Why do all these old Spiritualist organisations have presidents? They may even be Spiritualist ministers too but seem to hide that spiritual light under a bushel…
Perhaps they are deliberately dismissive as policy or just unaware that Jesus said not to do that – but to “ let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your father which is in heaven”… Perhaps they choose not to accept his example or leadership? Perhaps they subscribe to the kind of Spiritualism that has no spiritual leader – except a committee down here led by a president?
There certainly seems to be a preference for the secular terminology rather than religious in those quarters that state that they have no truck with spiritual leaders. (Spiritualist organisations per se seem to share this predilection for administration even if they are followers of such an inspiring spiritual leader as Jesus – or Buddha.)
Could it be because they are an organisation that operates basically within the world of corporation and State, boardroom and government, articles of association and legislation?
The newcomer to Spiritualism could be forgiven for not questioning the status quo if their first port of call is one of those churches, centres or group meetings where such service is paid to secular systems. Particularly if they are handed a leaflet, or told by a fellow attender of longer standing, that this is how or what Spiritualism is. And then they are invited to join.
For the subject of that invitation thereafter, one of the almost subliminally produced consequences of involvement in the welter of information on learning about membership classifications and possible committee posts, is that it may lead to feelings of importance in belonging to a perceived- as-all-embracing Spiritualistic corporate structure – which of course although current card carrying members of any such organisation may be considered to be cynically massaging the ego of the new recruit by telling them how important they are as individuals, it is in fact absolutely true, because without the rank and file supporting all those committees, and their money, those organisations’ entire edifice would collapse.
There is of course a necessity for Spiritualist meeting places,whether of the ‘suitcase’ variety that hold meetings in hired accommodations or in fixed buildings that they own/lease, and willing people to run them whatever the organisation concerned, be it a conglomerate of affiliates or a single independent,and whatever they choose to name them; temple, church, centre etc.
Now we know that ‘Modern’ Spiritualism itself came into being through mediumship; the manifestation of intelligent communication from those departed this life and having entered another, spirit, dimension, in the first instance via a single individual living on in spirit to mediums who were the mother and daughters in a Methodist family living in up-state New York on March 31st 1848.
So it all began in America before the Civil War united all but where its citizens were allowed religious freedom by constitutional right. It’s agreed that there has to be a social ordering before any religious guarantees can be implemented or indeed religious groups can gather and function, but similarly the priority for any religious organisation must be the philosophy it encapsulates, its attendant practices of its belief and its religious ministry. Its organisational make-up has to be the corporal base on which it sits transcended by its temporal raison d’etre.
This newly evolved religious denomination that sprang to vibrant life in the New World 169 years ago now, was brought to England in 1852 and took root immediately.
There was a difference. The United Kingdom still had an Established Church with its reigning monarch as Head. The United States had and still has a ‘wall’ between the religious beliefs (or none) of its nationals and the state. However, the organisation of its Spiritualist churches and groups mimicked the secular structure of their homeland and its republican democracy with presidents at the helm of the committees running them. This structuring prevailed in Britain and thus we have the almost ludicrous emergence of UK churches in the 21st century continuing to be led by presidents not ministers, and this being the case right up to the top of the corporate pyramid where you’ll find a ‘top table’ committee with its president in every Spiritualist organisation – except for the New Spiritualists’ Society and its Council of Elders and Ministers…In the USA a church may not operate if it has no pastor.
So Spiritualists, having modelled their churches after their American counterparts decided to get together for a conference of churches every year to discuss matters appertaining to this new religion seen by most as a departure from modern day or orthodox Christian belief and by many as a return to the early church and its followers.
This initiative began before the end of the 19th century. By the turn of the 20th moves were afoot to make this annual gathering a limited company to enable the holding and purchasing of property.
In 1902 the Spiritualists’ National Federation set up by Emma Hardinge Britten was taken over by the newly incorporated under the Companies Act Spiritualists’ National Union – a company not for profit and limited by guarantee. It needed a definition of Spiritualism for its Memorandum of Association so the principles allegedly (some scholars doubt the veracity of these precise principles as no verbatim record was made) given by Ms Hardinge Britten some years before, and now no longer in the earthly life, were adopted as a legally unalterable (in company law)basis for describing the religion and religious philosophy of their particular version of Spiritualism.
However, at the time and until late on in the 20th century, it was stated that these principles were to be considered ‘with liberty of interpretation’ thus allowing basically Christian – or any adherents of other religions’ believers to feel comfortable with churches that were either affiliated to or whose buildings belonged to the SNU who had adopted these aforementioned principles into their company’s articles.
This was found to be illegal under company law and was abolished and the dissent already a feature of the Spiritualist Movement gathered momentum.
When the Pilgrim Fathers took sail to find freedom to worship in their own way in 1620, the freedom that they were instrumental in committing to paper soon thereafter, 228 years later allowed the new religious denomination of Spiritualism to thrive.
The concept of a mini state legislature for setting up and then running Spiritualist Churches reflects its American origins. The simple word ‘president’ has meaning loaded with prestige and power in a country whose head of state is called its president: presiding over an administration that is kept separate from the religious life of its people. It’s a very different socio/economic environment from that in the United Kingdom that still has an established church, of whom its monarch is its head, and by whose let and favour all other religions and religious denominations can practice and run their own temples, churches and centres.
So to recap, Spiritualists in the UK originally modelled their churches on the American mould and when the agreed moveable conference of all the individual churches was set up at the end of the 19th century some of those involved looking at the groups of churches forming specific associations and organisations in America decided to follow suit and at the turn of the 20th century formed a limited company with a charitable arm that would be governed by company law and laws relating to charities. By this move they would be able to buy and administer property… This required them to declare aims and objects – but as a company concerned with also being registered as a religious charity, needed to define the religion that their company represented. This was then promoted as a religion apart from all others – particularly it turned out, from Christianity… These principles still form the basis for many UK Spiritualists’ answers to the oft asked question ‘What do you believe in?’ These actually fall short in terms of philosophical extrapolation for those who view Spiritualism as a denomination of Christianity.
Religious Spiritualism has reorganised and is spreading a much needed alternative to the influence of corporate law on its existence… Most Spiritualists over the course of its 169 year history have been Christian, some Jewish, a few Moslem and a few of no basic religion.
When people have been drawn to Spiritualism they generally have not questioned the way in which it is structured. Most who attend services or demonstrations of ‘clairvoyance’ enjoy the ambience, the contact with loved ones in spirit, either for themselves or in hearing others’ loved ones communicating and the social meeting up with others of like mind, without concerning themselves over how these gatherings are facilitated.
If they are curious about psychic and spiritual practices they encounter, they would hardly think to query the actual set-up. Committees, rules and regulations, Annual General Meetings, subscriptions that allow you to become a member and vote – and other paraphernalia that tells them they are a part of a Spiritualist church organisation are usually accepted as part and parcel. There is a cross over of course when people are drawn to develop their own psychic faculties and spiritual leanings. They may want to join a circle or group to further their knowledge about Spiritualism itself, explore their own psychic, mediumistic potential or healing ability, or fancy helping to run the church.
‘Here lies the rub’ as Shakespeare’s soliloquy in Hamlet declares of the otherwise apparently only beneficial sleep… Depending on what organisation your particular choice of church belongs to, you can run into a veritable barrage of rules – secular and religious – that tell the venturer into this new territory how they are expected to behave.
They may have entered into a church that comes under the jurisdiction of the one organisation that maintains its idea that Spiritualism itself is a stand-alone religion like Christianity or Judaism or Hinduism and so on. To this end it states that it represents the religion of Spiritualism (rather than a denomination of Christianity)and that is then tied in to the multitude of company rules and regulations for churches under an administrative Board with its president and cohorts. Its ‘National Executive Committee’ under which are its ‘district committees then church committees which all mimic the parent structures.
The training and development of mediums and healers also has a set structure – and the mediums and healers are told how to present and administer those gifts once they’ve managed to develop them. They are also sold insurance policies along the way but that’s another rule, now partly abandoned, along with another rule about doing all this either as an ‘experiment’ or ‘for entertainment purposes only’. It certainly isn’t legislated for by the legal system in England.
All denominations are empowered to conduct their own religious affairs, including the appointment of ministers and clergy, but most Spiritualist enclaves are locked into a pyramid of committees with secretaries, treasurers and presidents.
There are ministers in all the Spiritualist organisations, but even if they have one who occupies the same pinnacle as its president we do not have a special name to denote that as in archbishop or chief rabbi and we have not had any public pronouncements on ethical questions of the day such as racism, gay marriage, abortion and euthanasia… Neither do any ordained ministers head up the churches; except in one organisation, the New Christian Spiritualists’ Society.
NCSS mediums and healers are developed according to their natural propensities but are encouraged to establish a good rapport with their guides and helpers in Spirit. Attuning to the Highest for prayerful laying on of hands or distant healing and as platform mediums to give communications direct to the recipient for which they are meant. They are however dissuaded from the practice of ‘being drawn’ to some part of the hall telling the hopeful of receiving a communication from a late loved one, people in the congregation,that they ‘have someone’s mother or father who passed with a chest complaint’ and wait for an answer to ‘can anybody take this?’ Or a ten minute question and answer session between medium and recipient that can leave the rest of the congregation actually giving up the will to live themselves.
The NCSS may be just the Spiritualist organisation you’ve been hoping would materialise. Pun intended. Join us if you haven’t yet done so. Rev Lyn