Independent Sacramental Movement

The Independent Sacramental Movement is quite a “hot” topic to discuss, but there is a site by a priest who has done a considerable amount of work on this subject concerning hundreds of people who have committed themselves to a priestly vocation outside the mainstream churches.

I have discussed this subject here and over at New Goliards. The subject is bewildering by its sheer diversity between the most orthodox and traditionalist to the most inclusive and progressive. About all many of those bishops and priests have in common is that they do not belong to the official Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican and Lutheran Churches in Europe, America and elsewhere in the world.

A book has been written by an erudite young American bishop by the name of John P. Plummer – The Many Paths of the Independent Sacramental Movement. Berkeley: Apocryphile Press 2006. Amazon

This work is reputed for its intellectual honesty, though it is sympathetic to independent bishops and their communities – unlike the more polemical and older works by authors like Henry Brandreth and Peter Anson. It is a good empirical approach, seeking constants and typologies whilst respecting persons and individuality.

The term Independent Sacramental Movement is the idea of Bishop Plummer to include in this broad category all tendencies and traditions, so he omitted the word Catholic to include Anglicans, Orthodox, Lutherans, Methodists, Gnostics, and esoteric Sacramental Christians of all kinds. It is a movement rather than an institution.

Plummer’s reflections, as expressed on this video, make a lot of sense. Are all independent clergy in this situation simply because they are not good enough for the mainstream church, often expressed by their trying to imitate them? Or is there a true identity in independent sacramental Christians, as opposed to “independent Catholics”, “independent Orthodox”, “independent Anglicans”, etc. If “independents” are free from the conflicts of trying to justify themselves with those they seem to imitate, there is the difficulty of assuming freedom and launching forward into a way of creativity and doing something original and convincing. Plummer is not always easy to understand, but much of what he says makes a lot of sense. It’s all about friendship, something we find in the “emergent conversation”.

Some might be harsh with me for giving any kind of “publicity” to those who can be very rapidly branded as quacks, charlatans and false priests. A few may be in it for the money, whether by means of fraud or simony. I think most are probably sincere regardless of the degree of their credal orthodoxy and some measure of academic and practical training for their priestly role. In a strange way, it is probably what remains of the medieval Church before Rome tightened the screws in the sixteenth century. It is a world of modern Goliards and clergy ministering where they find themselves. I have myself had a foot in this category, and can sympathise with a cleric or lay person who finds himself alienated from the mainstream Churches and wanders into the wilderness. But, the wilderness is not the outer darkness of damnation, but the place of God’s presence.

We will find ourselves in a world of “family” communities, the “micro-church” instead of the systems where so many people have to be dealt with that it is impossible on a one-to-one basis. The possibilities and potentials are striking. Many such ministries have been observed to be genuine and authentic communities of Christian life and spirituality, worship and witness.

The site is quite fascinating and well done. It will be an exercise for our ability to be tolerant and to respect diversity. How many of us do not respect a synagogue or a mosque when we visit the building, even if we are not members of that religion? We need to revere the reverence of others. If visiting an independent community, we should not ordinarily expect to find a church, but a private house with a room or outbuilding converted into a chapel.

Of course, many things may jar with the orthodoxies of a conservative Christian. We continuing Anglicans are also “independent sacramental Christians”, and we share the same condition of marginalisation and being shunned as “schismatics”. We may have many questions about some of those communities. Are their priests trained and ordained by valid bishops? What doctrines do they teach and believe? Do they ordain women? Do they approve of homosexuality? Do they follow political agendas?

With so much diversity, it seems that God must be present among all those men and women who pray together in the name of Jesus Christ. It may even be the Church of the future! Who knows?

I for one can only feel sympathy for those who bring Christ to the suffering world.

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2 Responses to Independent Sacramental Movement

  1. Stephen says:

    To paraphrase Voltaire: “I may not agree with the beliefs you profess, but I will defend to the death your right to profess them”.

    I believe that God blesses all who seek Him with purity of heart and intention. I may hold opinions about whether they are heretical or not, and I may (or may not) engage in debate if I am enjoined. I may hold opinions – with justification – about where the fullness of Truth may be found. But I will neither condemn nor spurn those who love God and seek to live according to His will – who am I to raise myself up and sit in judgement? To God alone be glory.

    • Of course most of those bodies and clergy will not survive the challenge of freedom. It is a drama I read a lot about in Berdyaev and other authors: most people need the sense of identity and direction of a mainstream Church, which are of course on the given Church’s terms. Most fail because they tried to replicate the mainstream churches in miniature, and therefore existed only for their own sakes. Now, if the Church can exist in a different way…

      I admire the man who can really launch out on a pilgrimage of freedom, pioneer of something new and original and a real contribution. It is the gift of prophecy and the “aristocracy of the spirit” which express themselves in different ways through explorers, composers, artists and so forth. Few can.

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