A parish church has been torn apart by its priest’s decision to defect to the Roman Catholic Church.
St. Annes R.C. Church in Darlington
On Wednesday, the 26-strong choir of St James the Great will sing for the congregation as they have always done during Holy Week.
But this week they will do so a mile down the road in St Anne’s Roman Catholic church, their new home.
Led by Fr Ian Grieves, the priest at St James in Darlington for 23 years, 58 parishioners will formally join the Ordinariate, the body set up by the Pope for disaffected Anglicans.
They are not alone: this week across England, 200 Anglican worshippers and 20 clergy will cross over to Rome.
Many are frustrated by the Church of England’s move to appoint women bishops.
The majority of Anglicans defecting are concerned they will not be “protected” from the introduction of women bishops through special measures — such as occurred during the 1990s with the introduction of “flying bishops” to provide leadership to parishes that could not accept the Church’s decision to ordain women priests.
In February, the General Synod, the Church’s national assembly, rejected special provisions for parishes that would not accept women bishops on theological grounds.
Next month, the House of Bishops will consider whether it can add further provisions to the legislation before a final vote this summer.
But it will be too late for the parish of St James, where the split has severed many old friendships and caused anguish over the church’s future, as it has in others across England.
This week, groups in Croydon, south London; Harlow, Essex; Blackpool and Portsmouth will also join the Ordinariate.
The 55-year-old Fr Grieves said the Church failed to support the traditional practices of his Anglo-Catholic congregation, placing him in an “impossible” position.
“We were very, very concerned about our place in the Church of England in terms of the validity of orders and the various things about proceeding with women bishops, and therefore there would be no provision for people of a traditional disposition,” he said.
“We want validity and authenticity and all those things were denied [to] us for the sake of this politically correct Church and liberal agenda which grinds on and on.”
The decisions taken by parishes this year comes after 60 Anglican clergy and about 1,000 lay people joined the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham during Holy Week last year.
It was set up in January 2011 following Pope Benedict XVI’s decree in November 2009 that a special wing of the Roman Catholic Church would be created for former Anglicans to enter into full communion with Rome while retaining some Anglican heritage and traditions.
It is led by Monsignor Keith Newton, a former Anglican “flying bishop” and one of a number who held initial talks with the Vatican as the Church moved towards appointing women to the episcopate.
Fr Grieves, who is now training to become a Catholic priest at the Allen Hall seminary in London, said: “I knew my bluff had been called and if I wanted to be a Catholic, and I believed as a Catholic, then this was something that, whatever the personal cost, I had to do.”
Fr Grieves will give up his salary and vicarage to lead St Anne’s, following his ordination as a Catholic priest in May. He will be funded by the Ordinariate, which is receiving donations from his parishioners.
He had urged parishioners to follow him from the “dying” Church of England saying: “There is no future in staying where we are.”
His call was answered by 78 parishioners, although 20 have said they will move to St Anne’s but not yet join the Ordinariate. About 50 worshippers will stay.
Nicola Reeves, a 36 year-old who has sung in the St James choir for a decade, said: “It’s been said we’re only going because of Father. I don’t think that’s strictly true, but that’s not such a bad thing. The priest is there as a teacher and a guide to give you some direction in life.
“It is quite right Father stood up and said, as people who have been practising the Catholic faith within the Church of England, this is a good option for us to take.”
Fr Grieves led a final mass at St James in February when the Bishop of Durham, the Rt Rev Justin Welby, offered support to both groups.
The bishop, also due to attend the St Anne’s service this week, said he was “deeply sad” about the decision.
All but one member of St James’s church council will depart, leaving the remaining parishioners to wonder if the church can survive.
The Ven Granville Gibson, a retired archdeacon, has stepped in to lead St James while a vicar is sought to replace Fr Grieves, whose tenure expires this weekend.
Mr Gibson said he supported the move taken by Fr Grieve and his parishioners who followed him because “they believe it is right”.
But he added the process had left some worshippers hurt.
“Some of them felt let down, battered. There’s been quite a bit of pain and anxiety,” he said.
Mary Sweeten, a longstanding member of St James who remained behind, said: “We just weren’t sure whether we would have a church at the end of it, but fortunately we’ve done really well.
"Hopefully we can carry on into the future and build our congregation up again.”
She added it was “very sad” to see friends leaving their regular meeting place.
Peter Way, an 80-year-old parishioner, said he respected the decision of those joining the Ordinariate but felt he had not been properly consulted.
He said: “Some of us didn’t know anything about it until friends rang and said, 'have you seen [the local paper]?’”
The group may have been too hasty to think that women bishops would be introduced without “some kind of cover” for traditionalists, he added.
Many like him will be paying close attention to the Synod’s vote in July, which could prompt hundreds more defections to the Ordinariate.