Remarks of Ralph Johnston at the Becoming One gathering, Our Lady of the Atonement Catholic Church, San Antonio, Texas, November 17, 2010.
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I would like to begin by thanking the many guests who have spoken with me throughout the day, commending the comportment of our students at Mass this morning, and praising the singing of our student choirs. Thank you for your most gracious compliments. And I would like to thank our friend, Christian Campbell, moderator of The Anglo-Catholic blog, for encouraging me to write a piece for publication on that website concerning our parish school, The Atonement Academy.
I had every intention of writing the article as Christian suggested, but it’s been a busy couple of weeks and, well, we all know how it is with good intentions.
Clearly there is a lot of interest in our school among this group, and that really became so much more clear to me as this day progressed. And perhaps in the story of this parish school, we can find some encouragement for the experience of parish life that we will have in the Ordinariate.
I hope that these brief remarks will be of some interest to all, but I would like to address them particularly to the Anglican clergy who make up the major part of this assembly. And so, Reverend Fathers,
On the day this parish was established under the Pastoral Provision, in 1983, Father Phillips told his people – all 18 of them – that within ten years this parish would establish a school. I would imagine that the idea was unthinkable to many in a congregation of that size, particularly in light of their recent experience of tribulation and hardship on the bumpy road to Rome. Unthinkable to some, perhaps, but to Fr. Phillips, always the pastor of souls, it was the idea of operating a parish without a school that was unthinkable.
And so, a generation or so later, the school is large and growing and is academically successful. The parish has a healthy and growing congregation– a congregation with good demographic characteristics; that is, with young parishioners as well as old. And, because of the presence of the school, it is a parish through whose front doors walk a continuous flow of young, faithful and fruitful families, all of them in need of pastoral assistance in raising their children. Some of these school families end up joining our parish…. But ALL of them are exposed to the beauty of our Anglican and fully Catholic spirituality. And ALL of them receive the Gospel, and, if they desire, the Sacraments.
In this room are many devoted Anglican clergymen –men whose call to Christ’s Church is genuine, men whose faith is greater than my own; men who have an earnest desire to serve the people of God. Reverend Fathers, I would hate to see you expend your vocations or your labors on a small, a declining, or an unsustainable parish population. And I say this for two reasons: first, because it would be poor stewardship to build up a congregation that does not have a sustainable economic model, but more importantly, because I have seen, in this school, what so many of our guests have commented on today: that children need and thrive in an environment rich in the Word of God, rich in the Sacraments of the Church, and generous in providing the daily pastoral care of devoted clergymen – devoted clergymen much like all of you.
We have all seen parishes that are operating below the replacement rate. And we all know the signs. An aging population. A declining base of faithful worshippers. And, where there is no endowment, as is typically the case in the Continuing church, a constant financial crunch.
Our parish and our school do not have a financial crisis at this moment. Neither are we wealthy. In fact, we have some debt – debt that was taken on to build our last expansion of the school building in 2005, debt that is serviced through school operating revenues, debt that will probably not be paid off for another eight or nine years. And, having continued to grow our enrollment, and having exceeded the capacity of this school building, we are about to build another building. Barring any windfall, which we do not currently foresee, this means more debt, and more risk that we may find ourselves in a difficult situation in the event of a deeper recession, an unexpected enrollment decline, or some other catastrophic event.
Our business manager, who is also a co-founder of the school, Deacon Orr, may have an occasional sleepness night because of these prospects. Perhaps Father Phillips does as well. But, these faithful men are ministers of Christ’s Church, and they do not believe that God called them to this work so that they could operate cautiously, comfortably, and conservatively. God calls them to grow this parish, to operate this school, and to continue to teach the Truth to as many of God’s people as are willing to come to this place. These holy ministers are doing their part by responding to God’s call, and in return, God is doing His part by arranging for money to be gifted, or earned – frequently just in the nick of time.
Faithful clergy of the Episcopal and Continuing churches, you have answered God’s call by holding your congregations together in difficult times; by preserving orthodox doctrine, even when some of your own bishops would not; and by leading your people to the threshold of the Ordinariate. (Now, I should avoid the obvious analogy to Moses, because it is the hope of everyone here that the Ordinariate will be established sooner rather than later, so that all of us may enter, and not merely view from afar, that Promised Land.)
Pretty soon – and Father Hurd confirmed this afternoon that the most precise statement we can make about the timing for establishment of the Ordinariate is pretty soon – Pretty soon, Reverend Fathers, you will be leading parishes in the Ordinariate.
What should those parishes look like? We can all agree on some of the characteristics: Theologically, they should embrace Church doctrine. Sacramentally, they should provide your people with all graces. Culturally, they should preserve the Anglican ethos and spirituality that our Holy Father has called the Anglican Patrimony, a term that is not yet fully defined but which certainly includes the distinctive and highly admirable forms of liturgy and music and preaching that are so familiar to, and so beloved by, everyone in this room.
But what should these Ordinariate parishes look like, demographically? My purpose here tonight is to make the fairly obvious suggestion that these parishes should be young, vibrant, and growing. These congregations can best be served if they include many children, and many young families.
All of which leads me to suggest that this parish school, The Atonement Academy, as an early fruit of the cross-pollination of the Anglican and the fully Catholic – that this school can be an inspiration and a model for future Anglican-Catholic parishes.
Perhaps even, the day may come in the life of the Ordinariate, when a rule can be made, such as the agreement made by the Roman Catholic Bishops assembled in plenary session in Baltimore in 1884, that every parish should have a school, and that every bishop – in our case, the Personal Ordinary – should do his utmost to assure that every Catholic family desiring Catholic education, should receive it, and of a quality commensurate with our Anglican Patrimony.
Economically challenging? Of course. Impossible? Based on our school’s experience – and with God’s help — no, not impossible.
Reverend Fathers, you did not respond to your call to the ministry with the expectation that you would get rich – or where applicable, richer. (That’s a different kind of Anglican Patrimony.) You had a higher purpose, one of service to God and His people. As you enter the Ordinariate, you will be further challenged, to build something permanent, something stable, something entirely faithful, something that will challenge your brother Roman priests to higher achievement, and something ambitious in carrying out the Great Commission. Please consider that the creation of a vibrant, faithful, Anglican, Catholic, school, in every parish of the Ordinariate, might be a part of your answer to the call that you have received; that call that you have followed, thus far, with such great faith, such great steadfastness, and such great love for Christ.