Wednesday, July 09, 2008

A New Expression of Catholicism

Recently, the editorial team of The Progressive Catholic Voice was contacted by Dean Jones, the author of a new book entitled, A New Light: The Ecumenical Catholic Communion.

Although I’d heard of the Ecumenical Catholic Communion (ECC), I really didn’t know much about this particular expression of Catholicism. Thankfully, however, there’s the internet! And so after a quick search, I'm happy to present the following highlights from an article in the June 13, 2008 issue of the Longmont Times-Call about Jones and his book.

Because this article offers only a rudimentary introduction to the ECC,
I’m considering contacting Jones and interviewing him via e-mail for a more in-depth explanation of this particular expression of Catholicism.

Regular visitors may recall that I undertook a similar endeavor last year when I
interviewed Rev. Robert Caruso of Cornerstone Old Catholic Church here in St. Paul, MN.


A New Catholic Identity
Lafayette author unfolds story of ecumenical movement
By Melanie M. Sidwell
Longmont Times-Call
June 13, 2008

LONGMONT — In his latest book, Dean Jones of Lafayette maintains that his is a minor role: “I’m just the author.”

A New Light: The Ecumenical Catholic Communion chronicles the expansion of the Catholic reform movement from its origins through the faith journeys of some of its members at congregations in California, Florida and Colorado, including Longmont’s Light of Christ Ecumenical Catholic Community.

“Dean’s book will be the first of many books to follow that will be telling the unfolding story of the birthing of this new movement for a renewed and ecumenical expression of the Catholic Faith Tradition in our time,” said the Rev. Peter Hickman of St. Matthew Church Ecumenical Catholic Community in Orange, Calif., and presiding bishop of the ECC.

“As the ECC is becoming better known throughout the USA, many are interested in knowing the relevance of the ECC to their own personal journey of faith and their struggles with the Catholic Church,” Hickman said.

“Hearing the personal stories of others’ experience with the ECC in a book such as Dean Jones’ will be helpful in continuing the conversation of a renewed and progressive Catholicism for the growing number of Catholics who are yearning for another way to express their Catholic faith and identity in a 21st century context.”

Jones’ background includes serving as pastor for two evangelical Protestant churches in Oregon, teaching at a university for 13 years and heading homeless outreach programs.

He converted to Roman Catholicism 10 years ago and joined the Ecumenical Catholic Communion two years ago. He and his wife attend Light of Christ, which rents space at Bethlehem Lutheran Church, 1000 15th Ave.

His book, released late last month, was published by Boulder-based WovenWord Press. Editor Sheila Durkin Dierks is an ordained deacon of the ECC.

Jones said he wrote the book because there wasn’t one about the ECC.

The ECC “is a new expression of Catholicism. It is growing. And a number of people don’t know about it,” he said.

The ECC began officially in 2003 out of California as a new branch of Catholicism that, while not under the jurisdiction of the pope or the Vatican, aligns itself with liturgical tradition and a strong Catholic identity.

The ECC also identifies itself as an open and affirming denomination to homosexuality, women in the priesthood, married priests and any baptized people participating in the sacrament of Communion.

Jones writes that the ECC is just another branch in the diverse constituency of Catholicism, including the Roman, Orthodox, Anglican, “Old Catholics” and other independent Catholic groups that have formed through the centuries for various reasons but are united by the belief in “one, holy, apostolic Church” that celebrates the sacrament of the Eucharist.

He covers in part the formation of the Longmont group, in which he says more than 200 members of the former Spirit of Peace Church left the Roman Catholic parish out of frustrations with church leadership two years ago.

Jones examines the personal stories of some of those parishioners, as well as published articles in religious journals, detailing their struggles and their joys in their faith journeys.

“They left the Roman Catholic Church, but they did not leave the church,” Jones said.

Valerie and Bill McCullough of Loveland, who are members of Light of Christ, bought Jones’ book for themselves and plan to send a copy to a friend “who is looking for something like this (church) but hasn’t been able to find it,” Valerie said.

The couple attended Roman Catholic parishes in Fort Collins but were “seeking a new interpretation of phrasing the Gospels in today’s environment,” said Bill.

They joined Light of Christ because they like that everyone is welcome at Communion, that priests can marry and have families and that leadership roles are available for women.

“Word needs to get out that these churches exist,” said Valerie, a retired clinical physician.

. . . Katherine Pagoaga, an IT specialist, and her husband Carl von Loewenfeldt, a software engineer, also are members of Light of Christ in Longmont. The Boulder couple are reading Jones’ book now.

“I believe that other people who have left other denominations because of the exclusion of certain groups of people or for various reasons need to know that there is another option. There are people who are spiritual and looking for a place to worship — a community. The ECC offers a spiritual community,” said Katherine.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
The Old Catholic Church: Catholicism Beyond Rome
The “Underground Church”
What it Means to be Catholic

Recommended Off-site Links:
The Ecumenical Catholic Church
“Faithful, Yet Not Traditional Catholics” – David Haldane (Los Angeles Times, June 4, 2006).


Liam said...

And this is different from Protestantism (including Anglicanism, which by English law is by defintion Protestant) how?

Mark Andrews said...

A couple comments here.

First, the ECC is old news. Their home church is, what, in Orange County? Had a pretty good following as I recall, but given population and politics of Southern California, there is a place there for every conceivable religious expression, Catholic or not, Christian or not, religious or not, spiritual or not.

To their credit, the ECC folks are very clear that they are not Roman Catholic and don't claim to be. They appear to understand themselves as a form of catholicism - a self-governing, modern off-shoot of the Old Catholics. I don't know whether the ECC has any formal or informal connection with other Old Catholic bodies, or derivatives of those bodies. Or the Union of Utrecht for that matter. Not that any of that matters to the ECC, of course.

Second, what I wonder about is the ecclesiology of these groups and its relationship to their christology, their self-understanding as a church in relation to their understanding of Jesus. This book Michael mentions about the ECC is unremarkable in its ecclesiology - the ecclesiology is protestant. There is no "the Church," there is only "a church" - one among many. Its like comparing an "essentialist" ecclesiology to a "constructivist" ecclesiology.

I see RCC ecclesiology as essentialist. There are not many churches, there is only One Church and the Roman Catholic Church is it. Other communities may have Catholic elements, but without apostolic succession and the eucharist there is is no true church in the proper sense.

Contrast that with a constructivist ecclesiology where the church is just a particular expression of 'church,' entirely a human construct, however much helped by the Holy Spirit. The true Church being composed of those who place their faith in Christ, and where the Word is proclaimed and the right sacraments are properly celebrated. I suggest looking to the magisterial Reformers, starting with Luther, for a far better statement of this than I'm giving here. You can get a sense this line of thought by looking at Michael's recent posts quoting Schillebeex (sic?), but I digress.

My question to all and sundry is, given the existence of at least two (if not hundreds in fact) of alternative forms of catholicism, why should the Roman Catholic Church be goaded into being more like the Ecumenical Catholic Church? To each his or her own, I say.

Liam said...


The main practical value of protestant denominations like the ECC is twofold:

(1) they usually allow an intentional community of ex-Catholics to gather together without having to actually be absorbed by an existing ecclesial communion, so this enhances control, as it were;

(2) on the flip side, it spares other eccesial communities from having to absorb ex-CAtholics in number, since the digestion process can be difficult (as I've been told by various Protestants who've learned to dread (quietly) the advent of more than a few ex-Catholics at once in their midst, since Catholics tend to be poorly equipped to deal with congregational governance (especially those who think they are well equipped)).

For me, when I've been asked if I had to consider another ecclesial community outside the Catholic & Orthodox churches, I would lean towards the Society of Friends. Why? Because they are a-liturgical and generally shut up in worship - they are basically an offshoot of the non-liturgical parts of medieval monasticism. Eliminating the pretense to liturgy means Catholics would be less tempted to mess with things the way people who've had legs cut off try to scratch them....

Donna said...


Thank you for sharing this information about this alternative way of being Catholic. I find the emergence of such ways throughout the world very hopeful.

Mark, I find last comment extremely arrogant - and reflective of the worst aspects of Roman Catholicism. It reeks of a "holier than thou" attitude. The ECC is not a "protestant denomination," but rather another expression of Catholicism. Show some respect and let them name and define themselves. To do otherwise is like insisting that gay people be labeled "same-sex attracted" rather than gay, which is how they define themselves.

As a life long Catholic, I'm frankly tired of the arrogant and exclusionary claims of the Roman expression of Catholicism. It's no wonder people are seeking alternative ways to be Catholic. I'm moving in that direction myself, as are a number of people I know.

Liam said...


It is you who make it sound like being a protestant denomination is something to be avoided. Protestant denominations in the Reformation period either started out as imagining themselves to be an alternative way to express catholicism or derived from such.

I am mystified by the need to keep the Catholic with a C as the identifier for this denomination. It's equivocal: it will repel some who want nothing to do with Catholicism (regardless of flavor) and will be regarded as self-deluding by others. (I can think of numerous gay and lesbian ex-Catholic friends who would go off on quite a rant about the idea if they knew of it.)

This denomination sounds like garden variety American episcopalianism (at least in its current iteration), and I wonder why its members don't simply join an episcopalian church (unless the only flavor of episcopalianism near them is of the Prayer Book Society kind).

Mark Andrews said...

Sorry, Donna, I can't resist. As a straight person I wouldn't dare attempt to understand all the dimensions of what it is to be "Gay" - one of the reasons I hang out here is to (hopefully) better understand by learning to listen to Michael.

But the one dimension I think I do understand (without having to be Gay myself) is that being Gay begins with same-sex attraction. I don't think I am mistaken about that.

kevin57 said...

I am also left wondering if this church is within the apostolic continuum, as evidenced through the laying on of hands. That is, does this bishop or other bishops in the ECC truly of apostolic origin? That clarification would be helpful, and, indeed, necessary to delve into this more deeply.

Conversely, I do have to pose a question to those here who jump on the ECC with seeming delight over a possible/probable defect in their ecclesiology: do you similarly scorn the Lefevbrite church? Without judging any individuals here, I have been struck that those who heap scorn on groups like the ECC are often much, much more emphathetic towards the loons on the traditionalist side of things.

Michael J. Bayly said...

Actually, Donna, it was Liam, not Mark who labeled the ECC a "protestant denomination."

I'm finding this discussion very interesting. It's providing me with many good questions to ask Dean Jones if and when I interview him.



Michael J. Bayly said...


Yes, gay sexuality begins with "same sex attraction" - as much as straight sexuality begins with "opposite-sex attraction." Yet we don't hear heterosexuals being defined and described as people with "opposite-sex attractions." There seems to be a double standard at play.

The problem I have with the term "same-sex attracted" is that those who use it reduce sexuality solely to acts of genital expression.

A similar thing is done with the term "lifestyle." As my friend Paula notes in this previous post:

"Lifestyle" has become a pejorative word used to denigrate LGBT persons. It’s a propaganda word, meant to segregate a group by its sexual practices and to exclude them from social acceptance.

I think the same could be said about the term "same-sex attracted" when it's used as the sole way of defining and describing gay people.

I appreciate the perspective of Donald G. Hanway in his book, A Theology of Gay and Lesbian Inclusion: Love Letters to the Church. He writes that:

Sexuality is a part of who we are; it is not just a matter of what we do. Some pious Christians would prefer to compartmentalize sex, just as some would prefer to compartmentalize religion - that is, make it one part of their lives separate from the rest of their lives. However, that is not how religious faith works, and that is not how sexuality works. We bring our sexuality identity and feelings with us every place we go - not blatantly, perhaps, but as an influential part of ourselves, always present whether we recognize it or not.



Liam said...

I should add to my last comment that the other reason American episcopalianism might not be an option would be if the Catholics to adhere to Roman Catholic teaching on the invalidity of Anglican orders (and by extension, Episcopalian orders, of course, where there is even less connection to apostolic succession in the Roman understanding). But my sense is that the people in the ECC would probably not in the main be adherents of that teaching.

And, yes, "SSA" is a latter-day ersatz clinical-ish term that deserves the scorn heaped on it. It's so funny to watch some Catholics embrace neo-Freudianism when the Church spent so much time a couple of generations ago with those who looked at Freud's sexual theories with a gimlet eye (and wisely too; Freudism is a stew of misogyny, among other things).

Liam said...


I should clarify: I have zero truck with Rad-Trads. I would generally be accounted somewhere among the relatively progressive spectrum of Roman Catholicism, but with my sails trimmed from years of watching myself and fellow progressives manage to actually commit the same or inverted versions of many of the things against which we whined. In the process, I spent a lot of time winnowing away the unnecessary from the necessary, and realized some things I thought were necessary weren't and some things I thought were unnecessary were (necessary, that is) - and still learning, of course. Hence, my views as expressed here must probably seem rather difficult to sort in terms of customary divisions - and there is good reason for that.

Mark Andrews said...

Two answers to two different questions (and posters):

For Keven: ...[D]o you similarly scorn the Lefevbrite church?

In a word, yes, I do. And loony is just the word I'd use, too (agreeing, too, not to scorn anyone here).

For Michael: ...[W]e don't hear heterosexuals being defined and described as people with "opposite-sex attractions."

I, for one, would not mind in the least being described as having "opposite-sex attractions." I do in fact have such attractions, and Vivre La Différence. I would not say such attractions define me utterly, which is what I think Michael saying.

Mark Andrews said...

Michael, the embedded link behind the text "Ecumenical Catholic Communion (ECC)" is broken. Mark

Michael J. Bayly said...

Hey, thanks Mark.

I've repaired the link.



michael said...

A particular expression of Catholicism??? Uh, what does this have to do with Catholicism? It may be 'catholic' but the name of the church seems pretty misleading. On top of the problems that your other posters have mentioned, there doesn't seem to be episcopal lineage, or apostolic linkage to any mainstream christian denominations (or Old Catholics), much less the RCC. It just looks like a group of folks who want to dress up, and call themselves monsignors and bishops. I hope your interview will uncover a lot more facts about this group than what your link tells about them.