The Catholic Herald features a piece by Stephen Bullivant entitled How to save the English Church that offers some creative suggestions on how to handle parish closures in light of the dwindling number of practicing Catholics and smaller number of priests.
In it, the Ordinariates for Catholics of Anglican patrimony get considerable attention:
Without denying that church closures are often inevitable, they are not always the only solution to too many churches. Indeed, several dioceses in north-west England are quietly pioneering another model, of which other “church rich, but priest-and-parishioner poor” bishops might well take heed.
The basic model is simple: lift a surplus-to-requirements church out of the normal parish system and give it to a niche group that can do something distinctive with it.
Among examples of niche groups are Eastern Catholics and Traditional Latin Mass communities and of course Ordinariates!
Rather than being simply a one-off fix to bring a wave of former Anglicans into full communion with Rome, it is genuinely sustainable. It is continuing to attract former Anglicans and others (not excluding other Catholics) on its own terms, while at the same time being a community in which children are brought up, who in turn bring up their own children in it.
Christ’s Church has plenty of room in it for such a body, as is again amply proven by the Eastern Catholic churches. Such a thing will not, of course, appeal to everyone (including not all former Anglicans). But then why should it? This vision, of course, fits perfectly with the “Preston Option” I’ve been describing, with the ordinariate offering a niche way of “being Church” that complements, rather than competes with, the default normal parish offering.
I’ve even seen it work – in Texas, of all places. Last year I stood at the back of a packed vigil Mass at Houston’s ordinariate Cathedral of Our Lady of Walsingham. The next day there would be four further Masses, all using the Divine Worship missal and all similarly well attended. Around a third of those present, I was told, were former Episcopalians and their families, a third were cradle Catholics of various types and a third were converts from other Christian denominations, other religions, or no religion at all. It had, admittedly, taken the congregation a long time to get to this point: 30 years, in fact. But in all seriousness, if such a thing is possible in Houston, then one might suppose there’s a fair chance of replicating it a little nearer to Walsingham itself.
Your thoughts? Bullivant says there are 60 priests in the UK Ordinariate, but Msgr. Newton told me there are now closer to 100.