I have followed my Bishop’s tenth anniversary of Episcopal Consecration from afar. I would like to join my voice (or writing fingers) to Fr Jonathan Munn’s article Ad multos annos!
As I have mentioned elsewhere, I came to the conclusion in 1995 that my conversion to Roman Catholicism was mistaken and joined the Anglican Catholic Church in England, then under Bishop Hamlett. My experience brought me a clear view of the dangers of the extremes of cosmopolitan liberalism and parochialist conservatism. I went through all kinds of different journeys and dead-ends and ended up in the TAC under the “wooden-legged” Archbishop Hepworth. I stayed aboard until the deck sank from under my feet, and applied to Bishop Mead of the Anglican Catholic Church in England. I had already been in correspondence with Fr Jonathan Munn, and his most memorable saying was that this Church was like finding the contents of a jar corresponding exactly with the description on the label. What a surprise in this world of deceit, lies and the grandiose pretensions of narcissists and people with other disorders!
Even though Bishop Damien was friendly in my regard, he had me fill in the forms, express my motivations and vocation in writing and go before the Board of Ministry whose members were unused to dealing with someone of such an atypical profile who had lived such an extremely varied life. I was accepted, received and given conditional ordination to the priesthood.
No one would claim that the ACC is “the true Church”, but it is a true Church. The appeal to me of continuing Anglicanism was the liturgy and the effort to live with no preference over the Opus Dei – the work of God as St Benedict termed the Divine Office. Unlike with Roman Catholic traditionalists, I was not faced with political extremes and the “dialogue of the deaf”. In Bishop Damien Mead, I found a father in Christ, even though he is much younger than I am. We priests and laity are persons to him, not files of documents or quantities. This is an increasingly rare quality in a diocesan bishop!
My time in the ACC thus goes back to 2013. I never met Fr Tim Perkins who tragically died young. I was spared from knowing the drunken charlatan who was asked to leave our Diocese, who got himself consecrated by a “wooden leg” and continues to cause trouble in his town. A second priest left us for Atkinson-Wake’s group. No sooner than our Diocese had lost these two priests, others came and joined us, contributing their knowledge and learning to a cause beyond and higher than our immediate perimeters.
Like many Bishops, Bishop Damien has suffered from the weight of his pastoral charge – symbolised by the big Book of the Gospels placed on his shoulders at his consecration. We all suffer from the whims, iniquity and nihilism of humanity. Bishop Damien has taken all these sufferings with great courage, and thus edifies his charge. Ecce Sacerdos Magnus…
I am often asked what would happen if we had to have a new Bishop? I suppose that a suitable and worthy priest would be elected. However, I do think that we are in a time when Bishop Damien is the only one who has the depth of vision and understanding of profound issues that give us all a sense of direction and hope. It is indeed a part of the Virtue of Hope for us. I join in with Fr Jonathan’s prayers of –
asking the prayers of St Augustine of Canterbury, St Anselm, St Thomas Becket and St Damien of Molokai, that Bishop Damien may be given the strength to bear the maniple of tears and sorrow and that he may receive the true reward of his labours. I pray also for many more happy years as my bishop!
What a contrast from some Roman Catholic bishops I have been reading about who care more about their careers than their pastoral responsibilities!
I end with the reflection that a Bishop’s pastoral care is not unilateral. It is our responsibility as priests to look after and support our Bishop in his sufferings as a human being and his joy in doing God’s will and his job.