Further Reflections on Independent Sacramental Churches

Dr William Tighe sent me an e-mail this morning with a reference to a book I bought some time ago – The Many Paths of the Independent Sacramental Movement (Independent Catholic Heritage) by John P. Plummer. I wrote Independent Sacramental Movement more than five years ago when I bought this book and emphasised with his perspective. I also wrote at various moments Further on the “indie” conversation, A Serious Look at Old Catholicism and The Desire for the Mitre.

With precious little experience of the American situation, I can only really go by what is found online. In October 2012, I collected a number of websites and blogs showing bishops and other clergy with a less self-important attitude, and who had simplified their “style” to suit reality. Nearly all these sites have disappeared, and some also provoke my Norton Anti-virus software to warn me about the dangers of being on such-and-such a page with nothing relevant to the subject of independent Catholicism. I tend to heed such warnings to keep my computer clean. What has happened. John Plummer’s Youtube videos have disappeared and his blog page has remained untouched since September 2012. On Facebook, he and some of his friends like John Treat appear like delightful gentlemen, committed to academia and good living, but with precious little in the way of ecclesiastical appearance or language. It is altogether understandable. Already, in the conclusion of his book, John Plummer described his disillusionment of people “playing church” and representing a whole kaleidoscope of conflicting ideas of what Christianity should be to certain minority groups.

The American situation is indeed fleeting and ephemeral. In France, some of the Gallican churches (some more Roman in expression, some using a “Gallican” rite) have become quite stable and endure over the years. Others have vanished. Roman Catholic traditionalist radicalism has motivated others, and some have survived, and others have gone or emigrated to the USA in the hope of finding some respectability. I had something of a brush with this world in the early 2000’s but became disillusioned and sought a more ecclesial dimension. That led me back to Continuing Anglicanism.

I don’t think there is much to say now. In England, some of the more spectacular prelates have shrunk into the underworld whether or not they maintain some internet and Facebook presence. There was one pretending to be a regular Roman Catholic whilst being in the Duarte Costa succession. Others show their honesty and originality like Archbishop Jerome Lloyd, who is a delightful person.

Let us be frank: it is an underworld full of good and bad, like any church, including the mainstream ones. What is the minimum for being in the Church of God or just some kind of false pretence? I don’t think the criteria are set in stone, but we all have decisions to make in life. Times have changed and Christianity is no longer something of the masses except in American mega churches and in past times. The priesthood has to mean something different, and that is the great insight of men like John Plummer and John Treat with his monastic experience.

The first thing is not appearing to be what we are not. My Bishop in England can do what he does because he has a real little diocese with priests, deacons and parishes – however small they are. I live in France and the people here, my wife included, haven’t the remotest interest in the kind of religion to which I aspire. Should I change, become an uber-extrovert mega-church pastor? No, I have to be what I believe in, so that means the intellectual life and education of those disposed to take an interest. With the rest of the world, you might as well photograph my 12-foot boat in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean (before it sinks!). We are swamped by indifference on every side, and none of us matters. Perhaps we matter at another level, and this is a part of our self-discovery and acceptance. Life is above the “low-born clods of brute earth”.

What has always encouraged me is the fact that monks can become priests, and often do. They will not (ordinarily) be parish priests, but contemplatives, intellectuals and craftsmen. It occurs to me that the Benedict Option will not be so much the construction of intentional communities (though that might happily happen in some places) but our own focus on finding God’s calling and living it where we are, the way we are. Some independent priests, like us in the continuing Anglican churches, will find their meaning and authenticity in this way. However, I fear that few will have the humility and spiritual maturity for it.

Some of us have been down this road, and remain modest and circumspect in our expression. We should express ourselves with compassion, giving souls credit for the good they try to do in the ways they alone know.

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