Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Why I would not have joined the Ordinariate

Several times I have been asked why I have not blogged about the Ordinariate, this special arrangement Pope Benedict has made for anglicans now wishing to join the Catholic Church. As a former anglican who was received into the Catholic Church in 1994 and ordained a priest in 97, surely I have something to say about it?

Well, yes. And perhaps too much.

There has been some comment - especially in the more conservative catholic blogs - that the Bishops of England and Wales are less than enthusiastic about the ordinariate. I can't comment on that, though I am pretty sure that those like me who became catholics in the 1990s look upon it with mixed feelings. It is also the case that many ordinary Catholics - those who inform themselves and follow Church news - are also somewhat puzzled. I am also told that many anglicans, especially their bishops, are furious about the whole thing.

Now this, admittedly, is anecdotal, though I challenge anyone to produce solid evidence that the contrary is the case.

So - just in case you don't know what the ordinariate is, and haven't already given up on this post, let me explain.

The Ordinariate is a special, indeed unique arrangement set up by Pope Benedict in the Catholic Church to accommodate groups of Anglicans (Church of England and linked churches around the world) who wish to become part of the Catholic Church, but keep something of their common life. It is not a separate 'church' within the Catholic Church (like the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church or the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church) but more - in organisational terms, at least - like the Bishopric to the Forces, which crosses Diocesan boundaries but which operates alongside the other bishops. The arrangement raises so many issues, but I want to focus on just two.

Firstly, the Ordinariate is a kind of 'fast track' for anglicans wishing to come into the Catholic Church. Bishops who became Catholics at the end of 2010 have already been ordained priest, and we are told that groups of priests and people will be received together into the Church at Easter, just a few weeks after leaving the Church of England, rather than after a year or longer. The former anglican bishops (a photograph from their ordination to the priesthood is above - more are here) have already been given some of the trappings of episcopacy and will retain a leadership role of the group. Not a few raised eyebrows on the Catholic side over this - though not unsurprisingly much delight amongst those making the journey.

Secondly, the Ordinariate has a common identity which preserves some aspects of the Anglican Patrimony which will be maintained in the Catholic Church. The idea here is that while members of the Ordinariate will have fully embraced the teaching of the Catholic Church, there will be some cultural elements, particularly in the Liturgy, the Church's worship, which they will be able to retain, and be encouraged to allow to flourish.

Now there are some interesting aspects to this whole process without a doubt. The 'fast track' itself raises issues about selection and training of clergy, and also concerning the reception of lay people into the Church.

However, my discomfort really focusses upon the whole idea of the Anglican Patrimony which is supposed to be preserved and fostered by the Ordinariate. I readily acknowledge, that many aspects of the scheme would have been very attractive to me, and others like me, in 1992 when our journey into the Church began. I left full time ministry and had to retrain to find paid employment. I did, and don't regret it at all, but at the time what is on offer now would have been much more attractive.

I feel that those of us who entered the Church in the 90s brought much of our education, experience and outlook, and our approach to pastoral ministry into the Catholic Church. But I am really intrigued to know what exactly is intended by the idea of the Anglican patrimony.

There are indeed great cultural and pastoral riches within Anglicanism. In worship there are the literary and musical riches of the Book of Common Prayer, the Kings James Bible, Anglican Chant, Hymnody, Cathedral Choirs, Evensong. There is also a strong pastoral sense, in England at least, that the Church ministers to the whole nation, and that every citizen is anglican by default and that the parish ministers to the whole community, not just parish 'members'. This is evidenced particularly in anglican schools and other institutions which are seen as part of the church's mission to every member of society. The trouble is that anglo-catholicism mostly rejects the cultural and liturgical aspects and cannot deliver the pastoral ones. Anglo-Catholic worship (in England at least), while more consistently elaborate than Roman Catholic forms, and sometimes ostentatiously self-conscious, nevertheless almost always uses Roman Catholic service books. There might soon emerge an awkward situation when Rome will impose one liturgy for the ordinariate, which, respecting the much larger ordinariates in America and Australia, will be based on the thee-thou language of the Book of Common Prayer, thereby requiring English Anglo-Catholics to embrace something they had previously rejected as 'uncatholic'.

Considering my own experience over almost two decades, I am convinced that what happened to me and others was much better than what the ordinariate might provide. When I took my break from active ministry, I did not fall into some kind of limbo, but was immersed into a Catholic parish and joined in its life. I read at mass, became a minister of communion and helped with the Youth Club and Children's Liturgy. I became very aware of the Irish heritage of much of the Catholic Church in England. I became familiar with prayers and acts of devotion which had not been common amongst even the most extreme Anglo-Catholics. I became immersed in a catholic life which was not self-conscious or strident, but natural and living. I became part of a community which laid great store by particular moral values and precepts which were either ignored by anglicans or set aside with ease. I became familiar with some of the traditional Latin prayers and songs which Catholics still know and sing. And - always having loved Walsingham - I came to realise that that wonderful place is just an outpost of a much bigger world. I went to Lourdes and experienced the internationality of the Church of which I was now a member.

My worry - and I hope to be proved wrong - is that the existence of the Ordinariate will make it more difficult for these new catholics to inculturate themselves into the Church. They will be bringing with them few cultural or liturgical riches, but they may carry with them, by the very nature of the Ordinariate, the defensive and introspective approach to their spiritual life which enabled them to survive during their anglican days, and a suspicion of Roman Catholicism which presumably prevented them from taking this step earlier. While I do not anticipate any antipathy towards Ordinariate priests or groups, it may prove difficult for other catholics to understand them or warm to them and in the worst cases they could find themselves isolated from the rest of the Church.

Don't get me wrong. I am not against the Ordinariate. I don't oppose it and wouldn't consider campaigning against it. In other parts of the world, where these small and geographically isolated anglo-catholic communities have existed I can see its logic.

But here? Well, for those who feel they are jumping into the unknown it may well provide great comfort to do so holding someone else's hand - but once on the other side, there are very many more hands to embrace.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Why I tweet ...

StaffsLive (@StaffsLive), a local news website run from Staffordshire University, asked me for some comments on how I feel about being the most followed priest on Twitter in the UK. It set me thinking, so I wrote a whole blogpost about it! More than 140 characters here. When and if they publish anything from this, I'll add a link.

I discovered last year that I - @frpeter - am by far the most followed priest (that is to say, Catholic priest) on twitter in the UK and Ireland. The most followed priest in the world is probably the dutch priest, Fr Roderick Vonhogen, who runs an international catholic New Media organisation called SQPN. He has about 5,000 followers on twitter - I have only around 1,500.

It is a little bit surprising to me that there are very few catholic priests in the UK and Ireland who use twitter. There are a number of excellent bloggers, some of who use twitter to promote their blog, but very few are otherwise active on twitter. In the Church of England there are far more clerical tweeters (they call themselves 'the Twurch of England'), including several bishops. I don't know of any English Catholic bishop who tweets. I know of just one Catholic deacon (@noggerules - a colleague of mine!) though there may be a few more. Even so, it seems that there are just two Anglican bishops and one Anglican priest who have more followers than I.

I think to understand this - and understand why I have so many followers - we need to understand what twitter is. It is not quite the same as some of the other "social media" out there.

Blogs are great for outlining opinions, reflecting on the news or life in general. For many people it feels good to write a blog - it 'gets it off your chest'. In some ways it is like keeping a diary (though rather publicly). In other ways it is like writing a letter to the newspaper. Often it is the blogs with the strongest opinions which gather the most readers. It is fun to read someone venting their spleen even if we don't entirely agree with them.

Facebook (and similar services, like MySpace and Orkut) on the other hand, has a different function. It is more about conversation than opinion. It is also used for announcements, to promote people and events - but most use it to share news about themselves and others - to chat in a way which can be very public (watch out!) and can include lots of people. Facebook contacts are called "friends" (though often they aren't) and it is possible to restrict the circle of people who can read your "posts" (as they are called) so that it has an intimacy which blogs generally don't have.

I know very many Catholic priests who are on Facebook, and they use it to keep in touch with close friends and sometimes parishioners. Some find it a helpful way to keep in contact with young adults in the parish or diocese. Big events, such as World Youth Day and the Papal Visit, have made extensive use of Facebook. The ease with which photos and video can be shared helps with this. I also know (fewer) priests who write blogs. They use this as an opportunity to express opinions about the state of the Church and society. A remarkable number of these go ahead priests are (ironically) very keen on antiquarian worship. Blogs give a very good opportunity to express outraged opinions about whatever it is one is outraged about.

Now, twitter is rather different from both the blog and facebook. It has two striking characteristics which make it so. First, a tweet can be 140 characters and no longer (it is based on text messages which have only 160 characters). Secondly, every tweet is broadcast to the world - they are all public. There are no "friends" on twitter, only "followers", those who choose to read your (public) tweets. If you use twitter, you can choose to read the "public timeline", every tweet from around the world as they are posted (tweeted). It is a confusing experience! Alternatively, you can find your way through the noise by selecting interesting people to follow, and even organise these people into "lists". It is also possible to search for tweets being published in a particular locality. Another way of finding your way through twitter is to search for certain words or abbreviations, and in particular "trending topics" to see what people are talking about now. This last point has brought twitter into the news as people have tweeted during international incidents and protests, disasters, and even during tv events such as X-factor (can they find nothing better to do?) The shortness of the messages makes this an exciting and instant medium.

For me, another great attraction of twitter, although it creates a lot of "noise", is it can can also help to cut through that noise. There are hundreds of news site and blogs out there, but if I can follow someone who I know finds interesting articles or gives useful reflections, I can get to the good stuff quicker. If I want news about particular places or events, then I can find what everyone is saying. You really do not need to post any messages to make excellent use of twitter - it can just be your way of finding out what is new and exciting and now. It is a way of making your own choices about what you want to find and read on the internet.

So - this is my reason for using twitter. It is my gateway to the internet, and not just the the internet, but also to the world. It was on twitter that I first read of the death of Michael Jackson, and of local DJ Sam Plank. It is through twitter I keep up with local news. Church news and opinion comes to me through twitter. I also keep abreast of tech news through twitter. It is my main source of information and it presents me with things I know I'll be interested in.

I can't say exactly why I have so many followers on twitter. They just follow. Many follow me, I guess, because other people have recommended me to them. So I guess it must be because of what I tweet. Many of my tweets are 'retweets' - sending on to my followers stuff I have found interesting. My tweets cover the areas I'm involved in - local news and issues, Church news and issues, some stuff about tech and especially Apple, and occasionally amusing incidents from family life. I guess it is the mix which people like. It is not all religion and theology, though I post links to sermons and things I've read I found especially challenging or insightful. I'll post things about Hanley where I live. If I see something beautiful - like a sunset - or amusing - like a newspaper headline - i'll post that too. Its all a bit haphazard. Sometimes I might post ten times in a day, sometimes I could go for a couple of weeks and post nothing. Twitter is quick and easy - it doesn't take up the time writing a blog does, and it can make you think. And make you laugh.

Yes, I love it!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Llandudno,Wales,United Kingdom