Catholic Garage Churches

In a sleepless moment the other night I found myself discovering the world of Catholic garage churches. A garage church is a church somebody has in their garage.

Within the Anglican cosmos I was always fascinated by the umpteen little Anglican churches that you could find lurking in various out of the way places.

I called them garage churches because you would come across their website which would be billed as something like, “The American Anglican Orthodox Church” or “The Conservative Anglican Church of the Western Hemisphere” or maybe a bit more jejune like “The Celtic Orthodox Church of the Anglican Use (Glastonbury Designation)”. Or maybe you would meet one of their clergymen. He’d roll up in full clericals with a business card that announced that he was the Universal Archdeacon of the Canons Regular of the Hippolytan Conserve. He’d tell you that he was an Anglican priest and make sure you understood that he was of the Hippolytan Conserve and NOT one of those terrible members of the Ambrosian Conflation.

Then when you got into conversation you’d learn that the reverend was a delivery man for a local florist (“After all, St Paul had to make his living mending tents…”) and that their congregation of three (him, his mother and his Aunt Mildred) met for worship every Sunday at eleven at their proto-cathedral based in his Aunt Mildred’s garage at 413 Ferndale Circle.

It is all very entertaining and if you are bored one evening and wish to learn more about Anglican garage churches you can visit this web page and have a wonderful time browsing through their various websites. I became an Anglican through one of these churches–the Anglican Orthodox Church. It was founded by a larger than life former Episcopal priest from North Carolina who was like a character out of a Tennessee Williams play. To be fair, some of the churches on this web page are fairly hefty organizations with a global network and a growing clientele. As the Anglican Communion continues to self destruct, they are picking up members.

So you can imagine my mixture of delight and dismay to discover that there is a goodly collection of Catholic garage churches too. First I came across theUnited Catholic Church –which seems a misnomer…never mind. From there I found   the United American Catholic Church which is not to be confused with The American Catholic Church in the United States. The Liberal Catholic Church must distinguish itself somehow or other from the other garage churches, but I’m not sure how as they all seem liberal to me.

It seems that most of these Catholic garage churches take their heritage from the Old Catholic Dutch secession of the nineteenth century. Here is the page for the Independent Old Catholic Church of America which is a different body than the Independent Catholic Church of America and the American National Catholic Church not forgetting the Catholic Apostolic Church of North America.

I could go on. This page gives a list of them. I love the understatement in the opening line of this page: “The independent movement tends to be diverse.” My all time favorite is the Church of the Culdees–Orthodox Old Catholic. The Culdees were an early medieval Irish monastic group. Hermits mostly.

Some of the breakaway Catholic churches are ultra conservative, but most of them are progressive in their stance. They’ve broken from the Catholic faith because they want to be more inclusive. The irony is that they can’t even seem to get together themselves. If they are all so welcoming and inclusive of all why can’t they achieve unity amongst themselves? You would have thought that a church without walls would be able to blend with other wide open groups.

This brings one to consider the claims we hear constantly that the church must be “welcoming to all” and “inclusive of all”. Doesn’t anyone grab hold of the logical impossibility here? How can any organization–whether it is a church or an army or a country or a country club–be inclusive of all? As soon as you form any kind of organization there must be some people who are, by definition “in” and some who are “out”. There are boundaries and terms of membership and requirements or there is no organization. By the sheer definition any body of people must have boundaries. Everyone may join, but they are not automatically included. Some are out by decision of those who are in, but most are out because they don’t want to be in.

I will sometimes get some stick from non-Catholic Christians because we do not admit non-Catholics to communion. We are meant to be more inclusive. I then point out that their churches also have boundaries. They are shocked and deny it.

“OK” I propose, “Would you admit anyone to communion?”

“Yes.”

“A Methodist, an Episcopalian, a Baptist or a Presbyterian?”

“Yes”

“OK. What about a Seventh Day Adventist, A Holiness Church of God Pentecostalist, a radical non-denominational LBGT Christian?”

“Um. I think so. Yes.”

“What about an Four Square Gospeller, Christian Scientist, Worldwide Church of God, Salvation Army?”

“If they love Jesus, Yes, I think so.”

“A Moonie–Unification Church member? A Mormon? a Jehovah’s Witness?”

“Uh. Tricky.”

“Scientology? Unitarian Universalist? Spiritualist? They love Jesus…. sort of…you know, in their own way.”

“No. I don’t think so.”

“Buddhist? Hindu? Muslim? Jew?”

“Well they  wouldn’t want to come to communion anyway.”

“Yes, but what if they did?”

The point being that every religious group draws the line. There are boundaries and definitions and decisions about who is in and who is out, and in order for there to be anybody in there has to be somebody who’s out.

In the case of the Catholic garage churches, the very folks who have formed these churches have most often left the Catholic Church because it wasn’t inclusive enough, but unless they become nothing at all they must be forming churches which are, by definition, much smaller and more exclusive than the Catholic Church with its vast breadth and catholicity.

Which leads to the final question, “Why on earth do they even want to take the name “Catholic” when they are clearly forming a schism and a sect?

I’m still scratching my head.


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