History is about to be made in a corner of the West of England. The Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham—Anglicans who have come into full communion with the Catholic Church—is writing a new chapter.
The Methodist church at Chelston, Torquay, is due to close, and the local Ordinariate group, led by Father David Lashbrooke, plans to acquire it. The group already has Mass there every Sunday, and the Methodists are keen to sell the building and its associated halls to them. It will make an ideal centre for mission and evangelisation, as well as serving the needs of the current thriving Ordinariate congregation.
Under current charity law, any property owned by a registered charity—such as the Methodists—must be sold at a fair market price. (This is to prevent charities from simply handing over to friends or colleagues valuable property, paid for by the donations of generous people in past years.) If the Catholics cannot raise the funds, the very attractive church—built of local stone, with arched gothic-style windows and a small spire—could go to a property developer. In this Devon town, turning a church into apartments for holidaymakers or people seeking a pleasant retirement home, could be very profitable.
But there is more. There is a spirit of deep goodwill and Christian hope in this venture, and all are praying that this building, built for Christian worship by local people who loved Christ, will echo to the prayers and hymns of new generations. Let Fr. Lashbrooke tell the story:
Earlier this year, we began conversations with the local Methodist community who are vacating their site at Chelston. In a very moving final service the Methodist minister passed on a light from a candle to express his hope that we might be able to keep the Christian flame burning on this site.
Methodism has deep roots in the West Country, and at one time there were large Methodist congregations in towns and villages across Devon and Somerset. Many of the Methodist churches are fine buildings, built sturdily and designed to last, and holding much local history. Methodism’s founder John Wesley, who remained an Anglican throughout his life, traveled around Devon on his preaching tours, and various Methodist chapels were established in the wake of his efforts.
Fr. Lashbrooke’s Ordinariate group brings together people from around the Torbay area. For some while, they have been raising funds by running a charity shop, and they are an active presence locally. They were among the first people to respond to the call of Pope Benedict XVI in his message Anglicanorum Ceotibus—“to groups of Anglicans”—to unite with the See of Peter. After joining the Catholic Church they worshipped together in the local Catholic parish, Holy Angels. Then they were given the opportunity to use the Methodist church, and their 11:00 am Mass quickly became an established part of the local scene.
Msgr. Keith Newton, leader of the Ordinariate, is warmly supporting the scheme. The church will be dedicated to Our Lady of Walsingham and St Cuthbert Mayne, a local Catholic martyr from the 16th century.
The Ordinariate has the special charism of bringing what Pope Benedict described as the “Anglican patrimony” to the wider Catholic Church: there is much discussion about what this involves, but any list would include a dignified and reverent English liturgy, good music, a sense of English history, and a strong sense of mission to the English people.
In London, the Ordinariate has two churches, one in Warwick Street near Piccadilly Circus, and one across the river at London Bridge. In Kent, the small church of St Anselm in Pembury, officially part of the parish of Tunbridge Wells, is in Ordinariate care. In Darlington, there is a thriving parish with an Ordinariate priest in charge at the church of St Osmund.
But the plans for Torquay could go awry unless funds are found soon. The group has raised £36,000, and a total of £150,000 is needed to acquire the site. They have longer-term plans for internal redecoration of the church to make it suitable for Catholic worship, and to adapt the hall and other buildings to make a residence for the priest and rooms for mission work and parish events. But the initial urgency is to buy the building.
Timing is important: the funds need to be raised as soon as possible, so that the Methodists are not obliged to place the building on the open market.
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