Ecumenical Catholic Communion (ECC)
The Ecumenical Catholic Communion (ECC) is an independent Catholic denomination, not in communion with the Roman Catholic Church, with congregations in the United States and Europe. The denomination remains comparatively small, especially in Arkansas, where it is represented by only one church. However, the Arkansas congregation was one of the earliest developed in the denomination’s history.
The ECC grew out of the independent St. Matthew’s Church, founded in Orange County, California, in 1985. This church was started by Peter Hickman, who had originally been ordained as a Baptist minister but later found himself drawn to Roman Catholic liturgical practices. He eventually was ordained a priest in the Old Catholic tradition, which split from the Roman church following the First Vatican Council (1869–1870), during which the dogma of papal infallibility was ratified. The Old Catholic Church, of which there are different branches, largely maintained Roman liturgical practices and doctrines but differed from the Roman Catholic Church in ecclesiology, especially how church hierarchy is structured. One branch of the Old Catholic Church, the Union of Utrecht (with which the ECC is in communion), not only ordains married men as priests but also ordains women and blesses same-sex marriages.
St. Matthew’s Church began attracting other former Roman Catholic priests and establishing new communities. Hickman was ordained as a bishop by other Old Catholic bishops in 1996 and began to develop an umbrella organization under which various Old Catholic communities could operate. In 2003, the ECC was formally established; it is headquartered in Webster Groves, Missouri.
The first ECC congregation in Arkansas was San Damiano Ecumenical Catholic Church in Little Rock (Pulaski County), founded in 2006 by the Reverend Fred Ball. Ball was born in Little Rock and studied at Ouachita Baptist University (OBU) in Arkadelphia (Clark County) before going on to earn his PhD in 1993 from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He served as a Baptist minister in both Kentucky and Arkansas (even leading the pastorate at the church of the late Wesley Pruden). He had joined an ecumenical Franciscan order while he was still a Baptist and incorporated components of Catholic worship into his services. Ball left the Baptist Church in 1999 and spent some time as an Episcopalian before learning about the ECC through a Franciscan brother. He formed a local congregation, San Damiano, in 2006, which began meeting at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in Little Rock the following year. Ball died in 2023.
In 2007, the Arkansas Catholic published a notice warning readers that “it is not appropriate to participate in the liturgical rites of such churches” at San Damiano, given that the ECC is not in communion with the Roman Catholic Church. The Arkansas Times published a short profile of Ball and San Damiano in 2013, by which time the congregation had approximately forty members. In 2021, the congregation was shuttered, having, among other things, suffered a loss of participation during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the following year, another ECC congregation, Sister Thea Bowman Ecumenical Catholic Church, was established under the pastoral care of the Reverend Carol Ann Blow, a former Methodist minister and a longtime civil rights figure in Little Rock, having integrated Mount St. Mary Academy when she was a young girl. By 2023, this remained the only ECC congregation in Arkansas.
For additional information:
Ecumenical Catholic Communion. https://ecumenical-catholics.org/ (accessed October 26, 2023).
Koon, David. “A Different Catholicism.” Arkansas Times, November 14, 2013. https://arktimes.com/news/arkansas-reporter/2013/11/14/a-different-catholicism (accessed October 26, 2023).
“New Church Not in Union with Rome.” Arkansas Catholic, June 16, 2007. https://www.arkansas-catholic.org/news/article/906/New-church-not-in-union-with-Rome (accessed October 26, 2023).
Obituary for John Frederic Ball II. Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, July 19, 2023, p. 4B. Online at https://www.arkansasonline.com/obituaries/2023/jul/19/john-ball-2023-07-19-74498/ (accessed October 26, 2023).
Sister Thea Bowman Ecumenical Catholic Church. https://www.sistertheaecc.org/ (accessed October 26, 2023).
Staff of the CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas
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