Life in the Church – part 4 “Quid non Deo juvante?”

The late Dom Klaus Schlapps OPR (1959-2013) was responsible for the revival of the Order of Port Royal (OPR) and the foundation of its Abbey of St Severin in Germany where he and other men served as Cistercian monks. In 2004, the Order became a part of the Union of Utrecht of the Old Catholic Churches, and Dom Klaus was recognized as a bishop of the Union of Utrecht, sharing a number of the Apostolic lineages that I had myself received at my consecration in 2008. However, the modernist direction of the Union did not sit well with the theology of the Order, and in 2010 it became independent once more, establishing its own synod, the Christ Catholic Church in Germany. This was in 2012 accepted as the German administration of the Nordic Catholic Church under the Union of Scranton. Sister communities were established in the USA, Haiti and Cameroon, the latter two of which were under the protection of Anglican bishops. Dom Klaus was appointed an Honorary Canon of St Michael’s Anglican Cathedral, Cameroon, in 2008. He was German Superintendent of the International Council of Community Churches.

A Cistercian monk’s life is necessarily one dominated by silence, but each day, Dom Klaus and I would set aside time to communicate via an online messaging application. I was struck by the high priority that he gave to this contact, amid the stringent demands of his monastic life and the administration of the monastery. He became both a friend and a mentor.

Dom Klaus was strongly involved in chivalry and was of the same mind as me regarding the sacred nature of kingship and the existence of noble prerogatives within the historic Churches. He held senior office in branches of the Order of St John and the Order of St Lazarus, and was also expert in the nobiliary and chivalric traditions of Africa. When, prompted by my contact with some of its few surviving members, I raised with him the possibility of the revival of the Abbey-Principality of San Luigi, whose headship had been vacant since the death of the seventh Prince-Abbot, Edmond II, in 1998, he became one of the major architects of the revival. San Luigi was briefly an independent monastic state in the Fezzan during 1883-84, and had then passed through a succession of bishops in France and the USA, with notable connexions with European and African royalty. In 1962, King Peter II of Yugoslavia gave official recognition to Prince-Abbot Edmond II, also granting to him Royal Yugoslav honours. Notably, Prince-Abbot Edmond II had also been a bishop of the Apostolic Episcopal Church.

Another important friendship that developed at this period was with Prince Kermit Poling de Polanie-Patrikios. He was a direct descendant of Russian, Polish, European and Byzantine kings, held a number of hereditary titles of nobility, and was head of the Royal House Polanie-Patrikios, which had been established in 1970 when he was elected by the Orthodox Patriarch of Belarus as the candidate for a proposed Belarusian monarchical restoration. Moreover, having been consecrated bishop by Mar Basilius Abdullah III (Dr William Bernard Crow), he was now the only living bishop of the Apostolate of the Holy Wisdom, one of the leading jurisdictions of its time to combine Orthodoxy with esoteric study. He had spent his career in ministerial service, having served in the pastorate of the United Methodist Church, and was now living in retirement in West Virginia. His connexions in the church, nobility and chivalry ranged very widely. Importantly, he had been a good friend of Prince-Abbot Edmond II of San Luigi, and was honoured by him both through senior rank in the San Luigi Orders and with a dukedom.

With Dom Klaus’s and Prince Kermit’s help, it was established that the Supreme Council of San Luigi was the responsible body for electing a successor to the last Prince-Abbot, who had died without nominating an heir, and the present representation of Supreme Council in descent from that body as it had stood in 1998 was traced in detail. Following this work, new appointments were made to the Supreme Council by its President and I was asked by the Supreme Council to accept election to the vacant Prince-Abbacy. I duly became the eighth Prince-Abbot of San Luigi with the regnal name Edmond III on 25 August 2011.

After my election, application for recognition was then made to H.M. the Omukama (King) of Bunyoro-Kitara. Bunyoro-Kitara is today one of the constituent kingdoms of Uganda, with its monarch recognized under the Constitution, but when the monks of San Luigi arrived there in 1885, it was an absolute monarchy under Omukama Chwa II Kabalega. The Omukama had granted to the Prince-Abbot the title of Mukungu, translated as Prince-Governor, in perpetuity, and our application to the present Omukama, who is the grandson of Omukama Chwa II Kabalega, was therefore to recognize the succession to this title. On 25 January 2012, His Majesty responded to our petition by issuing Letters Patent accordingly.

Moreover, H.M. the Omukama graciously consented to become a Royal Patron of the dependent chivalric Orders of San Luigi, the Order of the Crown of Thorns and the Order of the Lion and the Black Cross. This placed these Orders under the patronage of a reigning monarch.

The work of re-establishing San Luigi would take up many hours of research, writing and administration. From the outset, I took the view that the membership of the San Luigi Orders would be highly selective and that we would take as our model the dynastic Orders of the European former ruling houses. Equally, I was determined that the membership would not be restricted to the wealthy or well-connected. As had always been the case in the past, we looked to merit wherever it was to be found, without distinction of class or background. As part of the administration a Charitable Trust for San Luigi was established in the United Kingdom. A permanent chapel for San Luigi was also established by the membership in France. Prince Kermit became a Royal Patron, and Dom Klaus oversaw the Grand Priory for Continental Europe.

The church tradition of San Luigi was extremely rich, including its Benedictine Roman Catholic foundation, the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of San Luigi itself (re-established by a bishop of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church in 1945), and the Order of Antioch, a religious order which had been established in 1928 by the Western extensions of the Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate. Two past Prince-Abbots had also been Anglican clergymen. New appointments of clergy were made, but as with the Orders, this was done selectively rather than with a view to building up numbers.

On 3 November 2012, Dom Klaus in his capacity as Grand Prior of the Confraternitas Oecumenica Sancti Sepulcri Hierosolymitani (Ecumenical Brotherhood of the Holy Grave of Jerusalem, or COSSH) erected a Prefectory of Great Britain under my leadership. The COSSH is an ecumenical fraternity open to men and women that draws inspiration from the “pilgrims to Jerusalem from the chivalric Brotherhood of the Holy Land in Haarlem” founded in 1394. It was revived in 1996 and Dom Klaus was elected Grand Prior in 2009. In May 2012, I received the Gold Cross of Merit of the COSSH, and in October 2012 I was appointed as a Brother of COSSH honoris causa.

The sudden death of Dom Klaus in January 2013 prevented many of our plans from coming to fruition, and it became necessary in a number of cases to take decisive action in order to preserve the organizations he had led. Accordingly, I exercised the sovereign prerogative of San Luigi in order to ensure that his representation of the Johannine and Lazarite Orders could continue, and worked with the Revd. Christian Kliver, who as Prefect of Bavaria was now the only other remaining senior officer of the COSSH, to ensure that the COSSH was not suppressed as was the intention of some others.

In July 2014, Archbishop Francis C. Spataro appointed me as his co-adjutor with right of succession to the Primacy of the Apostolic Episcopal Church.

Archbishop Spataro subsequently announced that he would retire as AEC Primate on 5 February 2015, his seventy-ninth birthday, and I duly succeeded him the following day. As an urgent priority, I promulgated canons for the AEC after a long period of rule by decree, and worked to re-activate fully the historical, jurisdictional and canonical legacy of the AEC, most particularly in its role as the successor of the Catholicate of the West. This was ultimately the fulfilment of the commission I had received in respect of the Ancient Catholic Church in 2008 and the Apostolic ordination I had received within the communion of the AEC in 2006. The AEC’s corporate nonprofit status had been unclear for some years, and in order to resolve this and manage its affairs effectively, I established a nonprofit religious Corporation Sole for the Primate and Presiding Bishop of the AEC under the special legislative provision that exists for such corporate entities in Hawaii.

To my surprise, after many years of the friendliest contact, Bertil Persson opposed my election to the Primacy, proposing that he should resume that office instead. A power struggle ensued for some months, in which (despite severe provocation and threats) I refused to criticize my opponents or descend to their level. Likewise, Archbishop Spataro was steadfast and unflinching in his support for me. The Persson camp, which consisted of Persson and a young bishop who he had recently consecrated, was implacably opposed to a canonical or hierarchical organization for the AEC, despite this being the original historical basis of the church, and also rejected anything that represented the legacy of Mar Georgius of Glastonbury. It was further apparent that, for them, these issues had become deeply politicized, and that they favoured a progressive theology of the style of Pope Francis rather than my traditionalist Anglican outlook. It was necessary to quash the dissenters firmly, and after much forebearance, rejected attempts at dialogue, and an abortive attempt at schism, they were excommunicated by the AEC.

It was also my duty to conduct a thorough review of the serving clergy and the state of the various intercommunions that had been entered into over the years. I came to the conclusion that the extremely wide scope of the ecumenical developments in the AEC during the primacy of Bertil Persson (1986-98) had taken the AEC into a position where its core identity was in danger of being lost. Following the work of Archbishop Spataro, I therefore re-emphasised the Continuing Anglican and Orthodox core identity of the AEC, while making clear its openness to diverse intellectual traditions including the esoteric.

On my accession to the Primacy, I was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Sacred Theology by the AEC.

On 1 March, Prince Kermit adopted me as his successor in all his honours, and on 31 March he died, whereupon I succeeded him as Ecclesiast of the Byelorussian Patriarchate of St Andrew the First-Called Apostle and as head of the Apostolate of the Holy Wisdom. The administration of the Apostolate was combined with that of the AEC, while the Byelorussian Patriarchate was maintained separately as part of the administration of Royal Belarus.

I moved from London to Norfolk in September 2015, and took up residence at what was to become San Luigi House. This was a magnificent Victorian home that was the subject of an extensive and painstaking restoration by the previous owner and myself. It became the headquarters for San Luigi and the AEC.

Among the outbuildings was a former store that I converted into a fully-fledged chapel. I embarked on the project intending that this would serve not only as a domestic chapel for the worship of my young family and myself, but that it would form a focal point for San Luigi and AEC members in Great Britain. The resulting Vilatte Chapel was duly registered with the civil authorities as a place of worship.

On 1 August 2016, Archbishop Peter Paul Brennan, Universal Primate of the Order of Corporate Reunion, died. Archbishop Brennan had been a friend for many years and we would meet on his regular visits to London. He was one of the rare breed of clergymen who had the ability to work both within conservative and liberal church traditions, and sought throughout to bring about unity and to find common ground between groups of Christians. His successor Michael Kline was unfortunately lacking in this ability, and despite many attempts at help and guidance, insisted on taking an autocratic and insensitive approach that lost him key support, especially when this involved interference in other jurisdictions. When it became apparent that any remonstrance or constructive suggestion was simply being ignored by Kline, it became necessary to act, and the AEC in consequence separated its historic representation of the Order of Corporate Reunion (which dates from 1933) from Kline’s recently-formed Missouri corporation in April 2018. The result of this action, the reasons for which were detailed in an official statement of the AEC, was a campaign of online personal vilification against me by Kline, which spoke eloquently as to his character and suitability for office.

In 2017, I was also awarded the degree of Doctor of Letters, jure dignitatis, by the Western Orthodox University, which since 1977 has been an integral part of the AEC. Since the degree-granting authority of the University was not only secular (it having been chartered in the Commonwealth of Dominica) but depended upon the Presiding Bishop of the AEC in his office as Catholicos of the West, this was the one and only occasion when I have had to sign my own certificate.

The AEC has always remained an intentionally small communion, with something of the character of a church society, but under my Primacy I was delighted to see fresh growth with new missions joining us in Scandinavia and in Latin America. I was also particularly pleased to sign an intercommunion agreement between the AEC and the Patriarchate of Bunyoro-Kitara. In Great Britain, I had dialogue with several clergy of the Church of England who were concerned about developments in that communion, and one of our clergy was also accepted to minister in the Free Church of England in parallel with his AEC responsibilities.

Against this, there was the continual difficulty that both clergy and laity were predominantly of the older generation, and one of my duties was to deal with a steady flow of retirements and obituaries. Past experience in the LCAC and EADM had shown that the younger generation rarely stays the course in the smaller communions. This highlights, of course, the considerable challenges of undertaking this kind of independent, self-reliant ministry, but it also speaks of a generation that has either rejected institutional and formal religion, or that regards the larger communions as fulfilling adequately the need for such.

>>Continue to part 5

About johnkersey

Historian, musician and educationalist.
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