Further on the “indie” conversation

I have been writing a few articles recently about independent Catholicism, and Analysis of the Independents has attracted some attention from the persons running St. Rafe’s and Bože, the Slavonic word for God. As far as I can gather, in these two sites, we seem to be faced with a new, more intellectual and more spiritual tendency. My article has been reviewed in An Interesting Consideration of Independent Catholicism, and I left a comment.

What do I find in this posting? I don’t like the word indie very much. It is short for independent, and seems to be a self-description of clerics and lay Christians who identify with what has come to be termed the independent sacramental movement. The shortened word suggests what the pretty girls call Indiana Jones in the famous adventure films, or a somewhat trite and banal brand name like aspies for people who are diagnosed with Apergers Syndrome. It is very American, and I tend to be something of an old-fashioned Brit. Anyway, my opinion is of little consequence.

This subject as a religious phenomenon is a learning curve for us all. For the author of this posting, called Alexis, I seem to accept “standard criticism” of the Indie movement saying that it’s a dead end before moving onto a more open and positive evaluation of some tendencies that distance themselves from the caricatures portrayed by Anson and Brandreth and confirmed by some of the more narcissistic prelates in real life.

If we in the Traditional Anglican Communion have been tempted to look down our noses at independent Catholics and Anglicans, we are getting a taste of our own medicine in no uncertain manner. Our former Primate set in motion a sequence of events that enabled “suitable” elements to be assimilated into the Roman Catholic Church and the trash left on the beach with the wreckage. Anything other than empathy and a compassionate attitude on my part would be the pot calling the kettle black – or l’hospice qui se fout de la charité. I have heard Archbishop Hepworth criticise episcopi vagantes in the past, and I am profoundly embarrassed by some of the articles I have been reading in the blogs and Australian newspapers over the past few days! I should keep my peace on this subject, and will say no more.

What does “dead end” mean? It is the typical attitude one would find with a Roman Catholic cleric or one in the Anglican Communion who would say that the independents have no or few churches, lay faithful, education or patrimony. Therefore, a community founded by a person will die with that person. What will that person leave behind when he dies, a question we all ask in one way or another. Most of us will leave property to our children or favourite charities. Wanting to be remembered is part of our survival instinct once we accept that we are mortal.

I see all this a little like what I have discovered about Joshua Slocum, who preferred to sail alone and for no purpose other than writing a book about sailing around the world. He did serve and command as a merchant seaman and was a victim of bad luck in a sequence of double and multiple whammies. Having lost his wife, his choice was to lie down and die or to take up the challenge. Perhaps that epic voyage in an old converted fishing boat will serve as a perfect analogy of independent sacramental Christian existence!

I wrote in my comment:

Dead end? Not dead end? I can only point to the hopelessness some of us can feel, that is until we look at the inevitable demise of the mainstream churches. Is Christianity itself on its way out? To be replaced by Islam or some kind of Orwellian dystopia? Fundamentalism, intolerance and fanaticism seem to have a “future”, but one in which I would want no part. I am open-minded and I need to have more experience of independent communities. The various ones here in France seem to be about dressing up, inflated egos and exorcisms for money. To use a metaphor, you can steer a boat without a rudder by balancing the mainsail and the jib – it’s a knife edge. I am very happy to see you, John Plummer and others showing a new and more contemplative way, something more humble, modest and realistic. Some expressions can be a dead end, and others show hope. We are often concerned to leave something for posterity and we fail. Life itself is a dead-end with only faith in the Resurrection.

The other elephant in the room is the question of a lay “market”. Generally, the independent way is the only “outlet” for our vocations, whilst the laity can shop around and find a church they like and which includes them. The only future I can see is a kind of “secular monasticism”, and there is a developing movement in this direction. We just have to be careful of the temptation of wanting to live by our priesthood – it leads to dishonesty. We need to earn our living independently of our priestly calling. That is what monks do in conventional monasteries, making pots, cottage crafts and that sort of thing. I do technical translations for industrial customers.

It is still in the “building site” stage, and many aspects of our religious life are still on the drawing board. So, I can’t be “dogmatic” in affirming a “dead end” or lack thereof. But the danger is there. It’s up to us and each one of us.

What seems not to be a dead end is our spirituality and supernatural life. Independent Christian communities can be as mortal as their founders, or something passes onto a new generation. This is certainly what the mainstream churches represent or used to represent. They have generations behind them and they count of generations being before them into the future. It is quite a materialistic conception of the Church – as visible as the Republic of Venice, a saying attributed to the Counter-Reformation Jesuit theologian Robert Bellarmine.

How can something so ephemeral be someone’s spiritual home, when you’re the only bishop or priest and either living an underground existence or offering some related “service to customers” on an individual basis like exorcisms or medium readings? Many of us have been through this agony, including some “official church” priests and clergy from then more “successful” churches – successful at bringing in the laity and source of financial income, building parishes and structures, and so forth.

Part of the crisis of modern Christianity is depending on the old “worldly success” and keeping the buildings and visible symbols going at all costs. The essential message I am learning from the “indies” is that the Church is not the visible institution, or at least confined by it. The Spirit blows where the Spirit wills, and grace can be conveyed by the poorest, broken and most unlikely vessels. That is the message of Jesus when he said the first will be last and the last first.

Much energy is wasted in justifying the existence of a small marginal community in relation to the mainstream churches, which don’t want the “rabble” in any case. Saying – We are not like you but are like you and share in your priesthood provokes no end of polemics and the answer comes back, saying – You are copying us to take our faithful and our money, and you have no right to exist!

It really does seem to me that if the “indie” world has any value, and I believe some elements have, the only future I can see is indeed a kind of “secular monasticism” and a ministry of availability to the world and all who come our way.

I would certainly appreciate comments if they show compassion and empathy. Make the effort and perhaps the conversation can go wider and deeper.

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3 Responses to Further on the “indie” conversation

  1. AbpLloydOSJV says:

    I’m afraid, what one can’t get away from – whatever nomenclature or polity one elects – is that people will always ask how one’s particular church fits in with the wider, Universal Church. This is most especially true for anyone claiming to be “Catholic” (or Orthodox). I imagine in America this is lessened to some extent, there being such a wide variety and plethora of denominations and sects and historically and thus culturally no “establishment” concept for any particular church. In Europe however, the “established” Churches still retain a significant influence in the public and social sphere, such that is it nigh impossible to operate anywhere without being compared to them. The issue for “Continuing” Anglicans in the UK is the constant reference to the Church of England, and for any “Catholic” party is the overbearing presence of Roman Catholicism everywhere else.

    It has been my experience thus far that the only way to counter this handicap is a) to be bold about one’s tradition i.e. justification for existence, being clear to explain it and preferably with as much “fact” as possible, both historical and theological so that “it is there” for anyone to see and read on websites or publicity materials and b) be as active as possible in the local community, thus proving by “faith and works” the sincerity and credibility of one’s ministry. In this respect it is incredibly important to be known ecumenically – in Europe we have ecumenical groups like “Churches Together” of one kind or another across the continent – wherever possible, one should ensure membership at the local level. This provides a) the opportunity to explain oneself and b) perhaps more importantly, provides an opportunity for others to ask about one’s Church and ministry directly and c) prevents (or at least lessens) the ability of others to create gossip, be totally dismissive or cause scandal through ignorance. It may also provide opportunities in partnership and resources to enable or share in various kinds of apostolate. At the end of the day, it is about “community” – one’s own and the wider community in which one lives and operates and the relational aspect, internally and externally.

    • Dear Archbishop Jerome, I wouldn’t contradict you, as you are obviously working out a way forward in urban Brighton. You have a cosmopolitan and open-minded “market” and I know that the south coast towns of England are populated by very different people than in the northern French towns the other side of the same bit of sea.

      The reference (as you say is inescapable) to parent churches is the very thing that starts cognitive dissonance in many independent priests and bishops. They exhaust themselves by modelling themselves on Roman Catholics and Anglicans, but yet justifying their separation from those churches rather than knuckling under as lay people (having laid aside their vocation) who are “unsuitable” for the priesthood. I suppose you have a niche for liturgical traditionalist Catholicism whilst rejecting the intégriste aspect involving extreme politics, intolerance and closed-mindedness. There I can see a space for Old Roman Catholicism. The only real test is the success of church plants and finding “clients”.

      England is more like the USA in that there is a multiplicity of spiritual expressions in mainstream churches, the Establishment and the non-conformists. This is a long tradition in England, and Old (Roman) Catholicism is seen as an expression of religious freedom, albeit “exotic” and “eccentric” to most people. On the European Continent, the grey drabness of ubiquitous Roman Catholicism, the reformed churches, Judaism and Islam is beginning to be coloured by the up-springing of fundamentalist evangelical communities importing aggressive American methods. The only thing that seems to work in France is offering exorcism and faith-healing services, with a sprinkling of fortune telling and clairvoyance to paying customers. That is something I will not do, because it would be dishonest. The spiritual landscape in France is such that ecumenism only works between Roman Catholics, members of the Eglise Réformée de France and Orthodox in communion with the Ecumenical Patriarch. In short, if you’re not in the mainstream churches, you’re gate crashing. So round and round you go in circles.

      Of course we have flashy media savvy bishops like Archbishop Dominique Philippe in Paris. After several years at it, they have established their boutique, which becomes closed to protect itself. And I believe that archbishop is an honest man, but many others are not. And those characters are discrediting all who are “out of the box”.

      I sympathise with the notion of a certain number of “reforms”. I read opinions like the biggest problem in Independent Catholicism is the bishops. I feel awkward with the idea of having fully formed dioceses with curial offices and all the paraphernalia, whilst the only person in the diocese is the bishop and a handful of unattached Christians who occasionally or regularly attend Mass. I read this in a blog:

      If I could advise the bishops to do one thing it would be this: stop. Stop consecrating anyone with a pulse. Stop forming dioceses and appointing auxiliary bishops. Stop making exceptions for bishops who are too young, unformed, uneducated, inexperienced, and the like. Stop saying you need more bishops to “help” as you work to “grow.” Stop calling yourselves metropolitans, archbishops, patriarchs and other titles that clearly make you look silly. Stop giving your priests titles like monsignor, archpriest and whatnot that makes them look silly. Stop ordaining people who are ill formed and uneducated. Stop dressing like Roman Cardinals. Just… stop.

      I make no accusations, but I would have no inclination towards this kind of behaviour if I were considering founding a branch or diocese of something claiming the Mathew or Vilatte patrimony – or that of Duarte Costa, Ngo-Dinh-Thuc, Milingo or Williamson for that matter. There are many wise things you say, and the essential is our relationship with the local community, involvement in philanthropy and humanitarian work. In many situations, we will have to do that in civil dress and keeping absolute silence about our religious life, on pain of being told to go away and respect the secular character of the work in question.

      One thing Old (Roman) Catholicism and continuing Anglicanism have in common is that we have too many bishops. I laid down my own episcopate in 2005 to serve in the TAC as a humble priest. I have still not got used to having been “made redundant” or “orphaned”, but have no desire to revive the episcopate. No one has asked me for it, and no authority has invested me with a canonical mission. I remain confused and broken in many ways and limp along as a priest. I would love to see a church where there is just one bishop, ten or twenty loyal priests and a number of family-like communities, oratories, parishes, call them what you will. The nearest thing is when bishops have started some kind of religious life with a character of originality.

      I’m still learning and trying to discern a way forward, whilst being utterly sincere and real about everything.

      • AbpLloydOSJV says:

        I agree with much of what you say concerning bishops, titles and jurisdictions and am working with others to address that, there is an increasing desire generally among ORC’s for some organic unity and a return to some of the movement’s original principles, like one church per nation. I’ve already offered a considerable concession on our part towards effecting such unity. These things will take time though and part of the reform will involve the reconciliation of lost sheep and shepherds, some perhaps having to do effectively as you have done with your episcopate. We have to begin somewhere though and a few of us are working towards that.

        Independent bishops in my experience fall into roughly two sorts – the genuine and the deluded – the former often prefer isolation for protection or preservation, the latter need no encouragement, both need careful handling. As always, these things take time and a lot of work building relationships but not a few of us still have hope. I realise that what we are attempting is tantamount perhaps to herding cats, but there is considerable goodwill around at the moment and hopefully that can be channeled into real fraternal charity. Maybe soon, traditional Anglicans will feel moved to try the same?

        I refused consecration more times than I can remember for the sake of there not being “yet another bishop” but the process towards tangible unity – despite my protestations – surprisingly had other ideas. At the moment I am somewhat tied through a sense of obedience and communion to a particular model of church. Contrary to many in our movement, I have a strong sense of loyalty and take obedience seriously, unfortunately this has sometimes been abused and regretfully to my own detriment, but I hope not to repeat the same mistakes myself nor allow others to either. I won’t be used as a pawn in somebody else’s grand Chess game again and neither will I use others. I certainly won’t let it prevent me from trying to change things though. If I had my way (and perhaps, when), leading a team of religious in missionary work through philanthropic apostolates on a quasi-Celtic model of local ecclesiology would be my ideal. I’m working towards it! Meanwhile I try to keep it “real” by engaging in such work as best I may and doing what I can to enable and further reform.

        It would seem there is a difference either side of the sleeve in terms of what’s possible. Amazingly secularist humanism hasn’t risen so far on this side of the Channel that we have to hide our religious faith to engage in charitable humanitarian aid. Not having had three revolutions nor anti-clerical laws means there is still some residue of acceptance culturally here for Christian do-gooders! I think rather on this side of the Channel, we have to be more prominent in demonstrating our faith while we still can before the tide completely turns and we end up with a similar situation to you in France! Frankly, although I’d be the first to say we are suffering mild persecution, we’re not suffering martyrdom just yet and until we are, I see no reason to meekly kowtow to the secularist zeitgeist. Similarly though, with regard to ecumenism, progress in equality and diversity, support for minorities and religious freedom mean that it is less easy for the “establishment” to prevent smaller groups from participating – usually because the pervading liberal mentality of the ‘establishment’ here recognises that would be an injustice.

        The overall real challenge though is the same for all Christian churches, mission and evangelism and one thing one doesn’t find written about much is this important field of endeavour in the ‘independent/continuing’ movement. It does often seem to me how very introspective most of our blogging and internet activity is. Its easy to find out how to dress an altar or oneself, convert a shed into a chapel or recite Mattins from a half-dozen assorted publications, or gossip or quarrel and be generally uncharitable about everyone else, but how to engage with actual people in conversation about Jesus… and how to encourage and equip others to do so too…? Zilch! When we’ve addressed that, we might begin to give the mainstream an honest run for its money and put our reforms in place!

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