I have never claimed someone in the Liberal Catholic Apostolic Church can be ordained in a week, or someone who just wants it gets it. I have said they are selected, that it is up to a bishop (and the authority system used) and I made the point that similar selection is in this Unitarian Ministries International. Now of course they may well also train, but a system with personal oversight based on apparent apostolic succession is one that can decide.
Now I have always been positive about the LCAC, and indeed I was the link person who led to Mhoira Lauer-Patterson preaching in Hull Unitarians. This was a little risky, as people have different ideas, including the patterns of ministry that I have defended.
When I was in the Church of England I picked up the vibe there that British Old and Liberal Catholicism was regarded by the Church of England in roughly the same spirit that the Baptist Union thinks of Unitarians. The Baptists don't like Unitarians, not just because Unitarians are not 'orthodox' but because we kept pinching their General Baptists, either in bunches of or single congregations. The Church of England does not like British Old and Liberal Catholicism because Arnold Harris Mathew used to go around reordaining Anglican Catholic clerics worried about their orders, and there was dispute with Archbishop Davidson.
Amongst those I met who knew something about Liberal Catholics, they would say that these were:
- Jumped-up self-appointing clerics without congregations (episcopi vagantes), giving themselves enormously long titles that are without substance, many of whom were failures to be ordained through the proper channels (so to speak). They are bishops with clerics of incredibly named dioceses, none of which really exist, and the whole thing becomes a fantasy of the imagination. You find the local church is either the garden shed or the garage once the car has been removed or perhaps the front room in a house.
- There is a strong tendency to schism among Churches of about half a dozen clerics, forever moving on to new associations and dividing again.
- Many of these have been dodgy characters (and this was said to me because there was one well known in the area). The same charge was heard recently in the Unitarian press, advising us to beware, which was an over-reaction but based on history.
- The Anglicans also responded to the Libeal Catholic stress on apostolic succession as being only one half of the equation - that these people plugged themselves into apostolic succession but then did not 'carry the gospel' and instead believed in all manner of semi-Pagan, interfaith and unitarian beliefs or whatever they wanted.
- Then there are the seminaries that are made up of no more than the same people already in charge, awarding degrees to themselves that no one else recognises.
- Anglicans also identified that Liberal Catholic explanations of the Eucharist were magical and that these were about the power of the priest as a magician rather than the supernatural power of God through the priest. Anglicans also criticise Eucharists with just the celebrant, which is specifically not allowed in the Anglican system where there must be a congregation of at least one.
The last point is a legacy of Leadbeater's interpretation of the Eucharist, and indeed the more 'magical' interpretation has been defended. The Eucharist alone is often a matter of necessity if there are no lay people (I can see both sides of the argument - but I have moved away from Eucharistic worship in any case). The matter of variable belief has been a matter of honesty, say Liberal Catholics, regarding intellectual freedom, in that Anglicans are often credal formally but equally believe all manner of things once investigated. Theology is broader than those creeds. However, liberal Anglicans will then claim to be more naturalistic - both less supernaturalist as well as not magical.
I am, of course, in favour of wide varieties of belief, and have a soft spot for the troubled history of Free Catholicism both of Lloyd Thomas and Herford. I think apostolic succession itself is so much hooey, whether Roman, Anglican, or liberal Catholic, or indeed Buddhist, except where it is a means of a person teaching his or her expertise and regulating the one who then is to be ordained into that deeper tradition.
I've also said that every Church, however small, ought to have something like a seminary in order to do its training and regulation. I don't obviously think much of these institutions awarding degrees. No institution beyond will recognise them. But no one is necessarily going to recognise another's internal qualifications, which are for internal consumption. Of course one can recognise the actuality of training and experience. An Anglican priest, say, becoming a Unitarian minister, still should do some transfer courses, but not like a newbie, and then be accepted on the GA Roll, and a Unitarian minister becoming an Anglican priest needs the bishop to examine ministerial experience, and then select and ordain, and the priest needs to take on a parish.
My argument about dodgy characters is that you get these all over the place, and not just in Liberal Catholicism. I don't think this argument against Liberal Catholicism holds. Liberal Catholicism doesn't attract baddies any more than the rest. They do it a lot of damage, however, because of the small numbers and notoriety gained.
Of course people move around. The tendency to break up and move about has been defended even by those who do it. Nevertheless, small groups have very intense relationships and there is a tendency to schism. Unitarians were born of schisms, when the orthodox in many congregations used to walk off and form their own new chapels. The new LCAC is a schism of the old, and it was born after numerous name changes and then taking on a redundant tradition and name of the Ancient Catholic Church. No sooner had the LCAC been born and running that its principal bishops (but one) went off and later then had their own split. Let's hope the post-schism LCAC has no further schisms.
As it happens I have considered what happens at LCAC Swindon to be good in its attempt to be a rainbow inclusive body and carry out social mission. Nevertheless it has ordained people into lower orders and higher in a manner that puzzles. Well, that is part of the Liberal Catholic inheritance. It doesn't bother me but it has been somewhat humorous to others. Actually, the Church of England better be careful on this one, because it is tending to ordain locals in order to carry out clerical Eucharists and not all these locals have the kind of neutral authority needed: they carry baggage in their communities. It raises eyebrows when a local council official or shopkeeper suddenly becomes a deacon in the local church (priested a year later) when the folks around know the stories about them.
Personally I have no time for all these titles. In the end a minister minsters and the titles are pretty irrelevant. It's just a means of identity and organisation. I would defend Liberal and Free Catholicism as legitimate against its many detractors. Also independence is necessary and of real benefit in some cases, and the Internet based priest is a new and interesting development. I think we should also respect another Church's method of organising, so I call people by the titles they want.
So here we are. These are my opinions. They are not the opinions of other Anglicans or Unitarians, many of whom are much more critical.
But a word to Liberal Catholics: if you don't know who your friends are, you won't have any.