For the first time, a priest of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham has been appointed administrator of a diocesan parish outside of the territory of the Bishops’ Conferences of England and Wales, and Scotland.
At the request of the Bishop of Amiens, France, Monseigneur Olivier Leborgne, Ordinary Mgr Keith Newton has formally agreed to allow Father Scott Anderson to take over the administration of the parish of Notre-Dame des Étangs, Pont Remy, in the valley of the Somme in the French North-Western region of Picardy. Father Scott, who is known in France as “Père Pierre” on account of his first Christian name Peter, has owned a house in Picardy for several years and since his Catholic ordination has helped out in the parish there on an occasional basis.
In the following television interview (unfortunately in French!), Bishop Leborgne describes the situation he discovered in the diocese when he was appointed bishop in February 2014 (600,000 inhabitants – of whom the majority are at least nominally Catholic – with a religious practice of 1 to 2%, 37 priests under the age of 75, more than 25,000 university students in Amiens but with a chaplaincy of about 20 students, “a poor church but full of riches”). A Korean priest is interviewed who has been made “curé” of a parish with two priests for 24 villages with 69 churches or chapels!
Father Scott’s parish is admittedly not quite as large, but also has nine villages with eleven houses of God, of which some are national monuments. As the bishop explains in the video, the Church has lost much of its missionary verve and tends to wait for people to approach the Church rather than going out to them. So Father Scott has his work cut out to revive the spirit of evangelisation, bringing with him his experience in the London C of E parishes of Willesden and Lewisham and his Anglican patrimony in general..
The provision of regular and beautiful liturgical celebrations in the parish church and as many of the other villages as possible is one of his priorities. Father Scott says: : “In the years following Vatican II the Church in France embarked on a process of rapid change and refreshment. I myself remember the simplicity and beauty of the Grande Messe at Notre Dame in Paris in the early ‘70’s. But outside the Church, as across western Europe in general, the forces of secularisation were making terrible inroads into the Christian and Catholic culture of France. Forty years later there is an acute shortage of priests and many people have to travel long distances for Sunday Mass. There are real signs of new growth, and they are often among two groups – charismatic Catholics and traditionalist Catholics, i.e. those who have a strong sense of identity and a real desire to evangelise. Like many former Anglo-Catholics I have been formed and influenced by both strands. I look forward enormously to my year as administrator in this French parish. Please pray for the people, and for me: there is already such hope and enthusiasm even with our very small resources. Pray for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and ask Our Lady, Patroness of the whole parish, to pray for us. And on a very practical note, if you have any unused but still serviceable vestments, do let me know. We could use them.”
Father Scott has been the spiritual director of our Ordinariate Support Group for Expats in Europe since before his ordination, and I have played my own small part in this new adventure of his, regularly reviewing his draft homilies from a language point of view (which is now becoming easier for me as he becomes more proficient in French), reading at Mass when I have visited him and generally assisting with advice and moral support, so I feel that this is in some way my own project too,
Let us pray for Father Scott and his community of Pont Remy and for this first experiment in bringing the treasures of our Anglican patrimony to the international Catholic Church at large.