Seventy Five Years of Service 1940-2015 (and on-wards) The Company of Mission Priests, a dispersed men’s community founded in 1940, has now completed 75 years of service to the Church, and is looking forward to many more such years.
The outbreak of World War II presented the Church of England with many urgent pastoral and practical problems. In January 1940, these problems led the Superiors of the three Religious Communities (SSJE, CR and SSM) to issue an Appeal addressed to the clergy, supported by a covering letter from the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Cosmo Lang. There was a need, they said, to form a company of Mission Priests, who would undertake to remain free from the personal and financial obligations of marriage and family life so that they could work, if necessary, without a full stipend, and be available to go wherever they might be needed. In this way, the pastoral and provision made for the future growth of the “housing estates which threaten to become new centres of heathenism.”
These Mission Priests, the Appeal suggested, would not take vows, as members of the Religious Communities did, but would bind themselves to this form of Apostolic Life by a solemn Promise to be renewed annually; and could withdraw from the Company on giving the required notice.
A number of priests responded, and the first members were admitted on the 2nd of May 1940. By 1944, the Company had 26 members, 19 of whom were serving in the parishes, while the others were chaplains to the Armed Forces or working in Africa. Since then, the Company has continued to serve both Church and people, primarily in the large housing estates and inner-city areas of England, but also, for many years, overseas, in Guyana and Madagascar.
A crisis, and its outcome In 1992 the Company had over 40 members; but the decision of the Church of England’s General Synod in that year to proceed to the ordination of women to the priesthood caused a crisis of conscience for many. As a result, in 1994 over half of the members withdrew in order to seek admission to the Roman Catholic Church.
During 1994 and 1995, the remaining members engaged in a serious and prayerful re-examination of the Company’s life and purpose. This led, among other things, to a recognition of our affinity in spirit, and work, with the original body of Mission Priests, founded by St. Vincent de Paul in 1625, and, then, to our joy, to a growing affiliation with the worldwide Vicentian family, which includes the Congregation of the Mission, the Daughters of Charity, and our own Anglican Sisters of Charity, as well as the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and some other bodies. We have gained much from this ecumenical closeness, and we are very grateful to our confreres and sisters for their help and guidance.
In the year 2000 and onwards The new millennium finds us doubled in number since 1995, and with signs of further growth. We can still be found working primarily in the big housing estates and inner-city areas, engaging in mission, but a great change has meantime come over us. Once we were well known for operating “clergy houses”, where two or more of our members lived and worked together. Now, because of the shortage of clergy, the needs of the Church are different; so very many of our members live and work separately. However, we try to arrange for such members to be able to share with others nearby, wherever possible, in some elements of common life, prayer and recreation, as well as in the regular meetings of the Company in its regional and general Chapters.
All members of the Company undertake to observe simplicity of life, to remain unmarried so long as they are members (“and in all personal relationships to exercise that care which befits priests leading dedicated lives”), to observe a personal rule based on the principles derived from St. Vincent de Paul’s instructions, included in the Company’s customary, and to consult the Warden and Council about changes of work.
We welcome enquires from priests and ordinands who may be interested in learning more about the Company, and possibly joining us. For further information about CMP, contact the following (website forthcoming):
The Company of Mission Priests’ prayer
God, our Father, You turn us from the vanities of the world and kindle within us the love of our high calling; inspire the hearts of all united in the Company of Mission Priests, that we may be faithful to our promises made for your glory and the salvation of souls. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
This is a prayer I say every day as a member of the Company of Mission Priests. CMP was founded at the beginning of the Second World War by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York. The idea was a fresh expression of Church then, and perhaps it could be still: to staff poor parishes with unmarried priests, who would live together in a clergy house on reduced stipends and minimal expenses.
That element of financial sacrifice for the mission of the Church lies behind the opening lines of the prayer. Nowadays, many members of CMP work in hard contexts, perhaps where it would not be so easy for a married priest with a family. But, wherever members of the Company find themselves — indeed, wherever any priest is called to minister — the love of our high calling is always an inspiration and reason to stay, be faithful, and find joy. Speaking as one who is all too easily charmed by the vanities of the world, I find this prayer a helpful way of opening my eyes to a more godly perspective on life in general, and the call to the priesthood in particular. This daily prayer, asking the Father to inspire our hearts, is one of the foundations of my spiritual life as a parish priest. But I do not pray it for myself alone. This is a prayer for all who are united in our Company. Each week, every member of the Company, including the departed, is named affectionately before God by every other CMP priest.
Perhaps this careful, attentive intercession is one of the reasons we find strength to bear with one another, notwithstanding the tensions that can inevitably occur within any company of people. I think this prayer, and the loving communion that it brings to effect, is something the Company can humbly show to the Church — this time, not as anything fresh, but as a profoundly traditional expression of Church, and one that can all too easily be overlooked when Christians have urgent agendas to pursue. The reason for our prayer is to ask God that all we do and say may be for his glory and for the salvation of souls. This reminds me of the splendid hymn by George Herbert, “Teach me, my God and King”, which speaks of doing things for God’s sake:
The servant with this clause Makes drudgery divine; Who sweeps a room, as for thy laws, Makes that and the action fine.
No one I consulted could remember who wrote the CMP prayer, but it is a big help to me. It reminds me that my vocation in the Company can make drudgery divine, too. And if I do not always feel instinctively elated by the prospect of a school governors’ meeting or the deanery synod, then this daily reminder that my work is for the glory of God and the salvation of souls is one sure way to keep me sane and happy. I hope that readers have prayers that help them in the same way, too.
Fr Tim Pike is Vicar of Holy Innocents’, Hornsey, and former Warden of the Company of Mission Priests.
The Warden: Fr. Beresford Skelton CMP The Secretary: Fr Philip North CMP St Mary Magdalene's Vicarage The Rectory 21 Wilson Street 191 St Pancras Way Millfield London NW1 9NH Sunderland SR4 6HJ Telephone 0191 565 6381 Telephone 020 7485 5791 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Email: email@example.com
THE COMPANY OF MISSION PRIESTS WEB-SITE Vincentian Millennium Partnership - "Working together to overcome poverty" Inspired by Vincent de Paul The Vincentian Millennium Partnership is an umbrella organisation set up to foster networking and collaboration among those organisations in Great Britain which are influenced by the spirit of St Vincent de Paul. The ethos of the Vincentian Family is rooted in the Gospels and may be best summed up by these words of Jesus:
“Whatever you do to the least of my brothers and sisters you do it to me.”