Within the context of a conference at Pusey House, Oxford, on Anglican Patrimony and Anglicanorum Coetibus, on 24th April 2010, Fr. Philip North, now C of E Bishop of Burnley, famously suggested that he had decided not to take up Pope Benedict’s offer of November 2009, which he had described as “unprecedented” and “an extraordinary event”.
After dismissing or at least relativising a married clergy, a distinct liturgy, our cultural heritage as decisive elements of Anglican patrimony, he went on to say:
“… in the context of the Church of England we need to look elsewhere. Instead we need to consider pastoral and evangelistic practice as it has been lived out through the history of Anglicanism. We have to look to the shape and substance of our ministry and in particular to the way it has been put into practice in the context of the Parish.”
He then explained the historical background of the ecclesiastical and statutory responsibility of C of E priests “for the salvation of every man, woman and child who lives within the boundaries of the parish” and maintained: “Still today, in a secularised, post-modern culture, the Church of England feels very deeply that same sense of responsibility for the spiritual life of the nation.”
There followed an elucidation of the symbolic power of the church building, which “in its history and beauty evangelises”. The implication throughout is that other denominations lack the same sense of responsibility and the physical resources.
He also placed significant stress on the importance, especially for the Church of England, “the faith default position of 70% of the population”, of the occasional offices of baptism, marriage and funerals as an opportunity to evangelise.
Further aspects of pastoral ministry which he described were the role of the C of E in schools and the care for the poor and vulnerable, concluding that “this all demonstrates that the heart of our patrimony as Anglicans in the Church of England is pastoral practice. It is pastoral responsibility for communities rather than gathered congregations.”
His principal question was then: “Is that patrimony importable? Does the Ordinariate, as constituted by Anglicanorum coetibus, constitute a structure which would enable us to retain that element of our patrimony whilst at the same time being in full communion with the See of Rome?”, and he admitted that he was then entering the “realm of speculation”.
To cut a long story short, his answer was at least an implied “no”, leading him to decide against full communion with the See of Rome through tbe Ordinariate. He even went on to suggest that entering the Catholic Church by the traditional diocesan route, is “surely the best way” to achieve the goal of “calling a nation back to Christ”. (As it turned out, he took neither route, despite having, at the beginning of his talk, spoken of his “desire to be fully a part of the Catholic church” and described himself as a “die-hard Anglo-papalist”.)
The first reason for his negative answer was the lack of sufficient finances for the priest, who needs a house, a stipend and a pension, costing £64,000 a year, so that he can “spend six days a week ministering to people without having to wonder about where the next meal is coming from”. Further reasons were the loss of the Church, the school, the occasional offices, the legal standing, the “cure of souls”, and he concluded:
“My heartfelt fear is that the Ordinariate can offer priests only a diminished ministry, for the majority of us a part-time or voluntary ministry, and for all of us a ministry that lacks the opportunities, the depth and the riches of what we know at present. And for laypeople, I’m not sure what it offers at all.”
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We are now five years further down the line, the UK Ordinariate has been in existence for well over four years. What is the verdict today? Would our Ordinariate priests really state that they are living a “diminished ministry” without the “opportunities, depth and riches” of their C of E ministry? And what about us lay faithful? Are we also not sure what the Ordinariate has offered us?
I would truly be interested to read the comments of our priests and people. Please give us your point of view.
The quotations are from the text of Philip North’s talk as printed in “Anglicans and Catholics in Communion”, The Messenger of the Catholic League, No 292, 2010. You can still find an audio recording of this talk (and the other conference presentations) plus the Q and A session on the old Anglo-Catholic blog.
(P.S. Please do not read this post without the appended comments!)