Posts Tagged ‘conversion to’

The Reverend Donald Minchew does not look like a man caught in the eye of a religious, political and spiritual storm. He is pink, smiley, 63, very chatty and smells comfortingly of tobacco. He is also a widower who enjoys watching the TV sitcom Rev, lives with his four grown-up sons (‘they somehow never left home’) and takes his turn to cook dinner. On his desk is a copy of Private Eye, a chocolate bunny and a flowery Easter card.

But he hit the headlines last week for defecting from his Church of England parish (of nearly two decades) to the Catholic Church just up the road — and publicly declaring that he felt like the Prodigal Son returning home. Father Donald Minchew, 63, is leaving St Michael’s & All Angels Church, and the Church of England, to become a priest at the Catholic Church across the road He criticised the ‘pap and banality’ promoted by the Church of England, described it as ‘a bit like a buffet, where you can pick and choose which commandments and doctrines you follow’ and complained it was telling people like himself — believers in traditional values who didn’t agree with the ordination of women and countless other innovations — to ‘sod off’. His sudden move, 36 years after he was ordained into the C of E and just 18 months before he was due to start drawing his £11,500-a-year pension, was dramatic enough. But, like the Pied Piper, he also took 70 members — nearly half — of his loyal congregation at St Michael and All Angels parish church in Croydon with him, leaving the General Synod of the Church of England reeling. Today, in his new office in the bowels of the red-brick St Mary’s Catholic Church five minutes round the corner, I am hoping to find out what caused a man who has dedicated his entire life to the Anglican Church to take such a radical decision. What made his flock follow with barely a backward glance? Happily, he is very keen to tell me, in great detail More…Kate Upton’s bad ‘habits’ infuriate Catholic church as swimwear model dons ‘nun-kini’ in The Three Stooges ‘Drunken’ Texas man, 21, ‘caught urinating on the Alamo’ ‘The job of a priest is to assist people in finding God. That’s all I ever wanted to do. I never wanted to be a bishop or an archdeacon. I just wanted to be a parish priest working with people. But every five minutes, ever since I was ordained, everything was changing in the Anglican Church. We’ve lived through all the revisions of the Prayer Book. ‘Then we had the Alternative Service Book, and Common Worship, and the hymn books . . . and women priests, and now women bishops. It was all meant to make us relevant and modern and bring more people into church. Instead, it failed spectacularly. Each innovation marked a steady haemorrhage in congregation numbers.’ Salvation came in the form of the Ordinariate, a body set up by the Pope for disaffected Anglicans to join the Church of Rome easily and quickly. It has already attracted thousands of Anglican worshippers and dozens of clergy from all over the country who have already crossed over to Rome. It sounds simple, but for Donald there was a lot at stake. Not just his spiritual home and life’s vocation but more prosaically, his pension and his home — the vicarage round the corner which he shares with his sons comes with the job. He has to leave in June. ‘I’ve been living there for 17-and-a-half years. I know all the neighbours — they’re my friends. They say divorce, death and moving house are the greatest traumas in life — and death’s pretty bloody final, as John Cleese once said.

But, perverse as it sounds, I’ve always had complete and utter trust in God, so I try not to worry too much about it — something will turn up. ‘I know it will. I trust it will. It always has — all my life.’ Almost half the congregation of St Michael’s and All Angels has followed its vicar and converted to Catholicism Donald Minchew was born in Donegal, Ireland, into a staunchly Presbyterian family. His mother was the daughter of the sexton of the church — but his father was married to someone else. ‘He promised to marry her, but he never did,’ he says. Instead, she moved to England, got a job as a hospital cook and put Donald and his elder brother Noel (‘same father, whoever he was!’) into care until she married a very understanding (and atheist) Royal Marine who reunited the family. Donald’s epiphany came when he was ten years old. ‘I knew this was what God was calling me to do and I never wavered. I said to my parish priest I want to be ordained. And he said, Donald, if God wants it to happen, it will.’ And it did, in 1976, after jobs in shoe shops and factories and four years at theological college in Wales. ‘Things were just about beginning to change in the Anglican Church back then — legislation for women priests was being discussed — but we didn’t think it would ever get off the ground. But it did and it never stopped. ‘You know what they say about some turbulent marriages? You hate each other but you can’t live without each other? Well a lot of us in the Church of England have that sort of relationship. We’d learned to live with it — until it all got a bit too much.’ It was last November — after nearly a year of handwringing, agonising and (presumably quite lively) discussions with the four sons who rarely went to church and would soon be homeless if he decided to go — that he made his big announcement in church. Father Minchew has taken around 70 parishioners from St Michael’s and All Angels Church (pictured) to the Catholic Church across the road ‘I put it off and put it off for three months. Then one Sunday at the end of November I did it. ‘I’m not the world’s most tactful man — I shoot from the hip. But I really wanted to get it right — I was worried people might think I was abandoning them. I was so nervous and emotional that I can’t really remember much of what I said, but I do remember saying: “I’m not abandoning you. I am leading you — and this is the pathway that I believe with all my heart we have to follow.”‘ His flock were ‘surprised and astonished’, but barely wavered. ‘Immediately after the service, at least 20 people came up to me and said: “Sign me up Father, I’m coming too.”‘ Four months later, 70 of them — and his sons (‘this whole thing has galvanised them’) — had joined him. There are certain practicalities to switching sides. He must attend a series of lectures and tutorials and his followers have to have a period of instruction in the essentials of the Catholic faith. And, er, what about the vow of celibacy? ‘The rule is, if you’re married now, you can be ordained with a wife. But if you haven’t got one, you can’t nip out and get one.’ And is that a big deal? I’m off: Father Minchew is heading across the road to St Mary’s Catholic Church ‘How do I put this gently? I’m at the age where all I want at night is a cup of cocoa. Everybody makes a great deal about celibacy and says it’s so hard. But it’s part of the discipline you accept.

We’ve forgotten about discipline and obedience in the Anglican Church.’ Donald predicts that if the General Synod votes in favour of women bishops in July, many more will follow him, all over the country. Many congregants share Donald’s concerns. Others just want to worship in a church where the congregation is huge and thriving rather than thin, failing and increasingly side-lined. Donald insists he isn’t homesick for his old church down the road (though, he says wistfully, ‘it is a very beautiful church’), but he must find it all rather strange. Instead of being ‘the big wheel’ in his parish, he is now the lowest of the low. He is not ordained in the Catholic Church, has no robes, no job title, no authority. ‘But I love it,’ he says. ‘I finally know where I am. I am not on shifting sand. For the first time in 30 years, I know what my Church believes in.’ And finally, what’s been the reaction of the Anglican Church? ‘The bishop of Southwark and the Archdeacon of Croydon have both been wonderfully supportive to me.’ And others? ‘I couldn’t possibly comment,’ he says with a twinkle.

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