When I was working on my dissertation, which became The Many Paths of the Independent Sacramental Movement, I was fishing for a term large enough to encompass the bewildering variety of groups I was considering. These churches and orders were woven together through a common web of history, lineage, and/or practice, and yet used many different names for themselves – Old Catholic, Independent Catholic, Continuing Anglican, Apostolic, Independent Orthodox, Evangelical Orthodox, etc, etc, ad infinitum… I happened to notice that The Christian Community described itself on its website as an “independent sacramental” church. Then, shortly thereafter, I was reading the section on esoteric sacramentalism in Richard Smoley’s Inner Christianity. Richard mentions the “many tiny independent sacramental movements” spawned by Old Catholicism (p.224). As independence from the larger churches, and a high degree of focus on sacramental life were key characteristics of all the groups I was considering, this seemed as good a name as any.
“Independent Sacramental Movement” (or ISM, for short) began life as an etic term, possessing meaning for me as the observer, but not necessarily owned (as an emic description) by those under observation. (Thanks to Alexis and Graeme of Grace Catholic Church for the fancy etic/emic language.) For many whom I class as part of the ISM, I am sure it continues to be purely my somewhat questionable etic term.
However, the funny thing that has happened in the last couple of years is that “Independent Sacramental” has taken on life as an emic term, a meaningful self-description and chosen identity, for some including me. The pros and cons of this development have been much discussed in yahoogroups and the blogosphere. I don’t question that many folks have good reasons for choosing a name including more traditional words like Catholic or Anglican. However, in my experience, those words almost inevitably create confusion for inquirers. How are we (this little tiny group) related to the only church the listener knows as Catholic? Or – If I am presenting myself as Another Kind of Anglican does that immediately set me up in a competitive stance toward Anglican clergy whom I happen to meet? And does any use of words like Catholic or Orthodox tie our identities to imitation of, or protest against the larger churches?
I have almost completely ceased to use Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, etc, in any self-descriptive way, except when explaining history. I am content to let the larger churches have these words, and have no desire to create confusion or a sense of competition with Rome, Constantinople, Canterbury, or Utrecht. In practice, I have found it much easier to explain our identity in a positive way to inquirers and curious onlookers since switching to “independent sacramental,” or sometimes “free sacramental.” Most people seem to understand quickly and accurately, without having to launch into long discussions of distinctions from a larger church to which there is only a distant, historical relationship.
If readers have experiences and perspectives (even – or especially – if quite different from mine) on the use of names in the independent movement, please post in the comments!