St. Alban’s offers a case study for growth

20191117_140316 (1)Peter Jesserer Smith of St. Alban’s Catholic Church, an ordinariate community in Rochester, New York  attended the Anglican Tradition in the Catholic Church conference last November in Toronto. He’s shown in the picture with Matthew Perry from the Connecticut Ordinariate Fellowship.  Peter wrote the following (slightly edited) on Facebook on what his community has done to evangelize and grow.

It’s a pretty amazing prescription!  Any thoughts on how these ideas might work in your community?  Want to share what’s working for you?

When St. Alban’s Catholic Church, the Ordinariate church in Rochester, NY, got its first real chance, we were without a priest for a year, in a terrible location, and boiled down to about 12 people (including kids) after a host of other challenges. We kept the community together with prayer and fellowship, and finally got our priest at part time. We made our case to the bishop and he decided to take the chance. Based on what we could afford, our priest would work 75% for the local diocese and 25% for our Ordinariate community. That was Summer 2017. At the beginning, some Masses we had more people on the altar than the congregation. But we’ve built good relationships with the broader Catholic community, we’re now in a better location, and we’ve all worked hard. On our first Epiphany Sunday in 2018, we might have had 18 people at Mass. Last Sunday we had 72 people at Mass.

I should probably write a case study, but here are salient points:

1, Our mission is to bring every man and woman alive in Jesus Christ through the Catholic faith as experienced in our Ordinariate life (worship, prayer, Biblically-rich traditions, fellowship, etc). That is the most important point.

2, We welcome everyone at church and invite them to fellowship at coffee hour, which is where the disciples of Jesus gather in fellowship after Christ brings us together in Eucharistic fellowship.

3, We think and act like a big parish. If you want to be a fully established parish, then think and act like you’re a fully established parish. That’s the only way you’re going to get there.

4, Growth depends on collaboration between the priest and lay faithful as co-responsible missionary disciples. Everybody has something to offer to build up the Body of Christ made manifest in our Ordinariate parish community. Our priest facilitates action — he does not micromanage — but he makes sure that we do things well and provide a consistent-experience. We have a good open dialogue going, based on mutual respect, so nobody gets burned out but people feel co-responsible for the future of our church.

5, People tithe. Want an Ordinariate parish community? Then give generously to the general fund. [If you’re a pre-Ordinariate fellowship or community applying to become an official community, you’ll need to demonstrate to the bishop that you’ve got financial support so he can make the case to a local diocese, college, etc. that you can do 25% if they do 75%.] And then also volunteer your time and talent. We only have two paid personnel: our part-time priest and our part-time music director/organist.

6, We established strong financial and accounting procedures with transparency. First thing our priest did was establish a finance council. We also made clear that people needed to give to the general fund and couldn’t just give to this or that. You can’t grow a parish if the music is funded, but there’s nothing to give to the priest’s salary. Our finance director laid that down once Fr. Evan came and it was a brilliant decision. People know what it costs to have a church now. As a result, we’ve run a couple very robust parish pledge campaigns and have bought back our priest’s time to 40%. And we’re always trying to professionalize our procedures with best-practices.

7, We established strong digital-communications to complement our personal engagement: we’ve got an active FB page that shows our community in photos and video, our eCatholic website is clean, beautiful, and content is easy to find. ALSO: We use Flocknote: it’s a text-email service for churches that has been absolutely brilliant and aided our growth enormously. I can’t recommend it enough. People love the text-message reminders (usually day before) for an event, or text messages letting them know an event is cancelled (such as due to bad weather), and it is easily customizable to reach different subgroups too.

8, We’ve worked hard on developing consistent branding and simple messaging that helps us reach as many people as possible. And we make adjustments as we go on. We’re Ordinariate Catholics. When people ask “what the Ordinariate is” we say “we’re a Catholic diocese with Anglican traditions established by the pope in 2009.” We basically use whatever works and allows us to easily get to the conversation about following Jesus and having fellowship with him as his disciples. Above all, we make clear that we’re here for point 1: bringing each man, woman, and child fully alive in Jesus Christ as his disciples living in fellowship with their Lord.

9, We advertise on local digital and print forums where we can, and we have a layperson person who oversees that. Get your community out there in the places where people have eyes to see and ears to hear, and then share the wonderful things you have going on. We try to keep our website’s news and events up to date. And we’ve got great people in our congregation that invite people to church and share those news and events.

10, We believe the Gospel has power and we’re called to evangelize like all Catholics. We work cooperatively with the broader local Catholic Church, but we think and act like co-equal laborers in the Lord’s vineyard, and we look for unique opportunities that aren’t being filled elsewhere. We just added Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, which has a huge demand and not enough supply. But we make the case that a rising tide lifts all boats: if St. Alban’s is doing well, then that effort and energy will have a positive encouraging effect on diocesan Catholics and parishes that work together with us. And we’ve seen proof of what we said would happen. Our priest and the pastor of the larger host parish have a solid working relationship, and it’s been a fruitful collaboration for both parish communities. There’s a local parish that overhauled their website and is considering adding electronic giving because they’ve seen our website and talked with us about it.

Those are the thoughts off the top of my head, but the point is we’re just doing it. It is done with a great deal of love for the Lord Jesus and takes a lot of sweat, toil and (from time to time) even tears. And honestly, above all prayer. Prayer keeps you going, esp. when your evangelizing efforts feel like all you’ve got is dry dust in your mouth. There are points at which you think, “Dear God, I’ve done all I can, you’ve got to make this work” … and then He does. And you realize that the Lord is making the point that this is His Work, and not yours and that “thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory.” It’s not a mere human effort, but divine grace is truly at work here. The Ordinariate, with all its sweat and hard work, makes it the most wonderful time to be a Catholic. And you look ahead and see the day when your mission is a fully-fledged independent parish, and is starting new missions in your area, opening churches where many were closed, by bringing more men and women fully alive in Jesus Christ with his Gospel. And it’s all worth it. It is all the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes.

I will write more on the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd in a subsequent post.  It’s a great program for young children that has an amazing effect on the adults who run it as well.

UPDATE!   Pam Smith (no relation to Peter) of St. Alban’s sent along a comment that makes a great addition to this post.   She writes:

We eight or ten souls who first gathered in a home as ‘St. Alban’s’ from earliest 2012, through our reception in Oct. 2012 at the old church we used, all thought then that we had a real chance!  We were on a life-raft from the Episcopal and other Protestant denominations which seemed to have left us each stranded, and were heading for the mother ship of the Catholic Church all eager to accept then-Pope Benedict XVI’s gracious offer.  More than four and a half years of fellowship, catechesis then study, and faithful attendance at worship, none of which should be overlooked as a phase of community formation, preceded the calling of our current beloved priest in mid-2017.  When this priest arrived he had this little band to work with, and we had already grown a bit in the four years, though there had been slight attrition and some visitors who did not stay. New babies also had arrived. We have one diocesan layman in particular who mentored us from the 2012 beginnings and has been supportive by frequently video-ing our Masses and giving much other encouragement. The core membership kept on keeping on, coffee hours and all, and in addition to our first two priests who carefully taught and trained us in their time with us, we had a bevy of excellent church musicians, each giving us a grounding in liturgical music and keeping this very important part of the Anglican patrimony vivid among us.  Perhaps that gave us latent parish potential that was discernible to Peter and others who began to arrive by 2015.”

That’s the whole piece.  And Peter confirms that was the ‘latent parish potential’ he was attracted to when he visited in 2013 and returned to live in the area in 2015, so it seems a coherent evaluation.

Reading his summary of what has happened since mid-2017, I just felt it appropriate to look at how we had reached a ‘critical mass’ which Fr. Evan could work with, given that we were already going four and a half years before the past two and a half years which Peter wrote about got underway.  From the point of view of a case study, the earlier history should matter.


Keeping the Catholic in the Anglican

We have had a preoccupation in the Anglicanorum Coetibus Society with keeping the Anglican in the Catholic, i.e. promoting our Anglican tradition and common identity within the Catholic Church.

Thanks to Lisa Nicholas and a post of hers on Facebook,  I have come across this website Akenside Press: Renewing Catholic Reality in Anglican Parishes.  Its mission seems to be to keep the Catholic in the Anglican.  Perhaps we share some common goals but on different sides of the Tiber.

The site was founded by Fr. Matthew Dallman.

He is a student of the theology of Martin Thornton and the English School of Catholic spirituality (Anglican patrimony, properly understood), and he is an Anglican Parish Priest serving in the Episcopal Diocese of Springfield for the Parish of Tazewell County. He was ordained to the Deaconate on the Feast of Saint Barnabas 2016, and to the Priesthood on the Feast of Saint Lucy, 2016.

Father Dallman is also an Oblate of Saint Benedict, having made his Final Act of Oblation on September 16, 2017, to the Saint Benet Biscop Chapter of Saint John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota.

Here is an interesting and relevant article entitled On Anglican Patrimony and the English School of Catholic Spiritualitythat I urge you to read in full.  Here are some excerpts:

What is Anglican patrimony? In terms of its significance for spirituality and prayer, it is the name used latterly to refer to that infectious ferment of Christian activity and culture alive through various phases in the British and English lands, as well as its ecclesial heirs. It did not begin in 1833 with the Assize Sermon, nor in 1660 with the Restoration, nor in 1549 with the Book of Common Prayer, nor in 1534 with the Act of Supremacy, nor in 1213 with Papal feudalism, nor in 664 with the Synod of Whitby.

All these moments initiated major episodes in the life and ascetical practice of the faithful Remnant within this tradition or “school” of the Church—the English School—influences upon it being varied: anchoritic, Benedictine/Cistercian, Franciscan, Dominican, Caroline, Ignatian, Wesleyan, to name several of the primary ones. Yet Anglican patrimony actively ferments in any age through growing relationship in Christ, despite its often turbulent and chaotic relationship to social history.

Anglican patrimony as the English School issues in a comprehensive way of being Christian—through liturgy and hymnody, as well as less tangibly but more fundamentally through patterns of parochial, pastoral, and ascetical theology—and indeed at its best constitutes a school that is a full member of the glorious family of Catholic schools of spirituality.

The post then goes on to discuss the writings of a Fr. Martin Thornton, in his 1960 work English Spirituality: An Outline of Ascetical Theology According to the English Pastoral Tradition

Lots of rich quotes from Thornton’s work, which looks well worth reading.  But this struck me from Fr. Dallman’s article:

This amounts to a truly Catholic ferment within the Anglican spiritual tradition. Characteristic of the English School is (1) superb synthesis between Affective and Speculative strains of Catholic spirituality, (2) a spirit of optimism and theological humanism, and (3) a constant an thorough-going insistence upon the unity of the Church—religious and secular, priest and layman, bishop and people: all are knit together in the One Body of Christ. Thus English/Anglican pastoral reflections are “warm, ‘homely’, domestic” that prizes the “uniqueness of each individual soul growing happily within the corporate order of the Church.”

That is what it means, for Thornton, to refer to Anglican patrimony as possessing, historically as well as presently, the English school of Catholic spirituality within it. Whether we should do so remains an open question. Presumably people intellectually or temperamentally against aspects of the Catholic Faith within Anglicanism would not be eager to do so. On the other hand, plenty of good Christian people of whatever stripe might not be persuaded by an English theologian they have never heard of before (Thornton, by and large, remains unknown to the majority of Anglicans). The postliberal movement might want to correct or fine-tune. And of course Thornton might be just completely off-base in this entire analysis.

But at this point in a very weakened Anglican state of being, we are begging for renewal. If Anglican renewal is understood to be a parish- and family-rooted phenomenon (I think that is the only truly sustainable location for renewal, although all dimensions of Anglicanism ought play a role), then the envisioning of true Anglican patrimony as a school of Catholic spirituality directly presents a renewal agenda: in parish formation programs, get to know our tradition! Understand how the Book of Common Prayer came to be, and how it functions as the anchor of a total system of spirituality, or “Regula.”

What of these elements are key to the renewal, deeper conversion and evangelization in the ordinariates for Catholics of Anglican patrimony?  How important is it for us to dig even deeper into the pre-Reformation roots?

Lots of interesting material here, including entire chapters of Thornton’s work on the website.


A Catholic critique of Alpha

Should ordinariate communities for Catholics of Anglican tradition consider running Alpha, are there any concerns to keep in mind?

In previous posts, I have outlined my experience of Alpha, both in a Baptist church and at our  traditional Anglican parish in Ottawa, Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary before it became Catholic.  With each of those posts, I have included some videos on Alpha for Catholics that have people like Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, the preacher to the papal household under both Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis, extolling its virtues.

BqUyStKIYAEE8JONicky Gumbel, the vicar of Holy Trinity Brompton, a charismatic Anglican parish in London, who made the videos in the 1990s that launched Alpha as a worldwide phenomenon, has met with Pope Francis, perhaps several times.

So, before offering a Catholic critique, it is important to note the Alpha course has the approval of the Catholic Church at the highest levels.  Let’s take a look at some concerns. Furthermore, is it compatible with the ethos of the ordinariates?  Continue reading

Alpha in a traditional Anglican setting

In a previous post, I wrote about my experience of Alpha in a seeker-friendly Baptist Church back in the 1990s.  Sometime after I joined Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in or around 2000, then a parish of the Traditional Anglican Communion, I participated in two, possibly three Alpha Courses the parish ran.

Being maybe a 10th the size of my previous Baptist Church, Annunciation’s Alpha was much more modest.  Each time, we only had enough participants for one small group.  Instead of a team preparing meals ahead of time,  we  had potluck suppers where parishioners took turns supplying the main dish and others brought salad, or rolls.  We ate around one table in the parish hall, then watched the video(s) on our TV set.   These days, Alpha talks can be downloaded or streamed.  Back then, we used VHS tapes.   Alpha has also adapted various versions to appeal to young people, for shorter coffee break type Alphas in work settings, all of which is new since I did the program.

We did the prescribed facilitator training, registered with Alpha Canada that we were holding a course and off we went.   Then Fr. Carl Reid (now Msgr. Carl Reid and Ordinary of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of the Southern Cross) was the leader.

At one of these Alphas, we had a former television producer from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation who had been a recent colleague of mine.  We had both left the CBC in 2000.  We had a young man who had never been baptized, but had been doing a lot of reading and searching on his own.   A Jewish man Fr. Carl invited joined us because he ran the breakfast restaurant where Fr. Carl and his wife regularly ate after Mass.  The discussion was awesome.  I think Fr. Carl did a bit more teaching than the training sessions called for, but the result was that the young man eventually was baptized at our parish and joined us for Sunday worship with his family.

Alpha is a brand, and in order to call it Alpha, one needs to follow the program, but depending on the cast of characters, Alpha can still be quite different each time it is run.

For a small parish like we were, Alpha offers some big challenges.  It’s 11 weeks, including a weekend, so it requires a pretty hefty time commitment. Those who sign on are expected to show up, unless there are serious reasons for absence.  For a community where many people drive great distances, having the people on hand to ensure the food and hospitality, including clean up, can also be difficult.

Often, the first Alpha a parish will run will include mostly its own people.  It’s only after running several Alphas, as Fr. James Mallon, author of Divine Renovation: From Maintenance of Mission has written, that the courses begin to attract people who have never been to church.  Consequently,  running only one Alpha is not likely to do more than give parishioners a refresher course on some Christian basics on sharing the kerygma.  The course will also teach some leadership skills that may be useful later.  The course also provides a good way to fellowship, though our ordinariate parishes are pretty good at providing fellowship in other ways.

However, as several people have pointed out on Facebook, Alpha may not be consistent with the ethos of Catholics of Anglican tradition, nor may it be the best use of a parish’s limited resources.  In a subsequent post, I will look at some potential concerns about Alpha.




The potential benefits of Alpha

While I will be exploring some of the risks of Alpha and critiques from a Catholic perspective in a subsequent post or posts, first I would like to discuss my experience with it and what I perceive as some of its benefits.  Subsequently, I will try to link the discussion back to the personal ordinariates for Catholics of Anglican tradition and how Alpha may or may not work for us.

Back in the 1990s, when I was a member of a seeker-friendly Baptist Church that played a marvelous role in deepening my Christian faith, I participated in several Alpha courses.

Continue reading

Hodie in Historia Ecclesia Anglicana

Passing of Baring-Gould, Sabine and Edward Caswall

Image result for Edward Caswall

Edward Caswall. born Yateley, Hampshire, 15 July 1814; d. Birmingham, 2 January 1878. The son of a clergyman, he was educated at Chigwell, Essex and King Edward’s Grammar School, Marlborough, Wiltshire. He entered Brasenose College, Oxford (BA 1836, MA 1838) and took Holy Orders (deacon, 1838, priest, 1839). He became Perpetual Curate of Stratford-sub-Castle, near Salisbury, where his uncle, Thomas Burgess, was bishop. He married in 1841, and in 1845 he and his wife went on a tour of the continent, where they were very impressed by the Roman Catholic faith. In 1846 he resigned his living, and in January 1847 he and his wife were received into the Roman Catholic church.

“Edward Caswall.” The Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology. Canterbury Press, accessed January 2, 2020,


Death of Sabine Baring-Gould at Exeter, England. An Anglican clergyman, he will be remembered as the author of two popular hymns: “Onward Christian Soldiers” and “Now the Day Is Over.”

Image result for Sabine Baring-Gould

Baring-Gould, Sabine, M.A., eldest son of Mr. Edward Baring-Gould, of Lew Trenchard, Devon, b. at Exeter, Jan. 28, 1834, and educated at Clare College, Cambridge, B.A. 1857, M.A. 1860. Taking Holy Orders in 1864, he held the curacy of Horbury, near Wakefield, until 1807, when he was preferred to the incumbency of Dalton, Yorks. In 1871 he became rector of East Mersea, Essex, and in 1881 rector of Lew Trenchard, Devon. His works are numerous, the most important of which are, Lives of the Saints, 15 vols., 1872-77; Curious Myths of the Middle Ages, 2 series, 1866-68; The Origin and Development of Religious Belief, 2 vols., 1869-1870; and various volumes of sermons. His hymns, original and translated, appeared in the Church Times; Hymns Ancient & Modern, 1868 and 1875; The People’s Hymnal, 1867, and other collections, the most popular being “Onward, Christian soldiers,” “Daily, daily sing the praises,” the translation “Through the night of doubt and sorrow,” and the exquisite Easter hymn, “On the Resurrection Morning.”

His latest effort in hymnology is the publication of original Church Songs, 1884, of which two series have been already issued. In the Sacristy for Nov. 1871, he also contributed nine carols to an article on “The Noels and Carols of French Flanders.” These have been partially transferred to Chope’s and Staniforth’s Carol Books, and also to his Church Songs.

–John Julian, Dictionary of Hymnology (1907)

Alpha as a tool for evangelization

I doubt Pope Benedict XVI had Alpha  in mind as Anglican patrimony when he published Anglicanorum coetibus, but the 11-week introductory course in the basics of Christianity began in 1977 at Holy Trinity Brompton, a London parish of the Church of England.

If you were to wander into Holy Trinity Brompton,  you would more likely find contemporary worship music and the church packed with worshippers hands raised in the air than the traditional collects of the Book of Common Prayer.  That said, is Alpha something Ordinariate parishes are using or could investigate using?

I know of one parish of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, St. Thomas More in Scranton, PA, that uses Alpha to help catechize adults, to give inquirers into the Catholic faith a basic introduction into the Christian faith.

Since Nicky Gumbel of Holy Trinity Brompton recorded the video series to accompany a meal and time of fellowship characterizing Alpha, the course has exploded.  Millions have taken part in countries around the world, and is presently being used as a tool for evangelization in Catholic churches.   

According to the website, more than 4,500 Catholic parishes and organization around the world ran Alpha in 2018, involving more than 265,000 participants. Continue reading