Fragments that remain

When I became pastor of St George’s, Stevenage, in 1963 I found in the parish community an elderly lady, Miss Adele Packer, who had been raised in the Catholic Apostolic Church – the “Irvingites” as they were called.

Irvingite014

Adele Packer, picture in the St George’s, Stevenage parish directory of 1968


The story of the Catholic Apostolic Church is one of quixotically eccentric ecclesiology, naïve ecumenical optimism, courage and generosity. I had been intrigued by the Irvingites since the time when, in childhood, I had seen the exterior of one of their buildings. The professor of Church History at my seminary was also intrigued by them, and sometimes spoke of them with appreciative and gentle amusement. My only other encounter with the Catholic Apostolic Church was when, out of curiosity I visited their great cathedral-like Church of Christ the King in Gordon Square in London. That visit was on Good Friday 1953. The church was vast, filled with magnificence, silence and emptiness. The custodian who gave me access to it told me that, with the death years earlier of the last of the newly-elected Twelve Apostles and the consequent evisceration of the elaborate sacramental hierarchy dependant on them, there was now no life or activity left. My parishioner in Stevenage had thus been bereaved of her spiritual home; and she, like others in the same predicament, had been told to find a new ecclesiastic abode elsewhere. So she came to us. It is really a sad and moving story. If it should be of interest to you I would refer you to Wikipedia and to the limited number of books that have been written about it.

There is, however, a most interesting footnote. The ministry of the Catholic Apostolic Church was sui generis, with Apostles, Bishops, Angels, Priests, Deacons and a multiplicity of subdivisions thereof. And there was a complex and appropriately magnificent Liturgy, of which Miss Packer gave me a leather-bound copy. Published in London in 1880, the fly-leaf was inscribed by her father, Walter Packer, in 1886.

Among the thousands of the prayers that it contains is this glorious gem:Chalice_Host_Wheat_and_Grapes_001

Lord God Almighty,
we come before the Throne of thy glorious Majesty,
presenting the emblems of the Passion of Thy Son,
the Bread of Everlasting Life
and the Cup of eternal Salvation.
Have respect, O Lord, unto His Sacrifice;
remember thou His Offering;
and let His intercession on behalf of Thy Church,
and of all Thy Creatures,
ascend up before Thee,
to the glory of Thy Holy Name. Amen.

That most dear and gentle priest of the Church of England, the late Father Desmond Morse-Boycott (founder of the Saint-Mary-of-the-Angels Song School), once said: “How St Francis would have loved and echoed ‘all Thy creatures’”!

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