by Fr. Andrew Bartus
Beginning last month, in October 2012, the Universal Church entered the Year of Faith. This calling comes to those of us in the Ordinariates in a unique way. We have a special role to play in the New Evangelization, and this role is one I want to bring to your consideration while also sharing the story of the Blessed John Henry Newman mission of the Ordinariate in Orange County, California: the role is that of growing in holiness and compelling people to come in.
Now that those of us composing the first wave of the Ordinariate have arrived, and the climate of ceaseless battle for our heritage has ended, a very different sort of work of building for the future has begun. This is, in the best sense possible, a good feeling. But the sort of work one does on the defense is not quite the same one does on the offense. This Year of Faith and its emphasis on reviving the New Evangelism comes at a good time for us in the Ordinariate.
Mission of Blessed John’s
The highlights of the history of Blessed John’s are online: from the time I began seeking any interest among Anglicans in Orange County for the Ordinariate, until last month when we celebrated Newman’s patronal feast with choral evensong alongside a local Episcopal congregation that hosted us in our formation. Without the Internet the Ordinariates would not exist, nor would Bl. John’s. We have a unique history, no doubt, and not one that can be repeated anywhere else. So if you are looking for a “how to” formula for success in congregational growth, you may be sorely disappointed. After this next round of confirmations in Advent, of which there will be seven people, we will have a total of forty-seven members of Bl. John’s. This includes my family, myself, and the children of others. Our average Sunday attendance is thirty. We are a small group right now, but we are growing. Having existed for only four months, this is not a bad start.
We should not, of course, get caught up in the numbers game, though it is an important part of the evaluation of success, if we are honest. But the American obsession with numbers being the sure and certain sign of success is wrong. One only needs to think of some of the mega churches here in America and their many errors to realize this. I continue to tell my congregation and myself that if we focus on trying to become holy ourselves – to continue our conversions within the Church as we started it outside her before – that the numbers will take care of themselves. God doesn’t judge the success of a ministry based on numbers; this is not just a bromide that tiny congregations repeat to make themselves feel better, but the absolute truth!
To this end, our goal of evangelization is a part of the greater goal: to get to heaven. Getting to heaven, of course, means complete union with God and thus, becoming like Him in holiness of life. So if we are truly striving to become holy, we will give our all – our very best of our ourselves, our time, our resources, our talents, our services – to each other, embracing the vision of the Holy Father for the Ordinariates.
History of Bl. John’s
In May of 2010, I was contacted by a couple of people in Orange County – Latin Rite Catholics – who said they had some Anglican and Episcopalian friends who were interested in the Ordinariate and wanted me to come down from Los Angeles to speak to them. They were also interested in forming a prayer group for the success of the Ordinariates in converting people. I agreed happily, and asked them to put me in touch via email with those people; these in turn began telling their friends and putting me in touch with them. The months went by, and in early 2011, I eventually became acquainted with Fr. David Baumann, the rector of Blessed Sacrament Episcopal Church, who told me that he had long been involved with the Ecumenical Officer of the Diocese of Orange, Fr. Al Baca, in praying for some kind of corporate unity between Anglicans and Catholics. The email contacts grew and, after I realized there was quite a sizeable group interested in the Ordinariate in Orange County, I worked with Fr. Baumann and Fr. Baca to host an informational meeting at Blessed Sacrament Episcopal on the Ordinariate.
I made a decision to announce to people that evening that if there was a decent number of committed people present, who did not just wish to form a “friends of the Ordinariate” social group, but rather an actual mission parish for the Ordinariate, that I would be willing to drive down to Orange County and help them. That first meeting occurred on April 3, 2011. I set out two forms for people to sign: an “interested” form, for those people who were interested and wished to keep up with news and occasionally join us for worship, and a “founding members” form, for those who wished to commit themselves totally to forming a mission parish as soon as possible. I think I vocalized what many were internally thinking: Anglicans and Episcopalians were really good at forming groups and constituencies to talk, but the lack of real action in the past was very depressing. So actually bonding together with the action of taking our corporate identity and heritage and – ultimately, us – as the Anglican patrimony into full communion with the See of Peter was very attractive. Seventeen people signed the “Founding members” form and another fifteen people signed the “interested” form, which gave me the signal to move ahead.
Our founding service, as the Anglican Use Society of Orange County, occurred at Blessed Sacrament Episcopal Church on May 11, 2011, where we had Choral Evensong, Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, and a Marian Procession for May Devotions, with prayers of intercession to Our Lady under her titles of Walsingham and Atonement, as well as to Blessed John Henry Newman. After that time until immediately before our reception into the Church nearly a year later on July 3, 2012, we meet nearly every Sunday evening at 6:00pm for Evensong, a “Bun fight,” California style – usually with a nice Central Coast Red and an hour of catechism using the Evangelium curriculum. I would lead Evangelium in the mornings in Los Angeles after Mass, and then drive to Orange County and re-teach it that evening. Sundays were incredibly long and tiring, but also incredibly rewarding.
Our Future and What Worked
We are about to embark on an outreach plan at Bl. John’s to see what happens. What I plan to do, starting in January, is to combine service to the community with sharing the faith that leads us to want to do what we do. So what I hope to do is this:
- Ask a Catholic: Some members and myself will go to public centers on certain Saturdays and set up a small booth to answer questions about the Catholic faith and pass out information about Bl. John’s, the Ordinariate, and the Church in general with the theme of, “we converted for these compelling reasons and we invite you to consider these reasons too.”
- Theology on Tap: An event on certain Thursday nights where Catholics speak on some theological topic or read from the Scriptures or the Fathers of the Church or some other writer at the Olde Ship in Santa Ana. Ye Olde Ship is an English pub, so it’s very appropriate! Those who attend this will also not only be invited to Masses and other parish events, but also our community service outreaches.
- Service Outreaches: A member of our parish will help lead some kind of community service, such as working in soup kitchens, helping St. Vincent de Paul with their homeless clothing drives or feedings, or the Knights of Columbus, etc.
- Wednesday Education: This is a weekly time of fellowship and adult and simultaneous children’s classes. Since most of our people drive a half-hour or more from all over the Orange County area and beyond, and since we are only granted space on Sundays at 3:00 pm for Masses, it is difficult to have adult or children’s Sunday School. So instead, we will begin having a parish meal at 6:00 pm in the parish hall of the church we meet inside and then around 7:15 we’ll have simultaneous adult and children’s classes, in addition to having the next round of Evangelium for Easter confirmations.
Start a local “Ordinariate Informational Meeting” - But what worked at the start, and which I commend to anyone who wishes to explore the possibility of starting a mission for the Ordinariate is – after receiving a blessing from the Ordinary and your local bishop – start advertising on local websites and Ordinariate-friendly websites, Facebook and Twitter, local newspapers, and fliers around town for an “Ordinariate Informational Meeting” preferably held at a local church. Do as I did and at that meeting after presenting a talk and taking questions, present two forms for people: those who wish to form an Ordinariate mission congregation as soon as possible, and those who wish to keep in touch and keep up to date with the develop of this group.
Typical Early Group Composition - If the number is more than ten committed people with a clear potential for growth, then that is all you really need to move ahead. The group will likely be composed of former Anglicans who are currently Catholic, and hopefully some current Anglicans who wish to become so. There will probably be sympathetic Latin Rite Catholics in the group who wish to help. While they should be informed that they are not allowed to be members of the Ordinariate, their help is vital to new missions. This should not be seen as sheep stealing from the local diocese as they rightly see us as fellow Catholics laborers in the Lord’s vineyard; yet at the same time, we are not to seek out Latin Rite Catholics who are simply dissatisfied for whatever reason. They should know this from the start.
Evensong and Catechism - The next step would be to find a place to meet in for something similar to what we did: have Evening Prayer, or Evensong if you have a musician in your midst, a time of fellowship, and catechesis preparing those who need to be received and confirmed. I encouraged my already-Catholic members to attend with those who were not yet, to help us bond as a new family. They were eager to do so as we all came from different parishes, and were happy to deeper in their faith with the others.
With continual advertisement and evangelism, the word of mouth will begin to spread in the area and new people will trickle in over time.
Becoming a Mission Parish - If groups start this way and are viable, and have started with the Ordinary’s knowledge and blessing, they should be able to work with the local Latin Rite bishop to erect this group as a Mission parish of the Ordinariate after locating an Ordinariate priest not attached to a group. Currently we have several priests not attached to Ordinariate groups and Lord willing, will have many more. But without both clergy and laity actively and aggressively evangelizing and forming new groups the Ordinariate will stagnate early on and will remain small – remember the early Apostles didn’t just tell people about Jesus, but built churches to bring Jesus to them.
Conclusion: Heart of the Matter
The main theme of striving after holiness and all that comes with it – truth, charity, right belief, solid liturgy, sound preaching, a loving community – cannot be emphasized enough. If you have the goal of using our Anglican heritage and Catholic faith to bring yourself and others to heaven and giving God the most possible glory in all that we do in our unique way, primarily liturgically (Cf.-->Sacrosanctum Concilium, 10.), the rest of the details will sort themselves out. We must never lose sight of this fact.
We have enough feel-good congregations and church leaders in all denominations in America. I would rather have smaller numbers in our parishes who were faithful Anglican Use Catholics striving after genuine holiness, than to have larger parishes with lots of money, if that is the choice we must make. It should not be, but in some cases it might be. In our time of increasing hostility to Christ and his Church, Catholics need to step up and stop thinking of the Church as a cultural hotspot. And many leaders need to stop thinking of the Church as merely a corporation to run. Souls are on the line here. When we get imprisoned or worse for staying faithful to the gospel, they won’t be torturing us for running a successful non-profit organization!
While we in the Ordinariate are fresh, we must be bold and preach truth charitably, but boldly. Teach plainly and to the concerns of our age. Priests must celebrate the mysteries of the Church with solemnity. Laity especially must actively evangelize in our communities. And above all pray constantly and fervently. These actions will make us holy. This will make us grow. And perhaps one aspect of that growth might be numerically. If a formula for growth is what you came here for, then boldly promoting holiness is as close to one as I can give.
People weren’t willing to go to the lions for a Mass they felt like they had to “get out of the way” before Sunday shopping in the marketplace and chariot races at four. This type of cultural Christianity has reduced vocations and created the second largest denomination in the United States: Ex-Catholics.
My hope is that all parishes and missions of the Ordinariate will grow and begin to plant satellite groups partitioned off in years to come, avoiding mega-church status. (Some of our number may soon have that potential, such as Walsingham in Houston.) And if we actively pursue holiness we will have a good increase of Ordinariate vocations to staff those satellite parishes.
Our goal is to reach non-Catholics of every variety, and an Anglican Use that is radically holy will be very effective. I think this is what the Holy Father was ultimately inspired by (Cf. Pope Benedict XVI's Address to the England and Wales Conference of Bishops at Oscott College, September 2010), and he is counting on you and me to help bring this about. We need to invite our former Anglican and non-Catholic brothers and sisters home with us in as generous a way as possible. We cannot view the Ordinariates as a departure from what we were, but rather we must see it as a fulfillment of who we all really are. And we do this in full collaboration with the local dioceses and eparchies in the New Evangelism in this Year of Faith. We cannot afford to be separated from non-Catholics, as they cannot afford to be separated from us. It is a scandal that has just been granted a more corporate solution. But we must start seeking them out rather than waiting for them to stumble into our doorways just as our Lord taught. “And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges, and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled’” (Lk. 14:23).