The exodus to Rome by disaffected Anglicans has hit a snag. They want to take their buildings with them.
In the original exodus, Moses had a hard time persuading the Israelites to leave Egypt, and that was when they only had tents to worry about. A large Victorian Gothic pile is less easy to transport. Nevertheless, people cannot bear to leave them behind. This problem throws an interesting light on what exactly are the essentials of the faith.
At St Stephen's, Gloucester Road, in Kensington, London, Canon Christopher Colven and 35 of his congregation think they might have a solution. After Easter, they are going down the road to be received into the Roman Catholic Church. The next day, they are coming back again. The diocese of London has agreed to their using the parish church for Roman Catholic masses on Wednesday and Saturday evenings. The part of the congregation which is staying on will continue to keep Sundays to themselves.
At Holy Trinity, Hoxton, in east London, the diocese has been willing to go one step further, by declaring the church redundant and leasing it to the Roman Catholics. That way, Fr Stuart Wilson and the 40 of his congregation who went over to Rome earlier this month could have stayed put. The Romans declined, not wanting any more churches in the East End - which must have been a relief to the 35 or so members of the congregation who have chosen to remain Anglicans.
All will be well now. The diocese is sure to find a priest who is happy to take over at St Stephen's and work alongside his predecessor, and plenty of priests will be glad to move to Holy Trinity, to minister to half a congregation in a church which the diocese is so attached to.
The diocese might not be committed to Holy Trinity, but Jacky Keegan is. She spoke this week about the temptation to become a Roman Catholic. "I would have gone, if I could have stayed in my church . . . but I've been there too long to leave it. They say bricks and mortar is nothing, but it isn't for me."
Canon Colven said the same thing in the St Stephen's parish magazine, though in more clerical mode:
The significance of church buildings ought not to be over-played (they are essentially no more than a roof under which the eucharistic family can gather); but neither should they be under-played. …