At my home church there is an abandoned copy of Leadbeater’s The Science of the Sacraments on a shelf in the pastor’s office. It’s with a deacon’s stole, a gospel book, and a box of hosts which must be so old as to be unusable now. These are evidence of an Independent Sacramental community that once worshipped in the church but is long gone and either precipitously disbanded or moved.
What kind of Independent Sacramental community? The book is a tell. Charles Leadbeater was an early bishop of the Liberal Catholic Church, and devised its liturgy. Today, it has broken up into a number of jurisdictions which I’ll get to in a moment. Also, don’t confuse them with politically or theologically progressive Catholics.
The Liberal Catholics is one of the reasons I became interested in the Independent Sacramental Movement in the first place. It would be a lie to say I understand the ins-and-outs of the Liberal Catholics, particularly what distinguishes their various jurisdictions, except to say that they are philosophically and historically dependent on Theosophy, which is also a blurry area for me, as my faith isn’t what you’d call esoteric. None of that is so important here as that the Liberal Catholics are theologically universalist.
The first Liberal Catholics I met — this was in 1994 and I don’t know which jurisdiction —were in a storefront church near my little house in Tulsa, Oklahoma. One of the bishops described (if I can recall back a quarter century) his church as being liberal in the interpretation of belief, provided that the liturgy is observed properly. We were standing at the back of the church at the time, surrounded by the largest collection of antique vestments I have ever seen, so I took him at his word about the liturgy
Here’s the Creed or Act of Faith used in Liberal Catholic rite jurisdictions, or some of them. It exists in variant forms, sometimes tweaking the sons and brothers to something that includes women:
We believe that God is Love and Power and Truth and Light; that perfect justice rules the world; that all His sons shall one day reach His Feet, however far they stray. We hold the Fatherhood of God, the Brotherhood of man; we know that we do serve Him best when best we serve our brother man. So shall His blessing rest upon us and peace for evermore. Amen.
I’ve noticed that Liberal Catholic jurisdictions vary on particular parts: is Theosophy optional? Likewise vegetarianism? So I assume some are more forthrightly universalist (as I understand it) than others. But the Catholic Universalist Church [updated 2023-02-06, Internet Archive link] just puts it out there. And look at that mid-century Off-Center Cross. (I had the pleasure to worship with their parish in Queens [updated 2023-02-06, add Internet Archive link] a few years ago.) Of note, they don’t use the Act of Faith on their site. Even more of note, some of the language in their theses are used by the Christian Universalist Association (or vice versa).
And also there’s the Liberal Catholic Universalist Church, based in the northeast of England. I wonder if there are others? Well, there was that vanished community. Were they drawn to a Universalist church? In any case, and no matter how small they may be, it does my heart good. What vanishes quickly can also reappear as fast.