J.S.M. Ward and the Abbey of Christ the King

J.S.M. Ward and the Abbey of Christ the King

John Sebastian Marlowe Ward, more commonly referred to simply as J.S.M. Ward, was an accomplished writer on Masonic and related subjects.

Among his books is Freemasonry: Its Aims and Ideals, published in 1923. Ward wrote about Freemasonry as an insider having been initiated into the Isaac Newton University Lodge while a student at Cambridge. Like most Freemasons Ward went on to become a Master Mason and having apparently been ‘bitten by the bug’ joined a large number of so-called side orders, the membership qualifications for which requires a candidate to first be a Master Mason (at least). Ward’s side-degree affiliations included: the Royal Arch, Mark Masons, the Royal Order of Scotland, Masonic Knights Templar, Knights of Constantine and the Order of the Secret Monitor.

In his writings Ward shows himself to be a rather controversial and relatively progressive polemicist, asserting, against the view of most Masons (and to the delight of some of their Christian critics), that Freemasonry was a religion (of sorts). Ward also attacked the effort, in the years following the 1914-1918 war, to raise a million pounds to build a new Freemasons Hall to serve as a monument to those bretheren who had lost their lives in the fighting. In particular he condemned the awarding of jewels to the most generous (read welthiest) donors. Ward also attacked the decision of Grand Lodge to exclude German members from lodges under the jurisdiction of the United Grand Lodge of England - a symptom of the jingoistic hysteria brought on by the war. On other issues Ward was equally progressive for his time, advocating admitting women into Freemasonry for example. His liberalism had its limits however; while accepting Asians had a place in Freemasonry, Ward’s prejudice towards black Africans was unrelenting.

Ward spent some time serving in the army and, prior to taking up writing, spent part of his life working as a customs officer in Asia. It was probably this latter experience and his interest in secret societies that led him to co-write, with W. G. Stirling The Hung Society (published 1925), a book about the Triads.

Another of Ward’s books highlights his role as a spirit medium. Having apparently made contact with a number of spirits he wrote Gone West: Three Naratives of After Death Experiences (published in 1920). Having established his reputation as a writer Ward began to claim that he was receiving visions warning him of the second coming of Christ. This unorthodox behaviour would eventually, in the 1940’s, get Ward ex-communicated from the Church of England. By then however he was already be active in the Old Catholic movement. The Old Catholics originated with a dispute inside the Roman Catholic Church in the Netherlands. This began in the 17th century as a result of the allegedly heretical writings of one Cornelias Jansen and finally ended with the permanent separation of many Dutch Catholics in the 19th century following the Pope’s declaration of infallibility. Amongst those who broke from Rome were several bishops and these exploited their independence by exercising their right to consecrate more bishops and passing on a legitimate apostolic succession. The result was a myriad of tiny churches, these were often ‘top heavy’ with a number of archbishops, bishops and priests serving relatively few lay members. Ward appears to have been ordained by one of these bishops (one of several claiming the title Patriarch of Antioch).

On the basis of his visions and the impending return of Christ, in the mid-1930’s Ward founded a lay order known as the Confraternity of Christ the King. The members of this order walked around barefooted and practised self-sufficiency in meeting their needs. The Confraternity had its own abbey in New Barnet, near London, where Ward owned the Abbey Folk Park.

Complementing his role as herald for the second coming and leader of a religious order, Ward sought, and received the title of bishop, not once but three times over. The sheer number of consecrations given by independent bishops and some of the unlikely people who were able to legitimately claim to have received consecrations caused a degree of scepticism amongst those they were seeking to impress. To overcome this problem a concept of multiple consecrations was divised whereby the same person could be consecrated several times, each time through a different line of succession thus strengthening their credentials. Soon bishops from different lineages were exchanging consecrations in order to shore up each others’ claims to apostolic succession.

And so it was that J.S.M. Ward became a bishop three times over. His first consecration was in September 1936 and was courtesy of Ebenezer Johnson Anderson. A month later Ward received a second consecration, this was from John Churchill Sibley of the Orthodox Catholic Church of England.

Sibley traced his own line of succession through Archbishop vilatte and the Jacobite-syrian church. The latter had excommunicated Vilatte and declared his consecrations and ordinations to be illegitimate. However the apostolic succession genei was already out of the bottle by that time, so Sibley could, with justification still claim he had a right to confer holy orders.

Amongst Silbey’s other ordinations in 1935 was Kwamin Ntsetse Bresi-Ando of the African Universal Church. Bresi-ando took the name Mar Kwamin I. On his return to Ghana Bresi-Ando renamed his church the African Universal (Orthodox Catholic) Church. It is not clear what Ward thought about Silbey’s consecration of the Ghanaian given the formers uncompromising opposition to initiating black Africans into Freemasonry expressed in the previous decade (perhaps Ward changed his mind).

Sibley’s other consecrations aside, Ward accepted not only Sibley’s succession but also the affiliation to the Orthodox Catholic Church, and so the Abbey and Confraternity of Christ the King duely became attached to the Orthodox Catholic Church.

A third consecration followed, this granted by Hugh George de Willmott Newman who occupies a pivotal place in the development of independent bishoprics in Britain not least because he consecrated so many people.

Having been made a bishop himself, Ward was now free to make other people into bishops. Among those Ward consecrated was his friend Gerald Gardner, who he had probably met when both were working in Malaya. Gardner would later earnt fame as the founder of wicca, the modern form of witchcraft. Gardner became a bishop in the Orthodox Catholic Church (albeit nominally) and owned a copy of the church’s liturgy published in 1938 by the Abbey of Christ the King.

Attached to Ward's abbey in Barnet was the Abbey Folklore Museum. Amongst the exhibits was a 'witches cottage'. This was eventually sold to Gardner (Ward needed the money) and re-erected on his property in nearby Hertfordshire where it served as a venue for meetings of Gardner's coven.

Ward’s prophesy that Christ’s second coming was imminent was soon eclipsed by more down to earth concerns. Ward had taken a teenage girl under his charge and there were suggestions of sexual impropriety on his part. Being a bit of a sexual libertine, Ward was vulnerable to this kind of suspicion. In 1946 allegations were made by a Sunday newspaper and, with his honour at stake, Ward sued. Tragedy struck when Ward lost the court case which followed. Then, as now, such legal proceeding were expensive and Ward was forced to declare himself bankrupt, but that wasn't the end of the matter. With people drawing their own conclusions from the outcome of the case, Ward was forced to flee to Cyprus where he lived in a property provided by his friend Gardner until his death in 1949.

See also

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