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:
After 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.