J. I. Wedgwood

Bishop James Ingall Wedgwood (1883 - 1951) was the first Presiding Bishop of the Liberal Catholic Church.

Wedgwood was a former Anglican clergyman, a member of the Theosophical Society, and a member of a co-Masonic order. His work on the Liberal Rite, as well as his efforts to establish a very progressive branch of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church are his greatest legacies.

Early Years

Wedgwood was born in London in 1883, the son of Alfred Allen Wedgwood, son of Hensleigh Wedgwood, and Rosina Margaret Ingall. As a young man, his interests included the study of church music and organ construction, receiving the degree of Doctor of Science at the University of Paris, and analytical chemistry, having studied at University College, Nottingham. Originally Wedgwood planned on making a living as a chemist, but found himself interested in high Anglican worship and doctrine. While in Nottingham, he became an alter server, and later was sent to York Minister, where he trained junior boys as choirmaster using plainchant.

Theosophy and Co-Masonry

In 1904 Wedgwood attended a lecture on Theosophy given by Annie Besant in York. Having heard her once previously in Nottingham, he determined to end his interest in Theosophy by attending a second lecture and ridding himself of “that woman”. Three days later, he joined the Theosophical Society and was forbidden to return to the Church. Citing the local Canon, he wrote: “The Vicar could not have such a heretic as a church official!” He gave up the idea of ever having a career in the Church, and decided to dedicate himself to the work of the Theosophical Society. Serving as General Secretary of the Society in England and Wales from 1911-1913, he resigned only to join the British Jurisdiction of the Co-Masonic Order.

Old Catholic Church of Great Britain

In 1913, Wedgwood took notice of the Old Catholic Church in England, and wrote a letter to Archbishop Arnold Harris Mathew. Mathew’s reply caught him somewhat by surprise, and rekindled his interest in both the Church, and in entering Holy Orders again. They exchanged letters for a time, and Wedgwood explained his affiliation to the Theosophical Society, and Mathew did not express any concern over the matter at the time. That same year, Wedgwood was rebaptised and reconfirmed sub-conditione, received the Minor Orders, including Subdeacon, and was ordained a Deacon and finally a Priest on 22 July, 1913 in London. In 1915, Wedgwood visited Australia, as Grand Secretary of the Order of Universal CoMasonry, and met Charles Webster Leadbeater. He initiated Leadbeater into Freemasonry, and conversed about his ordination to the Priesthood in the Old Catholic Church. In his words: “I talked with him about my ordination and he came to various celebrations of the Eucharist by myself. He was greatly impressed by the power for good which such ordination bestowed and with the splendid scope that the celebration offered for spreading spiritual blessing abroad on the world.”

Founding the LCC

When Wedgwood was returning to England from Australia, he learned that one of the Bishops of the church, Frederick Samuel Willoughby, had been dismissed by Archbishop Mathew under dubious charges leveled against him. He also learned that Mathew wanted all the clergy of the church to renounce Theosophy, as he had heard from a non-Theosophical Priest that the beliefs of the Society were incompatible. Few bothered to reply to Mathew, and shortly thereafter Mathew "dissolved" his church. Bishop Willoughby offered to consecrate Wedgwood to the Episcopate in order to guard the Apostolic Succession as he had received it, and after four months of careful consideration, was Consecrated a Bishop on 13 February 1916, with Bishops King and Gauntlett assisting. This took place only after Archbishop Mathew had dissolved the Old Catholic Church in Great Britain, and published a letter in The Times of his intention to submit to the Roman Catholic Church.

Later that year, Wedgwood traveled to Sydney Australia where he consecrated Leadbeater a Bishop on 22 July, 1916. From that time forward, Wedgwood was known as a Missionary Bishop, traveling the world to establish missions of the Church.

Wedgwood created what is known today as the Liberal Rite, in cooperation with Leadbeater, and published a number of works including New Insights into Christian Worship and The Presence of Christ in the Holy Communion.

Twilight years

A scandal arose whereby Bishop Wedgwood was accused of "homosexual" acts with other men. Not wishing to deny his homosexuality, nor bring scandal upon the Church, Wedgwood resigned as Presiding Bishop on 12 March 1923.. While never again very active in the Church, he retired and passed away in general seclusion in Farnhamin 1951.

See also


Further reading

  • The Liturgy of the Liberal Catholic Rite, 3rd Ed.
  • The Collected Works of James I. Wedgwood, Msgr. T.J. Howard ed.
  • Leadbeater, C.W. The Science of the Sacraments.

External links

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