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The Progressive Christian Alliance and its place in the Independent Sacramental Movement

For me the PCA is very much a part of the Independent Sacramental Movement or at least a part of it is. But before I go into that some reading this may be going the Independent what?

So lets start with that from Wikipedia which in this instance is actually not that bad of a place to start as it gives a brief overview:

The Independent Sacramental Movement (ISM) is a collection of sacramental Christian individuals and groups (and, depending on how one draws boundaries, some Christo-Pagans and Thelemites) who are not part of historic sacramental Christian denominations such as the Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Orthodox churches. Many in the ISM originated in schisms from sacramental Christian denominations, and claim to preserve the historical episcopate or apostolic succession, though this claim by some of these churches would be seriously questioned,[why?] if not rejected,[why?] by the ecclesiastical authorities of Rome,[1] Constantinople, Union of Utrecht (Old Catholic), and Canterbury. The Union of Utrecht and some jurisdictions[which?] within the Anglican Communion have engaged in ecumenical conversation with some groups[which?] which could be included in the ISM.[according to whom?]

Most of the churches listed by ISM adherents as being part of the movement have no historic connection to the movement and share almost nothing with this movement other than apostolic succession. In addition, some churches or other groups which are structurally similar to each other but which do not claim apostolic succession have been claimed by ISMsources as part of their movement.[clarification needed (see talk)]

Groups within the ISM (often known as Independent CatholicOld CatholicLiberal Catholic, Autocephalous Orthodox, Free Sacramental,[further explanation needed] etc.) have a number of common characteristics:[according to whom?]

  • solitary clergy and small groups
  • centrality of the sacramental life (especially the Eucharist)
  • a mediatory priesthood mostly composed of volunteers
  • ordination potentially available to a significant percentage of the membership
  • experimentation in theology, liturgy, and/or church structure.[further explanation needed]

The term was popularized in 2005 by John Plummer, in The Many Paths of the Independent Sacramental Movement,[2] although it was used earlier, in 2002 by Richard Smoley, in Inner Christianity,[3] and perhaps first used in the mid-1970s by a short-lived cooperative organization called the Synod of Independent Sacramental Churches.[speculation?] ISMgroups range from the broadly inclusive[example needed] (including marriage of same-sex couples and the ordination of women) to the socially conservative;[example needed] also from the traditionally orthodox to the esoteric, although the term is most commonly employed to refer to the liberal end of the spectrum. While the term “Independent Sacramental” originated as an etic description,[by whom?] it has been used increasingly as an emic self-description by members of some of these churches and groups.

Currently, just as within the new monasticism movement, interspiritual expressions are arising.

So our brothers and sisters in Churches like the Old Catholic Apostolic Church or Liberal Catholic Church are generally and example of the Independent Sacramental Movement(ISM) but as hinted at in the Wiki entry above that isn’t necessarily it.

Indeed the ISM comprises of Independent Catholics, Anglicans, Methodists, Lutherans, Franciscans, and more really if you can think of a Christian denomination you will likely find a branch within the ISM.

My reason for stating the PCA or at least a part of the PCA is indeed a part of this movement is varied but let’s looks at the shared characteristics that the Wiki entry gave and go from there.

  • solitary clergy and small groups

We of course in general really do fit the mold for this or we at least tend to start out this way, we tend to start off as a small group of like minded people indeed one could the formation of the PCA was based on this.

  • a mediatory priesthood mostly composed of volunteers

We are all volunteers here, those of us lucky to make a living doing ministry do so in what would be called a self supporting manner, or also have secular work that enable us to live and we run our ministry in conjunction with secular work. There is something very Apostle like in this manner or at least in my opinion there is.

  • ordination potentially available to a significant percentage of the membership

Yes indeed we fit this perfectly, and there isn’t much point in elaborating on this further, not in the context of this blog anyway.

  • Experimentation in theology, liturgy, and/or church structure.

It has been mentioned by myself on the Facebook page before and I will do so again you will not likely find such a diverse group of theological and liturgical diversity as you find in the PCA and each of who do Ministry will likely have varying degrees of structure and Liturgy used.

Of course you may have noticed I missed one of the common characteristics out from that Wiki entry and my reason for doing so goes back to the start of this blog, the PCA or at least a part of the PCA is a part of the ISM and it is because of this characteristic:

  •  centrality of the sacramental life (especially the Eucharist)

This is where my interest in History also comes into play, I have been told repeatedly from different members of the PCA who have been around a lot longer than my few years, who have said that one or two of the original founders had very much in mind a very sacramental orientated life and form of ministry.

Now obviously the PCA in its modern incarnation has a much broader range of ministers and layity and congregants, ranging from this very traditional sort of view point to those who are at the polar opposite end of the spectrum who would not have a high view of Christ for example or who have a faith completely outside of the Christian tradition.

For me one of the most educational and rewarding aspects of the PCA is this diversity of thought and belief, but also that we all have a strength of faith that allows us to express our views on faith, on theological matters without descending into labeling each other heretics and the like. However in my own ministry and in the ministry of those who do have a more traditional view of Ministry I look to a number of fellow countrymen and women who like me are Independent Anglicans, or my Brothers and Sisters who given recent events are now independent Methodists, and across the globe those of us in the PCA who as I said have a more traditional view of ministry but are considered too Liberal from the traditions we have come from.

For me and for those that I have just mentioned and those I have not mentioned, where the Sacraments especially the Eucharist is very much central to our lives, it is this part of the PCA that is without question as part of ISM, sharing all the common characteristics of Churches that are part of ISM.

You may say Rob, ahh but that Wiki entry mentions Apostolic Succession, Indeed for many Catholics, Anglicans, Methodists and a few others this is a important thing, the reason of course relates to the validity of ordinations within these said churches, Rome itself has stated publicly that for churches like the Old Catholic Apostolic Church (Churches that typically trace succession back to the Union of Utrecht which rejected doctrines of the first Vatican Council)

Bishops that have performed ordinations without the consent of Rome or the Papacy are Valid but Illicit, of course as already mentioned some of the ISM don’t place any emphasis on the Apostolic succession as they believe as backed up by scripture that God and their faith in Christ have called them to a royal priest hood (1Peter 2:9).

Some of us within the PCA of course may have come from being Priest in other denominations certainly if any of us are former Catholic, Anglican priests etc then they would have a line of Apostolic succession which in most church structures is performed by a Bishop, however the PCA doesn’t use these titles preferring and I think rather appropriately titles like Servant Leader. My point being is that for those where Apostolic Succession is of the up most importance the PCA in some situations can follow this.

That isn’t to take away from those within the PCA who don’t put any importance in such things or for those that feel no connection with the ISM as I said for the PCA only a part of us is in the ISM and that is because of the mass breadth and diversity present in the PCA.

The reason that I have wanted to write this blog is to really reach those within the PCA who may have an interest or feel a call and connection to this part of the PCA and how this part of the PCA is connected to a wider movement that itself is centuries old.

In fact speaking as both the Member at Large of the PCA, currently seeking Ordination and currently in Ministry that falls within the ISM a lot of our thinking and theology can be traced back to the early Church Fathers, such as Origin, Gregory of Nyssa, all the way to more recent theologians such as Karl Barth, Rob Bell, Steve Chalke, Robin Parry and many more. The point is of course that this makes us both new and old at the same time something that I find deeply ironic but also with something that I feel Gods guiding hand in.

The PCA is a broad church of diversity and theological discussion and persuasion as mentioned already (perhaps as an Anglican its why I feel drawn to it the way I do) but this blog intention has not been to separate or divide the PCA with those who hold a similar view to me and those who don’t, but rather make aware those who share my views or similar views of the deep history that we have as a part of the ISM.

As time goes on I intend to write more on the Independent Sacramental Movement and within my own Ministry and in my capacity as the PCA member at Large is to build some more connections with other churches within the ISM such as the Old Catholic Apostolic Church, The Open Episcopal Church etc.

But it goes to show just how Universal Christ’s Church truly is and I hope those who have read this have found it informative and have at the very least been able to detect the deep passion involved with writing this, even those who don’t consider themselves within the ISM but now understand how the PCA or a part of the PCA is clearly a part of the ISM.

God bless.

Rob Ponsford          

Member at Large

Progressive Christian Alliance

Bodies of Breath and Mud: A Comprehensive Christian Sexual Ethic (A Series)

Part One: The Very Beginning

Then the Lord God formed Ha’Adam from the dust of the ground, and breathed into their nostrils the breath of life; and Ha’Adam became a living being

Genesis 2:7

The person across from me reaches into their chest removing glob after glob after glob of mud. They place each into a sieve resting in my hands and wait. Gently and purposefully I run clean water over the mud. Larger particles are trapped in the mesh. I take them out and turn them over and over. We discuss each bit and some we decide to polish, some to smelt, or some to throw away. There are hundreds. We do this for a little while, then the washed silt is put back in. There will always be more work, always new bits accumulating, the mud in front of me is alive, it moves through this world picking up new detritus every day, for good or ill.

In pastoral care I am often presented with questions of ethics by people who expect me to have solid answers. People come to me for consolation or absolution or just to vent when life gets overwhelming or confusing. To a substantial portion of people I am viewed as the person who is supposed to be able to sort things neatly into boxes. Whereas I view myself as another mud person holding a sieve.

When I say we are made of mud, that is as much a reference to Genesis as it is a simple concession that our lives are never easily divided into good and bad. Clean and Unclean. Water and Dirt. Humans, I remind my parishioners, are muddy. Our ethics are muddy. Our morals are muddy. Our lives are muddy. And this is the price of doing business in a world beset with dubious moral positions.

Do I buy this burger for my unhoused friend, knowing it will give him joy, even though it contributes to morally repugnant factory farming practices and exploitation of workers? Do I expect a young mother to avoid buying the only clothes she can afford for her children while other children are making them as a means to survive the systems of oppression our country helped put in place? Do I spend time with my own children or spend time trying to make the world they live in better?

The very nature of existence in our society is increasingly morally ambiguous simply because the social systems we exist under are exploitative and sinful. Our virtues are built upon our vices. Our Christian heroes of the faith are praised for standing against the principalities and powers, but if the camera pans downward all of them are standing on the backs of the oppressed of some other place or time. Indeed, that is how we can see them. That is not a condemnation, it is a lamentation. In my darker moments it often feels like Newton’s third law has translated to morality. For every action, an equal and opposite reaction. A maudlin, and in my opinion, false dichotomy but a real worry worth keeping sight of.

It is from this point. This understanding that human interaction is necessarily colored by the social institutions and power imbalances that plague us. This understanding that there is no perfect moral system within the empires of our world. It is from this point, that we talk about the fact that we are the breath of God.

We are not mere lumps of mud, we are children of the divine, and we contain within us the ability to love, to purify, to illuminate, and to breathe life back out into the world. We have the ability to reimagine, and recreate in the image of heaven. This is the other half of the equation when we delve into such a muddy topic as sexual ethics. We have to ask not only about how muddy each encounter is getting, how to limit ties to systems of power and exploitation but, as Christians, we must ask is this encounter life giving? Is this encounter illuminating? Is this encounter an image of heaven?

A Christian sexual ethic is concerned not just with the mundane but with the sacred and the relationship between the two. I believe that there are answers to some of our questions, and I also believe that there is nuance and humanity in each question that should not be ignored. So as we delve into the progressive christian sexual ethics, please carry these two concepts in tension.

We are human and divine.

We must accept the fullness of each if we are to enter into a fulfilling relationship with our own sexual nature.

May the Spirit walk with us and inform us on this journey together. Amen.  

Following the Wild Goose

“How do you like being on the Leadership Council of an international faith community?” This question, posed by a fellow PCA ordinand, now UCC pastor, made me chuckle. “It feels like some kind of huge cosmic joke,” I replied. Here I am, a 64-year-old Nana, highly introverted, pretty much invisible woman and yet somehow that pesky Wild Goose (Celtic image for the Holy Spirit) has led me to this place. And now I was with over 4,000 people at a campground in the mountains outside of Asheville, NC celebrating how rich life can be when we let go of our plans and allow oneself to live into possibility.

For much of my life, I was a good evangelical. Daughter of a UMC Elder, I always felt most at home when in a church. I followed all of the rules. I believed the creeds. I trusted the denomination to teach me all I needed to know about God. And then, at age 50, a brochure for a Masters in Holistic Spirituality crossed the desk where I was Health Ministries Coordinator for a major local hospital. Shortly after, I had a dream. In it, God asked, “Do you want to go along for the Wild Ride?” And with some fear but also excitement, I said “YES!”

The next 5 years were eye opening for me. I was the student who declared, “If calling God
“Father” was good enough for Jesus, it is good enough for me. (God bless Sister Cathy, she didn’t argue which I now know took a huge amount of restraint on her part.) Over time I read about so many ways that people understand the Jesus message, that I felt real anger at the UMC. When I tried to discuss this with my father he said, “That isn’t anything new.” That upset me even more. I am an intelligent person. Why should the denomination choose for me what I should or shouldn’t believe? And so, I listened to the Still, Small Voice, urging me to let go and fly.

There were times when I felt totally adrift. Whenever I tried to talk to other Christians about my questions, I was quickly shut down. No one ever said it out loud, but I’m pretty sure they branded me a heretic. One person even corrected me about what the “minimal standard” is for calling oneself a Christian. And his definition wasn’t “love one another.” It was a set of beliefs that no longer held validity in my own understanding. Thankfully, I had a spiritual director who was there to listen to me and support me. In her office I didn’t feel like I was crazy. She made me understand that this was a moment of transformation for me. I wasn’t a failure as a Christian, I was growing! The Wild Goose had taken flight and I was truly along for the Wild Ride.

Jump ahead to this summer and the Wild Goose Festival. Here I was, surrounded by other “misfits.” We were messy in our spirituality and not afraid to say it because we knew that the others sitting with us were living a similar path. We don’t pretend to have answers any more. Instead, we are learning to be comfortable living with our questions. Always seeking. Always expanding. What a place of freedom!

My favorite T-shirt last year was worn by a ginger haired, teenage boy with a captivating smile. It read, “This is the gay the LORD has made.” This year’s shirt winner was “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” But a new question was on the horizon. What exactly does it mean to be a Progressive Christian? For some, it means being LGBTQ+ affirming. And that’s a good start. But being progressive, for many of us, means much more than that. It means being open and supportive of how the Greater is at work in each of us. No exceptions. And that is hard. At Wild Goose Festival, I’ve been with Shamanic Christians, Wiccan Christians, Presbyterians, Quakers, United Methodists, UCC folk, ELCA folk, Episcopalians, Humanists, Atheists, and even Baptists. And none of us tried to convince the other that they were wrong. We gathered around tables and in workshops and were authentic. And it was like a glimpse of heaven on earth. The Psalmist said it best, “How good it is when people can live in harmony.”

It has been my privilege to serve on the Leadership Council of the Progressive Christian Alliance. Our open FaceBook page has well over 6,000 members. We offer a place where folks on the margin, folks expanding the margins, and folks who feel invisible can be authentic. Can ask questions and know they will be heard. A place like Wild Goose Festival where we can define for ourselves what it means to be a Progressive Christian and no one will shame us. For we’re all on a journey of Spirit. And who knows where that Wild Goose will take us next?

Progressive Christian Alliance Statement on the Immigration Crisis and Plea to All Christians

We, the Progressive Christian Alliance, are appalled by the systemic, amoral, and unethical treatment of immigrants by the current administration. What started with a ban on Muslim immigrants coming in from specific countries has now become full-out incarceration and abuse of People of Color from other countries who came to seek asylum. We are disgusted and appalled that children, babies, and toddlers are not only being abused, but are being ripped from their families and forced to face the grown-up legal system alone and entirely without representation.

We absolutely condemn these actions by this administration. These actions do not in any way fix the so-called problems that the administration claims to be caused by immigrants. They are inhumane and go against the teachings of Jesus and scripture.

In Matthew 25:37-40, Jesus tells us:

“‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’”

and Jesus also tells us that the greatest commandment is (Luke 10:27):

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”

For those of us in the Progressive Christian Alliance, there are no exceptions to these rules. We love our Muslim neighbor, our LGBTQIA+ neighbor, our neighbors from Latin America, South America, Africa, Asia, Europe, and any other place and religion on this planet. Radical inclusion dictates that there should be a place for EVERYONE at the table. This doesn’t mean that those who do harm aren’t accountable for their actions, but it does mean that even if someone has committed a crime, they are still treated as a human being.

The Progressive Christian Alliance, its clergy and laity, stand in opposition to these inhumane, racist, and exclusionary policies and will fight against them wherever and however we can.

We also call on all Christians, progressive and otherwise, to reflect on the history and role of Christianity in general, and extremist Christianity in particular, in bringing us to this point. We must work, in all our denominations, churches, and groups to root out racism, sexism, ageism, homophobia, and all other extremism. While we, individually, may not have had a hand in creating the policies created by those who have perverted Christianity’s ethos to their own ends,  we each have a responsibility to own up to Christianity’s dark history and be a part of cleaning up our own house. Until we accept that Christianity has been used for evil throughout its history, own up to it, and atone collectively for it, we will never be able to change the future.

We ask, in Jesus’s name, and in the name of the One who is called Goddess, Godde, God, and many other names, that all of God’s people will return to compassion, to love, and to bringing  justice and care to those who are in need. That we will do the reflection necessary as individuals, groups, and organizations in order to bring about the radical inclusion and hospitality that Jesus taught us to create and emulate.

Amen and May It Be So,

Rev. Gina Pond

Leadership Chair