Wednesday, February 01, 2012

"Those Monk People"

Hey, did you know there's a lively evangelical catholic movement in the United Church of Christ? Yep. We've heard rumors of such a thing for years, but don't recall stumbling across it until today.

The Order of Corpus Christi describes itself as a "religious order" which draws its members from the UCC laity and clergy, as well as those of the UCC's partner churches in COCU and other full communion agreements. The website provides background, a few pictures and the very simple foundational documents; you can read the whole thing in ten minutes, and we encourage you to do so.

It all seems unlikely. After all, the UCC is the left edge of mainline Protestantism, both politically and theologically. It was once chided by no less than Barbara Lundblad for threatening to become "the United Church of Causes." (And when Barbara chides, smart people pay attention.) UCC congregations are not infrequently dually aligned with the American Baptist Convention. Unlike most Reformed churches, it treats its historic confessions as "testimonies, not tests of faith" much as the (D&FMS of the) PECUSA now treats the Thirty-Nine Articles. One obstacle to full communion with the ELCA was our fear that the UCC lacked either the theological or organizational coherence to make a binding agreement.

And yet, let it never be forgotten that the UCC is the successor to the old German Reformed Church, in which two brilliant young theologians -- John Williamson Nevin and Philip Schaff -- pioneered a return to the sources of Reformed Christianity which practically demanded traditional liturgy, an emphasis on the reality and power of the sacraments, and so forth. Their "Mercersburg Theology" was an enormous influence on Charles Porterfield Krauth, and through him upon the General Council and ultimately the ELCA. Lutheranism in America owes as much to these guys as it does to Wilhelm Loehe. Maybe more.

Of course, among the Reformed, they were treated as heretics. Literally. Which is why we have generally argued that the long-term impact of Mercersburg is felt in Lutheranism, not the Reformed churches. It is a delight to be proven wrong. And certainly, the existence of the OCC is less surprising than that of the Methodist Order of St. Luke.

So, apart from an attempt to remember Nevin and Schaff, what is the OCC? The blogger A Simple Country Pastor describes the presence of some fellow-members at his installation last year:
One of the members of our church asked, “who were
those people all dressed alike?” The Order ‘dresses’ in similar albs and instead of a stole, wears the ‘scapular’ of the order. A friend’s wife asked, “who are those ‘monk’ people?”

... What is not immediately apparent is that participation in the Order is participation in a community of prayer. The community aspect became abundantly clear yesterday when those ‘monk’ people nearly outnumbered the local clergy who attended. They came from as far away as West Virginia, Western Pennsylvania, and Philadelphia.

That's sort of sweet.

The OCC will instantly remind Lutherans of another triliteral club, the Society of the Holy Trinity. We have many friends in the STS, and have attended a couple of its functions. But we have also said some sharp things about it on this blog in the past, which we will defend if challenged. It is one of those things we love in theory, but can't get comfortable with in practice. The OCC and the STS do indeed seem parallel, making suitable allowance for the conditions of their respective mother churches. But since those conditions are markedly different, we wonder just what the "feel" of an OCC meeting is. We wonder, for example, whether the Anglo-Catholic Socialism website linked on the sidebar would get more hits from the OCC than the STS.

Anyway, it seems to us that this poses a challenge for at least one of our ecumenical partners. Look, we've got the STS; Congregationalists have the OCC; Methodists have the OSL; Episcopalians have freaking Nashotah House just for starters, and Presbyterians are a lost cause. But, okay, Moravian Church, it's time to pony up. Show us your scapulars!


Anonymous said...

What's next- a 'reserved sacrament'? Genuflection? Incense?

Father Anonymous said...

Er ... almost every parish I have ever served has reserved the sacrament, and used incense occasionally. (One former ALC congregation did neither. But what're you gonna do with the ALC, right?).

Jonathan said...

Father, As a Lutheran pastor, I know it is bad for me to think this, but I have an inherent distrust for these types of groups. I always feel like there is an ulterior motive behind their organization. I know that is bad of me, but that is where I am. Maybe I should stop reading Dan Brown novels :)

Father Anonymous said...

Ego te absolvo; vade in pacem.

Seriously, though, it is a conundrum for me as well. We all know that ministry is hard, and that the mutual conversation and consolation of the brethren is an important source of strength and balance. Sometimes, the strength -- if not the balance -- can come best from people who share our perspectives and even peculiarities.

My own limited experience is of just that sort of thing. These aren't secret cabals hatching conspiracies; they're decent people reaching out to each other for spiritual support. I *know* that.

And yet I don't find myself joining up, either. Part of it is knowing that the STS emerged out of the 9.5 Theses, for which I did not care; part of it is a fear that if you look closely enough, you'll find some financial trails leading back to Richard Mellon Scaife. (I'm pretty sure you wouldn't for the STS; I can't guess about the ALPB, and I know for a fact that you will with First Things).

I like these guys. I really do, even the ones who over the years have made it clear that they don't like me anymore. But I just can't see myself joining their clubs.

Jonathan said...

Thanks for your thoughts. I don't see myself ever joining one the clubs, but then again, I am not exactly heart-broken over it. What I am heart-broken is the feeling that more and more who join these clubs will look at me as "unclean" and will want nothing to do with me as a friend and a brother in Christ. To me, that is wrong and heretical.

Father Anonymous said...

It would be, if it were true. Which it may be; I just don't know.

My own experience has been a little different, and maybe I'll write a post about it someday.

And, again, I wonder whether such a group within the UCC would wind up being very different.