Individuals have stories to tell about their spiritual journey. Churches and communities also have spiritual journeys and a story to tell. This is the story of the Community of Saint George.
So, “What is the Community of Saint George?”
In order to fully answer that question, let me share our spiritual genealogy so you get the full picture of who we are by understanding where we came from and how we developed.
For that reason, our story starts with the Old Catholic Church of the Netherlands, centered in the Dutch city of Utrecht.
The First Vatican Council ended on October 20, 1870 and during the council several innovations in Catholic theology were established such as papal infallibility. Some German, Dutch and Swiss bishops refused to accept the decrees of the Vatican Council, so they contacted the Archbishop of Utrecht. The See of Utrecht had been in schism with Rome since 1724 for similar reasons – issues concerning Papal interference in the administration of their diocese. The Union of Utrecht of the Old Catholic Churches was established on September 24th, 1889 as a confederation of Catholics who rejected Papal Infallibility and included the Old Catholic Church of the Netherlands. These Old Catholic Churches chose not to align with Protestantism directly because they wanted to remain Catholic – while simultaneously rejecting Roman and Vatican inspired innovations to the faith.
Our story moves from the Netherlands to England and Arnold Harris Matthew. Mathew was born August 7th, 1852 to a Roman Catholic father and an Anglican mother. Originally baptized Roman Catholic he switched to the Church of England only to switch back to Roman Catholicism. On June 24th, 1877 he was ordained a priest in the Roman Church; however, by 1889 he had resigned from all his duties in the Roman Catholic Church because of his struggles with the doctrine of Papal Infallibility.
Eventually, Mathew would be consecrated a bishop by Gerardus Gul, the Archbishop of Utrecht. The consecration took place on April 28th, 1908 at the Church of St. Gertrude in Utrecht. Bishop Matthew then returned to England as the “Regionary Bishop of the Old Catholic Church in the British Isles.”
By December 1910 Bishop Matthew went rogue and he severed official ties with Utrecht; however, he continued to try to establish Old Catholicism in England, now under the name Old Roman Catholic Church of Great Britain with Mathew installed as the Metropolitan and Old Catholic Archbishop of London.
The year 1913 saw a steady stream of people into Archbishop Matthew’s local congregation and on July 22nd, 1913 James Ingall Wedgwood was ordained to the priesthood. Wedgwood and the people he brought into the Old Roman Catholic Church of Great Britain were fervent Theosophists.
The Theosophical Society was founded in 1875 by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky and Julian Rees describes the Theosophical phenomenon as,
“Theosophy, broadly speaking, advances the view that there is a deeper spiritual reality which can be accessed through intuition, meditation or some other state transcending human consciousness, and that human beings are sparks of the divine trapped in the material world who desire to return to their spiritual home.”
By 1896 a sort of mission statement of the Society was formulated known as The Three Objects and are still being used today:
The FIRST Object: To form a nucleus of the Universal Brotherhood of Humanity without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste or color.
The SECOND Object: To encourage the study of Comparative Religion, Philosophy and Science.
And finally, The THIRD Object: To investigate unexplained laws of nature and the powers latent in man.
The Theosophical Society connection is important to our story and remember Father James Ingall Wedgwood and several members of Archbishop Mathew’s local congregation were avid Theosophists.
On October 28th, 1914 Archbishop Matthew consecrated a former Anglican priest Frederick Samuel Willoughby to the episcopacy. Willoughby’s consecration was to ensure the continuation of apostolic succession within the Old Roman Catholic Church of Great Britain.
On August 6th, 1915 Archbishop Mathew wrote a Pastoral Letter to all the members of the Church condemning The Theosophical Society and prohibiting anyone in the Church from being a member of the Society. This action would be devastating to the Old Roman Catholic Church of Great Britian.
Father Wedgwood in a letter to Mathew, dated November 12th, 1915, declared himself independent of Mathew but not Old Catholicism. Subsequently, all the Theosophically minded clergy also resigned and Wedgwood was elected to the episcopacy by his fellow priests who turned to Bishop Willoughby for help. On February 13th, 1916 James Ingall Wedgwood was consecrated a bishop by Bishop Willoughby and two other Bishops, also Theosophists, Bernard Gauntlett and Robert King. This date is considered as the date of the founding of the Liberal Catholic Church, with James Wedgwood as its first Presiding Bishop.
The Theosophical connection to the early development of the Liberal Catholic Church was important and Julie Byrne writes about this connection with:
“The Liberal Catholic Church made full use of Theosophy to fulfill, as the founders saw it, the promise of Catholicism. Like the esoteric revival in France, the hugely influential Theosophical Society offered rational but reenchanted pathways through modernity and general optimism about human spiritual evolution.”
While Theosophy was important to Wedgwood, Bishop Ian Hooker, the 9th Presiding Bishop of the Liberal Catholic Church writes of Wedgwood with:
“Notwithstanding his heavy reliance on the members and resources of The Theosophical Society, Wedgwood was not building a church just for theosophists. From the beginning he saw the LCC as a haven for open-minded, liberally inclined Christians, no longer comfortable in mainstream churches. In time, he believed, these people would form the majority of Liberal Catholics.”
Still, Wedgwood needed to build a community. Which brings us to another very important figure to our story – Charles Webster Leadbeater. Charles Leadbeater had been a priest in the Anglican Communion but left the Church of England in favor of retaining his membership in The Theosophical Society. On July 22nd, 1916, Father Charles Webster Leadbeater was consecrated a bishop by Wedgwood and eventually Leadbeater would be the second presiding bishop of the Liberal Catholic Church.
I would argue that Bishop Wedgwood was the foundational cornerstone of the Liberal Catholic Church but Bishop Leadbeater was the chief architect of what would become the Liberal Catholic Tradition or Movement.
Which brings us to another, often forgotten, phenomenon in the development of the Liberal Catholic Movement and that is the influence of Freemasonry on the development of the Church. Leadbeater was initiated into Freemasonry by Wedgwood and together with Annie Besant, a prominent Theosophist and Co-Mason, created a tripartite alliance involving The Theosophical Society, the Liberal Catholic Church, and Le Droit Humain, an order of Freemasonry that allowed both men and women. Bishop Leadbeater wrote about the Masonic connection with:
“All who have worked in the Liberal Catholic Church or in the earlier Degrees of Co-Masonry know that the chief object of those great organizations is to draw down spiritual influence from on high, and to radiate it out upon the surrounding world in a form in which that world can readily assimilate it.”
Freemasonry was a sort of applied Theosophy, since The Theosophical Society lacked a ritual or liturgy, but Freemasonry was rich with ceremony. You can see how Besant and Leadbeater influenced one another through a careful reading of Masonic ritual and Liberal Catholic liturgy created during their respective tenures within both the church and the lodge.
Both Besant and Leadbeater were prolific writers and Annie Besant’s book “Esoteric Christianity” and Bishop Leadbeater’s “Science of the Sacraments” where both essential reading for the esoterically minded Christian of the early 20th century.
The Liberal Catholic Church heavily influenced by Theosophy allowed for such beliefs as reincarnation and karma. Additionally, one of the theological hallmarks of the Liberal Catholic Church is universal salvation as seen in the Credo said in the Liturgy which states,
“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”
Essential to the Catholic identity of the Liberal Catholic Church is its adherence to seven sacraments. Over the years the Liberal Catholic Church moved from being just a church to a movement with several schisms over the years ranging from the ordination of women to any reference to Theosophy; however, one constant remained and that was the insistence on the sacramental nature of the church. It was unequivocally a sacramental movement.
This brings us to another point in our story, the telling of our spiritual genealogy. The Liberal Catholic Church Movement is not Protestant but not Roman Catholic either. It is not Eastern Orthodox, or Oriental Orthodox for that matter. The Liberal Catholic Movement is squarely placed in what is known as the “Independent Sacramental Movement,” a phrase that is itself problematic but the one currently in common usage today. The Independent Sacramental Movement has four important characteristics: Independent, Sacramental, Apostolic, and Diverse. A succinct explanation of these characteristics is independent of ecclesiastical oversight by the likes of Rome, Constantinople, or Canterbury. Jurisdictions, or micro-denominations, are autonomous. Sacramental in that they promote the seven sacraments believed to have been instituted by Jesus Christ. Apostolic in that the belief is that priesthood can be traced back to Jesus and the belief that by laying on of hands by the bishop this apostolic succession is continued to be transmitted. The final characteristic is diversity. Today, you can find jurisdictions that are extremely conservative and others that are so liberal they are unrecognizable to most Christians.
Founding of the Young Rite
Our story now moves back to the Netherlands and the city of Nilversum. It is here on the Feast of Whitsunday, June 4th, 2006, that Marcus van Alphen, a priest in the Liberal Catholic Church, is consecrated to the episcopacy by Bishop Johannes van Alphen, his father, who had been the 8th Presiding Bishop of the Liberal Catholic Church. It is this date in 2006 that inaugurated the Young Rite, a micro-denomination within the Liberal Catholic tradition.
Marcus van Alphen was born June 27th, 1960 in Pretoria, South Africa into a Theosophical and Liberal Catholic family. Raised in the Liberal Catholic Church and within Theosophy Marcus wrote about Theosophy with,
“The Theosophical tenets were – as they still are – as natural to me as breathing. Recognizing the many religions as different ways to the same state of enlightenment, adding the theosophical teachings to Christianity gave me the key to understanding the power of ritual.”
Likewise, in talking about his youth Marcus wrote,
“As a young toddler, I would laze around on the floor whilst my father or some visiting priest or bishop celebrated the Eucharist. I can vaguely remember the sun beams shining through the windows, creating coloured shafts of light in the incense still hanging in the air. The “zing” of a well-celebrated Eucharist, that very particular atmosphere that was built up, was quite normal for me.”
Marcus, while a priest in the Liberal Catholic Church grew weary of the stagnation he saw within the Church. He decided it was time to put new wine into new wine skins and stop trying to change the system that was the Liberal Catholic Church of the 21st Century.
After Marcus was consecrated a bishop his father, Bishop Johannes joined his son until he died on June 29th, 2009. The Young Rite was named as such to promote a youthful spirit that always looks to keep the Liberal Catholic tradition fresh and vibrant and the use of Rite to stress our emphasis on the efficacy of sacramental ritual especially the Eucharist. Another characteristic of the Young Rite is an esoteric understanding of Christianity which Bishop Marcus writes with,
“As to the esoteric orientation of the Young Rite, this is a natural consequence of the philosophical tenets regarding relevancy, authority, responsibility, and unity. A literal interpretation of the scriptures or the Catholic tradition would make this manner of working untenable. Not the letter, but the spirit of the Word is my guideline. Without wishing to devalue the entirety of the scriptures by a single iota, the radical message of Christianity to me can surely be summarized in: “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” This is a command in a positive sense. In like spirit the Young Rite attempts to offer possibilities, not organizational rules and regulations.”
Bishop Marcus also updated the Liberal Catholic Credo said during the Young Rite liturgy which reads,
“We believe that God is love and power and truth and light; that perfect justice rules the world; that all shall one day reach perfection, however far they stray. We hold the parenthood of God, the brotherhood of humanity; we know that we do serve God best when best we serve our neighbour. So shall God’s blessing rest on us and peace for evermore. Amen.”
On March 2nd, 2008 Father Aristid Havlicek, also a Theosophist, was consecrated to the episcopacy by Bishops Marcus van Alphen, Johannes van Alphen, and Bishop Alistair Bate. Bishop Aristid had been a Liberal Catholic Church priest in Slovenia starting his ministry when Slovenia was a part of communist Yugoslavia. Bishop Aristid is a wise fatherly figure who once wrote,
“Above all I want to remind people about the importance of the female aspect – the importance of Goddess – great mother of our world, the One who is omnipresent, and to offer the significant teaching of a proper attitude towards the Goddess. How utterly important it is to be aware and to see the sacredness in everything and every being, especially in every female being.”
As the Young Rite developed it would eventually be governed through a presbyterial style of leadership through a Council of Three that consisted of Bishops Marcus van Alphen, Aristid Havlicek, and Domen Kocevar, who was consecrated in 2012. The Young Rite developed into an umbrella organization that would come to include affiliated jurisdictions as part of the greater Young Rite community. Similar to, but on a much smaller scale, in how the Roman Catholic Church has other rites within its own umbrella – Roman Rite, Byzantine Rite, and others.
The Young Rite in the USA
Transplanting the Young Rite to the United States was challenging for the Young Rite’s Council of Three. Due to a lack of stability and clearly defined leadership the Young Rite in the United States experienced several growing pains.
On October of 2014, I, David Oliver Kling, petitioned the Young Rite for incardination, which is another way of saying formal acceptance and membership of a cleric into a jurisdiction or micro-denomination within the Independent Sacramental Movement. I had been a bishop in the movement since September 2004, originally affiliated with the now defunct House of Bishops within the Universal Gnostic Church.
Bishop Aristid in a message to the Young Rite Clergy in the United States wrote about my request for incardination, since the clergy were given a vote to approve the incardination request. Bishop Aristid wrote:
Dear friends. Bishop Markus has called you to a decision on Bishop David. I don’t want to influence your decision but nevertheless would like to share my thoughts with you. The herd needs a shepherd. Without a shepherd the flock is in danger. The larger the herd several shepherds are needed. But it all starts with the first shepherd so the herd can grow. The Young rite needs a shepherd who is at your disposal. We (Bishops Markus, Domen, and Aristid) are also shepherds but are unfortunately to far to be at your disposal in moments of urgency. Signed Bishop Aristid.
On November 23rd, 2014 I was incardinated. I sought out affiliation with the Young Rite because I longed for acceptance, authenticity, and community. I found it; however, the Young Rite in the United States suffered from an identity crisis. We were the place someone would go to be ordained to the priesthood and then filter off somewhere else. It was as if the Young Rite’s lawn wasn’t green enough and therefore the grass was always greener somewhere else. Something needed to be done to give the Young Rite in the United States a better sense of identity and the stability we needed.
On September 29th, 2015 Bishop Marcus van Alphen retired from active leadership of the Young Rite to focus on his career as an educator and psychologist. On May 5th, the Feast of the Ascension, 2016 I was chosen by Bishops Aristid and Domen to replace Bishop Marcus on the Council of Three. This certainly helped the Young Rite in the United States have a greater voice within the Young Rite internationally, but the struggle with identity remained.
Four years after my incardination on All Saints Day 2018, the Community of Saint George was founded as part jurisdiction and part religious order within the Young Rite. The purpose of the Community of Saint George is to build up a community of priests and would-be priests through support, education, and mentoring under the spiritual auspices of Saint George. The Community was founded to build a Young Rite community in the United States composed of people who are committed to working together to build community and keep alive the vision of The Young Rite while also manifesting something new. The Community of Saint George is a fellowship of clerics ranging from the minor orders to bishops. The Young Rite, in the United States, needed a solid foundation and within our sacramentally rich tradition we need a strong priesthood as our foundation.
So why Saint George? And not some other saint. The answer to that question is two-fold. First, Saint George is a saint that is revered in both Occidental and Oriental Churches. You can find parish churches dedicated to Saint George from Roman Catholicism to the Church of England. From Greek Orthodoxy to Ethiopian Orthodoxy. Saint George represents Christian unity which is something both the Young Rite and the Community of Saint George strive to foster. Secondly, the story of Saint George is both inspiring and mythical as told through the story of his martyrdom on one hand and his slaying of the dragon on the other. Saint George is the perfect balance between esoteric and exoteric, a balanced spirituality that the Community of Saint George wishes to maintain.
On November 8th, 2019 at the Convocation of the Community of Saint George, in Marysville Ohio, the Holy Rule of the Community was released. Not to create an emphasis on organizational rules and regulations as Bishop Marcus van Alphen opposed, but to create a sense of identity and foundation for our purpose as a priestly society. A glue to hold us together.
The background of the Rule of St. George starts back in the early 1990s when I was a Benedictine monk at Christ the King Monastery in Cullman, Alabama. Upon leaving the monastery I lived with a priest within the Romanian Byzantine Rite within the Roman Catholic Church. It was while living at St. George Romanian Greek Catholic Cathedral that I was exposed daily to a short prayer, known as a troparion, to St. George as the patron of the cathedral sung during each Divine Liturgy.
Years later this prayer would be the inspiration for both the Community of Saint George and its holy rule. I drew upon my background in Benedictine monasticism, Byzantine spirituality, along with my own experiences within Theosophy and the Freemasonry of Le Droit Humain.
The troparion of Saint George is,
“As a savior of the enslaved, benefactor of the poor, doctor of the sick, guardian of kings, and bearer of victory. Oh, Great Martyr George, pray to Christ our God to save our souls, now and always and forever and ever. Amen.”
It is through this prayer that the characteristics of the Community of Saint George are manifested. These characteristics are:
A commitment to justice and those who are marginalized.
A commitment to service towards the poor and those who are suffering.
A commitment to healing those who suffer from spiritual pain.
A commitment to Christian Unity, specifically within sacramental Christianity but also embracing an ecumenical spirit with non-sacramental Christian communities. This commitment is best manifested in a striving towards knowledge and formation and helping other Christians through education and the sharing of spiritual gifts.
A commitment, that as celebrants we, the clergy within The Community of Saint George, bear witness to Jesus Christ as Victor over death.
A commitment to humility.
An understanding that our intentions are important and to strive to live by the ideal of in all things may God be glorified.
Through these commitments our foundational cornerstone is laid while we live out our commitment and understanding of the Liberal Catholic Church tradition that embraces a non-literal, esoteric approach to sacramental Christianity as exemplified by The Young Rite.
Like the Council of Three that governs The Young Rite, the Community of Saint George also has a presbyterial style of leadership composed of three presiding bishops; the Master of Studies who chairs the governing bishops and maintains the course of study; I serve the community in this capacity. The Master of Patronage is our ecclesiastical endorser and Bishop Kirk Jefferey serves as Master of Patronage. And the Master of Formation, held by Bishop Robert Lamouraux, who serves as vocation and formation director.
As a manifestation of our work there are three things we hope to strive to be,
Stewards of Tradition: keeping alive the rich liturgy of the Liberal Catholic Church along with patristic studies linking us to the early church and the history of the Old Catholicism from which we sprang.
To be Architects of Innovation: Once rooted in tradition we wish to experiment and guard against stagnation always keeping our eyes open to innovation and spiritual progress.
And finally, to be Artificers of Culture: To work to change the often-dysfunctional culture of the Independent Sacramental Movement by moving away from this idea of an Independent Sacramental Movement and trying to foster a United Sacramental Movement and work towards unity and cooperation.
All communities have history and that history should be recorded so it is not forgotten. This is our story, at least a part of it.
Byrne, Julie. The Other Catholics: Remaking America’s Largest Religion. New York: Columbia University Press, 2016.
Havlicek, Aristid. “Amor Vincit Omnia.” In A Strange Vocation: Independent Bishops Tell Their Stories, edited by Alistair Bate, 78-85. Berkeley: Apocryphile Press, 2009.
Kersey, John. Arnold Harris Mathew and The Old Catholic Movement in England 1908-52. 3rd ed. N.p.: European-American University Press, 2017.
Leadbeater, C W. The Hidden Life in Freemasonry. 8th ed. Adyar, India: The Theosophical Publishing House, 2.
Rees, Julian. “ANNIE BESANT: From the Rational to the Spiritual.” International Bulletin Le Droit Humain International (December 2019): 6-10.
van Alphen, Markus. “Towards a New Priesthood.” In A Strange Vocation: Independent Bishops Tell Their Stories, edited by Alistair Bate, 12-25. Berkeley: Apocryphile Press, 2009.
Von Krusenstierna, Sten. A Brief History of the Liberal Catholic Church: Part 1. Liberal Catholic Institute of Studies.
Bishop David Oliver Kling is a member of the Council of Three, the governing triad, within The Young Rite (Liberal Catholic Church Tradition) and works as a hospice chaplain in Northeast Ohio since 2013. He graduated from Write State University in 2008 with a B.A. in Philosophy and a B.A. in Religious Studies. In 2012 he graduated from Methodist Theological School in Ohio with a Master of Divinity (specialization in Black Church and African Diaspora Studies) and in completed 4 units of CPE at St. Mary’s Medical Center in Huntington, WV in 2013.