The following report was sent by Canon Richard Harris, an Anglican (TAC) priest in Canada, describing his experience at the recent "Becoming One" gathering in San Antonio. Perhaps his enthusiasm is contagious, and we'll hear of other such gatherings being organized in other places…?
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Our Lady of the Atonement Parish
San Antonio, Texas
November 16-18, 2010
I have to begin by saying that if someone had told me what I was to encounter at Our Lady of the Atonement it could not have prepared me for what I actually experienced. Yes, it is the most robust parish of the US Pastoral Provision parishes, but. . .! This parish that began in 1983 with eighteen parishioners, one priest and no building is now a thriving institution with four Masses on a Sunday, daily Masses, an incredible campus, and a top-rated day school of 550 students in pre-K to grade 12. The school (Atonement Academy) deserves a write-up of its own.
This conference was billed as an opportunity for those in the US who are interested to learn more about what Pope Benedict’s Apostolic Constitution has to offer to those in the various Anglican bodies there. Everyone was welcomed, whether in the Traditional Anglican Communion, another of the Continuing Anglican bodies, The Episcopal Church, or the US Pastoral Provision Parishes. When Bishop Botterill and I (Canon Richard Harris) decided to attend we knew that, as Canadians, we’d be the odd ducks there. But we were welcomed with open arms even though we were not the specific target of the conference.
There were three basic aspects of the conference: worship, presentations by some of the Pastoral Provision clergy and Fr. Scott Hurd, the official representative of Cardinal Wuerl, who is in turn the CDF’s designated liaison in the US, and fellowship. On “the way forward” we heard how the C.D.F., with input from those raised in the Anglican tradition, are putting the final touches on the “crash courses” that will be offered to the Anglican laity and clergy who wish to join the Ordinariates when they are established. As announced by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales the English Ordinariate will be established in a few short months and we will benefit from their experience as they break new ground. The formation programme for laity will involve study at the parish level of some aspects of the Catechism of the Catholic Church that Anglicans may not have been exposed to, and the “intensive” study programme being prepared for the clergy will ensure that they are ready for ordination as Catholic priests in a matter of weeks rather than years. Follow up reading programmes for the Ordinariate clergy will complete their academic formation.
Worship at Our Lady of the Atonement was in every way as Anglican as you could ask for. While the building that houses OLA is of recent vintage, it is what any Anglo-Catholic parish would hope for. There are pictures and all sorts of information on their web site. The liturgy was in every respect appropriate and executed in a way that caught one up into the presence of the heavenly kingdom. The schedule included everything: Low Mass, the Offices, a Mass for those of us who are yet to be one with the wider Catholic Church, a High Mass in Latin, with music provided by the very large, award-winning school choir. All was done in decency and order. The High Mass is a daily event for the Academy, but because of the large contingent from the conference not all of the students who are ordinarily present could attend. A special service was laid on for the others in one of the chapels in the extensive buildings. The students took our presence in stride, with almost unbelievable order, silence and reverence. We were very much their guests, in their space, for their service!
The presentations were enthusiastic and encouraging. They came from priests who were former Episcopalians who had made the transition to the Pastoral Provision. The exceptions were Bishop Moyer of our TAC and of course Fr. Hurd, who also began his ministry as an Episcopal Church priest. It was Fr. Hurd who provided most of the information we needed to hear, most importantly a time line for the implementation of the Ordinariates. He was able also to clarify some of the confusion as to who is in charge and what the responsibilities of the various players actually are. Without going into endless detail, suffice it to say that those who spoke left me with the sense that things are indeed happening and that the end product will be very much what we have hoped for. Bishop Botterill was even given the opportunity to address the gathered throng at our last dinner together. One comment from our host, Fr.Christopher Phillips, was very encouraging to me. He reported that for the students and anybody else who has been worshipping at OLA for any length of time, our beloved Prayer of Humble Access is considered simply a part of the Catholic Mass. “We pray that prayer. Doesn’t everyone?” That prayer aside, not everything in the Pastoral Provision rite was as felicitously worded as our Book of Common Prayer, but there was little if anything to find serious fault with. For anyone who has worried that Anglicans may lose their “identity” as part of the much larger Catholic Church, spending time with Fr. Phillips, who has now spent thirty years as one of a small handful of Anglican priests who joined the Anglican Use of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States, that worry quickly disappears. He and his parish are much more “Anglican” in their charism and identity than any of the Forward in Faith parishes in the Church of England.
Fellowship was part and parcel of the whole event. From the drivers who ferried us from airport to motel or from the motel to OLA and back again, from the other participants, from the students, from the Academy staff, from some who were there for no apparent reason, there was always a warm and welcome interchange. I had the privilege of conversing with Jeff, the first van driver, a remarried widower with (now) seventeen children, also with an unmarried US Army officer, as well as the headmaster and staff of the Academy, two honour students who were there to pass out and collect the various service booklets, a Vietnamese priest from San Diego whose parish had just voted to leave the Episcopal church and join the TAC, the lovely priest and his family from Indianapolis who had driven two days to be in San Antonio, the other Canadians (from Calgary and Toronto) who were present, other TAC bishops whose names I’ve often heard mentioned, including Archbishop Falk, five nuns of Mother Anglica’s order (the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration) who have started a new work in San Antonio, and finally many other clergy and lay folks there. It was fellowship in worship, learning and common cause through and through!
One last observation: I don’t think I’ve ever attended an event where everything went so smoothly. If it was announced that someone would meet us or drive us or feed us or speak to us, that person was always there on time and ready to accommodate.
Do check out the OLA web site, both church and school. They’ve left me eager to get on with the implementation of Anglicanorum Coetibus without delay! If the purpose of the Conference was to fire up interest in the Ordinariate, they succeeded.