The Traditional Anglican Church in Britain was never very sizeable in a country where it would almost be said that people would continue to attend the same church building even it were sold to the Muslims and converted into a mosque! It is said in England that Anglicans are attached to the buildings and Roman Catholics are attached to the Mass. Religion is at an extremely low ebb in my native country.
As the Ordinariate took shape, the southern Dean, Fr John Maunder who has the care of that wonderful iconic church of Saint Agatha in Portsmouth, went over to the Ordinariate and is now one of their priests together with Bishop (now Father) Robert Mercer. The former Vicar General, Fr Brian Gill, also went over with his parish. Some other priests have left, one to return to the Church of England and some others who appear to be in some kind of canonical “limbo”. At least there is no sign of them having joined the Ordinariate.
The present state of the TTAC seems to be less discouraging as would otherwise be suspected. I intend to make a trip to England in the New Year, see Canon Ian Gray who is my own canonical superior and see what is going on in Lincoln and elsewhere in the country. There used to be two flagship parishes, Portsmouth and Lincoln. Now, there is only Lincoln, but the church is impressive.
The parishes and missions are listed here. Of these, the “brightest” seem to be St Cuthbert’s in Hereford, Aske Hall chapel in North Yorkshire and Lincoln. I will have to research the others to see if there is more than a priest with a “ministry of availability” like myself here in France. There seem to be about twenty men in the TTAC bearing the title Reverend indicating priestly or diaconal orders.
What hard information can I actually find in the recent Advent 2012 Pastoral Letter from Canon Gray? It seems that the separation process is complete between those who were to join the Ordinariate, who were staying and who dropped out. There seems to be a resolution to “clean up” and rebuild.
There was a diocesan assembly last October, and I as a priest belonging to the TTAC am sad not to have been there, since I was not notified of any such assembly. The website is obviously improved and has been worked on in spite of it being based on a standard template, probably web-based. Images make a big difference to a website. Printed media is fine when you have people physically present at an event, but it is limiting. I would very much like to meet Michael Wilson who runs the website, and perhaps home into what is really needed.
The big news in England is St Katherine’s church in Lincoln, which is a former Methodist building on the site of an old Gilbertine priory, owned by a trust and used as a heritage and culture centre and only part-time as a church, as the arrangement was in Portsmouth. This gave the possibility for an expensive restoration of the building, this restoration now being complete. I agree with Canon Gray that an iconic building is important, a flagship church with all the functions of a diocesan cathedral: a chapter of canons, music, culture and a standard pastoral ministry to the faithful. England is a small country and Lincoln is in the middle, slightly to the east. It’s an easy city to get to. Once there is a symbol of this kind, it will encourage other places of worship to emerge from marginal status and use energy and money to the optimum.
There is a question of Canon Gray being consecrated a bishop. At first, I was sceptical, but again, the bishop is a figurehead and an icon. If the office of bishop is exercised as it should be and with humility, it could do a lot of good for the TTAC. The ideal would be union between the TTAC and the ACC, which has its bishop, but that cannot be done locally. Relations between the TAC and the ACC have become very cordial internationally, and it seems to be a question of patience and continued work on our relationship. I think having a TTAC bishop is justified, and this office would boost morale. I hope I will be notified about the consecration – so that I can be there! Another important thing is having brought the diocesan offices to life with new blood. Reactivity is essential for pastoral outreach and the desired growth.
How are we going to train new priests? One essential thing is knowing what are the intellectual credentials of the clergy we have. I think the profile is higher than some may think, and we need to devise a distance learning programme such as the Americans and Canadians have. There also need to be weekend sessions for practical matters such as preaching, pastoralia and, not least, learning to celebrate Mass properly.
These resolutions represent a new beginning for a war-torn church, and may be enough to attract some of our men back who dropped out through discouragement. Canon Gray specifically assures us that he would
– welcome any who might wish to consider returning to the TTAC.
This would not only extend to “prodigal sons” but also to other individuals and groups. There is already a deacon who was with an independent sacramental community and has joined up. There is a spirit of generosity, which must remain beyond the necessity of breathing new life into a community that has been through such difficulty.
I have received a message from Fr Ian Westby who used to be the northern Dean of the TTAC. He received a nulla osta for the Ordinariate but chose rather to return to the Church of England. He awaits the decision of a special panel in regard to his priestly orders and future vocation. In what he writes to me, I believe him to be sincere and as constructive as possible.
I will not reproduce this message, but there are two important aspects to what looks like a very bleak situation. As of a year ago, there were less than ten faithful at St Katharine’s in Lincoln, and nearly all the other priests have very few laity. The picture would indicate less than fifty lay people in the whole country claiming membership of the TTAC.
He advises against the consecration of a bishop until there is a greater degree of stability and “critical mass”. I would say it might work one way or another: a bishop might provide a figurehead or what would be viewed as just another “vagante setup”. I do think extreme caution in this matter would be the right thing – perhaps wait for full union between the TAC and the Anglican Catholic Church (Original Province) under Archbishop Haverland at an American / international level, and then go ahead with a merger in England.
I hope the situation is retrievable, and Canon Gray obviously thinks it is possible to rebuild, but it sounds quite depressing as it has been, at least in 2011 and much of 2012.