Friday, 29 April 2011

ISM Flexibility

Six O'Clock and I thought, having seen a news summary at 4 pm, that I would look at the news. But one smarmy presentation from Fiona Bruce was enough to put it off - all this grinning about good for nothings getting married. I couldn't give a toss.

So to the subject of interest, and partly based on Lesley's other entry (not that one: no, I couldn't care less what John Sentamu thinks of the wedding, weddings or anything really), that of online ministry.

Unitarians know what the Unitarian Universalist man's invention of the World Wide Web made free for all has achieved: the end of little known and near-isolation for the likes of Unitarians. We know that when informed people come through the door, it is more than likely because a search about liberal religion has led to Unitarian pages.

Via social media, the potential for even more independent ministry has been opened up. My conversation with Mhoira Lauer-Patterson very recently included a little bit as to why Elizabeth Stuart of the LCCI has done next to nothing and one answer to that is look at the web page. There is just the one and carries a lack of information. LCCI is the direct and progressive descendent of Liberal Catholicism from the days of Leadbeater and Wedgwood in Europe, and yet it is almost non-existent. Others who are also part of this stream, but brothers, sisters or cousins, or new births, have been able to use the Internet even to generate clergy-led growth.

The usual pattern for ministry is to get a congregation and then to develop ministry you find and train a minister. Parishes need to look among their number to develop ministers. The Independent Sacramental Ministry approach is different - it is to make ministers and then develop congregations. One habit is to keep ordaining those who become congregants. I asked Mhoira - because a confirmed at Swindon will go through minor orders - whether it is the intention to ordain everyone. "I hope not," she said, and I said otherwise it gets like The Young Rite, whose idea of the priesthood of all believers is to make all believers priests.

Nevertheless, the lay contact comes through rites of passage especially where these involve people's diverse beliefs. An ex-Anglican, the Rev. Horseman was a chap who reached out to Pagans as well as Christians, and the upshot was, despite other pastoral needs of his own family and himself, an effective removal from the Church of England. He took the best route and chose to be independent, at a time that Anglican Mainstream made fun of him and the Church of England - missing out the detail that the Church of England and him were separated. He has now retired. Because Mark Townsend added a religious interpretation to the magic he included with his Christian ministry, he decided it was best to get out, and joined instead the Open Episcopal Church. He took the same route as Bishop Jonathan Blake. Simon Mapp decided that the OEC was also the best place for him to take his combination of fairly traditional liturgy and Sea of Faith theology, since the Church of England rejected the theological leanings of Michael Ramsey, never mind those who followed.

It is not easy going it alone. You effectively live off the seat of your pants. It is still better to be associated with a group of some kind, and the front runners are becoming the OEC and the LCAC as reconstituted since Kersey, Linley and Bate left the LCAC to go further up the candle to some mythic pre-Nicene past. Mhoira corrected me: her liturgy is modern, rewritten in parts, feminist and Hebrew in sections. Also she does not want her altar table up against the wall.

A way of looking at this clergy bias is that the laity are looser and more transient than parish churches or congregations, so to be the Church is to be ordained. Very Catholic. But I still think an active laity makes a Church. Unitarianism doesn't have the candidates to fill positions so it has to be a lay Church; furthermore its lack of Eucharistic practice means lessens a perceived core need for the professional minister, and Unitarians as such don't ordain - professional ministers tend to be ordained otherwise.

A key identifier of these ISM Churches and people is the social inclusion. This makes a lot of sense, given the way standard Churches are going regarding exclusion.

I suppose the trajectory is this: traditional Anglo-Catholicism is bust, and has left liberal(ish) Anglo-Catholics. They are now coming under the targets of the Evangelicals, growing within the C of E (though nothing like the concentration in media churches) but increasingly sectarian regarding the outside. There is a battle for the boundaries and the rule-book. Low liberals in the C of E really have no future, because they have no obvious self-protection or large enough party: at least Catholics can look the part. But high liberals seem to be liturgical insiders, an acquired taste, something you have to learn over a longer period - they are not natural recruiters. People will join their parishes despite and not because of their peculiar Catholicism. They are good at keeping people in and not so good at getting people in.

So the non-dogmatic Catholicism of the independents reaches out to where people are and how they think, given the plasticity of contemporary believing; like Unitarians they can write liturgies to suit people's existing biases and beliefs, as well as their social and ethical situations. Untitarians often do the best funerals - because they are personal and biographical.

ISMs also do their ministry closer to a Christian identity or label than do Unitarians, though I think there will have to be more of a both-and in this labelling. Some ISMs are dogmatic, being on the way to rejoining a bigger body (like the British Orthodox did), but most cannot afford to be self-restricting.

So what they must do, to attract, is sell themselves. Having made contact with funeral directors, and with venues for weddings, they can provide bespoke ceremonies, and here is where the Internet is so useful, even if petrol is expensive and some localism is practical. But in the end, what is needed, somewhere and with some flexibility, is a congregation of some kind. Some of it will be online, but some of it will be local and real. If your chapel is your garage or front room, you still need one or two to start turning up. I see that Mark Paris has his online computer next to his altar table, and that seems fitting somehow.


Fr Mark said...

lol - The Computer is for the Hymns my friend .... I don't believe in going live on the net for service's

Anonymous said...

Great stuff Adrian. Really enjoyed that. Very cleverly done.
Mark Townsend

Anonymous said...


What I think is interesting, is that the province which split from the original LCC, in America, reconciled with the Mother-Church in the 1970's. Very little is ever said about this, or about the fact that the province which is known as LCCI internationally was ordered closed by its Bishop's and Clergy who reconciled with the Church now under what some call the 'Old Synod'.

My colleague went to America to the big re-union meeting and he said it was all very positive and full of hope.

No one ever speaks about how various break away branches of Liberal Catholicism banded together to form the LCCI......interesting.....if you look online there are various independent websites which have commented on the history of this matter.