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  • Writer's pictureMichael Martin

House Church: Off-Grid Ecclesiology

Feast of the Transfiguration

Remember when Easter was canceled in 2020? I do. Then Christmas was canceled. I also remember how Church authorities were supportive of it, though obfuscated behind the banal rhetoric of the issued official statement.

I also remember an Eastern Orthodox friend of mine telling me parishioners at his church were put on a round-robin schedule saying who could attend the Divine Liturgy and who could receive the Eucharist and when. And this didn’t have anything to do with the “Easter duty,” which was apparently superseded by the theology of political conformity. The Most Holy Eucharist was distributed on plastic spoons, immediately sent to a landfill (though I doubt it was by way of a bio-hazard receptacle).

I also remember reading that at least one Catholic parish was mandating parishioners be fully vaccinated before being admitted to Confession (which has since been reversed), though I'm sure there were many more.

I also remember reading a statement from Metropolitan Hilarion of the Russian Orthodox Church saying that refusing to take an experimental vaccine is a sin. Really. He said that. So if refusing the vaccination is a sin, and if, as in Australia, the unvaccinated cannot attend Confession….how does that work? What religion is this again?

Then I remember the Roman Curia backtracking on a solid and venerable precedent and saying it’s now okay to take a vaccine that includes genetic material from aborted fetuses, calling it “morally acceptable” in a startling and immoral about-face.

All this for a suite of vaccines that don’t really seem to work very well and have demonstrably harmed or killed thousands of people.

This is insanity.

When all of this madness started, my wife and I decided we would just do home church with those of our children still at home. We would gather to worship on Sunday mornings after farm chores. Most of what we followed was based on the Book of Common Prayer, which is rooted in the English Catholic tradition of the Rite of Sarum, and we would add poetry, or litanies and prayers from the Celtic tradition, including selections from this outstanding collection and Carmina Gadelica. We didn’t have any proper incense, so we burned sage from our garden. We also added songs from the Anglican hymnal and our own Byzantine Catholic tradition as well as Hubert Perry’s setting of William Blake’s “Jerusalem” and Cat Stevens’s glorious “Morning Has Broken” with lyrics by my beloved Eleanor Farjeon. I imagine we sounded like a liturgical Fairport Convention.

At first, this was just because all of the churches were closed. We had to do something; we couldn't just languish, slipping deeper and deeper into despair and depression. Then, as the world and, let’s face it, the Church became more and more bizarre we decided to make this liturgical expression as developed as possible. We decided we didn't like the way the Sacraments were being held hostage by bishops and politicians (not that I can always tell the difference).

Not long after that, my brother-in-law and his family moved a few miles away from us and our two families started to pray together on Sunday mornings, soon adding other feast days as well.

Our house church, which we have dedicated to St. Brigid, has offered us all great consolation in these crazy times. I call it “off-grid ecclesiology,” because what we’re doing is far off the power grid—emphasis on power—of the greater ecclesial bodies. Christianity started as a network of house churches, especially since it was illegal in most places (which, I fear, could be the case again in the future), but as it grew in influence and power, it also grew in corruption. But we all know that already.

For now, this is what sustains us.

Another of our favorite hymns, based on St. Francis’s Canticle of the Sun.

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