During Advent, the parish of the Most Precious Blood at London Bridge – in the care of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham – is running a special Advent course on Thursday evenings.
Things begin – as with all Thursdays throughout the year – with Evensong at 6.30pm, followed by Mass. But whereas on an ordinary Thursday people might go to the pub, or simply hurry home because it’s a busy weekday, on these Advent Thursdays we are gathering in the big parish room in the Rectory for supper, and then a talk – or, rather, a meditation.
The first such Thursday evening saw us looking at some beautiful icons – beginning with the famous one of Abraham’s Three Visitors, rich in symbolism of the Holy Trinity. We were first encouraged just to look at it together, silently. This in itself was something special, as the chatter of the day seem to fade from our minds, and the peace descended. Then, slowly, we were led into the mystery and beauty of the icon’s message – God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit…
Leading the course is Antonia Lynn, a former Anglican deaconess and then permanent deacon. (The idea of deaconesses was revived in the Anglican communion after the Oxford Movement and associated developments in the late 19th century, and for a while it flourished, but when the issue of women’s ordination came up, the whole concept began to change.) Antonia had never accepted the notion of women as priests, and so she had to think through what she should do. Today, as a Catholic lay woman, she is active with the Ordinariate, and leading this Advent course has been one way of making a specific contribution to the parish.
After the evening finishes, there is lots of friendly chat as we clear things away and put on our coats for the damp winter walk to the Tube or bus. Looking around the group, it’s interesting to see what a mix we are: in addition to the Ordinariate members who of course are former Anglicans, there are also cradle Catholics who love Evensong and/or who are simply members of the parish. Among the Ordinariate members, there are people from different walks of life and a wide age range. The newest to join is a young student, while at the other end of the age range are some enthusiastic grandmothers.
The Ordinariate keeps up the Anglican tradition of having churchwardens – on formal occasions, such as Remembrance Sunday, they carry staves and lead the parish in procession. Currently, one is a teacher – and a gifted musician – and the other holds a senior administrative position in local government and has been a founder member of the Ladies Ordinariate Group, or LOGS, which is now running a full programme of activities including an annual conference, pilgrimages, and a project for schools.
The Ordinariate has brought a great revival of good music to the Catholic Church in England – and will bring much more, as its impact is only just beginning to be felt. It has also brought a fresh sense of zeal – here at the parish of the Precious Blood, street processions, a busy programme of children’s activities, the dedication of a new side altar to Blessed John Henry Newman, a whole new heating system for the church and plans for much more…and the restoration of the bells, which now chime out for the Angelus each day, and for Mass, bringing office workers on weekday lunchtimes and good numbers on Sundays.
The Advent course offers a space for prayer and reflection at a very hectic time of year. Britain’s shops teem with crowds, and there are stories of fights over “must have” children’s toys and electronic devices. As 2014 draws to its close, the Church faces many challenges. We will not be able to rise to any of them unless we are close to Christ and willingly spend time with him. In the end, the message of the Trinity icon is the message that will bring hope. We need to welcome the Trinity into our hearts and homes.