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Theosophical Encyclopedia

Wedgwood, James Ingall

(1883-1951). Founder of the LIBERAL CATHOLIC CHURCH and a prominent member of the Theosophical Society (TS). He was born in London, England, into well known pottery manufacturing family. After leaving school, the young Wedgwood entered University College, Nottingham, to prepare for life as an analytical chemist, but on completing this course he transferred his energies to the learning of the church organ at York Minster. Four years later he decided to prepare for Holy Orders in this Anglo-Catholic diocese of the Anglican Church. Instead he found himself suddenly converted to Theosophy. Having once before been reluctantly impressed on hearing an address by Annie BESANT, he went to hear her when she visited York. Notwithstanding his resolve to resist, he was entirely won over, resulting in his instant dismissal from York Minster.

Wedgwood relinquished all claims on the family business in return for a small but adequate income. Then, within a very short time after joining the Theosophical Society, he was able to help with lectures, and to serve as General Secretary for the Society in England and Wales (1911-13). Subsequently he became the organizer in England for the new Co-Masonic movement. In 1913 he heard of the existence of the Old Catholic Church in England, and on meeting Archbishop Arnold Matthew found the way open to him to enter Holy Orders without having to hide or relinquish his theosophical views. He was ordained later that year. With the return of Matthew to Rome, Wedgwood was elected to lead the English Old Catholic Church, which by this time consisted mainly of those theosophists who had followed him there. Once consecrated a bishop, Wedgwood traveled to Sydney, Australia, to collaborate with Charles LEADBEATER in preparing the foundations of the new church (called Liberal Catholic from September 1918). In July 1916 Wedgwood advanced Leadbeater to the Episcopate. Wedgwood was the principal author of the Liberal Catholic liturgy, applying to it great eloquence and sensitivity in the use of language. Both men are believed to have developed a high level of clairvoyance, which they applied to the task of maximizing the potency of the many services needed in a comprehensive liturgy. The task took three years, and was interrupted several times as Wedgwood traveled to New Zealand, the United States, England and Europe, establishing new centers and churches.

Overwork and persecution by the English press took its toll on Wedgwood. In 1922 he resigned as Presiding Bishop, which task was finally taken up by Leadbeater (1923) when convinced Wedgwood could not in the short term resume as leader. For some time Wedgwood attended the Sorbonne in Paris, returning to the physics of organ music, for which studies he was awarded the degree of Doctor of Science. As his health improved he accepted responsibility for the LCC in Europe, and supervised a major center of the Church — and the TS — at Huizen in the Netherlands. He wrote extensively, trained many priests, and established a congregation highly skilled in helping him to heighten the influence of the Church’s sacramental rites. He is said to have been electrifying as a ceremonialist, graceful, precise, and powerful.

Once more overtaken by ill health, Wedgwood retired to the theosophical center at Camberley in England, where he contributed as fully as his condition permitted, until his death in 1951.

J. I. Wedgwood’s publications include: The Distinctive Contribution of Theosophy to Christian Thought; Meditation for Beginners; Varieties of Psychism; The Presence of Christ in the Holy Communion; the Larger Meaning of Religion; The Beginnings of the Liberal Catholic Church; New Insights into Christian Worship.

I.H.

 


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