Thursday, February 09, 2006

Pass the Unity, Please

There have been many attempts over the years to bring “unity” to the Independent Catholic movement. Often, this comes in the form of some proposed ecclesiastical council or synod. This is a slightly edited version of a post I recently made to an Independent Catholic discussion group in response to one of the latest attempts. I was surprised at how many supportive emails I got in response to it.

“Most of the time, when someone proposes some cooperative body, it is an elaborate one, with long lists of doctrinal standards, validity requirements, educational requirements, etc. Quickly, arguments develop over whether or not these are correct, and over who is or is not valid and is or is not properly educated, not to mention the endless arguments over whether or not this or that person has a “real” ministry – not to mention whether or not people like gays or women. (And for the record, I adhere strictly to the Nicene Creed; have the Mathew, Vilatte, Thuc, Duarte Costa, Ofiesh, Cummins, and a bunch of other lines – including an alleged Mary Magdalene line and various Irvingite, Mormon, and made-up Gnostic lines from dead Cathar bishops appearing in visions – even though I am not an Irvingite, a Mormon, a Gnostic, or a dead Cathar bishop; my M.Div. is from Harvard; we ordain women and lgbt folk and marry gay couples; and we had 10 people at Mass on a recent Sunday, including the man who will be confirmed at Easter – thank you very much.) I have witnessed many bitter feuds between people who have never met in person over these and other similar issues.

Now, if a friend of mine went on a first date and announced the next day that they would be flying out to Vegas within the week to get married, I would try to talk sense into my friend by persuading him or her to get to know the person before rushing into anything.

Similarly, I am very wary of agreeing to join some organization run by people who immediately want to issue all sorts of directives about this or that pet peeve of theirs -- but whom I’ve never met. And, yes, I know the independent sacramental movement is like a breakfast cereal – made up of assorted fruits, nuts and flakes – but I am actually a part of this movement because I like it and feel that this is where I can best serve God, and having been in mainstream denominations, I know that they also have their share of problems – so when the people wanting me to join their group which will finally – yes, this time, we’re really going to do it – reform the movement once and for all and unify everyone – are whining about the long laundry list of faults of the movement, I’m rather turned off.

Here is the actual and only way whatever degree of unity that we may achieve this side of the beatific vision – we need to get together for dinner and visit. No checking of consecration certificates or diplomas or doctrinal statements to see who’s worthy to sit at the table. And the conversation won’t be negotiations for some list of standards that everyone agrees to and no one follows – it will be for the purpose of getting to know each other, hearing each other’s stories, actually listening to one another. No elections for Grand High Patriarchal Poobah and Supreme Water Buffalo of All Independent Catholics Everywhere. And then in a couple of months, we need to do it again. And again. And we can visit each other’s churches.

After actually getting to know one another, and becoming a real community – organically, over time – then maybe we will begin to get to the point of achieving some unity. Some of us have begun doing that in New York and Philadelphia, and I hope others will do so as well.”

I am re-posting it here because I remain convinced that any real unity within our movement must begin with getting to know one another, rather than by setting up elaborate structures similar to the now-defunct National Conference of Independent Catholic Bishops or its proposed replacement, the National Conference of Autocephalous Catholic Bishops and Religious Superiors (website:


Alexis said...

Thank You!

Ten years ago, I was really into the possibility of an "organised" or "corporate" union of the OC/IC community. I would like to think that I've grown since that time, to realise that real unity - as you say, comes only through the development of real realationships. It's that process of learning who in the community you trust, and believe is authentic, not because of what I call their puppy pedigree, but because of the engagement you share with them, and their community.

Sometimes I think that this drive to form a structured unity is grounded not in the expression of our OC/IC heritage, rather a yearning to re-create those institutions and structures some of our co-religionists left (or were expelled from) with heavy hearts.


lukacs said...

Note that the conference table pictured on the front page is empty:

I imagine that the organizers didn't mean to make such a hilarious statement about their prospects.