Category Archives: Blogs

Updates from the Chair: Welcome to our Newly Ordained Clergy and Other Updates

Hi Friends!

Hope you all are having a great summer and staying cool! 

Updates to the website are still moving forward, and it’s really looking great. I think folks will be really happy with the new design once it’s out. We’re also working on making a member’s area, and putting all of our forms online. I’d like to thank Rev. Alain, Rev. Marie, and Rev. John Propper for doing a lot of hard work to make this possible! I’m hoping we can do some of the roll out by the end of August, beginning of September, with full roll out to happen in November. 

Marie, our Ordination Chair, is still asking for all previously ordained ProgCA Clergy to please email her (rev.mbatel@gmail.com) with their credentials so we can update our files. 

In other ordination news, I’d like to congratulate our newest group of ordinands who were approved by the Leadership Council at our July meeting:

  • Ahmondra McClendon 
  • Mark Slater
  • Jonny Diane Thompson 
  • Anna Golladay

Welcome the ProgCA family! 

Rob, our Member-at-Large, has been working on a revision of our online Covenant (which governs conduct on our Facebook groups). We hope to have that out to you soon.

As we move into the waning part of the year, I’d like to thank all of you who make the Progressive Christian Alliance possible. I see a lot of the work for love, inclusion, and justice that you all do, and I am so proud of you all! You are fulfilling your calls in the best ways possible, and it is amazing to see the gifts you bring to the table! 

We have many tough battles to fight right now, but I believe that we are doing what Jesus commanded us to do, and that is radical all by itself!

May your work be blessed, and may we always strive for more love, compassion, justice, and inclusion!

In the many names of Spirit, 

Rev. Gina

Updates from the Leadership Chair: Short Summer Update

Hello Friends!

A blessed Pentecost and Summer Solstice (or Winter Solstice in the southern hemisphere) to you! 

Things are still moving apace with behind the scenes updates. 

Marie, our Ordination Chair, is still asking for all previously ordained ProgCA Clergy to please email her (rev.mbatel@gmail.com) with their credentials so we can update our files.

Rev. Jon Popper will be helping us with parts of our new website. Thank you Jon for volunteering! 

We will be doing a live Q&A session on YouTube where you can ask questions about the ProgCA, get information about when we’ll be collecting dues, and exchange ideas. We’re shooting for the end of August or the beginning of September for this. Keep an eye out, or subscribe to this blog, to know when the exact dates will be. 

And finally, as a reminder, if you’d like to propose anything to the Leadership Council, please let any of the Council members know up to a week before our next scheduled meeting, and we will put it on the agenda. Our meetings are the 1st Sunday of the month at 5 PM Eastern Time US/11 pm Central European Time.

May your summer be full of blessings!

Rev. Gina

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?

From the Co-Chair: Reflections of My Time on the Leadership Council

One of the questions I’ve heard from many considering whether to serve on the Leadership Council (LC) of the Progressive Christian Alliance is, “What do you do?” I believe that each LC has its own “flavor” and so the duties of the Co-Chair look different depending on the goals that have been set by our members and the gifts we each bring to the table. Here is a quick look at what these (almost) three years have held for me.

It might be prudent to mention how I got on the LC in the first place. At the last election, when we were asking folks to nominate someone for Chair, I sat quietly and reflected. Lawton Higgs, Sr kept coming to mind. Lawton demonstrates a deep passion for justice and also has wonderful organizational skills. I contacted him, asking if he would be willing for me to submit his name. Somehow in the conversation I got nominated as his Co-Chair. And what a gift it has been to have him (and now Gina) as our Chair!

The goals we set for our LC’s time of service were: to create a structure so that future LC’s and members would have clear documents to support PCA as it continues to evolve with Spirit; to increase ways for folks with our vision to connect with us; to obtain 501c3 status so that we are recognized as a legitimate religious organization and to seek accreditation from BCCi (Board of Chaplaincy, Inc.) so that our chaplains could be certified as PCA clergy. We’ve accomplished all this and more!

The first year, Lawton attended the Wild Goose Festival outside of Asheville, NC. This is a wonderful opportunity for PCA to be more visible and to reach other progressive Christians. As his health became less certain, it was my joy to attend in 2017 and I will return in 2018. We have several persons affiliated with PCA who are offering workshops and I hope that if you attend you’ll look for this sign by my little RV and say “HI!” Perhaps we could share a meal together.

During that first year, Fred-Allen Self (secretary) and I worked diligently to update the Constitution and Cannons of PCA, making the wording clearer to understand. That document was brought to our members for a vote and it passed. Simultaneously, JT Ramelis (treasurer) was getting us incorporated and filling out endless documentation needed for the 501c3 application. Through his efforts we now are officially a not for profit entity.

We brought Lyle Devine and Marie Ba’tel on as Co-Chairs of our Ordination Committee and worked together to get a system in place for those seeking to become PCA clergy. We now have a quarterly discernment of those who submit applications. Some are ordained. Some are connected to mentors when they are not quite ready. Additionally, Marie is the first responder for folks who want more information about PCA and our ordination process while Lyle makes sure that those in process meet our standards. This has freed up our LC to focus on other duties.

In 2017 I submitted the paperwork necessary for PCA to be recognized as a Faith Community by BCCi, the major professional organization for chaplaincy certification. We’d been told this was a lengthy process and could take over a year. One day, I got an email from the reviewers asking why we had submitted the application since we didn’t have a PCA clergy person seeking certification at that time. My response was that many of our clergy have been members of mainline denominations but were not offered ordination because they were from the LGBTQi community or their theology was too broad. Chaplaincy has been a way for them to fulfill their calls and they do this well. These people, I told them, had suffered enough. It was our goal to make sure that those qualified to seek certification have a clear path. I worried how that might be received by the Board. Much to my delight, they not only affirmed us but applauded our foresight in applying ahead of the need. Today, our first PCA clergy person is seeking endorsement. I am so proud!

Our vision of that “mustard seed of grace” growing has been overwhelming during our tenure. Our founders surely were Spirit led when they birthed The Progressive Christian Alliance. It is now necessary for us to set up a tracking system to improve our connection with one another, and we need better ways of creating community. With that in mind, we are implementing Wild Apricot (hopefully in July) which will enable us to keep records of our members, affiliate congregations, and clergy. Too often, people approach us seeking a community where they can feel welcome but we don’t have a current list of members or congregations to offer them. And we want to be sure that our clergy are up to date on security checks and upholding our clergy promise. We hope to have PCA clergy write more blogs for the website, sharing how their ministries are impacting a world that needs our words of a loving Godde. We also hope to find a way to hold a convocation once we know where our members reside. The first one may have to be an online event, but it is still one of our priorities.

It amazes me, looking at this blog, that we’ve come so far in so short a time. Lawton, JT and Fred-Allen had to resign so we now have a system where elections are at intervals so that all of the LC doesn’t change over at the same time. This should smooth transitions in the future. What a joy it has been to serve the PCA family. We have our squabbles as all families do, but when I get to welcome a new person to our community it is truly a moment of Godde’s grace for me. Our Constitution & Cannons mandate that a term in any position on the LC is 3 years. (One can serve in another position for an additional 3 years.) Recently, I was with one of the founders and he said, “Every 7 years leaders should step back. That enables new ideas to rise up. For the organization to flourish it must be constantly asking, ‘Who are we? Why do we exist? What needs are we not meeting yet?’” Wisdom. Would I do it again? Absolutely. I have grown in my skills and in my ministry as a result of serving on the Leadership Council of the Progressive Christian Alliance. I am also humbled by this opportunity you’ve entrusted to our care.

Thank you.

Rev. Beth Abbott

Co-chair, Leadership Council