8 November 2010

Ecce Sacerdos Magnus

In 2003, Remembrance Sunday fell on November 9 (which, this year, is tomorrow, Tuesday). I was the house-for-duty Curate of seven Devon country churches, under a full-time stipendiary Rector - except that he had taken early retirement nine days before on account of health problems caused by those who hated him for his opposition to the sacerdotal ordination of women. But I still had the help of a retired bishop, who lived a few doors away and who, in two years, had become a very dear friend. So, that Sunday, at one end of the United benefice I said Mass and did the village Act of Remembrance; at the other end, Bishop John Richards did the same. After brunch, he went for a walk with his family; a couple of hours later, after a sudden stroke brought on by his years of selfless service, he was dead.

John Richards was a former Archdeacon and a very establishment man who was made one of the first two flying bishops, and in those days after 1993, days heavy with the danger of despair, built up and strengthened a people faithful to the Lord within the body that still called itself the Church of England. The skills which he had used as Archdeacon (and he was a Church Commissioner) to bully parishes who were late with their quota were now brought into play to defend the Remnant against the bullying and cruelty of the liberal establishment.

Going around with John Richards, I soon realised that he had created a new style of episcopal ministry, free from pomposity and prelacy and animated only by the love of God and a perceived calling to strengthen his brethren. PEVs, like ante-Nicene bishops, had no jurisdiction in the modern sense. I think it was Edwin Barnes who once said to his clergy 'Fathers, remember that the only jurisdiction we have is what you give us'.

Today the resignation is announced of the two distinguished and popular pastors who have occupied these sees for some years. We are clearly now in the end game as far as the the old system of flying bishops is concerned. But I pray that one part of the patrimony which will be carried into the Ordinariates will be the vision of pastoral and unprelatical episkope which God has taught both priests and people in the Ebbsfleet and Richborough jurisdictions.

John Richards was an Anglican to his fingertips. As we settled down together in the train for the long haul back to Devon after some meeting in London, and I started on the Liturgia horarum, he would be fishing out a battered Prayer Book and Bible. But he was far too busy to waste his time on anti-Romanism and I cannot conceive that he would have wasted a moment on Johnny Hind's SWISH farce, with its self-evidently unconstructive and negative anti-popery. He was, I think, too Christian - and too big a man - to be anti-anything. Whatever he was or did, it was positive and Christ-driven. I think that, in our present kairos, he would have no doubts about the Ordinariate. But he would have done things in a distinctively Anglican way and in his own inimitatively combative way. He would probably be already enthusiastically devising ways of showing those bloody papists how much better we can do things in the Ordinariate. "Now look here, boy, when we get into the Ordinariate ..." I can almost hear his voice saying it.

Cuius animae propitietur Deus.

1 comment:

Jon said...


I'm a member of an FSSP parish over here on the other side of the water. I'm a daily reader and enjoy your blog tremendously. Still, I'm unclear whether or not you plan to follow your bishop into the Ordinariate.

It will be a hard road, but I pray you do.