Friday, 6 May 2011

Article for Hull Unitarians

This is an article written for a Hull Unitarian once every two months newsletter that I have just written and I hope will be included. It can be read any time from now and so it is here now (with added cartoons).

Some weeks ago [the pulpit organiser M. T.] told me that there might be an open pulpit on some weeks for Hull's services. Once he explained that this meant opening the pulpit to a member of another denomination, I said I knew who could fill it. So I contacted someone nearby in the Liberal Catholic Apostolic Church, and also put Michael in the online direction by which he could read about this group.

I have known about this group since its birth, and indeed about its forerunner. It raises issues about liberalism and Catholicism, as different from and overlapping with liberalism and Protestantism that is the evolved identity of Unitarians.

Unitarian identity is formed from across the Protestant spectrum, coming from Bible only trinitarian Calvinists, who evolved into Arminians, sometimes Arians, and whose congregations were 'captured' by ideological biblical Unitarians, to become later (in a divided movement)mainly broader based biblical critics and then liberal individualists.

The later broader based grouping was influenced by the Romantic movement, the Victorian sense that absorbed the rural from a place of danger in the mind to a place of idealised beauty into the past. It allowed some Unitarians to think of themselves as broad Church, almost like Anglicans, in a way that had not been considered since Puritans were Anglicans. Even non-conformist churches, like the one in Park Street until 1976, had steeples and enhanced church-like appearances instead of having simple plain meeting houses.

A few Unitarians took this romanticism to the point where Protestantism became Catholic. One, called Joseph Lloyd Thomas, advocated a Free Catholicism of symbolism without credal restriction, and joined up with the Congregationalist W. E. Orchard. Their movement became somewhat contradictory, and Orchard became Roman Catholic. Lloyd Thomas represented that Unitarianism which was anti-denominational, like Martineau's, and he delayed Birmingham New Meeting from joining the new united General Assembly in 1928. But Lloyd Thomas went into education and obscurity after the end of Free Catholicism.

One recent group was inspired by this history. In 1999 two non-conformists and a semi-detached Unitarian Rev. Stephen Callander formed the British Liberal Free Church, and this became the Society of the Divine Spirit and then the English Liberal Free Church. It was in 2006 that Rev. Stephen Callander left and the remaining two took on episcopal ordination as bishops, and the transitory Independent Old Catholic Church of the Utrecht Succession became from January 2007 The Liberal Rite. When the remains of the Ancient Catholic Church (at one time with many congregations in London - they had become somewhat spiritualist and later died off) were absorbed, the Liberal Rite became the Liberal Catholic Apostolic Church (LCAC), and at transition the ex-Unitarian Alistair Bate became a new bishop. He had been a student for the ministry at Unitarian College Manchester and a lay leader at Glasgow; he became a priest in the Liberal Catholic Church International, and transferred to the Liberal Rite and LCAC. The LCAC represented a move up the Catholic candle, one might say, and the two founders and he left the LCAC to become even more Catholic and esoteric in their new creation. The LCAC that remained has, arguably, gone down the candle again, and is socially and intellectually more liberal and inclusive. Mhoira Lauer-Patterson, based in York, joined the LCAC at the time of its transition; she says that Alistair Bate regarded her as "too modern".

Inspired by Lloyd Thomas, the LCAC nevertheless derives its pattern from the Liberal Catholic Church beginning with Bishops James Ingall Wedgwood (ordained bishop in 1916) and Charles Webster Leadbeater (later in 1916, in Australia). They had dabbled in Theosophy (and were connected with the Hindu sage Krishnamurti for a time), and were thus excluded from the failed Old Catholic mission into England under Arnold Harris Mathew (1852–1919). From the very beginning, Mathew's Old Catholic Church, derived from the original Dutch Old Catholics into Europe, was a clergy-led grouping, and this clergy-led approach has continued since. Intellectual liberality has been combined with a sense of the esoteric (or magical - a different interpretation of the Eucharist and the power of priesthood).

A third history is that of the Unitarian ministry family, the Herfords. Ulric Vernon Herford (1866-1938), after training subsequently in Oxford and picking up its anti-denominational spirit, had two ministries and he wanted "sacraments of grace for the heart and will, and sermons for the intellect". To achieve the core basis of Christianity (as sought by many Unitarians) he approached what he considered the most primitive of Churches in India and asked if this bishop of the Nestorian type Church would ordain two in England to start an associate Church. Instead the bishop of this the Syro-Chaldean Church ordained Herford himself in India, and so a missionary diocese of the Church of the East later became known as the Evangelical Catholic Church. Herford's ordinations of others are the source of many episcopi vagantes of many ideological varieties and shades; he also ordained W. E. Orchard into the priesthood. These bishops have multiple lines that go back in time to Roman Catholic and Orthodox leaders and before that Great Schism.

So dotted around England, America, Australia and indeed continental Europe are small, clergy-led, liberal and other groupings. In the UK they often provide rites of passage ministries and develop congregations in some places. For example, Alistair Bate developed regular meetings in Edinburgh as a bishop, and he also carries out Reiki activities (now in the Ecclesia Apostolica Divinorum Mysteriorum). There is a newer current LCAC congregation in Swindon. Nevertheless, numbers are small and fluid. The most extreme group in this model is The Young Rite, mainly in continental Europe, where the priesthood of all believers means that anyone will be ordained as a priest.

These groups are often confusing because most people associate bishops and priests with the Church of England, Roman Catholicism and the Orthodox. This ignores the Old Catholic movement, from which Liberal Catholicism is derived. Well, there are also three Unitarian bishops! There are two Superintendants for Hungary and Romania, and one from the charismatic movement in the United States turned universalist in theology who joined the Unitarian Universalists. The Unitarian minister in Norway also regards himself as a Superintendant and could be counted as a bishop: he was ordained in Hungary in 2009 with a sermon that emphasised the non-apostolic nature of Unitarian bishops!

I write this in advance of Mhoira Lauer-Patterson taking a service in July and her being a bishop-elect of the Liberal Catholic Apostolic Church. She was ordained in Australia and changed Churches on coming back to the UK. The range of belief in the LCAC is from unitarian to trinitarian. I suggest that the two largest of these 'Independent Sacramental Ministries' in the future will be the LCAC and the Open Episcopal Church (OEC), the latter deriving its ethos more directly from Arnold Harris Mathew rather than Liberal Catholic descendents, though new recruits to its clergy (one magician!) now suggest a wafer thin difference.

My own view is that Unitarians and LCAC are distinct. We are low liberals and will be so even if becoming more symbolic, postmodern and absorbing more neo-Pagan romanticism. We are lay led, congregationalist and have largely dropped Eucharistic practice. But that does not prevent the liberal religious associating together. The religious landscape is shifting at present, and independence is growing.

I knew about Free Catholics when at Unitarian College. I first learnt about Liberal Catholics when asked to present a paper a few years ago [2007] to Sea of Faith Yorkshire, including David Arthur, on why liberal groups do not co-operate with each other. I rather wish they did and hope they do.

Adrian Worsfold


Anonymous said...


Alistair Bate was ordained independently of the LCCI.....before then he joined the Open Episcopal Church under Bishop Richard Palmer. At the same time he joined the religious order headed up by Elizabeth Stuart, the Apostolic Society of St. Brigid of Kildare. When Stuart was planning to leap from the OEC into the LCCI she and others voted to change the Society of St. Brigid from being exclusively in the OEC. This enabled the SSB to retain members even though they were leaving the OEC.

Just thought you might like to know that......and that the rule of SSB was that the whole Chapter had to approve of someone's consecration and they forcibly ejected members who did not agree to the consecration of Sheila Wharmby, as an OEC bishop.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Thank you for that information. I will check and rewrite as necessary the article.

Anonymous said...

Bate was at one time Prior of the Society of St. Brigid.