A Message from the Most Rev. Bennett D. D. Burke, Presiding Bishop
“…whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant…” (Matthew 20:26)
In that spirit, and in the 20th year of my service, the Synod of Bishops of the Liberal Catholic Church International have seen fit to elect me as the next Presiding Bishop. I thank them for that honor. I also look forward not to being “great among you,’ but instead continuing as your servant, and as a servant of the Word Made Flesh.
The Lord has favored the LCCI with two congregations in my home diocese of Arizona in the southwestern U.S. – in Casa Grande and Tucson – but there are many ways to live our faith besides establishing congregations. Jesus Himself never had His own church or temple. Instead, He served people where He found them: in the streets, at the well, in their homes. I also like to remember that one of the most sacred events in Christian history – the Last Supper – was shared with a small group of disciples in a rented room!
As Liberal Catholics, we don’t have a large denomination either. That, however, does not make what we do less important. One of our founding bishops, the Most Rev. Charles W. Leadbeater, told us in Science of the Sacraments that we should prefer small groups who understand the purpose of study, prayer, worship, and service, to large groups who often simply go through the motions out of some misplaced sense of obligation. Our Statement of Principles actually forbids proselytizing, in keeping with this admonition from Christ:
Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven...and whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. (Matthew 6:1-56)
Now, we’re not trying to keep the LCCI a secret, but we also have no interest in elevating being “seen by others” above a sincere approach to living our faith among them. Or to recall St. Francis of Assisi, “Preach the Gospel always. If necessary, use words.” We don’t do well-funded advertising campaigns. We don’t measure our impact by the number of LCCI members. We don’t seek to appeal to everyone, because that attempt often forces organizations which do so into watering down their message to the lowest common denominator, or using fear to get people into the pews. So the Liberal Catholic Church isn’t for everyone. We should all understand that.
But here’s the important thing: We welcome everyone. Especially those whom Jesus called “the least of His children” – or rather those whom society saw as “lesser,” those who found themselves on the margins. In His day, the marginalized included the sick, the poor, those who were seen as “different” or “other.” Sadly, things haven’t really changed. The Lord still calls us to welcome the stranger, the hungry, the outcast:
Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘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.’ – Matthew 25:34-40
And we offer the sacraments to everyone, even those who have been denied one or more of them in other Catholic churches. Examples include the divorced and remarried, and those refused baptism; people who identify as Catholic but who struggle with issues of conscience; those who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender; and those who seek a faith that combines devotion to the Living Christ with the best that science and modern enlightenment has to offer. And everyone else, too!
Now for a little history:
The Liberal Catholic Church is an independent and self-governing body; neither Roman Catholic nor Protestant – but Catholic. It traces its Episcopal Succession to the Old Catholic Church of Holland, and came into existence as the result of a complete re-organization in 1915-16 of the Old Catholic movement in Great Britain. It aims at combining the traditional sacramental form of worship – with its stately ritual, its deep mysticism and its abiding witness to the reality of sacramental grace – with the widest measure of intellectual liberty and respect for the individual conscience. It therefore permits to its members freedom of interpretation of the Scriptures, the Creeds and the Liturgy. Regarding the mind as one of the great avenues to spiritual apprehension, it encourages among its adherents the freest play of scientific and philosophical thought.”
A few more things about the Liberal Catholic Church International. We ordain women to the priesthood. We do not require priests to practice celibacy. If any of our clergy or leaders are accused of inappropriate conduct, we’ll turn that over for investigation to the civil authorities, not hide and protect the abusers at the expense of the victims.
We wish to align ourselves with those who know Christ as loving and compassionate, and who have no interest in using the Bible as a weapon, or as an excuse to exclude or discriminate or hate. Listen to the fundamentalist Christian mantra “family values,” then see if you can find Jesus saying anything positive about the nuclear family (you won’t, no matter how hard you look), and see instead if you can find Jesus expanding the idea of “family” to include all of God’s children, not just your own biological or tribal relatives (you will). See if you can find Jesus saying anything nice about religious leaders (you won’t…you’ll find that every mention Jesus makes of religious leaders is harsh criticism). Finally, read the words of Jesus in the Gospels from Matthew through John, and look for what Jesus had to say about same-sex relationships or family-planning techniques (here’s a hint: nothing). Why, then, do many of today’s Christian leaders spend so much time talking about things Jesus never mentioned, instead of talking about what He did preach: love, welcoming the stranger, and reaching out to all of God’s children with care and compassion?
Have you left religion behind because you can’t find a church that doesn’t insult your conscience? Have some of us also thrown the baby out with the bath water, by rejecting faith, religion, or God, when what we really need to reject are the false prophets? The flawed teachers? The religious leaders who seek earthly power and control, rather than the truth which will set us free?
I think it comes down to this: Either all of us are children of God, or none of us are.
I hope you’ll attend a Liberal Catholic Mass soon, or contact us to learn how you can start a Liberal Catholic group in your area.
In His Holy Name,