Lesson 15: New Christian Communities

American National Catholic ChurchI promised to share some of my friends’ understanding of modern Christian community. Kerry Walters is a retired philosophy professor whose words often appear in the Huffington Post. I think his following Facebook post speaks for itself. I’d be interested in hearing your critique of his understanding of the Church.

Why I am an American National Catholic Church priest

A very nice woman wrote me last week to ask why I left the Episcopal Church for the American National Catholic Church (ANCC), or why, alternatively, I didn’t just become a Roman Catholic. I’ve been thinking about how to respond to her. Instead of wagging a finger at the Episcopal or Roman communions – who am I to judge? – I want to tell her, in a more positive vein, why I love the ANCC.

Reason 1: When I stand before God, I want to be able to say that I preached His mercy more than His judgment. Every cultural norm that we associate with the Faith will erode over time. Even St. Peter’s and Notre Dame will pass away. But that’s okay, because the heart of the Faith is St. Paul’s faith, hope, and love. Christianity is about relationship, covenanting with God and with one another, and such a covenant is built on faith, hope, and love, not on canon laws or institutional rules and regulations. Love, which holds pride of place, is so very evident in the ANCC. God’s mercy rather than a retributive sense of “justice” is the norm among us. We preach and practice forgiveness, recognizing that judgment belongs to God. And the very love we preach and practice regulates our behavior, much better than institutional rules ever could.

Reason 2: I think the ANCC’s ethos of love and mercy – loving-kindness, the Hebraic virtue of chesed and the single virtue most prominently embraced by Jesus – is in large part because so many of those who have found a home in the ANCC, laity as well as clergy, come to it with deep wounds. They’ve been told that because they broke the rules – when it comes to sexuality, divorce, gender, or even the perfectly normal desire for intimate companionship with another person – they fell outside of God’s grace. A top-heavy set of dos and don’ts, many of which are both contrary to common sense and decency and unmentioned in scripture, smashed them. But their wounds have made them sensitive rather than bitter, humble rather than cynical, empathic rather than indifferent to the suffering of others. Their wounds have given rise to great spiritual strength, and it’s a wounded strength that blesses the ANCC.

Reason 3: However much we may wish to hold onto it, the institutional structure of the Faith, Roman as well as Protestant, is undergoing fundamental change. Christianity as we’ve known it for centuries has already reached the moribund stage in Europe and Canada, and is swiftly approaching the same in the States. (Fundamentalism is more a symptom of a circle-the-wagon death throe than health.) Congregations of the future will be smaller and more intimate, like the earliest Christian communities. The historical gap between ordained and nonordained persons, such that the former are somehow in authority over the latter, will be rethought by recognizing that all members of the Body of Christ are equally valuable and precious. There will be more local autonomy, and more emphasis on evangelization than ownership of church property. Women, too long relegated to 2nd class citizenship in the Faith, will come into their own as spiritual leaders, counselors, and clergy. The ANCC has reached out to embrace, in the here-and-now, what the Faith must become if it’s not to disappear as an historical irrelevance.

Reason 4: There’s a fire-in-the-belly – or, better, fire-in-the-soul – that animates the ANCC. Because we’re a young Church, we’re excited and energetic; because we’re a poor Church in terms of money and real estate, we’re focused on the essentials; because we’re a small Church, we’re humble, beginning with our Presiding Bishop and including every member of every parish; because each ANCC parish that comes into being has to start from the ground up, with absolutely no available infrastructure to build on, we’re dedicated; and because, whenever we gather together in national convocation, the presence of the Holy Spirit is so palpable, we’re grateful. There’s the joy and sense of adventure that must’ve energized the first followers of The Way.

That’s why I’m in the ANCC. There are a good dozen or so other reasons. But these are four of the most basic.

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2 Enlightened Replies

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  1. Derek Halverson says:

    I’ll admit that part of my wanting to make a comment has to do with concern over my reply last week. My friends and certainly my wife would be offended at the idea that I could even conceive that financial or professional standing has any bearing on our relationships. But it’s an issue of mine, and society, it doesn’t have to do with them.

    Regarding this lesson I actually spoke with a Catholic friend of mine about it over lunch. The ANCC name and relation to his church caused rather a lot of confusion, especially in relation to other divisions and proper terminology for what I’d call the Roman Catholic church. I came to appreciate that it can be hard to keep the schisms straight, but on a plus side I do feel like Christians are finding it easier to relate to each other. Even if they wouldn’t agree with you on some things, it’s too hard to keep all the heresies straight, so I find few bother, at least where I live.

    I find the concept above of small intimate congregations appealing. Presumably it would make for lower overhead, would make it easier to know and care for each other, and at a small size one would feel like each member matters. That said we don’t seem to do too well with having the burden of other people mattering too much, and with it so easy to go to another faith community I’m not sure how this will work out. My understanding is that megatchurches are where the growth is. However I’ll be rooting for these small groups.

  2. Fritz Foltz says:

    Rita had had a horrendous December but wrote, “I was intrigued by the essay your friend wrote. I didn’t know much about them, but I suspect there are more of these “intentional communities” around, many of them all women Catholics, led by an ordained woman-priest.” She also sent a link that is instructive on the matter we are examining http://liturgy.co.nz/millennials-are-over-church Rita like me sees the church in which we grew up as family and has elected to stay.

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