Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Small Is Beautiful

The Rev. Keith Newton, formerly an Anglican bishop, now a Roman Catholic priest and the first Ordinary of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, held a press conference the other day, transcribed by The Anglo-Catholic here and here. It's worth a read.

One funny bit, both peculiar-funny and ha-ha-funny, occurs when Newton is asked about the particular charism of the Ordinariate. What, in other words, will make it distinct from Latin Catholicism of the Roman Rite?

Obviously, he doesn't have many traditional markers of Anglican identity upon which to fall back. There will be no 39 Articles; there will be no legal establishment, or royal chaplaincies. So one naturally expects an answer which goes immediately to the customary favorite marker, a liturgical tradition extending from Sarum to Cranmer to ... well, best not to think where that sentence ends. And Newton does indeed address the matter of liturgy, somewhat obtusely:
I’m very honest: I am not a liturgist. My colleague Andrew Burnham is a liturgist and he is looking with others around the world at what an Anglican liturgy might be for the Ordinariate. ... But we need something that will be acceptable throughout the world. In England it will be used by some but not certainly by everyone in England — not, at least, for the Eucharistic rite. Some of the priests in the Anglo-Catholic world and who will join the Ordinariate already use the Roman Rite and will continue to do so.
Well. That clears things up, dunnit?

But in fact, what he seems to fall back on as the distinctive characteristic of the Ordinariate is "mission," which is funny enough by itself. By mission, though, he seems to mean pastoral care:
I suppose it will be a very English form of Catholicism. It might have a particular way of getting into the communities that perhaps Catholic priests have not had. ... We have an attitude to the wider community, an attitude to mission that we bring. It's not that the Catholic Church has not wanted to do this, but by nature of its numbers its impossible. It’s very different if you’re ministering to a congregation of 50, 60, 70 or ministering to a congregation like the one where I worshipped recently, where the normal Mass attendance is 1200 on a Sunday.
Umm. Wait a second. Did he just say, translated into American, something like, "Our churches will be special because they will be so small"? And because we're all accustomed to small churches? Talk about making a virtue of necessity!

Teasing aside, however, we have to give Newton credit here. He is in fact onto something. In the highly Romanized environment of New York City, we have often observed that Lutheran churches are able to offer both a liturgical style and a theological proclamation that are comprehensible to former Roman Catholics, supplemented by a dramatically more intimate and individualized form of pastoral care. This is purely a matter of numbers; there are a lot of them, and not nearly as many of us. We expect that a Roman Catholic priest in Scandinavia can give his flock a lot of individual attention, too.

Still, the one thing that comes through in this interview is that things are developing fast, and that nothing is especially clear. At point, asked whether he should be called Father or Bishop or Monsignor or something else entirely, Newton may say more than he means when he answers, "I'm not quite sure what I am." But we imagine that life as an Anglican prepared him for that, too.


Gillian said...

This summer in CPE as a hospice chaplain I noticed the same thing w/ folks from mega-churches, of which we had several in my "territory." At least for folks on the periphery of the mega-congregations, it was clearly not the custom or expectation to receive pastoral care from a clergy person. They were gob-smacked at my doing things which I would consider simply routine for any parish priest--spending a fair amount of time at bedside at times of crisis, returning for prayers at the time of death even though I'd been there earlier in the day, etc. I learned that the Anglican pastoral tradition on which I draw is perhaps more distinctive than I realized. Though I am intrigued by the book "IF you meet George Herbert on the road, kill him," and intend to read it some day soon . . .

Anonymous said...

"Romanized"? I thought NYC was much more Neapolitan and Sicilian and Calabrian.
Or are you just indulging your stupid pre-raphaellite affectation of being "evangelical catholic/crossing yourself/using "holy" water/ incense/church as dress up?

Father Anonymous said...

I think we've been over this, Nix. I'll grant you "Pre-Raphaelite affectation," but "stupid" is a matter of opinion.

In any case, you really are going to waste my time, and I imagine yours, if you object every time I employ the blog's house style. So this is your last refresher course: the church which defines itself according to communion with the Bishop of Rome is called Roman; but, since there are real Romans out there who have nothing to do with the church, Papist or Romish are old-fashioned words, largely out of use today but still used for effect by those of us who treasure quaint traditions. The church which defines itself according to the Gospel is called Lutheran, or in most of Europe, Evangelical. Since the Anglo-American usage is a bit muddled, it is sometimes helpful to distinguish ourselves from the basically-Calvinist Revivalism which borrows the term for its own purposes. Given that they pretty much chuck out the traditions we treasure, we sometimes modify Evangelical with Catholic. Pretentious? Sure. Which is why it's not on my freaking business card. But also useful.