Monday, December 11, 2006

Unity in the Independent Sacramental Movement

There has been a lot of talk lately within the Independent Sacramental Movement about "unity", and I would like to throw in my two cents.

First, some people look at our movement and see the lack of a central organization controlling things and see disunity. They see a lack of neatly organized regional dioceses, with only one bishop per region and only one diocese per region, and see disunity. They see small worshipping communities meeting in homes or rented space, clergy who must work at a secular job to make money, and see a failed model of church.

I look at the same things and see something different. First, having been in both the Episcopal and Roman Catholic denominations, I know that mainstream churches have a lot less unity than many realize. The Episcopal Church's struggles have occurred in the newspapers, with splits, and constant fighting, and lawsuits over property. While the structure of the Roman Catholic denomination allows it to enforce a greater degree of uniformity, having been in both a traditionalist parish and a liberal order, I know that there is a lot of hostility and resentment between liberals and conservatives, traditionalists and modernists, and there are different camps within that denomination that have as little to do with one another as possible, each seeing itself as the authentic expression of Roman Catholicism.

When I look at our movement, I see a movement that empowered African Americans through the consecration of George McGuire and the establishment of the African Orthodox Church at a time when they were relegated to second class in mainstream denominations. I see a movement that consecrated a woman as bishop eight decades before the Episcopalians got around to it. I see a movement that reached out to gay people in 1946, long before any other denomination would touch us with a ten-foot pole. I see a movement that welcomed people attached to the Tridentine Mass and the 1928 Book of Common Prayer when they were persecuted by the Roman Catholic and Episcopal denominations.

None of this would have been possible had we had a centralized authority like the Roman or Anglican denominations.

When I look at our movement, I see a multitude of small, close-knit communities where the faith of Christ is practiced by committed Christians, with the church defined by networks of relationships and not by accidents of geography. I see a movement where men and women are so committed to the ordained ministry that they exercise it without a paycheck, and a church willing to accept the gifts of those rejected by other churches. I see a movement that is committed to inclusion. And while I do see some problem clergy and some troubled communities, I've seen those in the Episcopal and Roman Catholic denominations as well. (I'm not picking on these two denominations in this post, by the way, it's just that most of those in our movement seem to have been in one or the other or both of these two denominations, and they are the denominations, along with the Eastern Orthodox, that our movement most often compares itself to, and I don't know the Eastern Orthodox church well enough to comment, though I suspect it has the same problems as all other churches, since its members are human beings.) I'm reminded of Jesus' parable of the wheat and the tares -- the owner of the field counsels against pulling up the tares, for fear of also destroying some of the wheat.

My vision of unity does not involve reducing the number of jurisdictions, or restricting the creation of new ones, or of attempting to form some sort of grand megajurisdction. Rather, I would like to see jurisdictions get to know one another (and take the time to do that well before moving on to other steps). I would like to see us regard ourselves as a family, much as churches with congregational polity do, and work collaboratively where possible. For example, when I receive inquiries from those interested in ordination, if I think there is another jurisdiction they might fit in better with, I refer them. Local interjurisdictional groups can meet together for fellowship. There can be national gatherings for fellowship and worship (and hopefully nothing else).

However, I am extremely suspicious of efforts to create institutions beyond the jurisdictional level. First, such institutions divert energy and resources away from what ought to be our first priority, which is the creation and sustenance of local parish communities. Second, they will inevitably attempt to control the jurisdictions, which will not work, and which will only create more animosity. Problem jurisdictions will always be with us, interjurisdictional efforts to control them won't work, and the efforts to do so would be better expended on creating healthy commuities. Like the wheat and the tares, let God deal with sorting out which is which. If you see a jurisdiction that seems unhealthy, stay away, but pray for them, and rather than attacking them, build up your own.

So I hope that the current move for unity will achieve REAL unity, that based on genuine community and real relationships, and not the creation of yet another organization that, like all its predecessors in our movement, will fail and only divert efforts and energy from building church.


Jim Huffman said...

I think you're on the mark about the perceived unity of some larger church bodies as being something of an illusion. Institutional unity is not always related to a unity of vision or purpose, and sometimes even works at cross-purposes to it.

I get especially irritated sometimes by our Orthodox brethren who proclaim that "one bishop per city" is some kind of requirement, when we all know that this isn't practiced (at least here in the states) in reality. That's OK: I just wish some would not condemn other Christians on the basis of something they themselves don't practice.

+David Dismas said...


A resounding "Amen!" but, I trust, you knew that would be my reaction anyway!

Blessed Advent!


Anonymous said...


Like Bishop David, all I can say is AMEN!!!Well, maybe, AMEN, AMEN!!!


Fr. Joseph Augustine Menna, AIHM
St. Mary of Grace Independent Catholic Church, Media, PA

Alexis said...

I think the best thing we can do for our movement as a whole is to be a resource for one another - this more than anything will, I believe, engender "unity" of identity as OC/IC folk without attempting to re-create Rome, Canterbury, or Constantinople (which is rather silly anyway).


Fr. John Bell said...

Bishop Cravens,
I agree with you wholeheartedly. The unity of the Independent Movement is in it's diversity. We have been trying to get ICOC people here in the Bay Area to gather socially and get to know one another, but so far our efforts have no borne much fruit, we will continue in future however and, God willing, we will get some kind of movement going.
Blessings on you.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Timothy, for your wise words.

I remember your wisdom from when we were students at HDS (you survived longer than I did, and look much better for the experience).

I have found as a monk in the geographically dispersed Benedictine Order of St. John the Beloved that God nevertheless calls us to local service no matter what our larger affiliation.

Thank you, again for your thoughtful and well-reasoned words from a fellow "Independent Catholic" assisting an inclusive, inner-city, gay-friendly, Episcopal parish just up the river in Trenton, NJ.

Pax et bonum.
Br. Christopher (Jon-Carl) Lewis, OSJB

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