I was unable to attend our Council of Advice meeting last November, but I went over for the meeting of 9th January. It was in the usual place at Westminster Central Hall, that most amazing Edwardian building opposite Westminster Abbey and the headquarters of Methodism.
My journey out from France was uneventful due to the incredibly mild winter here in Europe (we are blighted by the high winds and rain, flooding in many areas), but I was concerned about running the gauntlet on the road approaching Calais. Several days ago, there was an incident involving several hundred migrants at the Channel Tunnel terminal. They were all caught and the area is teeming with police controls. My entry into the terminal was equally uneventful, though the queue for passport control was slow. I was allowed onto a train an hour before my booked time, so that enabled me to get to London early. My usual parking space in Abbey Orchard Street was free, and parking is free and without restrictions over the weekend. My van is quite well adapted for use as a “mini” camper and my night was comfortable, more so than in my boat! You need to be discreet, because sleeping in a vehicle in England is officially vagrancy, and you can get into trouble with the police for it. The important thing is to settle down quickly, draw the curtain and switch the light off. All that is seen from outside is a parked van like so many others.
On Saturday morning, I had time to go and buy a new clerical shirt from Westminster Cathedral (RC) bookshop. That place has changed! I was amazed to see them selling all the Ordinariate liturgical books, including the altar missal for £300. There were also Tridentine missals and breviaries together with liturgical calendars and other materials from the Latin Mass Society. As for normal church supplies, I buy them from our Canterbury Church Shop. I was only disloyal because I wanted the shirt immediately. Sorry, Bishop. I then returned to the van to change my shirt and have the comfort of a collar of my size! My other two clerical shirts have got quite tight (or I have put weight on, more like). I then wended my way to Westminster Central Hall, with my laptop computer, because they have free wi-fi, and I could check my e-mail – and send a reassuring e-mail to my wife.
The meeting, as always, was an enriching experience of unity and ecclesial communion, sharing our joys and matters to solve. We are slowly growing, and our Church and Diocese under Bishop Mead have definitely acquired a note of gravitas and something that stands out from other “independent” churches. Much is owed to the leadership of Archbishop Mark Haverland. These meetings and informal get-togethers bring cheer to the heart, and this is truly an experience of being church. We have had enquiries from clergy in many different places, and some are in the process of applying. Discernment truly means accepting a man as himself, with his own identity, as long as the important things are right, like for example his personal integrity and knowing and appreciating what we are about as a Church.
I spent Saturday evening in the company of Fr David Chislett, a former TAC bishop from Australia, and who now serves a Forward in Faith parish as an officially authorised priest in southern England. We Continuers are sometimes harsh in our judgement, but there are good and valid arguments for keeping things going in the old parishes, for as long as possible. There is a minimum safeguard for the consciences of F in F members, however fragile the ecclesiological basis may be. Fr David and I have been close friends over the years from the time of the famous TAC Bishops’ College meeting of October 2007 in Portsmouth. We share many of the nasty experiences of disappointment in those we most trusted and obeyed as their subjects. I am through with mentioning names, as all we can do is to commend them to God in the hope that some good will come out of it. We had a pleasant Indian meal together and talked into the small hours with a bottle of fine Scotch. It all rather reminded me of such nights spent in Essex Street in Oxford with Dr Ray Winch.
Waking up in the Vicarage at 8 am the Sunday morning was tough. Fr David was already in church for the 8 o’clock. I set off in my van for Canterbury, and was there in good time, parking in the usual place in Pound Lane car park, just a few minutes away from St Augustine’s, our pro-Cathedral. I played the organ for Mass of Sunday in the Octave of the Epiphany. Deacon Richard Mulholland is now run-in and functioning as parish deacon. There was a young man in the congregation who is a theological student and very keen on the ACC. So, four of us went to have lunch, the Bishop, myself, Deacon Richard and the young man called James wearing a sporty hoodie and a pair of Bermuda shorts, with a warm and pleasing character. It was a time of being together outside the official business of the Council of Advice or coffee and biscuits after Mass at the back of the church.
It was sad to have to go. My car park ticket ran out at 3.20 pm and it was time to set off for my return journey. The weather turned really nasty as I reached the north of France on emerging from the tunnel train. I was glad not to have been at sea this time! So much rainwater can be very dangerous on the road. I reached home at about 10 pm and found my wife already asleep for going to work this Monday morning.
The old country is still familiar and the bedrock of my origins, but I am increasingly alienated. I could never afford to go and live back there, and there are many things in the political situation that frighten me. I can come and go as I want, but was taken aback on seeing a red strip with some text on the passport controller’s screen. I didn’t ask him! I can only suppose that I am an English expatriate and have some fairly independent ideas. But, what of interest to the authorities? The mind boggles, since I have never been in trouble with the police. Perhaps they read my blog…. Now, now, conspiracy theorist…