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.