Life in the Church – part 3 “Adveniat regnam tuum”

Following my ordination and consecration by Dom Phillip Kemp, the church which I co-led experienced a period of growth and development. The new name The Liberal Rite was adopted with effect from 1 January 2007 and reflected our position as part of the Liberal Catholic movement, consisting of churches that used the Liturgy or Rite of the Liberal Catholic Church.

The word “liberal” means different things to different people. I am liberal in some aspects, particularly in my pastoral approach and in my openness to the study of esoteric teachings, but conservative in others, such as the essentials of orthodox theology and my preference for a hierarchical church organization. Others draw the line in different ways. I also believe that liberalism in the context of the Liberal Catholic movement should signify adherence to a positive set of precepts rather than an absence of theological principles and organization.

In many respects, the Liberal Catholic Church from which the Liberal Catholic movement descends is highly conservative. The liturgy is formal, ceremonial in nature and differs little from the pre-Vatican II Tridentine Mass (hence the attraction of the Liberal Catholic Church to a number of Traditional Catholics). The church is administered hierarchically and according to a corpus of canon law, policies and regulations. Its emphasis is sacerdotal rather than evangelical, and it is oriented towards the contemplative and mystic. It has never laid great emphasis on numbers of parishes or followers, and is more concerned with reaching those who have a particular calling to follow its distinctive charism.

What is certainly liberal, however, is the freedom of individual interpretation that is permitted. For many years, this was wholly unrestricted, and in some cases came to embrace a good deal of syncretism and Eastern teachings, but in more recent years more orthodox official Summaries of Doctrine or lists of Teachings have been adopted by some Liberal Catholics. For those who, like the founders of the LCC, had come from a background of Roman dogma and unquestioning constraint, interpretative freedom must have seemed revolutionary. From an Anglican perspective like my own, it was a much more natural approach to faith, in which the intellect is welcomed and the spiritual journey of the individual emphasised. However, during my time, I saw a number of people come into the Liberal Catholic movement whose background was not necessarily in the LCC or its related churches, but instead in theological and liturgical liberalism, with its opposition to traditionalism, hierarchy and formality. This approach was not in line with my own, and indeed it was a major reason why I had left the Church of England.

The principal causes of division between the different churches of the Liberal Catholic movement are long-standing and as seemingly intractable as the other principal obstacles to ecumenical reunion. Firstly, there is controversy as to the importance of Theosophy and its teachings. It should be stated that there has never been an official relationship between the original LCC or any of the churches of the Liberal Catholic movement and the Theosophical Society, and indeed the Theosophical Society early on issued a statement dissociating itself from the LCC. The fact remains, however, that the founding clergy and many other members of the LCC have also been members of the TS, and this has led to a number of Theosophical ideas entering into some Liberal Catholic jurisdictions. Principal among these are belief in the Ascended Masters, compulsory vegetarianism and abstention from alcohol and tobacco. A strong connexion between the LCC and Co-Freemasonry is also evident. In the modern era, there have been further divisions concerning the ordination of women.

The position of The Liberal Rite was that it did not endorse Theosophy or any other esoteric school, holding that it was for the individual to determine to what extent they accepted such views. Nor did it prescribe vegetarianism or teetotalism. It also followed the practice of the non-Theosophical Liberal Catholic churches in ordaining women to the major orders. While I had not been part of the vigorous opposition from Anglo-Catholicism to the ordination of women in the Church of England, neither did I agree with the “progressive” view in favour of the matter that had its origins in egalitarian politics. Instead, influenced by Metropolitan Kallistos Ware’s comments on the female diaconate, the practice of the Greek Orthodox Church and a number of the esoteric churches, and ultimately by the Eglise Gnostique of Doinel, I took the view that the ordination of women was a parallel but separate ministry to that of the ordination of men, with its own distinctive character and charism. Some years later, I would come to see this view as excessively idealistic. The fact was that where the ordination of women was being advocated, it was being done in the name of egalitarianism rather than with reference to any origins in orthodox theology and church history, and it was being used to undermine the traditional values that I wished to support.

Having made positive contact with other Liberal Catholic groups, including The Young Rite on the Continent, The Liberal Rite also had a good working relationship with the Apostolic Episcopal Church and the Ancient Catholic Church as two jurisdictions with similar approaches and aims. Our worship continued to be based in London, but, reflecting both perceived need and our resources and interests, had moved from a general congregational outreach to a more specialized mission that would of its nature be of interest to a smaller group of people.

On 15 August 2007, I was the principal consecrator for two bishops at the former Well Chapel at Witnesham, Suffolk. Assisted by Andrew Linley and Old Catholic bishop Michael Skelly, I consecrated priests Charles Mugleston and Alistair Bate, who had both previously been members of other Liberal Catholic churches. Charles was responsible for the community of the Well Chapel and in secular life is a professional actor. He worked tirelessly to try to achieve reunion between the churches of the Liberal Catholic movement and remains in communion with my church today. After some years during which he served as a bishop in my jurisdictions, Alistair ceased to be in communion on 31 May 2011.

During the earlier part of 2008, I was much occupied with the complex ecclesiastical and legal aftermath of the loss of the Cathedral Church of the Good Shepherd in Clapton to the Ancient Catholic Church, which I have written about elsewhere. The eventual outcome was that the Ancient Catholic Church merged with The Liberal Rite to create the new Liberal Catholic Apostolic Church, which I led as its first Metropolitan Primate.

In August 2008, I returned to the Well Chapel when Bishop Charles Mugleston ordained Sr. Magdalena Stebbing to the priesthood.

With the death of Archbishop George Boyer in the same year, the Apostolic Episcopal Church (AEC) elected me to succeed him as their Archbishop of Great Britain; I was also appointed as Bishop and Rector Pro-Provincial of Canterbury in the Order of Corporate Reunion.

The AEC required me to undergo subconditional consecration, this being necessary since the AEC was a Continuing Anglican body and maintained the Anglican practice of having a minimum of three bishops consecrate rather than allowing for consecrations to take place solus by a single bishop (as is more commonly accepted by Rome). This took place on 23 November 2008 in the beautiful Arts and Crafts setting of Golder’s Green Unitarian Church. The principal consecrator was Archbishop Bertil Persson, Primate Emeritus of the AEC, assisted by Archbishop Paget E.J. Mack of the AEC (acting as Commissary of the Primate, Archbishop Francis C. Spataro) and Archbishop-Primate Phillip Lewis of the Ethiopian Coptic Orthodox Church of North and South America and Europe. Other bishops were present, including Andrew Linley and Alistair Bate of the LCAC and Leila Boyer of the Church of the Ascension. During the service, I was enthroned as Archbishop of Great Britain in the AEC and confirmed in my positions within the LCAC and the Ancient Catholic Church. As well as the outer aspect of the ceremony, there was also an inner aspect, in which all the bishops present gave each other additional commissioning.

This consecration conferred upon me the Apostolic Succession through the Anglican Communion (Philippine Independent Church) and Old Catholic Union of Utrecht successsions. The validity of the orders of the Apostolic Episcopal Church had been confirmed by the Bishop of London in the Church of England during the 1980s when several AEC clergy were incardinated into the Church of England.

Archbishop Bertil Persson signs the major consecration certificate above during the ceremony

Inevitably some reorganization of my responsibilities became necessary, and I retired as Metropolitan Primate of the LCAC in January 2009. There were already tensions in the LCAC between those clergy who were, in line with the Liberal Catholic movement, traditionalists who were open to esotericism, and those clergy who saw the phrase “liberal catholic” as signifying a commitment to liberal theology and practice within a broadly Roman context. On September 26, 2009, Adrian Glover was consecrated bishop for the LCAC at Golder’s Green Unitarian Church and he would eventually succeed to its primacy. The principal consecrator was Andrew Linley, and the assistant consecrators were Alistair Bate, Charles Mugleston and myself.

On Easter Day, 2010, I established a new ekklesia within the Apostolic Episcopal Church called the Ecclesia Apostolica Divinorum Mysteriorum (EADM; Apostolic Church of the Divine Mysteries), in which I was designated by the name Tau Eleutherius. This reflected a number of lessons learned from the way the LCAC had developed. EADM positioned itself as a reformed Liberal Catholic rite in the contemplative tradition. The strands that were of particular importance in its identity were a pre-Nicene Western Rite Orthodoxy and Traditionalist Catholicism emphasising Johannine spirituality, and an openness to esotericism, including the traditions of the Eglise Gnostique, Rosicrucianism and the Wisdom Traditions. EADM was hierarchically and formally governed by a Council of Three operating under a corpus of canon law, and had soon come to include all of the esoterically-minded clergy of the LCAC. As well as activity in London, there was an active parish in Edinburgh and other missions in Europe and the Americas.

On 19 June 2010, EADM chartered the Companions of the Cross and Passion, an order of men following the Passionist charism. In July 2010, EADM provided a charter and constitution for the new Mission Episcopate of Ss. Francis and Clare, and the necessary mandates for the consecration of its two bishops, Br. Thomas and Sr. Magdalena Stebbing. This was to be an independent body whose ministry would be carried out chiefly in the United States. On 14 August, these bishops were consecrated at Newington Green Unitarian Church by Alistair Bate assisted by myself, Andrew Linley, Adrian Glover and Louise Lombard, bishop of The Young Rite.

The impetus of EADM was sound, but it did not succeed in achieving stability. This was largely due to the divergent personalities involved, some of whom were not committed to living within a disciplined and ordered canonical community. As 2011 progressed, the majority of EADM’s clergy defected in order to form a new church that would be more in line with the looser and less accountable norms of the independent sacramental movement. This set in place a process of complete reorganization that saw EADM emerge with its purpose and mission intact, but occupying a more specialized role and with a significantly lower profile compared to the other aspects of my ministry.

Around this time I was completing the research for my biographies of Arnold Harris Mathew and Joseph René Vilatte. These built on a much more extensive earlier book that traced the history of the smaller sacramental churches from the nineteenth-century to the present day. The archival holdings of my jurisdiction were continuing to expand, with many gifts of historic papers and church publications that were often rare and ephemeral. My book on Mathew had been expanded from my doctoral thesis at the Universidad Empresarial de Costa Rica, and I was pleased some years later to see it extensively referenced in further doctoral work at a British university.

Meantime, several events happened that would set the tone for my life in the church during its next phase. The first was my election to the vacant Prince-Abbacy of San Luigi, and the second was the beginning of my friendships with the late Dom Klaus Schlapps and Prince Kermit de Polanie-Patrikios.

>>Continue to part 4