Just as the official website of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham announces that more than one third of the purchase price for Chelston Methodist Church has now been raised by the Torbay Ordinariate Mission, The Catholic Universe has published a feature on this fund-raising appeal on the back page of its Christmas double issue. The article is reproduced on the Ordinariate’s website by kind permission of the paper’s editor and reposted here:
Fresh start for a church could be great day for the Ordinariate
by Catherine Utley (Communications Officer, Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham)
From The Catholic Universe 19/26 December issue
It is approaching 11 o’clock on a cold Sunday morning in Advent and the Methodist church, built high on Huxtable Hill in Chelston, Torquay, at the turn of the 20th century, has its doors open to welcome its regular Sunday morning congregation.
Children and babies arrive with their parents, middle-aged couples stop to chat outside in the biting wind to arrange lifts home for the elderly. It’s a familiar sight in this seaside town in south west England, where Methodism has strong roots and Sunday morning means one thing: worship.
Step inside the church, though, and something immediately seems strange. Below the vast organ, there are candles on the altar, the church smells of incense and isn’t that statue under the stained glass Gothic-style window, none other than Our Lady herself, looking across at the gathering congregation?
A passing visitor, already unsure whether he or she has arrived at a Methodist service or a Catholic Mass, would be further confused by the opening prayer of preparation, the distinctly Anglican translation (Thomas Cranmer’s) of the age-old Collect for Purity: ‘Almighty God, unto whom all hearts be open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid: cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy holy name….’
Then the Mass begins – a regular Catholic Mass in every sense, apart from the singing, including English plainchant (led by the beautiful, clear voice of a lady who turns out to be the priest’s wife), which – as a cradle Catholic I can say this – surpasses that which you would hear in most Catholic parishes. The sermon is also exceptionally good.
Welcome to the regular Sunday Mass of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham’s Torbay Mission.
For those who have not come across the Ordinariate, it is the structure within the Catholic Church, similar to a diocese, but not geographical, which was set up by Pope Benedict XVl in January 2011 in response to repeated requests from Anglicans who longed for corporate unity with Rome. The Ordinariate allows them to enter the full communion of the Catholic Church in groups, with their clergy, bringing with them those aspects of their Anglican patrimony which are consistent with Catholic teaching. Pope Benedict described this patrimony as “a precious gift” and “a treasure to be shared”.
The Ordinariate now has 87 priests and some 40 groups of lay people around the country, most of whom – since it so far has the care of just two churches, both in London – tend to worship in their local Catholic parish church where, especially in those places where the Ordinariate Group leader also happens to be employed as the diocesan Catholic parish priest, their patrimony thrives and enriches.
‘This is all good’ says the Ordinariate’s leader, or Ordinary, Mgr Keith Newton, the former Church of England Bishop of Richborough. ‘But if we are to grow and flourish in the way that Pope Benedict intended we also need to acquire buildings of our own so that we can establish them as centres for our particular mission and purpose’.
So the Torbay group are setting out to make history. They are appealing for funds to buy the redundant Methodist church which they are currently using for their Sunday Mass, and the halls that go with it, so that the Torbay Ordinariate can establish the site as a centre for worship from where they can use their Anglican-rooted gifts to further the mission and outreach of the Catholic Church. The Ordinariate started from scratch with no historic assets, so the group are dependent on donations to raise the £150,000 they need to secure it. If they succeed, this church, which the departing Methodists are keen to sell to a Christian community, will be the first that the Ordinariate has bought.
The priest behind the project is Fr David Lashbrooke, who resigned as vicar of a nearby Anglican parish in 2011 to join the Ordinariate – a move ‘almost akin to a bereavement’, he says, but one born of his firm conviction that responding to Pope Benedict’s offer was responding to Christ’s prayer that the Church should be one. ‘I was aware that for many people in the CoE the ecumenical imperative for unity had receded as more issues of the secular world seem to take prominence’, he says.
Some 40 or so members of his congregation followed him and he was ordained as a Catholic priest later that year.
Brought up in a vicarage (his father was a Church of England clergyman), Fr Lashbrooke has an unmistakeably Anglican pastoral approach and an unshakeable faith. He is a much loved and trusted shepherd to his flock and a priest for whom mission, evangelisation and channelling the gifts of the laity towards helping those in need, are central to his calling. He now serves as a prison chaplain as well as leading the Ordinariate’s Torbay Mission.
‘When we were first received into the Catholic Church we were welcomed by our brothers and sisters at the local Catholic church, with whom we will always have a very special bond. But these buildings provide us with an opportunity to establish a permanent home of our own where, through God’s grace, our particular patrimony can flourish in the service of others’, he says.
The group are very aware of the needs of the area, both spiritual and material, because they already run a charity shop, just a stone’s throw away from the Methodist church, which has become a successful vehicle for their outreach and pastoral care.
If they can buy the Methodist site, they plan to use it for worship, to teach the faith (‘teaching is at the heart of mission’, says Fr Lashbrooke), to host youth events, run a community café and, in time, convert a building attached to the church to become a presbytery. (Fr Lashbrooke and his family currently live many miles away from the group to whom he ministers.)
It is an ambitious project. But, united by the courage and faith that has sustained them on their remarkable journey to Catholicism, which has involved sacrifice and pain as well as deep joy, the Torbay Ordinariate Mission have an overwhelmingly strong sense of purpose.
A weekend spent among them leaves one with the sure belief that, when the Holy Spirit is so palpably present among a group of such doughty pioneers, miracles will inevitably spring forth.
‘We don’t expect to re-convert England’, Fr Lashbrooke says, ‘but we do believe that this project gives us a chance, in a small way, to show how the Ordinariate can play its part in reviving the echoes of pre-reformation Catholic life in England, when the Church was the focus of the community, with the Mass at its centre, and from that sprang feasting and outreach and things in which whole communities could rejoice. And in that way we might earn our place in the fabric of the Catholic Church into which we have been so generously received’.
More on this project, with details of how you can donate, can be found on the Ordinariate website. http://www.ordinariate.org.uk
If the group fail to raise £150,000 in the next few months, the church will be put on the open market and most probably sold to developers.