Today is the thirtieth anniversary of my ordination as an Anglican priest in Eastbourne in the Diocese of Chichester.
I served as an Anglican priest for ten very happy years, first as a curate at St Peter’s, Bexhill on Sea, then for two years as chaplain to Kings College Choir School in Cambridge and then for six years as Vicar of Brading and Yaverland on the Isle of Wight.
We were received into full communion with the Catholic Church in 1995 and then, by God’s providence I served as a layman in the church for ten years. In 2006 I was ordained as a Catholic priest.
When we converted to the Catholic faith people asked, “What about your Anglican Orders? Do you have to deny them?”
No. Despite my broadsides at the Anglican Church from time to time I am still grateful for my eighteen years as an Anglican–eleven as an Anglican priest. I cannot deny the goodness, truth and beauty in the Anglican Church and still feel nostalgic about that time, those lovely people and the wonderful graced experiences I had there.
And what a time I had! To be able to study at Oxford for three years was splendid. Memories of Evensong at New College, Christ Church and Magdalen, the walk to St Margaret’s Binsey, punting on the Cherwell and examinations at Schools. Memories of my nose stuck in lots of books, dozing in the Radcliffe Camera and lectures in Christ Church and Blackfriars. What a happy adventure!
Then, after a year working in a parish in London and living the urban life I went to the seaside town of Bexhill to serve as curate. Again very happy memories of running a vibrant and crazy youth group, countering the coven of witches in the town, living in community with half a dozen other guys and girls, and ending my time with a monastery hopping, hitch-hiking solitary pilgrimage from England to Jerusalem.
On my return I took up the post of chaplain to Kings College Choir School in Cambridge. What an experience to monitor the famous choristers, celebrate Holy Communion in one of the most splendid buildings in Europe, travel with the choir on their tours and attend Evensong every night with the most sublime music imaginable. Then God allowed my dream to come true–to be a country vicar. We had a lovely large old rectory on the Isle of Wight, two beautiful ancient churches and a strong, caring and growing congregation. The country life suited me–long walks on the downs overlooking the sea and a gentle, quiet ministry amongst the villagers. Plenty of time to read and write and hunker down.
That’s when we got married and Ben and Maddy were born, and that’s where the long pilgrimage to the Catholic Church came to its climax. I resigned from my living in the Autumn of 1994. We were received into the church in February 1995 and went on from there.
What do I think of my time as an Anglican priest? Only happy memories. The mind is kind to remember mostly the good and forget the bad.
What to I think of Anglican orders? When people asked what I thought about Pope Leo XIII’s famous denial of the validity of Anglican orders I simply replied, “I was an Anglican priest and that was good and beautiful and true in its way. But I was not a Catholic priest, nor ever pretended to be. Pope Leo’s XIII bull is not making a statement about the moral value of Anglicans, their decency as people or even the validity of their Christian life and witness. It is simply saying that Anglican priests are not Catholic priests. But we knew that already.”
Anglicans? God bless them and keep them. May they serve him faithfully in their church, and may as many of them as possible have the greater joy of coming at last into full communion with Christ’s One, Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.