Conversations with Catholics (and others)

KH in pulpit by the crucifix

Over the next couple of weeks, I’m trying something new and a bit different at St Mary’s. I’m offering coffee and a chat to a couple of different kinds of  people who are always present within the congregation. Tomorrow morning (Saturday 9 January 2016) I’m having a coffee morning for people in the congregation who have Roman Catholic roots. There’s always a significant number of such people in St Mary’s and I thought it might be interesting to get some of us together for a chat. In a fortnight’s time I’ll be repeating the exercise with those who have a background as evangelicals. I’ll see how these go and then see whether  there’s any other groups which might want to meet. A  couple of people said that they grew up as presbyterians and they should have a coffee morning but I’m not sure whether that one is one to go for or not. Another possibility that I’ve thought of is a chat with those who fit the Spiritual Seeker profile – those who’ve meditated with Buddhists, banged their drums, sweated in their sweat lodges, spun in circles and knitted their own lentils. We’ve always got a fair representation from that constituency and it might be interesting to gather such people together.

However, I’m starting with catholics because I know that those who come from a Roman Catholic background have a common conversation though not necessarily a common experience. Some come to St Mary’s who are quite clear that they are Roman Catholics still and that St Mary’s just happens to be a resting place for them on their journey. Others have an articulate conversation about what they have left behind and why they needed to move on from the Roman Catholic church and find something new. Rather intriguingly there’s a mix between those who come to St Mary’s because it allows them to live out their catholicism and those who come because it allows them to say that they’ve moved on from it.

St Mary’s offers an interesting place for those with catholic roots to worship. For many there’s the surprise that the worship is just like the worship that they have known within Roman Catholicism.

I once said to a liturgist that it wonderful, amazing and surprising that the modern Roman Catholic Mass was so similar to the liturgy of the Scottish Episcopal Church. “Not amazing at all!” he exclaimed – “we all of us, Romans and Anglicans and all the rest went to the same liturgy conferences in the 1970s”. Sadly in recent years with the new translation of the Roman Catholic mass into (terrible) English, we’ve moved a little further apart again but you can still very much recognise that things are essentially the same.

I’m soemtimes puzzled by the reactions of Roman Catholics who find themselves present in St Mary’s. We often have tourists who come from Roman Catholics countries who presume that it is a Roman Catholic church. They do so even, in my experience, when a female colleague has been celebrating at the Sung Eucharist. This puzzles me. But also encourages me a little.

For many from a catholic background we provide what they would have hoped for from their own church – a mass they recognise, social teaching on sexuality, marriage and divorce that is as positive as the catholic social teaching on economics that they believe in and a shared love and devotion to the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist alongside a love for his mother too. There are no doubt negatives – the sorrow of families feeling parted by church divisions over the Eucharist. (Everyone is welcome to receive in St Mary’s but that doesn’t begin to scratch the deep irritations surrounding who is and who is not able to receive communion in various churches). There are also confusing messages that the Scottish Episcopal Church sends out about membership that we might talk about. People tend to know they are Roman Catholics and tend not to be entirely sure whether they are Scottish Episcopalians. That could well be part of the conversation.

I’m looking forward to this and expect I’ll learn things. The invitation is open to anyone who wants to come and have a coffee with me in the Synod Hall on Saturday morning at 10.30.


  1. Meg Rosenfeld says

    Fascinating! I’d love to be a bug on the wall to hear some of these conversations. By the way, as one who has often knitted her own lentils 8-), I shrieked with laughter over that apt description of the earnest back-to-the-land craze (not that it wasn’t a very worthwhile craze.)

    As one of very few “cradle” Episcopalians in a small parish in San Francisco composed almost completely of people who have, for one reason or another, abandoned their original denomination, I’d love to know exactly what the attraction is for each person. For many, I know, it’s the welcoming of LGBT persons; this goes for former Roman Catholics as well as for Baptists and other Evangelicals. At least one person I know was drawn to the ritual and ceremony–we’re very high church though we never, alas, use the older form of the prayerbook, even though it’s printed in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer as “Rite I,” supposedly meaning that it’s to be the primary form of the liturgy. In Scotland, there may be things I wot not of. I hope you plan to write about some of your findings.

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