Monsignor Robert Mercer CR wrote the following for “Update”, the newsletter of the Sodality of St. Edmund, King and Martyr, in Cambridge, Ontario, Canada:
No, not weed but post ordination training, or pre ordination training, come to that.
It occurs to me that members of St Edmund’s in Kitchener-Waterloo, or other Canadians of the North American Ordinariate, might be interested in a difference between their circumstances and those of the UK. Difference has been occasioned not by theology or liturgy but by geography.
Former Anglican clergy being received into communion with the Bishop of Rome and the millions of others also in communion with him, are expected to do some study, properly enough I learn that in North America such clergy have devoted Saturdays to study, that by means of computers they have been in contact with tutors in Houston, Texas, and with one another. Opinions are heard, points of view are shared. A technophobe like me is grateful to have escaped such technology. My mind boggles. And I wonder how sore eyes become or how dizzy heads become.
The United Kingdom is small enough for clergy to meet in person. We make new friends, swap experiences, share a good meal, celebrate the eucharist together, enjoy a day out. There is much laughter. Some of us are even close enough to get to venues with relative ease. In my own intake, year No 2, a group of 20, one man comes from a Scottish island, another from rural Wales, and a third from North East England. For them travel is more exacting. My group also includes an Irishman, a Japanese and and an American. The last belonged not to the TAC but to another jurisdiction, the Anglican Province of America. He came to England as a padre in the US air force and was received into the Ordinariate over here. Sadly, a member of my group who did belong to the TAC, Fr Philip Penfold, died only days after his priesting. He was battling cancer throughout the course of studies but managed to get to London from the South Coast for every study day. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome and the Bishop of Arundel & Brighton kindly brought Philip’s ordination forward.
The first intake, year No 1, was a large one of 60 members. They were given a choice of venues most accessible to them, Buckfast Abbey in the West country, Birmingham in the Midlands or London. They have now completed their two and a half year course, whereas my lot carry on until June this year.
Intake No. 4 began this past January.
In addition to study days we also have a few plenary sessions for all clergy whatever intake they belong to. There are now almost 100 of us. We gather in the handsome basement of a recently refurbished Catholic church in Soho Square, called St Patrick’s. A plenary is not unlike one of those regional deanery meetings we used to hold in the TAC, Canada. Remember them? Elevenses, a square meal at midday, afternoon tea; worship, an erudite lecture from a learned person; a “business” session.
The treasurer, a layman from the Midlands, says we don’t have enough money, that we must increase income or decrease expenses. How Anglican can you get? This is patrimony for sure. But it’s encouraging to learn that Pope Benedict made a handsome donation from his own discretionary fund, that a group of supporters assist us, Friends of the Ordinariate. Their patrons include a duke and one of the Queen’s cousins.
The clergy are in differing situations, so there are pastoral practicalities to compare. One Ordinariate priest has been appointed parish priest of a conventional RC parish which is without a single Ordinariate layman, so he has new ropes to learn, but this arrangement means that paying him and housing him is no problem. Another Ordinariate priest and his sixty Ordinariate parishioners camp out in a Catholic parish which gets two thousand
communicants a Sunday, so this man offers some assistance to his hosts. But how is he to be paid?
We at St Agatha’s in Portsmouth own our own building so we are in quite different circumstances. Diocesan Roman Catholics are beginning to trickle over to us, either because they prefer a smaller and more family like congregation, or else because they prefer Anglican style worship. The RC cathedral of St John the Evangelist is only 600 yards away from St Agatha’s so worshippers get a choice.
Another event all clergy attend is our Chrism Mass in Holy Week. As our Ordinary, Monsignor Keith Newton, is not in bishop’s orders, the Pope’s Nuncio to the UK, Archbishop Mennini, acts on the Ordinary’s behalf: he consecrates the oils for anointing the sick and for those to be confirmed (chrismated) or ordained. This service can now take place in our small “cathedral”, as it were, the Church of the Assumption, also in Soho, formerly the domestic chapel of the Portuguese embassy and then of the Bavarian embassy.
Then there is the occasional central evensong or Epiphany carol service, impeccably Anglican with Prayer Book psalms to Anglican chant and hymns from the green English Hymnal. And we have been able to make a silent retreat together at Douai Abbey which seems to be nowhere in particular and difficult to get to if you don’t have a car.
Father and Mrs Newton now have an official residence behind the Assumption church, with rather too many storeys for some knees but with rooms large enough for many study groups to meet in. Formerly the London venue was Allen Hall, the Catholic seminary in Chelsea, almost on the banks of the Thames. This is on the site of St Sir Thomas More’s house where King Henry VIII used to meet him, perhaps under the very mulberry tree which still grows and fruits there. We received the warmest of welcomes from seminarians and staff. The lads nicknamed us Dad’s Army and Father Newton they called Captain Mainwaring. (Are Canadians still familiar with this TV series about Britain’ s Home Guard during the Second World War?) Once when we had finished a semester there we concluded it with a garden party complete with wine and a dessert called Eton mess, a concoction of strawberries and meringue.
Our lecturers included layfolk as well as clergy, women as well as men, Dr Caroline Farey on philosophy (who had been a consultant to a synod of bishops in Rome), Dr Clare Watkins on doctrine, and a witty and very Scots nun on canon law. The lecturer who got a standing ovation was the missionary who spoke about the Bible. Once every two months we submit an essay of two thousand words. The markers are theologians who are laymen, though on account of our grey hairs they don’t actually award marks like gamma minus; they merely write comments in the margins. The man who co-ordinates all this is the learned Dr Stephen Wang, senior Catholic chaplain in the university of London.
In short, I am happy to report that our Brit experience is good.
Monsignor Robert Mercer CR