At an Anglican theological college in Oxford two 25-year-olds were sitting by a computer. They had the Vatican website up and were clicking “refresh”. They had an inkling that a document was being published that day. Eventually, the words “Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus” popped up on screen. They clicked on it and read, for the first time, the details of Pope Benedict XVI’s historic offer to Anglicans.
The document was issued on November 4 2009. Then, the two young men – Daniel Lloyd and James Bradley – were studying to become Anglican priests. Two weeks ago they joined the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham. They are the only Anglican deacons – they were ordained last year – to do so. And they will both be putting themselves forward for the priesthood.
James Bradley, a bright, sincere and rather priestly guy, is with a group in Sevenoaks, Kent. There are 39 of them, all from St John the Baptist Anglo-Catholic parish. They range from a woman in her 80s to newlyweds and teenagers. Many of them have worshipped at St John’s all their lives; they were baptised or married or have family buried there. Yet they are willing to give it all up because they feel that this is what they need to do.
I meet them just before they are due to leave. Fr Ivan Aquilina, the parish priest, and Fr James, then deacon, are shortly to be homeless. Fr Ivan must vacate the vicarage by July. His son, in the midst of this, is revising for his AS-levels; his daughter is working on her GCSEs.
To my surprise, the group hasn’t really talked about the decision much, as Fr Ivan’s approach has been so low-key. He didn’t want to put anyone under pressure. “The last thing you want is a bandwagon,” he says.
One parishioner says the process felt “a bit secretive”. His main source of information, he says, was blogs. But Fr Ivan was keen for everyone to make their own decision. “That’s why there were no loudspeakers,” he says. Fr Ivan, who is from Malta, adds: “It’s like going to Walsingham: we go on the same bus but you have to buy your own ticket.”
James arrived at St John’s – from St Stephen’s House in Oxford – just a few weeks after the release of Anglicanorum coetibus. There was, he says, a “very positive atmosphere” about the Pope’s offer. But things only really got going towards the end of last year, when, on November 8, five Anglican bishops resigned.
Two weeks later, on November 20, the parish had an Ordinariate Exploration Day. Prominent Anglo-Catholic clergy sympathetic to the Pope’s offer were invited to speak. The church was packed, and some of the audience was hostile. An aggressive question prompted clapping. One parishioner says that “it wasn’t quite ‘no popery’, but it was something like that”. It was the first and last time the parish as a whole gathered to discuss the ordinariate.