Catholic Church in England and the United States have parallels
in what is happening
By Tony Staley
The Catholic Church in England and the United States is dealing
with simular situations, we learned on a two-week visit.
The clergy shortage we're experiencing in the U.S. also exists
in England. For example, Fr. David Condron, the pastor of St.
Francis of Assisi Parish in Kineton -- eight miles southeast of
Stratford-on-Avon -- is responsible for three parishes.
At the Mass we attended, he pleaded for boys and girls in the
parish to become Mass servers, rather than relying on the deacon.
Previously, the pastor said, he had not allowed girl altar servers
because he did not want to drive the boys away. But he's rethought
that policy -- probably because there were no boys to drive away.
He also noted that most people do not come to Mass every Sunday
because of the press of other obligations.
After Mass, we asked Fr. Condron how other faith traditions were
doing. He said he wasn't sure about the neighboring Anglican
church, but the Methodist church across the street attracted mainly
a few older people -- in contrast to St. Francis, which had people
of all ages, including many young families.
One other item of note: St. Francis Parish charges 10 pence
(about 16¢) for its parish bulletin.
In London, we stayed at St. Edward's House, a retreat house and
headquarters of the Society of St. John the Evangelist -- the
oldest Anglican religious order for men. The order was founded in
1866 at Oxford by Richard Meux Benson and also has a monastery in
Cambridge, Mass. Its members include both priests and brothers who
take life vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.
Sadly, the order is down to only seven members -- most of whom
are retired and living elsewhere. But the superior, Fr. Peter
Huckle, SSJE, who assumed office last March, is hopeful for the
future. He said the order has given his plans the go-ahead.
We met four of the seven members and found the community to be
hospitable, which is a charism specified in their rule.
The order seems very Catholic. That's not surprising given that
it was founded in the birthplace of the Oxford movement -- which
sought to restore Catholic practices to the Anglican church. They
start each day at 7 a.m. with Morning Prayer, followed by Mass, and
close the day at 6:30 with Evening Prayer. Members wear habits and
silence is observed during meals (except Sundays and feast days)
and from 9 p.m. to 9 a.m. As in the pre-Vatican II Catholic Mass,
the priest keeps his index finger and thumb together from the
consecration until cleansing his hands and the vessels after
communion. And, Fr. Huckle told us, at least one of the older
members prays the rosary on car trips.
And in several Catholic and Anglican churches, worshippers used
a moveable pad about 24-by-6-by-4-inches as a kneeler (it also
doubled as a seat cushion).
Despite our differences, we have our similarities.