Frequently Asked Questions

The information here on this page is not specific to the AIC, but is designed to be general and will hopefully answer some of your questions about Independent Christian Ministry in general.

Looking at the current situation requires the observer to take on board certain truths that are little understood, and generally well hidden by the Anglican and Roman Catholic ecclesiastical establishments. They are also little understood by commentators on matters of religion, even in the church newspapers and magazines.

Q. What does 'Catholic' mean?

Q. What is the Apostolic Succession?

Q.The C of E is the 'State Church', what does that mean exactly?

What does 'Catholic' mean?

The Roman Catholic Church has long adopted the practice of describing itself as the Catholic Church as if it were the only one. Even by its own ecclesiology, it isn't the only one as it recognises the Orthodox Churches as being catholic. Nevertheless, it is well engrained in the public mind that Catholic means Roman Catholic. In fact it means nothing of the kind. Catholic from the Greek word katholikos means universal. The catholic church is comprised of all those churches which have deacons, priests and bishops in the Apostolic Succession. That includes all Anglicans.

Q. What is the Apostolic Succession?

The Apostolic Succession is a simple concept. It means that today's priest was ordained by a bishop who was consecrated by a bishop, who was consecrated by a bishop, and so forth right back to the time of the Apostles. There is a direct link back across two thousand years through the power of the Holy Spirit being passed down the generations. Thus it may come as a surprise to some people that the Church of England is a catholic church, as is the entire Anglican Communion throughout the world. Similarly the Orthodox Churches, and the Old Catholics are also catholic churches. Catholic Churches are also known as Episcopal churches, meaning that they are overseen by bishops in the Apostolic Succession.

There are many churches and other Christian bodies throughout the world that are not catholic churches. In Britain they include Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Pentecostals, The United Reformed Church, the Salvation Army, the Free Churches and the Independent Churches. Their ministers may be called 'Revd', but it is purely an honorary title as they are not ordained in the Apostolic Succession. To them that is of no consequence. To catholics, whose faith rests upon the sacraments, it certainly is.

Q.The C of E is the 'State Church', what does that mean exactly?

The Church of England is a state church established as the result of Henry VIII's disagreements with Rome in the sixteenth century. As such it is supported by the state, and the serving monarch is the head of both the state and the church, carrying the title 'Defender of the Faith'. As a state church the Church of England has a power and influence out of all proportion to the number of people who actually support it. State occasions are automatically Church of England occasions. The Church of Wales is not a state church. It was dis-established from the state early in the twentieth century, but in practice there is little difference. As the Church of England is the state church it enjoys the support of parliament, and its rules and regulations, known as Canon Law, are also the law of the land. This is not a privilege given to any other church. The state appoints its bishops and supports its buildings and infrastructure. The catch is this. So far as the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church is concerned, all Anglican Holy Orders are 'null and void'. Whilst the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster may enjoy a very good and friendly working relationship with the Archbishop of Canterbury, the fact is that the Roman Catholic Cardinal does not accept that the Archbishop of Canterbury is in Holy Orders at all. He is not recognised as a priest by Rome.


Q. How are the 'Roman' and 'Old' Catholic churches related?

It is the position of the Roman Catholic Church that Old Catholic Orders are 'licit but irregular'. That means that according to the Roman church Old Catholic priests are in legitimate and valid Holy Orders, which have been bestowed without the consent of the Pope. The Papal view is that the only 'regular' Orders are those bestowed with his consent through his Cardinals and Archbishops. The Church of England does not have a position on the issue, save that churches which are specifically members of the current Utrecht Union are 'in communion' with the Church of England. What that means in practice is that a member of the Utrecht Union clergy could take a Church of England stipendiary job. As it is in communion with Old Catholics in Europe, it can hardly say that it is not in ecclesial communion with clergy who hold authentic Old Catholic Orders, notwithstanding that they are not working in Utrecht Union churches. Nevertheless, individual Church of England Diocesan bishops have individual views on the matter. It is not without precedent for a priest on Old Catholic Orders to have permission to officiate in an Anglican Diocese. Currently there are clergy who are in both Church of England and Old Catholic Orders working within the Church of England. The issue was raised at a recent General Synod of the Church of England where it was stated that the Church of England was aware that Old Catholic bishops were prepared to offer alternative episcopal oversight clergy where they had problems with their own bishops.


Q. Are you all 'proper' priests?"

This the first question that priests in Old Catholic or other independent Anglican Orders are often asked. The answer is mostly definitely 'Yes', provided that the person concerned has been ordained by a bishop in legitimate Holy Orders themselves. This very point has been the subject of a court hearing. Experience of ministry as a priest in independent Orders reveals that the rest of the discussion generally goes like this.


Q. Why aren't you a priest in the Church of England or Roman Catholic Church?

There are as many answers to that as there are priests. Independent ministry contains several distinct sections of people which can be broken down as follows. Firstly there are people who used to be Anglican or Roman Catholic priests, and who parted company with those churches for many different, but quite legitimate reasons. For example a Roman Catholic priest may be forced out of his church because he falls in love and wants to marry. As an independent catholic priest he is free to marry, or live openly with a partner. Secondly there are those who tried to enter ministry in those churches, but were rejected for academic or political reasons (generally in the case of the Church of England because they are 'too catholic' in their outlook, or too old). In the mainstream churches, the gift of the Holy Spirit and suitability for pastoral ministry is secondary to those considerations. Thirdly there are those who seek ordination into independent ministry simply because they feel it is right for them. If they can persuade a bishop of their vocation, they can be ordained.


Q. Are there many of you about?

At a rough estimate there are about 8 million catholics in the world who are non-Roman. It has also been estimated that there are about eight and a half thousand independent catholic bishops, some in quite large churches such as the Apostolic Catholic Church of Brazil, others in jurisdictions of just two or three bishops, and many working alone. There are about thirty five independent catholic bishops in Britain at present, plus about 20 Anglican bishops in the Continuing Churches, that is, those who maintain traditional Anglicanism in the face of liberal change. Bear in mind that not all bishops supervise clergy. As in the Church of England and the Roman Church there are three or four retired bishops for every Diocesan or Suffragan bishop who is still serving in a supervisory role. There are Church of England bishops who are still working but who do not supervise clergy, for example the Bishop at Lambeth who is the Archbishop of Canterbury's personal assistant and who to Church of England deals with much of his routine correspondence. There is a bishop currently serving as a Cathedral Dean, and before that he was a university Professor! In Rome the Vatican is filled with people in Bishops Orders who are lawyers, accountants and administrators who have never supervised any clergy in their lives. Do not assume that because a person is a bishop, they must necessarily have clergy under them.


Q. How many independent clergy are there?

No-one really knows. The largest grouping is the Anglican Independent Communion with a total of about fifty clergy spread across the country. The A.I.C. is also established in the USA, and does not ordain women or practising homosexuals. The rest are in smaller groups than that, and for reasons mentioned above there are bishops with no clergy, and clergy with no bishop. The fact that a clergy person does not come under a particular bishop has no effect on the validity of their Orders or ministry.


Q. Are independent churches organised in the same way as the mainstream churches?

It very much depends upon the size of the church, broadly speaking yes, but with fewer titles! Like all catholic churches they have the ordained Holy Orders of Deacon (known as The Revd), Priest (known as The Revd, Father/Mother, or the Revd Father/Mother according to choice) and Bishop (known as The Right Reverend). In addition to that there are a number of other positions in almost every jurisdiction which are not Orders but which are jobs. They are Archbishop (known as The Most Revd) the elected head of that group of bishops, Vicar-General (known as The Very Revd) the bishops advisor on liturgical practice, procedure and etiquette, Chancellor (known as The Worshipful) who is the chief legal advisor to the bishops and Judge of the church where necessary and who may or may not be a cleric, and Registrar who is a practising Solicitor and invariably not a cleric. There are additional roles such as Diocesan Theologian which carry no particular special title, although such roles in the Anglican Communion are often attached to being a Canon. Independent catholic churches in Britain may or may not use the Anglican titles of Dean, Provost or Canon which are particular posts in cathedrals, or The Venerable which is the title given to Archdeacons in the Anglican Communion. Archdeacon is itself a job, not a higher Holy Order. Some of them do use two particular titles given to senior clergy from the Roman Church, which are Dom and Monseigneur.

Q. Who else might I come across?

There is one further anomoly in that a very few Old Catholic jurisdictions still retain what are called Minor Orders below the Order of Deacon. Thus you may hear a clergy person referred to as a Sub-Deacon, Acolyte, Lector, Exorcist, or Doorkeeper, all of whom are entitled to be called The Reverend as soon as they step onto the bottom rung of the ladder of Orders, known as being 'tonsured', which is the ceremonial removal of a lock of hair by the bishop. Minor Orders were swept away by a decree of the Roman Church called Vatican II in 1968 and are only retained by a very few traditionalist independent bishops. They are pretty much irrelevant in any event because they are generally bestowed in one go, or perhaps two, and people are very swiftly Deaconed thereafter. You are very unlikely to come across a clergy person in Minor Orders, and if you do, by the time you see them again they will have been made a Deacon. Additionally traditional Anglicans maintain the Order of Deaconess.


Q. Do I need to know which is which?

Only insofar as whether or not a person has reached the level of priesthood. Only a priest or bishop can celebrate Mass, or marry you. Deacons may baptise and conduct funerals, but cannot give the final blessing. There is a general convention in catholicism that Deacons may bless people, but only priests may bless places, buildings and things. The consecration of places for worship is a matter for a bishop.


Q. Is there anything to prove that someone is properly ordained?

Any legitimate priest should be in possession of a document called 'Letters of Ordination' which is their ordination certificate. It must contain the information that the ordination took place during the public celebration of the Mass/Eucharist. It must be signed by at least one bishop and may well be countersigned by other people who were ordained at the same time, and by other clergy present at the event. A certificate with this kind of multiple attestation is a good start.


Q. Would it be fair to say that independent clergy are likely to be less well educated and trained than mainstream clergy?

In general it is probably fair comment that their training in theology is less, because much of their training is ‘on the job’. On the other side of the coin independent clergy are much more likely to be well versed in the ways of the world than someone who has gone from school to theology training to ministry. Independent bishops are much more tolerant of candidates for ministry whose pastoral skills and godliness exceed their capacity for passing examinations. Two or three years in a theology college does nothing to guarantee a person's pastoral skills, and some highly educated people are disasters pastorally no matter how well-meaning they may be. Of course, there are amongst the independent clergy people whose academic records are at least as good as anyone in the mainstream churches. In Britain the body of independent bishops and clergy is known to include several university Lecturers in Theology and other subjects, (including at least one tenured Professor of Theology, and a couple of Visiting Professors), a Professor of English Law, and a large collection of holders of Doctorates and Masters degrees in a range of subjects. One of the advantages of the independent clergy is that they seem to contain a high percentage of people from the caring professions such as psychiatric nurses, and social carers of various kinds, who bring skills to their ministry that are extremely valuable.


Q. Do you baptise people, and if you do, is their baptism recognised by other churches?

Yes of course. It is recognised throughout the catholic church, Roman, Anglican and Orthodox. It is a long standing custom throughout the trinitarian Christian world that everybody recognises everybody else's baptism. The advantage of an independent baptism is that it can be conducted anywhere that the family may chose, and in the river if they wish! Beware of any clergy who try to tell you that you need to be 're-baptised'. You don't unless you were baptised by someone who wasn't in legitimate Holy Orders or otherwise authorised as a Minister. You may wish to renew your baptismal vows in a special Service, but that is a choice to be made by you.


Q. Can you marry people?                   

In the eyes of God, we can and do, but in the eyes of the state the marriage has to be registered separately with the Registrar of Births Marriages & Deaths. That is true of all marriages conducted by anyone who is not a licensed Priest of the Church of England, who because of the relationship between church and state is a 'Surrogate for Marriages'. You will need to obtain further details from your priest.


Q. What about funerals?

Funeral ministry is a major part of the lives of many priests in independent Orders. These generally take place at cremetoria, but not always. Garden funerals are also conducted, as are funerals in public cemeteries, and special woodland burial sites. Subject to the permission of the local Incumbent, there is no reason why we should not conduct funerals in Church of England churchyards.


Q. What other things do you get called upon to do in your ministries?

Blessing of new homes and other buildings, blessings of special groups and gatherings, renewal of baptismal and wedding vows, hearing confessions, visiting the sick and dying, counselling the bereaved, prison visiting, pet funerals (which mainstream churches will not do at all in the belief that there is something heretical about it), school assemblies, leading prayer groups, preaching at Services in other churches, covering for sick or absent priests, acting as Chaplain to youth groups, academic theological work, the list just goes on and on.


Q. Do you charge for your services?

Yes we have to, because we get no support from the state and the costs of ministry have to be paid for from somewhere. Charging rates are entirely in the hands of the clergy person concerned. Some do not charge for Holy Baptism as a matter of policy, and most do not charge for sick-visting or for administering the sacrament of Extreme Unction, otherwise known as the 'last rites' to the dying. Charges are levied for weddings, funerals, house blessings, renewals of vows, and so forth. In other cases, broad hints about donations may be made!


Q. How do you get on with the local Church of England?

That is a very individual thing. Some independent clergy have a very good relationship with, and co-operate closely with the state church. Others have good liaison with the Roman church and other churches as well. Some are totally independent because they sadly suffer hostility from other local clergy, in the main part arising out of ignorance about independent ministry. It is common for independent clergy to be invited to preach in churches of other denominations, and where relations are good, independent clergy will be invited to cover for an absent priest of another denomination.


Q. When you talk about independent catholic clergy, is that the same thing as The Society for Independent Christian Ministry (S.I.C.M.) which I have seen advertised?

No. The Society is open to independent clergy and Pastors of all denominations and none. Many members are catholic clergy, but many are not. All members of the Society are accredited Ministers, but they need not be anything to do with the Apostolic Succession. They may have quite different views from each other about religious doctrine, across the whole spectrum of Christian thinking. Some are not even Trinitarian Christians.


Q. Do independent clergy all run their own regular churches?

No. Very much like the Church of England there is a total mixture. Some do have regularly worshiping communities, and act as Chaplains to a wide variety of organisations. Some are 'worker priests' who work and live out their ministry in their normal daily workplaces, whilst taking occasional Services as required. Others travel widely around the country 'on-call' to minister wherever there is need. Some live in monastic communities. Yet others work mainly for their church organisations providing central services, advice and pastoral care to other clergy. Many combine more than one of these types of role. Many have private chapels where they can accommodate a small number for prayer.


Q. If the priest does not have a church, where can we hold a Service?

Pretty much anywhere you like. Services are sometimes held in churches and chapels belonging to other denominations. They are frequently held in the home, in hotels, village halls and meeting rooms, or in the open air. That is the joy of not being tied to a church whose rules lay down where you must do things. All that most priests ask is that you select a location of appropriate dignity. Most would not marry you in a sex shop, or baptise your child in a 'massage parlour'. However, it has to be said that some probably would!

Q. Why should a person or family suddenly decide to come to you when they live in a Church of England or Roman Catholic Parish who would presumably welcome them with open arms?

You would have to ask them that! The reasons are infinitely varied. A common reason is that there has in the past been some divergence of opinion between the family and the local priest. Cases arise where many years previously a member of the family has said they will never go to the church again, and accordingly have to look elsewhere when a funeral arises. Another reason is where the local Church of England parish has a woman priest or homosexual priest who is unacceptable to a worshipper. Independent ministry also has both, but independent churches are always willing to provide a heterosexual priest on request, something that the Church of England is not usually prepared to do due to the nature of Diocesan rules. Similarly many independent catholic groups will provide homosexual male and female priests for people who feel more comfortable with a priest of that sexual orientation. On the other hand, there are some independent churches, particular the Continuing Anglican Churches such us the AIC, who will not accept or tolerate homosexuals in the priesthood under any circumstances whatsoever, believing it to be contrary to scripture and will not bless homosexual partnerships. If there is a general answer it is that there is much more flexibility of choice in independent catholicism which is not bound by the complex rules and regulations found in the mainstream churches.


Q. What assurance do I have that the independent priest that I approach is legitimate and 'on the level'?

At first sight, sadly none, but unfortunately that also applies to clergy who are members of mainstream Anglicanism and Roman Catholicism. In recent years we have witnesses the unedifying spectacle of case after case of child sex abuse emerging out of the Roman Catholic Church, and never a week goes by without a low class Sunday newspaper printing some kind of adverse story about a clergyman. The churches are a microcosm of society at large, and accordingly contain child abusers, fraudsters, bigamists, thieves and adulterers. On the credit side, when set against the population as a whole, it is much less likely that a Christian, and especially a Christian minister is any of these things. There are steps that you can take to carry out some checks. Ask who their bishop is, and telephone the bishop in question. Search the internet for anything adverse, and speak to other people who know the priest concerned if possible. If you are seeking a special Service such as a wedding, ask the priest if you might speak to someone else who they married, or baptised, or the family of someone for whom they conducted a funeral.


Q. But there are some real villains out there aren't there?

A. Yes there are, and it is no good pretending that there aren't. Some independent priests and even bishops are recidivist criminals who have been to prison for all kinds of crimes ranging from defrauding their church finances to bigamy and child abuse. A very few are independent because they were 'defrocked' (deprived of their Holy Orders) in a mainstream church! That is equally true of lawyers, estate agents, medical practitioners and every other kind of professional in society. Independent priests are no worse than society as a whole, and probably a great deal better. Your chances of picking a crook who will actually harm you are very small indeed. Remember also that all of us have done things in our past lives of which we are not proud, and of which we truly repent, and beg God's forgiveness. There are priests who were once criminals, but who found God in a lengthy prison sentence, emerging to serve Him for the rest of their lives. Rest assured, with rare exceptions independent clergy are Godly people who seek only to serve you and spread the love of God in your life.


Q. Is there a rule of thumb for spotting charlatans?

Be suspicious of anyone using the title Archbishop if you discover that they don't have any bishops of which they are the elected head. An Archbishop without bishops is either just a bishop or a charlatan. Do not touch with the proverbial barge-pole any independent cleric using the title His Eminence or His Beatitude. They are titles reserved for Popes and Patriarchs of mainstream churches. Anyone else using them is at best a meglomaniac and at worst a charlatan. What we do have are confidence tricksters in legitimate Holy Orders, and confidence tricksters who pretend to be in Holy Orders. They are all still confidence tricksters. If you are in doubt, check them out


Q. What about real 'loonies'?

Run away from anyone who claims to be a 'sedevacantist' priest. The word means 'empty chair' and relates to people who live in a fantasy world that believes that the current Pope is a heretic and an imposter. There are at least eight pretend Popes around the world, five in America, one in Britain and one in Spain, and some have a very few clergy who are deranged enough to follow them. Avoid anyone who says they belong to the Holy Palmerian Church who are the followers of the successor of the false Pope Gregory XVII in Spain who died in 2005. 'Palmerians' have been spotted 'recruiting' outside Westminster R.C. Cathedral in London behind a wooden structure looking like a hot-dog stand. Treat with grave suspicion any priest who claims that his Apostolic Succession comes from the twice-excommunicated. now deceased, Vietnamese Archbishop Thuc. You are unlikely to come across such people in Britain, but there may be a very few of them about. Don't fall victim to them.


Q. If I am suspicious of someone, how can I check them out?

Telephone the British Independent Clergy Register. This is a service run by a group of concerned lawyers to enable the public to obtain this sort of information. The Presiding Bishop in Australia is Peter McInnes and he is contactable through the ‘contact us’ connection on this website.

The Register cannot guarantee to have the answer, but it is more likely than most to have it!