I have been really grateful to those people who have sent me in short descriptions of the life and mission of their Ordinariate groups. What it reveals is what I have suspected: that there are significant differences between England and America. There is no conspiracy here, and neither side of the Atlantic has ‘got it wrong – or right’. Rather, everything that is different about our two countries including their size and history, both secular and ecclesiastical, has led to these differences. Difference sometimes makes people nervous, but understanding difference often leads to enlarged experience and fresh growth.
CHURCH PLANTING – AN AMERICAN PHENOMENON
Thirty years ago some friends of mine went to live and work in the United States. I was fascinated by their stories of the Episcopal congregation they joined. It had been founded only the previous year, in a new area, with a priest and a group of people who had previously travelled to various other places on Sundays. The deal with the Diocese was that the priest’s stipend was paid for out of diocesan funds for five years, after which the congregation must be self sufficient. If neither numbers nor finance had grown sufficiently then the mission would be closed, and the people rerun to their previous parish(es).
When I read the accounts of Ordinariate congregations in the USA it is this model to which they aspire: church planting and church growth. It is a model which most English people from the mainline denominations hardly grasp. This is especially true among Catholic and Anglicans (though for different reasons) and the established Free Churches find themselves challenged by the newer and ethnic Christian congregations, who are greatly influenced by American models and style.
THE HISTORY OF THE CONVERSION OF ENGLAND
The reason for this difference lies in the history of Christian mission to our respective countries. The mission of St Augustine to Great Britain took place 1,400 years ago. Indeed there is evidence that Christianity arrived in our land in Roman times, and that Celtic missionaries from Ireland had established the Faith in the north before the arrival of Augustine. Once the country as a whole had converted to Christianity it became a ‘Christian country’. The Faith was not challenged but passed on from one generation to another. The land was no longer to be ‘converted’ but the Christian population, i.e. everyone, had to be pastored. This was done by setting up geographical parishes which covered the whole country, with a parish priest who celebrated the sacraments, taught the Faith to the young, and maintained Christian discipline through the confessional. The success of Augustine’s mission established firmly the authority of the Pope and brought these islands into close unity with Europe.
Even with the Protestant Reformation the pattern of a single Church remained. In the 17th century, the Stuart monarchs and the Caroline Bishops of the Church of England all struggled against religious pluralism. And this pluralism finally happened only as a political solution imposed by Parliament.
THE EVANGELISATION OF AMERICA
Contrast America which is a young country. It has never known anything but religious pluralism, and indeed many of its founder groups were escaping from Europe in order to worship as they themselves chose. No ecclesial body has ever been established, and there is strict separation of Church and State. Yet American remains more overtly religious that Britain and western Europe. Americans are still interested in religion, and ready to ‘shop around,’ to find that expression which appeals. The British are bored by religious faith and the younger generation know little about it: what little publicity the Church is given is usually bad or mocking. Public figures do not ‘do religion’ and celebrities and their fans regard it as distinctly uncool! Why then does Britain still have as Established Church? The reason is probably laziness on the part of the legislators, and the desire to keep at least one body of Christians safely under the thumb of Parliament. (Look at the reaction of MP’s to General Synod’s failure to approve women bishop legislation for the C of E, and Synod’s climb-down a year later.)
The UK Ordinariate is small in lay terms, though it has a substantial number of priests. Its groups are mostly not large enough to pay their priest’s stipend, and certainly not to raise the capital for their own church building. The capital reserves of the Church of England (often referred to as the Church Commissioners’ money) provided enough income to pay all the clergy salaries even when I was ordained in the 1970’s. It has been a long struggle for Anglicans in the UK to raise levels of giving. My impression is that giving is much higher in US congregations. Catholic giving in this country is not high: viability in Catholic parishes is only possible because one priest may be ministering to a congregation of 800 – 1,000 in one building.
A CHURCH GEARED TO PASTORAL WORK – NOT EVANGELISATION
The Church of England has inherited the parish structure of the Middle Ages, hugely expanding it in the 19th century, but still basing it upon the theory that it must pastor everyone within its parish boundaries. It is nonsense in urban parishes of 20,000 people, but the C of E still clings to the theory – that it is there to provide a place for two Muslims to be married (and they have a legal right to do so) should they wish, rather than evangelising them to become Christians. Catholic parishes by and large minister to Catholics, building and closing churches as the Catholic population of an area rises and falls. Anglicans have by and large, kept open enough churches to mean that those who choose can walk to church. In the cities this is usually true for Catholics as well. So, for example, from where I live in South London I can walk to three Catholic churches, with a choice of five masses every day, and sixteen masses on Sunday. Can we begin to see why the Ordinariate in the UK has been slow to open ‘new’ churches? For there must surely be a serious question about the wisdom of yet more church buildings and congregations in this country.
I have never been to the United States, but friends have described how one may drive along a main road, passing buildings belonging to every known denomination and more besides. In parts of London this is now truer than it was fifty years ago, and posters advertising this or that ‘Community Church’ often meeting in schools or factory units appear frequently in some areas. But the English have an aversion to this sort of pluralism which Americans seem not to have in the same degree. There is a memory here of the time when the Church was one, and since the beginning of the Oxford Movement in 1833 Anglo-Catholics have prayed and worked that she might be One again. The Ordinariate is for us part of Pope Benedict’s vision for unity – a daring and controversial plan to break out of the ‘ecumenical winter’.
THE MEMORY OF THE RECUSANTS
In England Catholics who refused to conform in the 16th century were subject to bitter persecution. Their civil liberties were curtailed right through until the 19th century, long after those of the Protestant Dissenters. Anglo-Catholics have a deep respect therefore for the Catholic Church in this country, into which through the Ordinariate they have come into communion. They hope to bring gifts and charisms to enrich the Church, but they are certainly not here to ‘show Catholics how it’s done.’ The task of restoring England to the Faith is far too important to allow for petty squabbles between one group of another within the Catholic Church.
OUR DIFFERENT LITURGICAL INHERITANCE
Finally, let me say something about the difference in the liturgical inheritance and more recent traditions which the English and American Ordinariates have. In England Cranmer’s Prayer Book was regarded, even by the High Churchmen living less than a century after him, as in need of reform. Attempts to change it were blocked by Parliament, for the Church of England itself had no independence in these matters from the State.
By contrast the American Episcopalians took their liturgical books from the Episcopal Church of Scotland, a free and largely High Church offshoot of Anglicanism. In the 19th century Oxford Movement the Prayer Book became the standard of Evangelicals in the C of E, while Anglo-Catholics sought to go behind Cranmer’s Calvinism and the controversies of the Reformation, to restore a much older (and Catholic) pattern of liturgical worship and belief in the sacraments. Importantly, American Anglo-Catholics came to associate traditional language (thee/thou forms) with orthodox belief, and modern English with the liberal interpretation of theology which was overwhelming the Episcopal Church. This association was never made in the UK. Indeed in many cathedrals and parishes where the clergy (both male and female) held advanced liberal views, the Prayer Services of Morning and Evening Prayer and the Communion were regularly held. By contrast orthodox Anglo-Catholics began to adopt, in part and after 1992 in whole, the use of the 1970 Roman Missal. Many in the Ordinariate under the age of fifty have no experience of services from the Book of Common Prayer. It has been said that the use of the Missal convinced Pope Benedict that he was dealing with people who held to Catholic belief about the Eucharist although outside the fullness of the Church.
My hope is that this analysis, subject to correction and discussion which may well come in comments to the blog, will help to identify diversity within the Ordinariates, and enable us to understand that there is no ‘one size fits all’ mission to which we are called.