Keeping the Faith: a brief introduction to the SMF

Posted on the 2nd Jan 2017 in the category Resources

Keeping the Faith: An article by Fr William Davage for the journal Together, reproduced here with permission. 

In the wake of the Oxford Movement, the Society for the Maintenance of the Faith was founded in 1873 by two brothers, Canon Edward Wood, Vicar of St Clement’s, Cambridge, and James Wood, a lawyer. Its object then, and now, is “to promote and maintain Catholic teaching and practice.” From its inception, the principal means of doing this was through the acquisition and exercise of patronage. None of it was purchased, unlike the practice of other patronage trusts. The founders considered trade in advowsons to be uncanonical. Advowsons came to the Society by gift or bequest and still do today.


The Society was to have a lay President and lay Trustees in whom the advowsons (as a “peculiar property”) were vested. There was a Council from which was drawn a Patronage Board that had to be chaired by a cleric. The intention was that the Society would be the main holder of patronage for the Catholic Movement. Although it holds the largest number of advowsons (some ninety), other Catholic societies or institutions also exercise patronage.


Major changes in the exercise of patronage were made by General Synod in the mid 1980’s and the powers of the patron were circumscribed. There is now a tripartite system where the patron, the bishop and elected parish representatives have particular roles in a series of checks and balances between them. There were difficulties for a private or a corporate patron to exercise their rights with the increasing use by bishops of the power to suspend the rights of a patron for reasons of pastoral re-organisation. This sometimes bore adversely on the ability of the Society to maintain a Catholic tradition in its parishes. Further more recent changes which saw the abolition of freehold for Common Tenure also saw a widening of the reasons available to suspend. Although the Society retains sole patronage in about half of its Livings, others are shared, sometimes with several other patrons.


Today the Society seeks to fulfil its historic role and wishes to keep faith with the past and to assert the importance of the parish in the Church’s mission of pastoral care and service to God’s children. As well as appointing Incumbents, the Society also supports those parishes under its patronage with grants, usually for repairs or improvements to the fabric of the church, when funds allow. The Society can often provide independent advice to its parishes or incumbents. Given that most of the Society’s work is out of the wider public gaze, its membership is small but is open to any who can subscribe to its aims. Applications can be made and need to be countersigned by a member of the Council. There is an Annual Festival and General Meeting and a Buffet Luncheon, usually in May. 


This article first appeared in Together, published by The Society under the patronage of St Wilfrid and St Hilda, and is reproduced here by permission. 


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