“Independent Sacramental”

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!

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7 Responses to ““Independent Sacramental””

  1. Mother Laura Says:

    I value the new term you coined as a positive and unifying description of our very diverse movement, but my experience is the opposite: I use it only within the movement or with people already familiar with it, and think it would just confuse most people that I meet. Independent Catholic works great for me, cause everyone knows what both words mean, and the initially confusing combination (esp. used in regard to a girl priest) immediately makes clear that this is a new way of being Catholic, and I give a quick explanation of how that works. Of course, this also reflects my particular priestly and theological vocation amongst the many mansions, a significant part of which is to serve and reform the Catholic tradition as a whole and the RC communion in particular. That is different for each one of us and we are called to respect and support each other in our “many paths.”

  2. Tom Gilbert Says:

    Hello John,
    Thanks for checking out my new blog. Hope you don’t mind me quoting you this morning. BTW, how did you ever find it? I “googled” it and came up with nothing.

  3. John Says:

    Hey Tom – Thanks for the quote. It showed up in my blog stats as an incoming link.

    Laura – I very much agree that the appropriate words depend on our widely varied vocations. Thanks for your always interesting perspective!

  4. Godmother Says:

    I, too, have discontinued the practice of describing my Order and ministry as Catholic after being verbally blasted by a cousin of mine who who assumed even independent Catholics carry all of the same RC baggage. My own bishop has coined the phrase “post-Catholic” – which has a ring to it, but for myself, I claim just to be a Sacramental Christian and leave it there.

    Blessings

  5. Alexis Says:

    Hmmm. . . .Godmother’s point is well made. I have encountered a number of folks both in and outside the movement who because of the strong association of “catholic” with “Catholic” (read more specifically Roman Catholic) – there is a good argument for dropping the term. I also like her “Sacramental Christian” . . . indeed . . . I like it alot!

    ISM – as I’ve previously mentioned (thanks for the plug John) on my blog is as you say a good all encompassing etic term – but to me – it . . . .lacks warmth. . . and . . . interestingly enough. . . it also does not clarify something that to me is important to my identity – that is “Christian” for as we know there are groups in the wider movement who fall into a ritual sacramentalism, but which are far from even the most inclusive conceptualisation of “Christian”.

    Thus, I find myself continuing to use the old stand by OC/IC but “Sacramental Christian” . . .now that has got my attention. . . hmmmm

    As an aside, I would like to take up the point in Mo. Laura’s comment about reforming the “Catholic” tradition and as she says “in particular the RC communion” . . . forgive me if I’m mis-understanding but it seems odd does it not to attempt to engender reform in another tradition from without? I would like to see reform within our own movement – a reform in our attitudes towards other churches; a reform in our attitudes towards one another. Only in setting our own house in order will we best set an example to other traditions – and in that way inspire them to emulate our example. Now there’s a turn up for the books no?

  6. Mother Laura Says:

    Hi Alexis! I respect the many IC/OC/ISM folks who feel no connection to Rome and are committed to building up this movement as their solo focus. But my personal vocation and story is different, as I am both within and without the RC communion (the “within” is in the eyes of God and many RCs, obviously, not according to present canon law). I spent twenty years as a faithful RC, worshipping and ministering, and am expert in its theology, liturgy and spirituality beyond most of its lay and clerical members, with a clear call to priestly ministry in that denomination, confirmed by many of its priests and laypeople, as well as the Body of Christ as a whole. I had to technically leave to answer that call, but have continued to minister to and find support from people in that community as the Spirit leads, as well as to others, and my writing, teaching and example are part of the witness and means of change the Spirit is bringing about there through various reform movements of people still technically within (or unjustly excommunicated….). It’s not my major focus, and I am also very committed to building up the IC movement, but it is part of my reality so I name myself and build bridges accordingly in both directions. This is one reason why celebrating mass in my college chapel, Mission Santa Clara, (blogged recently under “Making History”) was so powerful for me and for everyone present.

  7. Fr. Michael Callahan Says:

    I have been an Old Catholic for nearly Twenty years. Over the years I’ve often commented that Using both terms Catholic, and Old Catholic can be confusing to the general public. However, I’ve found that using these terms is helpful in providing fodder for conversation. The only people that seem to have difficulty with either term are the tried and true Roman Catholics who think they are the only Catholic game in town.

    By the way, I am linking this article to my own Yahoo Group blog…

    PAX Christi

    Fr. Michael Callahan

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