Frances Carroll and the Coquettes

Sunday Night Journal — August 12, 2012

Father Oddie and Me

 From 1984 until 1990 I lived in Huntsville, Alabama, and my parish there was St. Mary of the Visitation, or, as it was generally called, simply Visitation. It was the oldest parish in town, and was therefore located near the original center of what had been a very small town until after World War II, when the Defense Department made its military base, Redstone Arsenal, a center for rocket development which eventually became the Marshall Space Flight Center. 

Across the street that ran behind Visitation was an Anglican church, of which I can't remember the name. Anglican, not Episcopal: it was one of those groups which had broken away from the Episcopal Church because of the latter's departure from its traditional beliefs and indeed from traditional Christianity in general. That's an old story with which anyone who's been around for the past thirty or forty years is very familiar. Some of the groups that struck out from the Episcopal Church were low-church evangelicals--there is an Anglican church not far from where I live now which describes itself as Traditional Protestant Episcopal (my emphasis), and which appeared, on the one occasion when I peeked inside, to have no altar. Others were on the Catholic end of the Anglican spectrum, and the Huntsville group was one of those. 

Suffering from occasional bouts of liturgical distemper which included both unhappiness with the Catholic liturgy and fond memories of the Anglican liturgy as I'd known it at Canterbury Chapel in Tuscaloosa before turning Catholic, I sometimes wondered about the little Anglican church behind Visitation. But I never made any attempt to get acquainted with the place and its congregation, partly because I was concerned that it might be too great a temptation. 

So as far as I can remember I entered the building on one occasion only. That was sometime in the late 1980s, when I attended a talk by a Fr. William Oddie, a priest in the Church of England. I think I saw some sort of advertisement for the talk, and though I can't remember now what it said it was interesting enough that I decided to attend. Perhaps it was advertised as being specifically about Anglican-Catholic relations, the dialog and the future possibilities. At any rate, I went. 

There are really only three things I remember about the event: first, that I was greeted at the door by a pleasant and somehow very Episcopalian gentlemen--by that, I suppose I mean that he was courteous and pleasant, though not exuberantly glad-handing, well-dressed, and had about him an air of tasteful affluence. The talk was to be held in the basement, and either I asked to see the church, or he offered to show it to me. The interior was simple and pleasing, handsome without any ostentation, and there was an altar. And when we entered it my host genuflected. I was pretty disconcerted by that and didn't know whether to follow suit or not. I think I finally did, figuring that if the body of Christ was there I was doing the correct thing, and if not God would understand that I intended no idolatry. 

Second was, of course, Fr. Oddie himself, who was the sort of well-spoken Englishman who tends to impress and captivate Americans, sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. He was a middle-aged man perhaps five or ten years older than I (I was forty at the time), stocky, bespectacled, and I believe he wore a clerical collar. Of his talk, which was, overall, very sympathetic to Rome, I remember only two specific things: an ironic reference to "the redoubtable Bishop Spong," who was then much in the news for his ability to deny almost every article of Christian belief while remaining a bishop, and the assertion that the best Anglican theology was currently being done in Rome. I believe he may have mentioned then-Cardinal Ratzinger as an example, though I'm not sure about that--he did mention some names, and that would have been a likely one.

Third was a brief exchange I had with him after the lecture, when he made himself available for chat with the attendees. I told him that I'd enjoyed the talk and was interested in the whole question because I had left the Episcopal Church for Rome less than ten years before. His response has stayed with me because it was not the sort of polite "oh really how interesting" sort of thing one might have expected. Instead he looked me in the eye, paused for a moment, and said "How do you find it?" It seemed to me that it was not simply a conventional response, but that he really wanted to know. 

I don't have any memory of my reply, which was probably inarticulate. I know it was somehow affirmative. Perhaps I only said "Fine." 

In the years following that talk I saw Fr. Oddie's name here and there, sometimes in Catholic publications, and supposed he must have come over to Rome, which was no surprise at all; I think I must have heard him fairly early in the process of considering the decision, though perhaps he was farther along and keeping it to himself. Lately, with the unlooked-for appearance of an Anglican Ordinariate mission here, I've thought about that exchange with him back in the 1980s, and it occurred to me the other day to search for him on the web. 

I discovered that he's now a regular columnist for the UK's Catholic Herald, which he edited for a time, and, the Olympics being in progress in London, this admirable diatribe was near the top of the search results. He wrote a book in 1997 which seems to have foreseen the Anglican Ordinariate. Somehow I managed to escape hearing that he had written a biography of Chesterton. And, judging by this list of his Herald columns, he might be called "redoubtable" without irony. I look forward to reading a number of them. I think the Herald will become a regular stop for me.


A postscript: the Web is a wonderful thing. I couldn't remember the name of the Anglican church in Huntsville, but Google turned it up immediately: it's the Church of St. Charles King and Martyr (can't get much more Anglican than that), still there and still Anglican. And here is the web site of St. Francis at the Point, which is a few miles down the road from where I live. You'll note the descriptions of the two: "Traditional Episcopal" for the first, "Traditional Protestant Episcopal" for the second.

And here is Canterbury Chapel in Tuscaloosa. Or perhaps here


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Oddie was editor of the Herald for some years. He was fired about six months short of achieving his pension, so he has no pension, and has to write that online column. It doesn't go into the print version.


I hope he was not fired for some evil deed. I guess it must not have been too evil since he's still writing for them.

Btw do you know if it's "OHdee" or "AHdee"?

No, the information I had was that the Chronicle could have kept him for the next six months (or whatever it was) if they had chosen, but then they would have had to contribute to his pension. He hadn't done anything except be on track for a pension, or so I was told.

Its OHdee

I would say, Oddy, like Odd with a y on the end

"odd" is what it looks like, of course, but that invites so many jokes that I thought the family might have insisted on the other pronunciation.

So it was the Catholic employer that did the bad deed, huh? An all too common occurrence.

I'm working 10 or 11 hours today because I have to spend tomorrow morning listening to a discussion of justice.

Well, the Catholic Herald is owned by Conrad Black. He does have form when it comes to defrauding workmen of their pensions.

Oh, well, if Oddie's pension went to pay for one of Black's dinner parties, I guess it's ok.

I don't think it was Black, or anyway, I was told it was other people - Conrad Black didn't come into it.

I hope that you will come back prepared to teach us all about justice.


Give me your money because I will make better use of it than you will.

Fooled you. I don't have any money.


That's ok, you're still part of the group that stuff needs to be taken away from.

Come get this stuff on my desk.


Sorry, it's probably oppressive stuff.

I would have to concur with you there.

Tell you what, I'll give you my Fb timeline and you can give me your old-fashioned page.


You informed on me, didn't you?

Sorry, they told me if I did, I could keep my stuff.


I guess I can't blame you for doing what you had to do.

Joking about the justice stuff aside, there really are a lot of good things being done here under that banner. It's not that there's anything at all wrong with being concerned about "social justice," though I don't like the way the term is loaded. The problem is when the gospel is pushed aside or minimized in favor of it. Which I'm sure is not news to anybody reading this.

I was taught by a priest in a seminar once that the Hebrew word for "justice" meant everything working together in its proper place in the great order of things. That's probably a bad paraphrase, but it was many, many years ago and it was, I think, the first time I was introduced to the idea of "social justice." But I think that just by putting a word in front of "justice," you are, in a way, destroying that integrity. You are heading down a road on which you might give short shrift to other types of justice in favor of this one. I admit I haven't given this a lot of thought. I'm basically thinking aloud, but it seems likely to be true.


I didn't mean that that definition of justice was the first time I was introduced to the concept of social justice, but that the talk was the first one I had heard about the topic.


Short answer: I agree. It's a big topic. And one of the problems I have with the term "social justice" is that the definition of "justice" you cite is not really the same thing people mean by "social justice." If you take "justice" in its straightforward everyday sense, it means people getting what they deserve, and that's definitely not what "social justice" connotes.

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