There is a lot of chat going about regarding the Most Reverend Jonathan Blake, who used to be known by insiders as 'Jonathan Bloke'. As one person who has actually been in touch with him, and had a short email discussion with his Scottish bishop, it is clear to me that the Open Episcopal Church is one of the most 'normal' and ecumenical Churches of the Old Catholic line that exists.
It does not carry the esoteric and sometimes regarded (and unfairly) as 'off the wall' characteristics of the Liberal Catholic stream - it deliberately sees itself as an expression of the Old Catholic. It thinks some others play at being Church, where it just wants to, simply, express the love of the resurrected Christ.
It dismisses Reformed or Protestant heritage but is almost C of E in breadth via its independent Catholic heritage. I came to the view, by talking to these folks, that it is not deliberately doctrinally liberal: it is broad regarding doctrine but essentially via the simplicity of the Nicene Creed. What is different is that it is socially inclusive, and this extends to ceremonies and its own ministry. Thus it has a female bishop in Wales. People who would want to be a part of the OEC, especially ordained, have to give it long term commitment.
The people in these Churches are all unpaid, and therefore some of their income comes from rites of passage, often through funerals at crematoria. Jonathan Blake is one of the few people who can run full time on rites of passage. He became famous appearing on Richard and Judy with a gay couple. He went to court and received support from Kenneth Leech (Anglican) on the validity of his orders, and as a result of both has an outreach that he has never lost. His car is a bit flashy from any angle. He combines this pastoral trade with developing what is really a straightforward ecumenically minded Church, unless we have to exclude women and gays in advance.
I think it is good that such a straightforward ecumenical Church exists that does ordain women and men, and does offer rites and rituals that bring mainstream-marginalised people together.
And, for all the carping, Jonathan Blake seems always to leave people to whom he ministers in good spirits. He is a character, but that allows him to reach others. The C of E and other main denominations do not have a monopoly over rites of passage.
So why don't I sign up to his Church? Because it is of the same broad doctrinal basis (as my discussion showed) as the C of E and the others. The Scottish bishop's advice was I better suited with Unitarianism!
Now then we come to Liberal Catholics, and one group managed to fall out with me even when not a member, after I asked questions of a friend it was targeting for one of its ministries. And I concluded there that there was no distinction between the organisation and the people who set it up and regarded it as their own precious possession. And, actually, that is not the sense received about the Open Episcopal Church.
There is another small group, whom Jonathan Blake took part in consecrating, which is not a recent invention but comes directly from the Liberal Catholic tradition. This is headed by Professor Elizabeth Stuart in the UK, the lesbian and gay specialist theologian (though she dislikes such categories) and I have received some material from one of its priests. This has a direct line as such to Leadbeater and Wedgwood, its founders. Liberal Catholics tend to have a priestly power view of the Eucharist which bends it towards the magical rather than purely supernatural, and whilst that was Leadbeater's view, it is not a compulsory view. In fact the LCCI demands no promises from lay people, few from clergy and the only trinitarian confession comes from a bishop (and that's it). Thus, just as the founders also used theosophy, the LCCI people can stray into syncretism just as other Liberal Catholics do.
In the photograph above, that I raked up from somewhere, there is at the viewer's far left the Right Reverend Shelley Harstad-Smith of the OEC in Wales, Archbishop Elizabeth Stuart of the LCCI is 5th from the left with one of her priests in front of her, Bishop Jonathan Blake is the tallest there, and second to the right is Alistair Bate when he was a priest and I think in the LCCI, before he left and eventually joined the LCAC. I'm afraid these are all the people I recognise, though it is more than most.
The core issue for the mutual conversations - In the course of yesterday’s Westminster Faith Debate on Diversity at the University Church of St Mary the Virgin, Oxford, an idea crystalized for me. It i...