Thursday, 7 April 2011

Then There Were Four

There were no prizes for guessing that I had my mits all over Lesley's blog on a 'controversy' of ordaining male bishops in another parallel universe (Lesley's, not mine) where women only were the bishops. To do it, I had to think of a divide between world and Church, so that one was secular, competitive, aggressive even, whereas the Church was nurturing. I used a few stereotypes. But how would such a Church have ever got off the ground, to be worldwide and relatively uniform, Catholic-Esoteric, and would there ever have been the same States based Reformation?

So how many Catholic women bishops are there in Great Britain. The count has just gone up by one. There is Elizabeth Stuart, Archbishop of the Liberal Catholic Church International and theologian at the University of Winchester. Then there are two in the Open Episcopal Church, headed by Archishop Jonathan Blake, and they are Bishop Sheila Wharmby in the south of England and Bishop Shelley Harstad-Smith in Wales.

The one extra lives in York, and given her nearness to where I live she has already suggested we meet. Good idea. She is Bishop Mhoira Lauer-Patterson and she joins Bishop Adrian Glover who did not leave at the parting of the ways. I think Mhoira Lauer-Patterson joined the group after the split.

I am back on the mailing list of the Liberal Catholic Apostolic Church since I fell out with the previous regime after I asked a friend questions about whether she would really like to be a nun under that regime. She decided no, and I was accused of interfering. Well they were behaving like a cult, and I can speak to whomever I like. When those involved went even further up the candle and left their own creation, the people left behind rebuilt the group in a more obviously social and liberal direction. Whereas the big effort in making a parish previously was in Edinburgh, now there is a big effort in Swindon.

There are three histories of Liberal Catholicism in Britain, all of which represent a peak of nineteenth into twentieth century romanticised Christianity at a time of liberalism and a growing awareness of other Christian Churches worldwide and other religions.

Ulric Vernon Herford (1866-1938) started one short-lived branch of independent Liberal Catholicism. From a family of Unitarian ministers he trained in Manchester and Oxford colleges, and even spent a year at St. Stephen's House in Oxford. His own hymnal of 1992 contained both unitarian and trinitarian hymns. After Unitarian ministry elsewhere (two appointments) he was back in Oxford from 1897 and opened a church in Percy Street about Magdalen Bridge on Oxford's east side called Church of Divine Love. Choosing a more monastic the church's worship went ever higher, and in a quest (including addressing Unitarians) for pure Christianity made contact with the Syro-Chaldean Church in order to have people ordained in an English Church in unity with the Nestorian Church. Perhaps the Syro-Chaldean Church did not understand the Unitarian basis of Herford's theology, but instead he was offered ordination, and reciting the East Syrian Creed Herford went from Deacon to Bishop within nine days while in India in 1902. He was actually a modest person, cycling around Oxford, and very much into animal welfare, social causes and pacifism. Nothing much came of his efforts, though the Evangelical Catholic Church had gained an existence of sorts, with an effort to draw in pre-Nicene creeds, and it was outside Unitarianism, but the main legacy has been a string of independent bishops through time since of every and all kinds of theology. His Evangelical Catholic Communion was adopted as such by a pro-gay Church in the United States.

The second strand is the closest connected with Unitarianism: Free Catholicism. Herford ordained W. E. Orchard in 1916 and he later went to Rome after the Church of England would not absorb him or his chapel. Joseph Morgan Lloyd Thomas was essentially a romanticised Presbyterian (and was not episcopally ordained - calling himself a 'priest' was like calling himself a presbyter) taking James Martineau's theology up well up the candle, and was a rewriter of Richard Baxter as if he had been a moderate episcopalian. The Free Catholic Society was formed and when it collapsed Lloyd Thomas resigned from Birmingham New Meeting in 1932 to return to Wales. Lloyd Thomas was influenced by Catholic modernism and the New Theology of R. J. Campbell. He wanted common worship without seeking agreement in belief, with unifying devotional symbols and not creeds, though he did actually recite the Nicene Creed (with James Martineau's prayers!) and he called himself trinitarian.

The third strand is Liberal Catholicism. Herford met its pre-founder, Arnold Harris Mathew. Made into a bishop, he was hoping to develop Old Catholic congregations in Britain for the European movement, but he didn't find any. He ordained an ex-Anglican priest, Frederick Samuel Willoughby, who claimed Protestant persecution and he became a bishop. AHM also ordained James Ingall Wedgwood, who was allowed to be involved with Theosophy and this connection spread, but then AHM changed his mind (plus he was worried about homosexuality within the ranks). With a split then created, Willoughby ordained Wedgwood, so that they could go off with the Theosophy affected priests, and Wedgwood ordained Charles Webster Leadbeater, to produce what was Liberal Catholicism then without Willoughby. Leadbeater was a liturgist and had a magical view of the Eucharist, and he also dabbled in Buddhism. There then follows a peculiar history of a tiny movement with splits galore, and also AHM has a many bishops in line from him. The LCCI comes directly from this and is optional about Theosophy.

I think it is fair to say that, in ethos, the LCAC is after Wedgwood and Leadbeater, and the OEC is before them but after Arnold Harris Mathew - though some in the OEC do use the Liberal Catholic rite. Basically, the OEC is just a Nicene Creed Catholic (not also Reformed) Church that is socially inclusive and wants to be ecumenical. The Liberal Catholic side is more esoteric.

Last decade three Free Church ministers, including the Unitarian Stephen Callander, formed the British Liberal Free Church, the Society of the Divine Spirit and then the English Liberal Free Church in the spirit of Lloyd Thomas, but he left and John Kersey and Andrew Linley after apostolic ordinations set up the Independent Old Catholic Church of the Utrecht Succession which became the Liberal Rite from January 2007. Ex-Unitarian student and lay leader Alistair Bate joined them and they took on a defunct independent Liberal Catholic Church and this meant the first rise up the candle with the three and others forming the Liberal Catholic Apostolic Church. Adrian Glover joined them and was bishoped, but then the three main founders of the LCAC left last year and formed their own Latin rite Church. So it is on this basis that the LCAC still claims a spiritual connection with the founder of Unitarianism, in Transylvania, Francis David, but this I'm afraid won't do because the bishops of this Unitarianism are self-defined as Superintendents only and refuse a theory of Apostolic Succession, as made very clear when Knut Heidelberg of Norway was ordained in Hungary a few years ago. Also Joseph Morgan Lloyd Thomas was never ordained by a bishop. It would be more accurate to give a connection of sorts with Ulric Vernon Herford.

Anyhow, Unitarianism and Liberal Catholicism are both into social equality regarding ministry and blessings, and this is why there are now four women bishops in Britain. In the future, when there are many women Anglican priests who become bishops, let's not forget who was there first. Cheers!


Robert said...

I grew up near Percy Street, but it's a good half mile from Magdalen Bridge. Do you have any information about exactly where the church was?

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

I don't. This is unfortunately derived information and I'm no native of Oxford. I understood the church was gone.

Anonymous said...

There are at least two other female catholic bishops who are wandering around. You just have to know where to look !

Some have been a-roving for more than a few years.....

Anonymous said...

Archbishop Stuart is now Pro-Vice Chancellor of the University of Winchester now.

Robert said...

Back in the nineties I used to know a (female) Archbishop Fasoranti, ordained in the apostolic succession and all that, who ran an African-style church in London.