by Joanna Bogle
A wet rainy night in a crowded corner of London close to the Thames. We three women are walking along quietly saying the Rosary. It’s a Thursday: the Luminous Mysteries. We pause, praying, in a small attractive park, where a little pond and a bridge, some flower-beds, and a lawn make a pleasant break from streets and shops and offices and houses. We pause again outside local schools. We finish with a prayer outside a neglected local graveyard, and then we make our way to the nearby Catholic church, close by the railway.
Who are we? We are women from the South London Ordinariate group. And, along with the rest of the group, we are thrilled and excited by the great reality for which we have been praying these many weeks and months past: a Catholic parish church has now been given into Ordinariate care.
The Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham was established by Pope Benedict XVI in 2011. The idea forged by the ecumenical discussions of recent decades, and in response to specific requests from Anglican clergy and laity was to offer to members of the Church of England the possibility of full union with the Catholic Church while retaining a strong Anglican heritage in liturgy, traditions, music, customs, and parish life.
A number of Anglican clergy including some bishops responded at once, along with some laity. In due course, groups were received into full communion with the Church, and the former clergy were ordained as Catholic priests. They were making considerable sacrifices: they had to leave the lovely church buildings where they had worshipped for years, and in the case of the clergy they were giving up good salaries and comfortable homes. They faced an uncertain future. But the Ordinariate groups were dedicated and enthusiastic: fully Catholic, worshipping now in local Catholic churches. With their own Ordinary, Monsignor Keith Newton a former Anglican bishop and with a commitment to retaining the best of their Anglican heritage, they prayed and planned.
Today, the Ordinariate is quietly thriving. There are plenty of challenges but the future is beginning to look bright. In January 2013 the Ordinariate was given a central London church the Church of the Assumption in Warwick Street and the South London Ordinariate group was given the care of a South London church, the Church of the Precious Blood, just by London Bridge.
How did I, a cradle Catholic, get involved with all of this? Simple, really: I was just thrilled by the idea of the more than 400-year-old division of English Christianity coming to an end, and I wanted to help. It seemed to me and to many other Catholics that Benedict XVI had a prophetic understanding of the spiritual needs of our country. In 1992, when the Church of England Synod voted for the ordination of women, a door for ecumenical possibilities closed. Now the Holy Father has opened another door, one through which great and good things can be achieved. With our prayers and our support, our love and our enthusiasm, we can all go ahead, one step at a time, in faith.
And I discovered to my pleasure that I was eligible to join the ordinariate my husband was baptized and brought up as an Anglican, and became a Catholic in the 1970s while at university. All former Anglicans, and their families, can join the ordinariate.
I remain active with my own local Catholic parish an excellent one. But I started to go once a week to Evensong with the South London Ordinariate group. And things grew from there. Meeting at Precious Blood Church, and knowing that there was a possibility that the church might be given into the care of the Ordinariate, we started to pray...
Precious Blood Church is a fine and well-proportioned building, dating from the 1890s. It stands in a corner of London that is rich in history, just off Borough High Street, near London Bridge station and Borough Market. The Thames surges along nearby. This is Chaucer’s territory, and there are street names and pub signs that echo with Medieval associations.
And the history is intriguing: for example, just around the back of Precious Blood Church, in Redcross Street, is a strange place, known locally as “the graveyard of the unknown dead,” said to be the place where paupers and prostitutes people with no family and no funds were buried. Today, the wall of this strange scruffy site is covered with crucifixes and ribbons, faded strips of lace and ribbon, odd symbolic things some Christian, some pagan, along with scraps of paper with poems or messages. This is a place that needs prayer.
The railway runs directly alongside Precious Blood Church, and the trains rumble and rattle their way along as Mass is celebrated. The people who originally worshipped here were probably largely Irish: today Catholic London brings together people of all races and backgrounds, and the regular congregation reflects this. The Ordinariate group and the rest of the congregation are united at Sunday Mass. Weekday lunchtime Masses for holy days bring in another whole group of people this is an area of banks and offices, not far from the Shard, London’s newest and tallest skyscraper.
The South London Ordinariate group came originally from St. Agnes Church in Kennington. They have stayed together and prayed together not knowing what the future might bring, but trusting in God and joyful in accepting the invitation of the successor of Saint Peter to be united with the one Catholic Church. Friendships have grown and flourished. The Thursday gathering for Evensong and Mass is a cheery one. After Mass, we often repair to a local pub. There is a women’s group that meets regularly and is running a big project for Catholic and Anglican primary schools, with children doing art and craft work based on the psalms.
There are events such as the big annual national Ordinariate pilgrimage to Walsingham in Norfolk, and pilgrimages to Rome and to the Holy Land. On Remembrance Day November 11 Father Christopher Pearson of Precious Blood Church joined other local clergy at the War Memorial on the High Street, and the Ordinariate group took the lead in the singing.
Precious Blood Church belongs to the Catholic diocese of Southwark, and in recent years the church has been in the care of the Salvatorean order. Their decision to move on (the order has parishes and projects in different parts of Britain) opened up the possibility of the parish being given to the care of the Ordinariate. Southwark’s Archbishop Peter Smith, and Monsignor Keith Newton, of the Ordinariate Our Lady of Walsingham, were able to make a joint announcement and the Salvatoreans are handing over Precious Blood Church, in an atmosphere of goodwill and with thanks for their years of service.
Pray for the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham. There are plenty of challenges ahead: not least among them the simple fact that Britain is mission territory and the need to evangelize is urgent. London needs the Gospel. There is plenty of work to do.?
For more information about the Ordinariates in the UK, US and Canada, and Australia:
Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham (UK)
Ordinariate of the Southern Cross (Australia) ordinariate.org.au/
Joanna Bogle, a Voices contributing editor, is a noted British Catholic journalist who frequently appears on radio and television. Her program “Feasts and Seasons” appears on EWTN (ewtn.com/feastsandseasons). She is a founding member of the Association for Catholic Women in England. Visit her “Auntie Joanna Writes” blog: joannabogle.blogspot.com.
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