In the early days of the Ordinariate I tried to identify some ‘models’ which might be appropriate for groups with their pastors. My initial experience was of the ‘church-planting’ model, successfully applied at the Most Precious Blood at Borough in South London. With the agreement of the Bishop and the Ordinary, the Ordinariate priest became Parish Priest to a congregation facing closure became of dwindling numbers. With an enthusiastic and committed Ordinariate group of laity new life was rapidly injected into the parish.
Over Easter I had the joy and privilege of assisting the Hemel Hempstead Ordinariate group, presiding over the liturgies of Palm Sunday and the Triduum, through to Easter Sunday. The Group drew together about the same number of laity as at Most Precious Blood, Borough, and formerly from several different Anglican churches. They have made their home in one of the four Hemel Hempstead Catholic parishes, which are now joined together and served by two Diocesan priests and a deacon. The Ordinariate group has been without its own priest for a year, though is hopeful that this situation will change soon. In the meantime the group has maintained its own Sunday Mass (at 9 or 8.45 am) with a rota of Ordinariate priests. The Group uses only the Ordinary Form of the Mass.
The church used by the Ordinariate is small and modern. With 40-50 people at the 8.45 am Mass it looks half-full, rather than half-empty! The Mass is sung, with a variety of music led by a competent organist and singers – and the people sing. There is a team of servers, and incense. They expect to be engaged by the preaching. Coffee is served in one of the school-rooms, with much of the group business being conducted, as well as pastoral care and chatter.
The Ordinariate priest, as and when he comes, will be welcomed by the clergy team. He is, after all, another Catholic priest! Depending on his age, and his other ministerial commitments, he will negotiate his Ordinariate and parish duties: the Group has already been doing this, and the process is a little more complicated than it would be in other models, where the Ordinariate has its own church, or where the Ordinariate priest is parish priest. Over the Triduum, for example, there was just a single liturgy each day (i.e. no separate Ordinariate provision) but the lay teams from Parish and Ordinariate took it in turns to serve/choose and provide music etc.
Of course, there is potential for disagreement and even resentment! ‘We’ve always done it this way’ springs very quickly to the lips of any group feeling even mildly challenged. But the potential for renewal and growth is much greater. The challenge for the Ordinariate group, it seems to me, is to value its heritage, its distinctiveness, but to see this as a special contribution which it makes to the future of the whole Catholic Mission in Hemel Hempstead. And the challenge for the parish? To welcome, encourage and use these people whose Catholic journey has been so different from their own – and perhaps to ask themselves what these new people find so wonderful about a Faith they sometimes take for granted.