A Commentary on the Apostolic Constitution for a Personal Ordinariate,
and a Report on trips to Sweden and England, 13-28 October

“And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write:  These things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth; I know thy works:  behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it…” (Rev. 3: 7-8).

When, on October 21, Fr. Rolf Pettersson and I visited the School of Theology in Gothenberg, Sweden, we attended a service of Noon Day Prayer.  The Scripture reading was Rev. 3: 7-13, with a homily from the Rev. Dr. Bengt Birgersson.  How amazing this Scripture was, coming as it did the day after the announcement from Rome of the Apostolic Constitution for a Personal Ordinariate.

The “Personal Ordinariate” is, in the words of the Archbishops of Canterbury and Westminster, “a response by Pope Benedict XVI to a number of requests over the past few years to the Holy See from groups of Anglicans who wish to enter into full visible communion with the Roman Catholic Church…Pope Benedict XVI has approved…a canonical structure…which will allow…Anglicans to enter full communion with the Catholic Church while preserving elements of distinctive Anglican spiritual patrimony.”

The Personal Ordinariate was the subject of the Forward in Faith Assembly in London, which was held three days after the announcement came.  Mr. George Hillard III of Christ Church, Southern Pines, NC, was the layman in attendance to represent the DHC.  We all spoke of the new Vatican initiative as generous, courageous, creative and unprecedented.  There will be some who move directly into it, especially in the Traditional Anglican Communion, led by Archbishop John Hepworth.  All of us will begin a serious study of the initiative, especially as details are forthcoming.  Many in Forward in Faith/UK will continue to work within the Church of England for the best possible provision for our constituency from the General Synod, and to keep as much of ARCIC (the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission) on the rails as possible.  We are engaged in the last battle with the General Synod for the soul of Anglicanism in Great Britain.  To this end, Evangelicals and Catholics are increasingly working together in the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (FCA) and with the Global South primates.

What emerged in the Forward in Faith/UK Assembly was a projection for two compatible and linked paths forward:  those who respond directly to the Vatican initiative, and those who remain committed to existing projects, such as honorable provision for our constituency in the Church of England, and the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA).  Bishops Iker, Ilgenfritz and I spoke of our existing commitment to the ACNA.  There will be more than one track, and more than one speed.  FiF/UK, FiF/NA, ACNA and the GAFCON primates need to be ships in the same convoy, and the convoy moves at the pace of the slowest ship.

The Vatican initiative is an enormous shifting of tectonic plates, such that nothing in the Church will ever be the same.  Even as the announcement was made, we learned that Moscow and Rome are on a fast track with new talks.  One of our lines of inquiry will be to see how the Orthodox respond to the Personal Ordinariate.  Is it helpful to them?  Do they regard it as helpful to us? 

Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali gave one of the Keynote Addresses for the Forward in Faith Assembly.  Regarding the new initiative he was warm, supportive and critical:  (i)  warm, because of the generosity of the Holy Father’s offer.  The bishops of the Church of England have not heard our concerns, but the Pope has.  (ii) supportive, because of the new ecumenical vista opened up around the world, and (iii) critical, because of the need to examine whether our patrimony will be adequately continued and protected.  For example, although married clergy are provided for, bishops must be celibate.  Where then will our bishops come from?  How can our communities in the ordinariates be shepherded by men who are not bishops?  Is the basis for our common faith to be the consensus of the first millennium?  It is essential to bring the whole of our Anglican experience into any new relationship with Rome.  Bishop John Hind encouraged a “full harvesting of the fruits of ARCIC,” and a “hermeneutic of reform and renewal in continuity” to replace the “hermeneutic of discontinuity.”

In his final address, Bishop John Broadhurst called the Vatican initiative an ecclesial answer to an ecclesial question.  “How can we be in communion with the Holy See and continue as Anglicans?”  We are part of a staggering development, but we have issues to deal with, not least in our own ranks, in strengthening our ties with the FCA and other evangelicals, and in coming to grips with what our patrimony is.  Let us express our gratitude, examine the initiative thoroughly and keep everything together.

One interesting observation was that as we go forward in our response, we will find that Rome is not a static entity.  Rome is already being reshaped in some profound ways in its expanding contacts with the Orthodox, who, for example, do not necessarily regard celibacy for bishops as an article of faith.   Rome may embrace yet more elements of communion theology and conciliar governance, or allow others to do so. 

“Behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it.”  The Holy Spirit is doing a mighty work in our time to gather Christian communities in Christ.  The Mission Province in Sweden is expanding, especially in Finland, and will consecrate two new bishops next year.  I had fruitful conversations with Bishop Göran Beijer, and concelebrated with him at St. Stephen’s Koinonia in Stockholm.  There were also opportunities to visit Fr. Folke Olofsson, the Benedictines at Östanbäck Kloster in Sala, the Sisters of the Holy Spirit in Alsike and the Franciscan sisters near Gothenberg.  In England, Fr. Geoffrey Neal put me in closer touch with Fr. Francis Gardom, the Parish of St. Peter’s, Bushey Heath, and the Anglican Association, a think-tank for researching our Anglican patrimony.  Our contacts with the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod, can be expanded, through Dr. Samuel Nafzger in St. Louis, and others.

The Vatican announcement can be seen at  As details are made available, let us be engaged in patient discernment in studying this  offer, but not be distracted by it, as we set about the vital work of setting our own house in order.  “Behold, I come quickly:  hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown.  Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out:  and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God:  and I will write upon him my new name.  He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.”  +PCH


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