Don’t worry, I’m not losing my curmudgeonly streak, but for once it’s nice to turn one’s attention to Austrian matters without tearing one’s hair out about Klingon liturgies or such. Rather, we turn our attention to a small matter of real estate in the Ottakring district of Vienna.
This concerns a local church whose congregation has got too small for it to be viable. Well, that happens all over. England is coming down with such churches, which we’ll come to in a moment. However, under a policy instituted by our old friend Cardinal Christoph von Schönborn, the Archdiocese of Vienna won’t sell its churches to property developers, nor let them go derelict. The preference is that a house of worship should remain in the line of business for which it was built.
Thus the matter of the Pfarrkirche Neulerchenfeld. While, as always in these cases, its congregation is none too thrilled at being amalgamated with another parish – nonetheless, there’s a heartwarming little story here of practical ecumenism, as the Count has gifted the church to Vienna’s sizeable, but lacking in accommodation, Serbian Orthodox community. The deed has now been signed over and the building is due to start its career as a place of Orthodox worship this summer, once necessary adjustments to the interior have been made. Moreover, with the archdiocese having previously gifted churches to the Syrians and Copts, Vienna is a bit of a pioneer in this regard.
So, apart from the disgruntled parishioners, it looks like a good move. The Serbs, who’ve up until now had three tiny churches serving a community of about 200,000, are understandably happy. And this magnanimous act of giving a sister church a helping hand certainly makes the Count look good. Nor can this sort of gesture hurt the ongoing Catholic-Orthodox unity discussions.
Now then. This has a rather obvious relevance to the matter of the English Ordinariate. One of the chronic problems facing the good old C of E is that it has too many buildings and not enough people to fill them. Well, it’s one thing for the C of E to respond to the establishment of the Ordinariate with a prickly and legalistic insistence that no Tiber-swimming Anglo-Catholics are going to be allowed to take their church buildings with them. However, as we know, formal ownership of buildings and use of buildings are not the same thing. Indeed, following the last exodus in the early 1990s there were some local moves towards church-sharing, which were scuppered under not particularly edifying circumstances.
I don’t mean to imply that the response of the C of E as such to the Ordinariate initiative has been uncharitable. For the most part, it’s been quite understanding, and +Rowan has shown the generosity of spirit one would expect of him. Nevertheless, there are those who would rather see churches lying derelict, or being flogged off to developers, rather than have those pesky Romanists actually putting them to use. A little flexibility in this area would not go amiss, and to those of an obstructionist bent (and I’m looking at you, Bishop Chartres), I commend the spirit shown by Cardinal Schönborn. Surely, for the ingenious latitudinarians one finds in the C of E hierarchy, a little imagination is not beyond them.