29 July 2010

The Ancient Catholic Church (of Clapton)

I've long been interested in African Independent Churches, and have been collecting information about them in a database, but European Independent Churches can be just as interesting.

For those interested in the byways of ecclesiastical history, someone posted on a Usenet newsgroup a reference to the chancery case of Kings v Bultitude, which contains the fascinating story of the Ancient Catholic Church (of Clapton), which died with its priestess.

Kings v Bultitude & Anor [2010] EWHC 1795 (Ch) (15 July 2010):
The Church was founded by one Harold Nicholson. By the 1940s there were several movements, schismatic from Rome, some of which were comprised in the Catholic Apostolic Church, known as the Catholicate of the West.

Mr Nicholson had begun a house church movement in Clapton in the 1930s, moved to Thornton Heath and in 1943 was ordained a priest into the Catholic Apostolic Church.

After the Second World War Mr Nicholson's movement acquired a bomb-damaged former Baptist Chapel in Lower Sloane Street Chelsea, restored it in a high Catholic tradition and opened it as the Church of the Good Shepherd in 1947. In 1949, Mr Nicholson resigned from the ministry of the Catholicate of the West, although he maintained close links with the Patriarch. On 27th May 1950, at a service in Chelsea, the Patriarch issued a charter to the Church, creating it as an independent and autocephalus tropus of the Catholicate of the West and consecrating Nicholson as its first Primate.

The Church left the Catholicate of the West in about 1955, shortly before the Catholicate itself was dissolved. In December 1956 the Church moved to Clapton, where Mr Nicholson had started out, to premises in Rookwood Road which had been used as a church for the Agapemonites but had been disused for over fifty years. The move was as a result of the death (the funeral was conducted by Mr Nicholson) of Ruth Preece, the so-called "spiritual bride" of J H Smyth-Pigott, the "Clapton Messiah", leader of the Agapemonite sect.

Perhaps we also need a database of European Independent Churches.


Yewtree said...

Thanks, I enjoyed this information, it was interesting.

There seem to be quite a number of similar organisations reinventing the bells-and-smells wheel. Their history is fascinating. Another example is the Ancient British Church, of which JSM Ward was a member (Ward was an eccentric who saved old buildings and collected them into folk parks like St Fagan's in Wales). He was also a friend of Gerald Gardner, founder of Wicca, and ordained Gardner as a priest in the Ancient British Church.

Iosue Andreas Sartorius said...

Are you familiar with the St. John Coltrane African Orthodox Church in San Francisco?

Chris Hall said...

For interest the Church of the Good Shepherd mentioned now houses a congregation of the Georgian Orthodox.

Steve Hayes said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone.

I'd heard of John Coltrane, thought hadn't discovered the web site. The African Orthodox Church flourished in South Africa under its Primate Daniel William Alexander, provoking the jealousy of the Americans, who deposed Alexander and destroyed it, splitting it into numerous fragments.

D.W. Alexander went to the USA to be consecrated by George Alexander McGuire, who was in turn consecrated by Joseph Rene Vilatte, one of the better known episcopi vagantes. Several groups from the Vilatte succession have become Orthodox, most notably in East Africa, and more recently in the Philippines.

Liz Hinds said...

The Clapton Messiah?


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