The Catholic Universe has full back-page feature on Chelston

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

Chelston Methodist Church - facade and rooms behindIt 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.)

Chelston Methodist Church - Ordinariate groupIt 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.

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.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to The Catholic Universe has full back-page feature on Chelston

  1. Matthew Markovich says:

    MANY BLESSINGS AND MANY YEARS! Hoping to make a donation after the New Year comes in and I hope others will do the same.

  2. Rev22:17 says:


    You wrote: 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.

    I greet this news with a mix of jubilation and concern. Ordinariate congregations need to take steps to purchase or to build their own buildings, but not at any cost. In the case of surplus church buildings, the factors that drove the former congregation to merge into another are often financial — and it often comes to a head in long “deferred” maintenance of buildings and facilities leading to a need for major repairs that the departing congregation simply cannot afford. As a result, the real cost of buying old buildings may well be two or three times the price of the actual property. Also, older buildings often have poor insulation and thus can be very expensive to heat or to cool, as required by the local climate, contributing to ongoing high expenses. I know that there’s a nostalgia for traditional styles of architecture, etc., within the ordinariates, but there’s also a need for a healthy dose of realism with respect to the real cost of procuring, operating, and maintaining older buildings. Many of the ordinariate congregations probably would do better to raise funds for procurement of land and construction of new facilities that would not require immediate repairs and that would have considerably lower operating costs provided by better insulation and more efficient design.

    Here, I should also mention that a competent architect can design facilities to grow with the size and the financial means of a congregation. It’s quite easy to build a large hall and partition it in half, with one side serving as a fellowship hall and the other side serving as an interim chapel, then to build a church after the congregation can raise the funds, likely some years later, whereupon the congregation can remove the partition so that the whole of the original building becomes a larger fellowship hall for the larger congregation. This approach allows the congregation to build its facilities incrementally as it grows so that both the capital costs and the operating expenses remain manageable.


    • EPMS says:

      Do not like to rain on anyone’s parade [just joking!] but Norm makes some excellent points here. Mr Murphy made a good argument in a much earlier posting (January 2013) for an Ordinariate group’s having its own building, but everywhere we look we see otherwise viable congregations of all denominations crushed by the financial demands of maintaining their buildings, in many instances ones which are poorly suited to their needs in numerous ways. Rental seems a preferable option to me, but Norm’s plan of incremental construction is also attractive provided that acquiring the needed capital does not absorb all the energy of the group.

      • Rev22:17 says:


        You wrote: … but everywhere we look we see otherwise viable congregations of all denominations crushed by the financial demands of maintaining their buildings…

        Indeed, this is often why the buildings are (1) on the market and (2) in need of major repair in the first place.

        BTW, I have first-hand experience with this. Over four decades ago, one bridge club to which I now belong bought its present building from a United Methodist congregation that had just relocated to a new facility. The club leases the former worship space to a community theater group and uses what was the church hall and Sunday school for its bridge games and classes. The building continues to need a lot of maintenance due to its age. Within the past two years, this has included a new roof and replacement of the heating system. Fortunately, the club’s elders have budgeted wisely, setting aside funds for such capital repairs.

        You wrote: Rental seems a preferable option to me, but Norm’s plan of incremental construction is also attractive provided that acquiring the needed capital does not absorb all the energy of the group.

        Rental also has its drawbacks. A landlord can decide not to renew a lease on short notice, and worship spaces configured for many Protestant denominations are not exactly ideal for Catholic worship (look at the extent of the renovations — four years of construction! — undertaken to reconfigure the former Crystal Cathedral into a Roman Catholic cathedral church if you want to get a sense of this).

        Of course, rental also offers the advantage of lack of a long-term commitment, making it easy to move to progressively larger facilities as a congregation grows.


  3. godfrey1099 says:

    Well, rather than deliberating about best theoretical options and potential maintenance costs I much prefer directly supporting such campaigns without splitting hairs. And with online banking available today this can be easily done even from outside the UK.
    A couple of years ago Benedictine nuns in the Town of Jaroslaw (Poland), who returned to a devastated convent after 200 years and badly needed EUR 150,000 for repairs, launched an on-line campaign asking people for just EUR 10 (or a multiple thereof), under the slogan “Make one small step”. They kept publishing a list of donors (sometimes anonymous) and updated a “progress bar” on a daily basis. The campaign quickly became viral among Catholics in Poland and the nuns not only raised the initial amount, but since then have followed that with four subsequent campaigns (now, they are raising funds for starting a Catholic kindergarten). (Unfortunately the website is in Polish only, but you can see how professional it is).
    I truly hope that the Torbay Ordinariate Mission will be successful in their campaign.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s