Dr Winch’s Gregorian Club

I am dwelling somewhat on Dr Raymond Winch (1921-2000), because I think I have some understanding of his thought underneath the enthusiastic rhetoric of his desire to get western rites accepted by existing Eastern Orthodox Churches. This understanding was brought home to me by several nights of discussion with him, until I was so exhausted I had to repair to some grubby bed in a spare room. My need for sleep was one of my great regrets as the daylight began to appear through the windows. I remember the shelves of books and the lectern from which he said daily Office from the Monastic Breviary. He was truly a hermit, a medievalist Romantic, and almost a Starets in his own way.

From the first time I met him during Holy Week (western) 1988 until his death in 2000, I counted him among my personal friends. I usually dropped in to see him when I was travelling between the south of England and my parents’ home up north. I also enjoyed days in Oxford and especially in the churches, college chapels and the bookshops. Ray’s conviction in Orthodoxy was already fading in the 1990’s, and he did not encourage me to seek out any “solution” with Orthodoxy. It was frustrating to me that the idea would remain academic. Since then, there have been successful initiatives in the Antiochian Church in the USA, and the Russian Church outside Russia has something, of which there are some small congregations in England – quite comparable to ours in the Anglican Catholic Church. I abandoned any serious idea about Western Orthodoxy from about 1999. I try to be courteous with those who believe they have found the “true church”, but to me it is little more than hyperbole and ideology. I was sad for Ray towards the end of his life when he was attending Roman Catholic masses, but the “punch” had gone from him. He requested a secular funeral, at which I was not present, living as I was at the time in western France.

What seems most salient in his approach was that he was an academic and believed that learning as well as piety was an essential part of Christian culture. He was not interested in “evangelising”, founding a parish, getting ordained in this or that Church. He prayed, read and passed on his wisdom through discussion and dialogue, through friendship and concern for men younger than himself. There was never anything improper or lewd about Ray, at least in my experience.

He often referred to the work and experience of Joseph Overbeck in the late nineteenth century and, in the twentieth, by Alexis van Mendesbrugghe and Eugraphe Kovalevsky. He contended that the Roman Canon had no need of a descending Epiclesis, and that the Supplices te rogamus was perfectly sufficient for this purpose and theological meaning. The Roman Canon had no need of any reordering and that it was perfectly acceptable to Orthodox liturgical and sacramental theology.

He became Orthodox long before women’s ordinations in the Church of England, but in any case, he had been a Roman Catholic like Overbeck. The prospect of Anglicans wanting to become Orthodox was passed up as an opportunity. Ray attended the Byzantine Liturgy for many years, but with an increasing awareness that he was not in his own liturgical culture. He knew that post-Tridentine Roman Catholicism had little to do with the medieval Church even though the 1570 Pian missal was almost identical to the old use of the Roman Curia. He was often seen in the Oxford Union and Bodleian libraries until his death, researching mainly English church antiquities and ordinary parish life in the 14th and 15th centuries. He was no longer quickened by what he had found in Orthodoxy.

I have cheekily suggested that he was one of the last of the Oxford Movement, like Pusey and Keble, but the latter two were clerks in holy orders of the Church of England. In itself, it is a serious anachronism, but might be considered by analogy. It has confirmed me in my own educational approach, not having a regular pastoral ministry here in France as a priest. Far away from those wonderful libraries, where a new member swears an oath never to kindle therein any fire or flame, I have the advantage of the Internet and have access to an immense quantity of published texts and websites. My work as a translator leaves me with leisure time to read and study, and I believe my life is finding a certain regularity and order so that I can begin again to work as I did at University. This is a true ministry, and I largely owe it to Ray Winch.

There is little about Ray or the erstwhile Gregorian Club on the Internet other than what I have put up myself. However, we read in a recently published book, Orthodox Identities in Western Europe: Migration, Settlement and Innovation, edited by Ms Maria Hämmerli, Dr Jean-François Mayer, Farnham 2014, pp 281-282.

While this overview covers most of the developments pertaining to the Western rite in (canonical) Orthodox Churches in Western Europe, it should also take into account efforts by various individual Orthodox faithful, although they have not resulted in the creation of parishes. One example was Raymond Winch (1921-2000), who converted to the Orthodox Church from Roman Catholicism, but kept a strong interest for the Western liturgical heritage. ‘His interest in the idea of a Western Orthodox rite originated in his previous dissatisfaction with the reform of the Roman Catholic liturgy following the Second Vatican Council. He founded in Oxford a Gregorian Club ‘for the restoration of Orthodoxy’s Western heritage’, for missionary reasons, but not only, according to the Statement of Principles: ‘Hitherto the great heritage of Latin Christendom has in some measure been preserved by those who are not Orthodox. Now it is being rapidly abandoned. We believe our heritage to be of great intrinsic worth. If it is not to be lost altogether, we Western Orthodox must make it our own once again. We wish to worship and live according to our own traditions – those of our saints’. The Gregorian Club did not envision separate Western Orthodox dioceses, but hoped for the unity of the Church, with one bishop in each place, over communities of different rites. The Gregorian Club did not last, but it had a few issues of a bulletin as well as some booklets printed, including what its founder envisioned as the ‘Canonical Mass of the English Orthodox’. [Footnote: ‘Rev. Anthony Chadwick, a priest of the Anglican Catholic church, has made this out-of-print text available online (Winch 2007).] A supporter of the Club published a study suggesting that the ‘historical point of departure [for a restoration of a Western Orthodox rite] must be the period before the schism, about 800-1000 – obvious, one would have said, yet none of the previous Western Orthodox restorers has taken this line’ (Coombs 1987: 60).

Ray, in 1989, organised some talks in Pusey House, and this leaflet found itself taped to windows of bookshops and libraries. Fr Martin Reinecke, a German priest, was at Fribourg at the same time as I was, also studying with Dr Jakob Baumgartner. I introduced him to Ray, and the idea came up about these talks. I prepared mine from my licentiate mémoire, which in abridged and revised form found its way into The Clark Companion to Liturgy edited by Dom Alcuin Reid (London 2016), pp 107-131. I was intrigued to be called Dom, but I was already a cleric in minor orders.

It was all a long time ago, but there were about 20-30 present at each talk, mostly people from the University, but a few friends from London too. The emphasis on Western Orthodoxy was practically gone, and it was now a question of working on our liturgical heritage regardless of which institutional Church we belonged to. This became a lasting principle for me, which formed the basis of this blog and my Sarum group on Facebook. Courtesy, absence of polemics, serenity for study and the use of our rational faculties. Briefly, it is the spirit of the university, of that fanciful community of canons that survived the Reformation, the Counter-Reformation and Vatican II!

His musings about this community were sometimes not very clear. I remember little about it, but he did imagine a college of canons as something like the Counter-Reformation Oratory and the university college – but for clerics. The foundational charter was so strong that it stood amidst the vicissitudes of the centuries. It rang close to a dream I had of finding a European diocese that hadn’t changed, perhaps in the French Massif Central or southern Italy. I found parishes like Le Chamblac (Fr Montgomery-Wright) and Bouloire, priests in Opus Sacerdotale, but nothing I could join in view to ordination and ministry. Anything that was “traditionalist” was reconstructed in the movement of Archbishop Lefebvre or a few conservative diocesan ordinaries like Cardinal Siri in Genoa. Msgr Wach’s Institute of Christ the King, with some Oratorian aspects but heavily baroque trappings came close, as did the Canons Regular of the Mother of God who have a magnificent monastery in Lagrasse, southern France. They too are reconstructions, though much less “military” than the SSPX.

I explored Western Orthodoxy from about 1988 until the following year. There were lovely ideas, but nothing accessible to me. To join a Church in the USA, I would have had to go to one of their parishes. Self-financing and with no guarantee, and with no basis for getting a Green Card. Yeah, I have heard that one before. It’s better to eat cake here in Europe, but I can’t blame a priest for imposing conditions. We do in the ACC.

I certainly wouldn’t attempt to run a club. I don’t have the “people skills”, any more than Ray did. A great idea fizzled out, because he wasn’t the right man for it. Someone else would have had other ideas… At the basis of all this is the reality of academic study and education as a form of Christian ministry, promoting our culture and basis of spiritual life and stability. The Gregorian Club was a pre-internet forum, and its purpose can be amply served by blogs and discussion groups. There is no need for anyone to be a member of anything – simply to learn, study and discuss.

There is something of Ray’s legacy in my work, and I’m proud of it. May he rest in peace and attend that Liturgy of which our own is but a dim shadow!

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3 Responses to Dr Winch’s Gregorian Club

  1. J.D. says:

    I’m loving this Ray Winch stuff! What an interesting and eccentric character.

    • There’s more to come when I get time to transcribe his letters. His handwriting is small and at times difficult to read, and hardly any of the paper would be spared. He had a word processor in the 1980’s, but a very primitive one, and only used it for his booklets. He wrote all his letters by hand the old way. Be patient…

  2. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Ray was certainly active in the Oxford Lewis Society (also on the Committee, as far as I recall), and I think attended meetings of our short-lived George Grant Society, and he and I went to a couple Chesterton Society lectures in London, together – I’m not sure what, if any, other Societies (etc.) he was active in – I think he would probably attend an open lecture that interested him, without necessarily being more formally involved (e.g., at the Society of St. Alban and St. Sergius). I think the Gregorian Club had a certain corresponding membership, but no regular meetings that I recall. I vividly remember and thoroughly enjoyed that lecture series, and can imagine similar ad hoc events would have been equally successful, if the opportunities to organize them had arisen.

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