The Pembury Story so far

On his blog Fr. Ed Tomlinson, pastor of the Tunbridge Wells Ordinariate group and priest administrator of St. Anselm’s Catholic Parish in Pembury, Kent, gives the following résumé of the past four years. This is in essence a further response to Bishop Philip North’s fear of a diminished ministry for the Ordinariate:

Pembury then and nowAfter an inevitably rocky start in 2011 (how could it not have been rocky given that two different congregations of similar size had to be integrated with just 11 days notice?) the arrival of the Ordinariate in Pembury has proved profoundly good news, I believe, for those who stuck with the vision.

First it secured the future of this village church at a time when many small churches face closure. Second it has provided priests in abundance with no less than 5 former Anglican ministers having presented themselves for ordination as Catholic priests in just four years. And finally it has heralded clear signs of growth and renewal within the congregation, especially in regard to young families and children. The average age of worshipper has dropped and 32 littles ones descending for the summer holiday club next week tells its own story.

Throughout the transition, the coming together of one body breathing with two lungs, much work has been done to transform our site within and without. The photograph above is testament to this fact- do click and enlarge it. We have felled over 70 leylandii, planted a new garden, constructed a parish hall and narthex and beautified the worship space. Dual use of a building has given way to permanent space for devotion and for community use. What a productive journey we have been on together – little wonder visitors comment on the vibrancy they detect. We may be a small village church but we are bursting with life. A positive sign being the increasing level of charitable giving year on year.

The arrival of pews yesterday signaled the final phase of the five year plan which, thanks to the graft of many, was completed in four. A chapter ends and God has been good to us. This August we must pause and rest and give thanks for all these blessings witnessed in Pembury. This last year especially has been a happy one with unity felt between those who worship here. As I explained to Fr. Mason, the Episcopal visitor, last Sunday – there is no them and us regarding diocesan and Ordinariate anymore. Merely a range of services to which all are welcome. We are simply a Catholic parish like any other, albeit one in which an English Spiritual tradition is especially valued in accordance with our vocation.

Two conversations last week reminded me of the progress made. The first with a long-standing diocesan member who told me they cannot believe the transformation of worship space and are feeling more alive in their faith than they have for many years. That is music to priestly ears. The other positive conversation was with an Ordinariate member who, having deeply mourned the loss of the building we left behind, stated that they wouldn’t now swap St Anselm’s for all the world! How wonderful that our modest church is now feeling like a true home for worshippers across the spectrum. A new home for everyone as we have been brought together in love.

In September, after a well deserved rest, we must not relax but begin again. A new five year plan begins!!! The aim of which is to pay off debts incurred by the new hall and further beautify worship space. To this end volunteers will give the walls of the church a much needed lick of paint. We then hope to varnish and polish the floor. In the longer term the vision is to build a proper sanctuary with steps, to lift the altar to a more prominent position and construct a gradine, to stain the window and modernise ceiling and lighting.

Finally we hope to make a little baptistery in the area beyond the organ where a permanent font can be situated. All of this will take time, of course, and require funding. Any benefactors out there get in touch!! But there is time for us now that we have secured a permanent space for edifying worship … plenty of time to build our church to the glory of God and to the very best of our ability. Above all we want our building to become a beacon in our community – a place in which Jesus Christ is ever our heart beat and all are made welcome in his name.

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3 Responses to The Pembury Story so far

  1. EPMS says:

    It is clear that with energetic leadership Ordinariate communities can thrive and indeed attract Catholics not eligible to be members but who find elements of its life and work congenial. We could multiply examples of this, and it must be deeply gratifying for those who took the risks involved. Presumably Fr North was not saying that this would never be the case; instead he was talking about some kind of wider social influence available to the C of E as an established church which seems a bit abstract, and of course has no relevance in any event to those within the jurisdiction of the other two Ordinariates–or even those in Scotland. Rather than seeing Pembury etc as some kind of evidence contra North, it would be better to get this message out to the too large number of OOLW communities featured in The Portal who have seemed resigned to the idea that growth is not a possibility for them. The OCSP has no similar organ but it also has its fair share of communities which appear to be resigned to their status as small and static. The OOLSC, by contrast, despite a far less promising environment, seems to be the one with energy at all levels and a co-ordinated strategy for growth and support.

  2. Forgive me for seeing this as further evidence, not that Philip North’s basic premise concerning the advantages of Establishment was incorrect, but that his “heartfelt fear” that the Ordinariate priests would only have a “diminished ministry” was unfounded. So: not evidence contra North but against his unjustified fear.

    However I agree with you 100% that every member and pastor of a small group should believe that it has growth potential and behave accordingly. I remember Fr. Christopher Phillips explaining how he was advised to behave as a fully-fledged parish from Day One offering Mass every day, bible study, catechesis, outreach, etc., etc. A fully-functioning, up-to-date website should be a priority for every group (there will be at least one person in the group who is computer literate), and also regular advertising (posters and flyers are relatively inexpensive), fellowship events (coffee after Mass, barbecues, outings), quiet days, pilgrimages, etc., etc. Even the smallest group can (and should) do all of these things. Dare I say that not doing this might well represent a voluntary diminishing of potential ministry?

    David Murphy

    • Rev22:17 says:

      David,

      You wrote: However I agree with you 100% that every member and pastor of a small group should believe that it has growth potential and behave accordingly…. Dare I say that not doing this might well represent a voluntary diminishing of potential ministry?

      It’s even worse than that. A pastor who fail to do this is sealing his own community’s fate with a kiss of death.

      You wrote: I remember Fr. Christopher Phillips explaining how he was advised to behave as a fully-fledged parish from Day One offering Mass every day, bible study, catechesis, outreach, etc., etc.

      Yes. People who might be interested in joining a community, or who might become interested in joining a community through a particular event, activity, or service cannot come to something that does not exist.

      You wrote: A fully-functioning, up-to-date website should be a priority for every group (there will be at least one person in the group who is computer literate), and also regular advertising (posters and flyers are relatively inexpensive), fellowship events (coffee after Mass, barbecues, outings), quiet days, pilgrimages, etc., etc. Even the smallest group can (and should) do all of these things.

      Okay, here is where reality sets in.

      >> Yes, an informative web site that’s kept current is an absolute imperative today. However, there’s more to designing a serviceable web site than simply “computer literate.” I think that each ordinariate should put together a template for a community web site and make it available to each of its member congregations so that a member who is “computer literate” can simply fill in the blanks with the appropriate information. The template should provide places for the standard schedule of weekly services, upcoming special services and events (holy days, festivals that are important to the community, etc.), the community’s staff and ministries (with contact information), directions to the congregation’s facilities, a history of the congregation, current news, etc.

      >> The other practical reality here is that some communities — especially those that are small — might not have any members that are “computer literate.” For such communities, the ordinariate should be able to set up a simpler web site with basic information and, at the very least, some easy way to insert and remove information about special events, deviations from the normal weekly schedule, and current news.

      >> You are right about posters and flyers being relatively inexpensive, but they require a team of volunteers to get them posted on community bulletin boards or distributed to homes in an orderly way.

      >> Fellowship events are often much easier to pull off in smaller communities than in larger communities, simply because the scale is much smaller. These events are very important not only in drawing new members, but in building bonds of community. An effort to include everyone is important — and this applies both to the planning and during the actual event, when members of the congregation must be attentive to engaging those who are new rather than devolving into cliques.

      >> Events such as pilgrimages, community retreats, and quiet days are also much easier to coordinate for smaller groups than for larger groups, partly because their requirements for facilities are much less extensive and partly because there are a lot fewer schedules to coordinate. In larger groups, it’s imperative to announce such events well in advance so members can block out the necessary time in their schedules and schedule other events around them.

      But, indeed, all groups need to do all of these!

      Norm.

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