The Diocese of Brentwood has announced that seven Anglican priests and around 300 members of six CoE parishes - three in Essex and three in East London - are planning to join the newly formed Ordinariate.
Vicars in Chelmsford, Hockley and Benfleet are among those men being trained to become Catholic deacons. A seventh retired Anglican vicar is also converting.
Former Anglican clergy and congregations wishing to enter the Ordinariate will be enrolled as candidates at the beginning of Lent in early March. They will be probably be received into the Roman Catholic Church and confirmed during Holy Week (17-23 April).
Speaking on BBC news this morning, The Bishop of Brentwood, the Rt Reverend Thomas McMahon, said the Anglicans were unhappy about the church's general move away from the traditions it once shared with Catholics, but described the decision as "a very big move. They relinquish their present post, a very big thing, leaving some of their people which brings heartache, into a fairly unknown future, as this Ordinariate has only just been brought up." He added: "I hope in some cases the Church of England will be generous and there will be some sharing of Anglican premises.. It calls for huge faith and huge trust because the future isn't that certain," he said.
"We are hoping they will find some part-time work as chaplains in schools and hospitals," said Bishop McMahon. "We have already had some offers from charities."
Bishop McMahon said the new Catholics would not be joining existing congregations but would have a special service in their own right.
The Anglican Bishop of Chelmsford, the Right Reverend Stephen Cottrell, said he was disappointed at the news. He said: "Although I'm sorry these people are going, I do respect their decision...But it is a small group of people. The Church of England remains the church for everyone."
The former Anglican bishops, Andrew Burnham, Keith Newton and John Broadhurst were ordained into the group at Westminster Cathedral on 15 January.
Ahead of today's announcment, on 14 January, the Catholic and Anglican Bishops of Brentwood and Chelmsford wrote a joint letter to clergy about the Ordinariate. They wrote:
Dear friends in Christ,
As bishops charged with responsibility to uphold the unity of God’s church on earth we are painfully aware of the divisions that still impair the unity that Christ longs for and for which he shed his blood. This is not just a unity within the church – though we long for this to be revealed – but a unity for all God’s people and between the families of the nations.
The church has a specific vocation to witness to this unity and it is always a cause for concern if it is threatened or damaged. Some have intimated that the introduction of the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus (Personal Ordinariate in England and Wales) may present just such a challenge. We do not see it this way. We recognise that in both our communities there have been times when individuals and groups have felt it right to move from one community to another.
At the moment there are some priests and people in the Church of England who for reasons of conscience believe that their Christian journey can best continue within the Roman Catholic Community. We give thanks for their contribution to the life of the Church of England, and we pray for the new life they will have and the gifts they will bring to the Catholic Church. But the setting up of the Ordinariate does not in any way deter us from the ultimate goal of that visible unity within the church that is Christ’s prayer and which is shared by all Christian people. Nor do we think it will be helpful if in the setting up of the Ordinariate there is confusion between the different identities of the worshipping communities. We therefore expectcongregations within the Ordinariate to meet and worship in the context of their local Roman Catholic Church and form a distinct new part of that community’s witness. The worship and witness of the Church of England in the parish they have left will also continue.
Ultimately we hope that these developments will draw us closer together. During his visit to the United Kingdom in September, His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI was keen to stress that the Ordinariate “...should be seen as a prophetic gesture that can contribute positively to the developing relations between Anglicans and Catholics. It helps us to set our sights on the ultimate goal of all ecumenical activity: the restoration of full ecclesial communion in the context of which the mutual exchange of gifts from our respective spiritual patrimonies serves as an enrichment to us all.”
The Archbishop of Canterbury has also indicated his support for close co-operation between the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church as the Ordinariate comes into being.
We therefore also take this opportunity to re-commit ourselves to working together for the cause of the gospel in Essex and East London, and we urge priests and people within the Church of England who are considering joining the Ordinariate - and we think there may be five or six such groups - to make contact with us so that during this time of transition nothing could be seen to impede our friendship, unity and mission.
Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell, Bishop of Chelmsford
Rt Revd Thomas McMahon, Bishop of Brentwood