Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Renewing the spirit

Some of my best experiences in the independent sacramental movement have been attending weekend retreats or gatherings where people from different parts of the country gather for a few days of fellowship, liturgy, and often, ordinations. My first such gathering, in 1999, was the yearly meeting of the Friends Catholic Communion. Although not a part of that body at that point, I was ordained a deacon on Saturday afternoon, and two bishops were consecrated the following day. I attended a couple of other gatherings of FCC, the last being a joint retreat with the Catholic Church of the Holy Grail (now the Contemporary Catholic Church) in Richmond, Indiana. In my early years of involvement with this movement, my religious life was divided between worshipping in a local Episcopal church where my involvement in the independent sacramental movement was not known, and practicing a liturgical and sacramental life in solitude at home, a practice which sustained my involvement in various social justice movements. Those weekend gatherings were wonderful because they supplied me with almost my only experience of community within this movement, apart from internet connections. (My experience is rather common, because many are ordained in our movement for a solitary liturgical life combined with a ministry in the world that is non-parochial, and many of these worship in mainstream churches who do not recognize their ordination.)

Since moving to Philadelphia, I have come to a much more integrated practice, since I am now co-pastor of an independent sacramental parish and therefore part of a small local community. Also, before moving, I did help organize an informal group of independent sacramentalists in New York who meet roughly quarterly for dinner and fellowship, and have continued to participate even after the move. And, while it is less than ideal, I have forged many close friendships with fellow independent sacramentalists by email.

Nevertheless, this past weekend, I had a MARVELOUS time attending the retreat of the Augustinians of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, to which was added an ad hoc gathering of Independent Catholic Christian Church clergy, including an ordination. It reaffirmed my strong belief that this is that part of Christ’s church to which God has called me (it’s not for everyone – our movement complements the more mainstream denominations in the one body of Christ). There were eight of us present for the retreat.

The liturgies were very powerful. Before the retreat actually began, I conferred the subdiaconate on Bryan Marabanian in a simple mass in the chapel. We prayed lauds and vespers each morning and evening, Friday evening through Sunday morning. John Bartholomew Scott was received as a novice on Saturday night. Friday night, we had a compline service of reconciliation, with Fr. Joseph Menna, Prior General of the AIHM and myself available to hear confessions, an oblate bishop anointing, and the giving of general absolution. We had a spontaneous compline on Saturday night that was mostly silence and Taize chant. This singing was quite beautiful – we were an all-male group (by happenstance, not by design, as both groups are open to women), and I added bass lines wherever I could.

Saturday morning, we had a beautiful mass for the ordination of Bryan to the diaconate. Several of us had tears in our eyes at different points. We did a contemporary setting of the Litany of Saints (Becker), and I included a verse with Independent Catholic saints. I could palpably feel their presence with us. The entire mass was very moving. This was the first time I have conferred major orders (not counting being a co-consecrator at episcopal consecrations), and it was a very powerful experience. I truly believe the Holy Spirit was present. Sunday morning, we had another beautiful mass for the renewal of Fr. Joseph's vows. His homily beautifully summed up the weekend.

Fr. Joseph led most of the sessions, which were focused on the Myers Briggs test, which everyone had taken, based on Jungian archetypes, and the implications for spirituality and for working together as church. The information was very helpful, and the exercises we did facilitated getting to know one another. The highlight was perhaps the assignment to determine the Jungian spirituality type (using the two middle polarities of the Myers Briggs) of the four main characters of the Golden Girls and Star Trek – one of the groups also analyzed Will & Grace! I also led a session on Independent Catholic history on Saturday evening, and I will be writing up the talk for an article.

The fellowship was wonderful. Old friendships were strengthened, and new ones were forged. Sadly, for me, this was very much at the expense of getting good nights’ sleep, and I ended up not going to work on Monday to recover! One of the retreatants received word late Saturday night that his sister had died. We supported him in prayer and friendship the rest of the retreat.

Fr. Seraphim McCune, an ICCC priest from Texas, although not able to be present, graciously gave a beautiful wooden monstrance he made to the Order of Augustinians of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

I very much look forward to future retreats as a way to renew the spirit – and I urge others in this movement to attend such gatherings whenever possible.

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