The Ecumenical Catholic Communion is a relatively new denomination but its roots go all the way back to the early church. The ECC traces its apostolic lineage from the Old Catholic Church as well as other catholic jurisdictions. Our deacons, priests and bishops participate in the same historic apostolic succession as do the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Churches, the Anglican Communion, and other apostolic Churches.
The Old Catholic Church is recognized by the Roman Catholic Church as having valid apostolic succession even though it is not under the jurisdiction of Rome. The Old Catholic Church separated from Rome over the decision of Vatican 1 and its declaration of the infallibility of the Pope. Since 1931 the Old Catholic Church of Utrecht has been in full communion with the Anglican Communion and the Episcopal Church in the US.
Like all other independent catholic churches in America who also claim an Old Catholic heritage, we are not officially recognized by the Union of Utrecht. Our denomination is however the largest independent denomination that claims an Old Catholic heritage and in our constitution and canons affirms the Declaration of Utrecht as set out in 1889.
The Ecumenical Catholic Communion sees itself as a “communion” rather than a church because it is made up of a “communion of communities.” The ECC is a “coming together” of various strands of independent catholic churches that have been brought together under a spirit of unity and cooperation. Parishes in the ECC are not “owned” by the Bishop or the denomination. What keeps each parish a part of the communion is a desire to be part of a common mission and goal.
The ECC seeks fuller unity with other catholic denominations who share a common theology and Old Catholic style of governance and is in full communion with other independent catholic jurisdictions: The Apostolic Catholic Church; The American Catholic Church, Diocese of California and the Catholic Apostolic Church in North America, just to name a few.
Many of our parishes share worship space with other churches and regularly participate in ecumenical and interfaith worship services. Several of our parishes regularly worship and share communion with their Lutheran and Episcopal counterparts. And the ECC gladly attended the Episcopal Church’s last synod as an official observer and special guest.
The ECC is a member of the Conference of North American Old Catholic Bishops. It has been working regularly with the Rev. Bjorn Marcusson, a priest in The Episcopal Church and an Old Catholic Church theologian. Fr. Marcusson has been instrumental in helping the denomination in understanding the importance maintaining the characteristics of a true apostolic church while envisioning its governance and structure for the future.
The ECC is currently moving from a “regional-model” with regional Vicars appointed by the presiding bishop into a church of dioceses with elected bishops. While many independent Catholic denominations are shrinking, the ECC has continued to grow. We have recently welcomed parishes in Belgium, Poland, Austria, and Lithuania—making ECC an international denomination.
We share a common theology and liturgical tradition with the Roman Catholic Church. Although our parishes are allowed to adapt the liturgy as best fits their parish’s charism, most of the ECC parishes follow the liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church. A few parishes, such as All Souls and St. Jerome’s, often use liturgies from the Anglican-rite tradition. This gives the ECC a broader understanding of what it means to be “catholic.”
The ECC follows a synodal structure of governance—the style of governance that existed in the church for the first four hundred years. Decisions are made in a bi-cameral fashion by voting delegates siting in a House of Laity and a House of Pastors. The bishops serve on the Episcopal Council. In this governance structure our bishops are not administrative authoritarians, but serve as those we turn to for pastoral and spiritual guidance. All of our bishops are elected by the people. They serve as a pastor of their own parish and are thus pastors, preachers, and teachers, as well as the church’s prophets and spiritual leaders. In the ECC, the Bishops do not enact legislation. They may call for legislation to be introduced, but they cannot make rules unilaterally.
Unlike many independent catholic denominations, the ECC is very clear that it does not raise up women and men clergy to simply hang-out without valid ministry. All our clergy are required to be attached to a recognized parish or recognized ministry in order to be licensed by the bishop. Only those clergy with valid ministry are allowed voice and vote in the House of Pastors. And each of those ministries are also served by voting lay delegates in the House of Laity.
The Presiding Bishop of the Ecumenical Catholic Communion
Although the Roman Church can be properly called a Catholic Church it is one among many. Historically, there have been many Christian churches that have identified themselves as “Catholic” for nearly two millennia that are not in union with Rome. The various Eastern Orthodox Christians, the Coptic Christians of Egypt, the Syriac and Armenian Christians of the East, as well as the Old Catholics to name but a few.
The original term “catholic” by ancient churches meant that a so designated faith community was Trinitarian, apostolic, creedal, and sacramental. It would be more precise to say that “only those faith communities that are in union with the Roman Pope can properly be called “Roman Catholic.” Catholic is too general a term to be applied to only one church exclusively especially since many Christians use that term in reference to themselves. Therefore, it is incumbent upon all church leaders who use the term catholic in their name to employ a modifier such as the Roman, Syrian, Old, or Ecumenical to avoid confusion among the faithful.
-Bishop Peter Elder Hickman.