Church plant” and therefore has a great potential to grow if it can maintain the initial enthusiasm we all had and avoids getting too bogged down in discussions about liturgy (mea culpa on that one).

  9. Scott says:

    Critical mass; how to measure that? Our group of 22 (Victoria, BC.) received a great deal of support from the local bishop and diocese. We were given a Sunday afternoon slot in a diocesan parish and a chaplain who learned the pre-Ordinariate Anglican Use mass, and sang it beautifully. Once our own clergy (3) were re-ordained we were able to rent a church closed by the Anglican Church of Canada. We have beautified the church and use the Ordinarite liturgy. Two of our elderly “parishoners” have since died. We have continued to grow with members, who qualify, joining the Ordinariate and diocesan Catholics attending regularly. Our core group are generous with their time and money. We operated with a small surplus in 2013. Not a small feat considering that there was considerable start-up outlay. The Carpenter Gothic (a Canadian thing, I think) church we rent, though charming, had been stripped bare by the Anglican diocese. We had to kit it out for traditional, Anglo Catholic worship. We also have a building fund that has raised a large amount of money in just one year. We have a choir of 5 good musicians singing plainsong and polyphony. We always sing the Burgess minor propers from the English Gradual at a sung mass.
    What does our critical mass consist of?:
    15 people who are generous givers and turn up for all the work days, plus another 15 who attend mass every Sunday.
    Tremendous support from the local diocese and bishop.
    An excellent relationship with the local cathedral and with the Latin mass congregation.
    A Church that we rent for our exclusive use.
    Good music.
    Traditional liturgy using the Ordinariate mass.
    A child-friendly church. Often 30% of the congregation.
    What do we need to be better at?:
    Publicity. We need to join more catholic groups, have a booth at conferences, use the internet better …..
    Please pray for us.

  10. Harry says:

    Not so much a reply more a bit of a digression. Yesterday I was given a copy of “Church Poems” by John Betjeman, illustrated by John Piper, published in 1981 by John Murray. Which set me thinking about the discussions we’ve been having about the Anglican Patrimony, Ordinariate Liturgy, the different types of local expression of the Ordinariate and its future growth.
    I’ve always loved Betjeman’s astute observations of the Church of England, affectionate but also “warts and all” and could begin to see connections between my Anglican past and position in the Ordinariate.
    My favourites were there – “Christmas” with the contrast between present giving, “Bath salts and inexpensive scent And hideous tie so kindly meant,” and the truth of the Incarnation “Can with this single Truth compare– That God was Man in Palestine And lives today in Bread and Wine”. Also the gentle satire of the People’s Warden in “Bristol and Clifton” when after a woman praying is pointed out he replies “Praying? The service is over now………. She cannot be Loyal Church of England,” Another favourite is “Diary of a Church Mouse” with “But all the same it’s strange to me How very full the church can be With people I don’t see at all Except at Harvest Festival”. Who could forget “Our Padre” the “old sky pilot”. The last poem “Blame the Vicar” has much food for thought in the last verse:
    “Dear readers from this rhyme take warning
    And if you heard the bell this morning
    Your Vicar went to pray for you
    A task the Prayer Book bids him do.
    “Highness” or “Lowness” does not matter,
    You are the Church and must not scatter,
    Cling to the Sacraments and pray
    And God be with you every day.”

  11. Benedict says:

    I am sure that the Ordinariate is different than the one in the US. I belong to one and although we first met in a Catholic Church, it was not in the best area of town, also no air conditioning which caused some problems in the summer.

    We now meet in a former Catholic school classroom and have set it up as a small chapel, however, we have grown to the point in this room, that we now have two Masses on Sunday.

    Those who are financially able have donated money and we now have a beautiful altar crucifix, others have loaned/given some lovely Mass vestments. We also have an icon of the BVM, which I am not sure if a member painted it or if just purchased it. We also have families with small children and newborns.

    Yes it takes time and getting the word out is very difficult, as most Catholics and Anglicans have no idea that Ordinariates exist. We use the Ordinariate Mass and include the Asperges, when possible, the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar, the Last Gospel and Angelus etc. The US Anglo Catholics always used a Missal, so much of the new liturgy is very familiar and welcomed.

    Don’t give us as the Holy Ghost is with the Ordininariate and even after the Resurrection of Christ it took time for the Church to grow.

  12. Benedict says:

    Sorry, I meant give up.

  13. Klaus Hofmann says:

    Alles Gute und Gottes Segen für 2014
    Liebe Grüße aus Deutschland

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  16. Fr Geoff Squire says:

    As one who remains a catholic priest in the Church of England, I do wish that the ordinariate would somehow help ecumenically. It seems to me that those who join the ordinariate, in the UK at least, distance themselves further from Anglicans than ‘straight’ Roman Catholics. For example the latter turn up at ecumenical events and councils and conferences etc whereas the ordinariates do not seem to do so. in fact as far as Anglicans are concerned, many join the ordinariate and simply disappear into the unknown. That was made clear recently when I asked an adult server who his former vicar who joined the ordinariate was getting on. His reply was ‘We pray for him and try to maintain contact with him but he never responds and we are not sure where he is’. Not quite the bridge to unity that we were expecting. We may not be able to share Holy Communion together but there are many things we could do together to the benefit of all. Fr. Geoffrey Squire. SSC.

    • Father – thank you for this comment. I think it is something which weighs heavily on the minds of many of us, on both sides. There were many good intentions to ‘keep in touch’, but the reality has often been different. We do not know what to do, and even more, we do not know how to talk about it, for fear of causing hurt or being thought to ‘score points’. The hierarchies, on both sides, do not always encourage continuing contact, for a variety of reasons. I think I need to ask others in the Ordinariate what they think and how much they have wanted and been able to keep in touch. And then a post?

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