St Richard's, Chichester (Exterior)

Chichester Ordinariate Group, St Richard's, Chichester, Sussex, England


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Chichester Ordinariate Group
Location: St Richard's, Chichester, Sussex, England
Date of visit: Saturday, 17 January 2015, 4:15pm

The building

The present building dates from 1958 and replaces an earlier church built in 1855. It is a classic design of its period: unassuming light red brick and concrete with a slim square tower. The inside is minimalist, but with some spectacular stained glass by the Loire Studio of Chartres, France; and murals, font and stations of the cross by noted multimedia artist David OConnell. The Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament, once dedicated to Our Lady of Walsingham, is separated from the main body of the church by glass panels that can be opened for access. It also has an independent entrance that remains open when the church itself is closed. At the back of this small chapel is an unusual reconciliation room: a glass cubicle, engraved by a local artist.

The church

In November 2009, Pope Benedict XVI enabled Anglicans who had petitioned to be received into full communion with Rome, individually as well as corporately, to join the Church while retaining elements of their Anglican tradition. Members of the Ordinariate are characterised by a specially authorised liturgy; their own distinctive prayer book for the daily office, called The Customary of Our Lady of Walsingham; liturgies for matrimony and for funerals; and activism for their own cause. The Chichester Ordinariate Group was established in the spring of 2014 and worships primarily in the chapel.

The neighborhood

The origins of the city of Chichester are Roman, and large sections of the old city walls survive. The Anglican cathedral, which contains the shrine of St Richard of Chichester, is at the geographical heart of the city. St Richards Catholic Church lies just outside the ancient city walls. Nearby are several governmental buildings as well as both railway and bus terminals. Very ironically, St Richard's was built in Cawley Road, named after William Cawley, who signed King Charles Is death warrant in 1649. King Charles is commemorated by the Anglican Church as a martyr. It seems therefore fitting that the ordinariate group chose this church as their home.

The cast

The Revd Msgr Robert Mercer, CR (Community of the Resurrection, an Anglican monastic group in which the monsignor retains his membership); the Revd Graham Smith, group pastor. There were a boat boy and a thurifer but no crucifer. It was a nice touch that the monsignor was attired and acted as deacon and also preached, while Father Smith was the celebrant. Apparently they take it in turns and sometimes concelebrate.

What was the name of the service?

First Mass of Sunday, Ordinariate Rite

How full was the building?

About 15. The chapel seats only 25, so it looked occupied. The connecting glass doors to the main church were left open for the procession from the vestry, and to take advantage of the organ played in the main body of the church. The people I spoke to were not local to Chichester (except the group pastor), but had travelled to be there, some a fair distance. They said they would attend Sunday mass in an RC parish the next morning – though not necessarily their own parish church.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

It was a friendly Good to see you! I was handed the hymn book, the order of service, and a sheet with the readings and prayers.

Was your pew comfortable?

Comfortable but small cloth-covered chairs, with hassock underneath and a box tray for books.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Quiet except for the clicking of the large wooden Rosary of a nun in habit. She has been sacristan of St Richards for some 25 years and can be found in the church and chapel daily.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

Father Graham stuck his head through the glass door where the procession had gathered and announced, Our first hymn is number 876.

What books did the congregation use during the service?

A home-computer-produced 12-page booklet with the order of service of the Ordinariate Rite. The pew sheet had explanatory notes about the Ordinariate and this special rite on the back. Laudate hymnal, according to the publishers the first officially authorised hymn book since the new translation of the mass of 2010.

What musical instruments were played?

Organ played in the main building; a group of three singers chanting the psalm antiphonally.

Did anything distract you?

The little six-year-old boat boy had been stuck in a cotta much too large for him so that the sleeves were folded back several times, and the neck hole was so big that it slid down one shoulder. The cassock, on the other hand, was not long enough to cover his trainers. He was obviously on his first duty here and was coaxed along discreetly. This gave the mass a rather charming informal feel. Also the very bright turquoise socks of the organist, who came padding into the chapel on stockinged feet when he was not playing.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

It is rather difficult to comment on style as this new rite shows teething problems, at least in this very young group. It was confusedly dignified, but not unified: a bit of a mish-mash and free-for-all kneel, genuflect, bow, stand, sit, sing – everyone according to taste and quite unsettling in a very small congregation. Most people ignored the rubrics altogether. It was neither high Anglican with all its trappings and splendour, nor normal Catholic, not least because the priest was facing east for most of the service. The mass began with Cranmers collect for purity like the original Prayer Book communion service, and seemingly included passages and prayers from almost every Prayer Book there ever was since 1549, even the proposed 1928 version, as well as the English Missal. The psalm was sung antiphonally in plainchant to the Coverdale Psalter by an unrobed choir of three, the gospel acclamation by a cantor from within their ranks. The eucharistic prayer was the Roman Canon. The service ended with the sung Angelus, the only piece of sung liturgy which was in tuneful accord, albeit a bit hesitant.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

I forgot to time it, as I was getting increasingly irritated. By the end I was merely relieved it was over. I guess about 6-8 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

5 – Very much in the old Anglican intellectual style of mixing tradition and reason, with history and language lessons thrown in, together with a pinch of humour, all in a school-masterly way. Added to this was the somewhat more recent approach of including personal experience and opinion. What was missing were the scriptures. This was not a sermon, or even a lament as the preacher claimed, but rather a polemic. The gist of the sermon can be found in publications issued by members of the Ordinariate, both in hard copy and online.
I did wonder why he was preaching to the converted, because this small group of people clearly shares his views.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

Anglicans (he said) all talk about unity, and even pray for it, but they are not sincere. This is the beginning of the week of prayer for Christian unity, to which Anglicans merely pay lip service. They have no real desire for unity. St Augustine famously prayed: "Lord, make me chaste – but not yet. The Anglican attitude toward unity is: "Lord, make us one – but not yet. Anglicans have erected insurmountable barriers to unity – meaning the decision to ordain women not only to the priesthood, but now also to the episcopate. The Ordinariate is the true fruit of the ecumenical movement. We have come into full communion with the Holy See, but have not been absorbed.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

I am really grasping at straws to answer this question, but I thought I detected a hint of lemon in the incense – to counter the sour grapes in the sermon, no doubt.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

There are quite a few contenders qualifying for this place. The chap doing the readings put the emphasis repeatedly on the wrong words; I was wondering whether he understood what he was reading. The mass would have been served better if it had been said throughout, as the singing and chanting were mostly out of tune. It made me wince. Then there was the sermon, which clearly denounced and demonised the very church that had nonetheless formed this preacher and his ministry for some 50 plus years. But there was more to come.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

You cannot look lost among a congregation of 15. I was invited for refreshments in the lower meeting room. Neatly coinciding with the fourth anniversary of the Ordinariate and its publication, The Portal, the group was visited by Ronald Crane, the editor-in-chief. He introduced himself to me and asked what brought me here. I answered that I was exploring, and he wanted to know whether Catholic or Anglican? When I laid my cards on the table, he deduced that I would probably not want to be interviewed for the Portal. I replied that he could interview me, but it was unlikely that he would like what I had to say. A deadly silence descended, and after a few awkward moments he beat a hasty retreat. I chatted instead to some members of the group who travel a fair distance to attend this act of worship. Mr Crane conducted his interviews in a whisper at a table in a corner, as far away from me as possible, and also snapped some pictures.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

The room was perishingly cold, but the coffee was nice and hot, served in hard plastic mugs. There were also cheese and savoury nibbles, biscuits and grapes – very nice.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

0 – It felt like I had gate-crashed a sect. There clearly was no room here for anyone for whom being united in Christ means anything other than blowing your own trumpet. I am not prepared to go back again.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?

No. But it made me remember that Christ was reviled yet did not answer back.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

The party-political broadcast and the immediate cold-shouldering when someone latched on to the fact that I had no intention of joining the Ordinariate. "The true fruit of ecumenism" indeed!

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