Running free

The following is intentionally provocative. J  I don’t claim to have any final answers to these issues, and look forward to discussion in the comments!

Upon leaving the Roman Catholic denomination, Ammon Hennacy (pacifist, anarchist, and Catholic Worker) wrote:

There are those “not of the fold” who remain followers of Christ.  I choose to be among them.  There is no reason for joining any other church for all churches support exploitation, and mostly they support war.  And I sure don’t want any Ammonites following me around. 

Ammon’s stance calls to mind the French philosopher-mystic Simone Weil, who refused baptism, preferring to sit outside the church, in the camp of heretics and sinners.  She wrote: 

The church is a great totalitarian beast with an irreducible kernel of truth. 

Caroline Casey (host of the “Visionary Activist” radio program on remarked during a recent show: 

The church is an ordeal – Take the sacraments and run! 

The issue of denominations or jurisdictions within the independent movement has only rarely been examined, beyond the simple observation that such groups split and multiply at a rate of knots.  Most jurisdictions are set up as miniature replicas of the larger churches, complete with elaborate hierarchies, codes of canon law, bank accounts, stationery, coats of arms, incorporation, not-for-profit status, and so on – even if the total membership is miniscule.  The purpose of the foregoing is difficult to detect, at least in my experience.  Frankly, it is often nothing short of comic. 

Dominique-Marie Varlet, the episcopal ancestor of many of us (as the consecrator of Utrecht’s first non-RC-approved bishop), initially got in trouble for exercising his ministry outside the approved geographic bounds, when presented with the need for confirmations while on a travel stop in Holland.  The relationship of indie ministries to traditional geographic dioceses has been shaky ever since.  Tim Cravens (  has argued that, in reality, most indie dioceses are defined by “networks of relationships and not by accidents of geography,” with people choosing to work with those who have similar sensibilities, regardless of location.  There is also much cooperation and cross-fertilization across jurisdictional lines, among individuals and groups which share a family resemblance (in Wittgenstein’s sense).  I agree with Tim that it is very helpful to understand the independent movement as a loose collection of families.  And the various families within the movement are kin to one another in ways that rival the multiple relationships of my rural
Tennessee cousins.

Obviously, some forms of organized connection and cooperation can be helpful, but, being an anarchist at heart, I believe we would be wise to keep such structure to the absolute minimum.  I would like to see no drawing of boundaries to impede communion, no catering to weak egos who want to be micro-popes, no accepting of privilege from the government, and no improper financial benefit to those in orders (e.g., clergy evading responsibility for personal taxes via a church non-profit).  Non-jurisdictional, fully independent clergy are already serving well in solitary vocations, in various forms of non-liturgical work, and in local communities (  They have taken the sacraments and are running free, unencumbered by jurisdictions. Communities do not have to be incorporated, look like traditional churches, or even have a name in order to provide spiritual nurture and accountability.  Friendship rather than organizational structure can hold us together, while allowing the flexibility needed to respond as fully as possible to the movement of the Spirit. 

 Update – I changed the above from “no financial benefit for those in orders” to “no improper financial benefit,” as I do not mean to address the issue of legitimate clergy compensation here….   “Tentmaking” is an issue for another post….


3 Responses to “Running free”

  1. Tim Cravens Says:

    I’ve posted my response to this at my blog, Thoughts at Large from a Bishop at Large:

  2. Alexis Says:

    I think I’ll follow Tim’s lead and post a response on my blog too

    Bugger! This means I “owe” John four different responses now. . . 🙂

  3. The Liberal Rite Says:

    The freedom offered by the movement is a freedom to grow within an individual spiritual path illuminated by internal and external influences, some of whom are certainly other community members. However, as soon as a community sets theological boundaries as far as that path is concerned it sets a point where it ceases to be inclusive.

    The issue is where and whether those theological boundaries are desirable. For example, the Universal Life Church, which doesn’t set theological boundaries, brings together a series of people (judging from their forums) who I doubt would ever make those connexions otherwise. And theirs has become a strong, if highly unconventional, online community.

    In that community, boundaries are set on humanistic grounds, such as civility, respect for different viewpoints, etc., rather than standing between the individual and his or her personal faith. It may not be a sacramental community, but it is a supportive, diverse, spiritually alive community.

    I like the family analogy, but prefer to think of the movement as fluid rather than constant. If we believe that God uses others to guide us, any examination will show that those guides cannot, because of their mortality, and because of their own spiritual changes and evolving destinies, remain beside our side physically all the time.

    We learn from our teachers, then we find (or they suggest) new teachers, we move on and we grow in the process. Above all unless we and our communities grow spiritually, we stagnate. What is great about the ISM is that people of every shade of theology can find a place within it, and are not hindered in pursuing the ministry that makes sense to them – and that they feel they are being led to – by the judgement of others, however well-intentioned that judgement may be.

    We may – indeed we probably will – move through different spiritual identities in our lifelong quest, but the ISM is big enough to move and change with us. Not only that, but in being purposely fluid, its very mutability mirrors our own capacity to respond to inspiration and to new discovery. Like all freedoms, for some it will appear a blessing, for others a challenge to the established order.

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