Saturday, 26 June 2010

Will church buildings be shipped over the Tiber?

An Englishman's home is his castle, it has been said, and it strikes me that a lot of the adherence that an Englishman has to his parish church is because it is to do with home. Perhaps it partly defines one: the place where our family have sometimes worshipped, but at least been baptized, married, and funeralled, sometimes for generations. It is a highly important symbol of the stability of life, a still spot in a changing world. Plenty of people in villages who never darken the doors of the church would nevertheless be distressed at its closure.

For many contemplating participation in an Ordinariate, their church is a make-or-break element. One might say with justice that such people do not see the issues clearly enough, that if they really believed in the Catholic faith, they would know what they needed to do.

But abandoning the religious solace that they have found in St Disibod's by the Gasometer for a Great Unknown is a big ask.

Now, could an aspiring Ordinariate priest bring his church building with him, then most things would stay more or less the same, and in some cases almost all churchgoers would probably go along with it.

However, this relies on good will from the Church of England. They must either gift the building, or permit its use by an Ordinariate congregation, free of charge, or for a rent.

Why they might say yes:
Owning a church building without its people paying to support it is in no way desirable, especially if it is a listed building. This would become a heavy burden on the Church Commissioners who would strive to have it made redundant, no doubt, or converted for other use.
This leaves them looking like the bad guys. The former congregation are camping out in some other building, while the church they have loved for years is locked against them for no apparent good reason. This could sow the seeds for years of bad feeling in the neighbourhood.

Why they will probably say no.
Being permitted to 'take their church with them' will result in accusations from the Womens Ordination lobby of 'rewarding misogyny'. They feel themselves to be on higher moral ground, so they will not hesitate to say this.
My guess is that the Church Commissioners will gamble on the majority of the parishioners remaining (reluctantly or otherwise) in the Church of England for the sake of their parish church, and 'everything staying as it has always been at St Disibod's'. There will be bitter recriminations (with a bit of a bad conscience) about the priest 'abandoning us', and after a very long interregnum, an affirming Catholic male priest will get the incumbency (the PCC will be so relieved after a long period to get somebody, and especially a man) who will be able to soften things up in the parish. He will naturally be followed by Father Susan.
For the Church of England, a satisfactory solution all round.

It does not, however, look at the underlying good of souls. I have seen on Bishop Barnes' blog, and on Fr Hunwicke's lamentations on the steady disappearance of good Anglo Catholic parishes. This means that those parishioners who feel unable to cope with Fr Susan, or even Fr Rainbow her Aff-Cath predecessor, will have nowhere to go where they can feel comfortable.
There is no Sunday Obligation in the Church of England, just a general encouragement to attend Mass. Bit by bit, people affected by this change will simply cease to practise their religion. Some may adapt to the new state of affairs, some even like it once they've got used to it. But many will simply be lost.

There is a lot more one might say, and no doubt some of you may like to comment. I just hope that the Church of England takes the pragmatic and charitable view; in towns where there is a superfluity of churches, to permit a church building to continue to accommodate those who have loved and paid for it, sometimes over generations, is not just a work of charity, but, I suggest, of justice.


Sir Watkin said...

There is a Sunday Obligation in the Church of England, but most people are unaware of it!

Canon B 6.1:

The Lord’s Day, commonly called Sunday, is ever to be celebrated as a weekly memorial of our Lord’s Resurrection and kept according to God’s holy will and pleasure, particularly by attendance at divine service, by deeds of charity, and by abstention from all unnecessary labour and business.

jangojingo said...

Perhaps the Church of England will choose the common good rather than individual self interest.

Dominic Mary said...

Given the current state of affairs in the Churh of England, I suspect that although 'village churches' (where there's only one local church) will probably be held on to, in places where there are several churches the Church Commissioners - who ultimately make the decision, as they have to make the books balance - will be prepared to allow at least some of them to go, even if only on a long repairing lease . . . otherwise, as you say, they are left holding, not so much the baby, as a large and expensive building (which very probably cannot be converted to any other use, or sold commercially) which they have to maintain whilst having no income arising from it.
Pragmatism may, on this issue, win the day.

Giles Pinnock said...

The CofE could undoubtedly do with losing some expensive-to-maintain real estate; and in some places (eg, Leicester) has done so.

With a bit of imagination, the CofE might be persuaded to let the Ordinariate acquire some buildings presently occupied by congregations that may be joining the Ordinariate and leaving those buildings otherwise cold and empty, and a financial and administrative burden.

The question might actually be whether the CofE would release to the Ordinariate the funds and endowments presently associated with those buildings and generally held on deposit with the CofE's Central Board of Finance, when it might be more inclined to retain and redistribute those funds across the remaining CofE plant.

Furthermore, the Catholic Church is also disposing of real estate - and its cut-off for numerical viability would desptach a great many Anglican parishes of all hues of churchmanship, potentially Ordinariate and otherwise.

We all know the old joke about the old lady who declares that if the CofE sold her parish church for use as a Mosque, she'd still go there because it is 'her church'.

From which, is there not a real concern that if Ordinariate congregations take their plant with them and most things seem to most people very much the same, they will not have 'become' Catholics; only come under Catholic management rather than Anglican managenment?

Would it not be better, as part of conversion that those congregations and their clergy put aside the buildings in whcih they worshipped as Anglicans and brought new life to Catholic buildings that might otherwise have been demised and demolished, and leave the CofE to worry about what might become redundant?

Perhaps, a few momths or years down the line, those buildings could then be re-acquired by the Ordinariate in preference to their redevelopment as flats?

Disaffected said...

quote: "An Englishman's home is his castle, it has been said, and it strikes me that a lot of the adherence that an Englishman has to his parish church is because it is to do with home. Perhaps it partly defines one: the place where our family have sometimes worshipped, but at least been baptized, married, and funeralled, sometimes for generations. It is a highly important symbol of the stability of life, a still spot in a changing world."

How true, Father. But this is relevant in another sense. What deeply upset many people and led to wholesale alienation was the fact that a priest came into their church where generations had been baptised, married, and died, and where there truly was a feeling of home and stability, and ruthlessly set about destroying beautiful sanctuaries to replace them with functional worship spaces. The priests that did this had no understanding, nor little interest, of the history and memories they were wiping out. The stability of a parish was destroyed along with altars, altar rails, baptismal fonts, pulpits, reredos, et al. Big six candlesticks disappeared, as did cassocks, cottas, hymn books; you name it and it was removed. The sensibilities of the parishioners were of little interest in the headlong rush to wipe away the past and move forward into a new new revitalised Church. Millions were alienated because their 'home' had been damaged beyond repair, and this by many priests and bishops who were there to raise up the spirits but succeeded only in destroying it.

Pastor in Monte said...

I read your post with both interest and sympathy.
The strange thing is that people might have said just the same thing 150 years ago when churches were changed from preaching boxes back to some semblance of what they had been before the Reformation. It seems that every couple of generations English churches change; no wonder people are disaffected.

Michael Gollop said...

I think your analysis is essentially correct, certainly about the importance of place and of a certain kind of "rootedness," which is often in stark contrast to the lives most of us actually lead today. However, my fear is that people will wake up to the need for continuity and respect for long standing tradition which the Ordinariate (potentially) represents for only when it is far too late to do anything in order to preserve what it is they value. The mystique of the "establishment" and its sheer power to hold on to what it has shouldn't be underestimated - and this ironically at the same time as it is changing the very substance of what is valued most. Unfortunately it is the surface appearance of things which often counts for most. Sorry about the pessimism! I hope I'm wrong.

Anonymous said...

The use of churches in England is governed by law. For different denominations to share a church the Sharing of Churches Act 1960 applies and for a consecrated church it is difficult - although not impossible - for it to become a church of another Church. This is because of the legal effects (in the Church of England) of consecration and the role of the bishop.

I think the best thing would be for churches to become shared - there is nothing stopping an ordinariate parish and an anglican parish sharing a church. Indeed many methodist services and Catholic Masses take place in (Anglican) parish churches and indeed Cathedrals.

EdmundCampion said...

How wonderful it would be if some pre-Reformation churches in particular could be returned to the Faith of our ancestors, for which they were originally built, and how pleased the builders would be, looking down from above.

Alan Harrison said...

Thank you, Father, for your perceptive and charitable remarks.

Yes, we Anglicans are rather attached to Saint Disibod's by the Gasworks, as in the dedication festival hymn which says, "These stones that have echoed their praises are holy, and dear is the ground where their feet have once trod..."

Another aspect of Anglicanism of the 'igh variety which may be unhelpful to the ordinariate is that it has become obvious that some churches had passed the motions declining the ministry of women priests "to keep Father happy". When Father goes, especially if there is some resentment over his having swum the Tiber, the motions may go too. I can immediately think of examples from the dioceses of Oxford, Gloucester and Lichfield where a priest's departure has been followed immediately by rescission of the motions. In one case in Lichfield, the stage of male "Aff Caff" vicar has been omitted, and the parish which under the last priest had all three motions in place has just appointed a woman as his successor.

There is an element of truth in theologically liberal gloating - see Thinking Anglicans passim - that the Holy Father has called our bluff. It is becoming increasingly clear that the Anglo-Catholic vision of bringing the whole of the C of E to perceive itself as Catholic - and consequent reunion with Rome - was a pipe dream. I am realy unsure what purpose would be served by staying in the C of E.