In a week, Saint Francis Old Catholic Church will be adding a new Priest to our staff. Deacon Matthew Schnabel will be ordained next Saturday to the priesthood. I would like to dedicate this blog post to looking at the 20 years of experience I have as a priest.
In all the chaos of the last month, my anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood slipped by me unnoticed. It was a very important milestone as it was my 20th anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood. (In June, I will mark another huge milestone with the passing of my 20th year since my consecration as a Bishop.)
In that 20 years, I have learned a lot about myself and my ministry. I started out as a wide-eyed, conservative, bigoted product of my ultra-conservative upbringing and my Opus Dei-like devotion to the Roman Catholic Church. My separation from Rome was traumatic as many of the people I looked up to, suddenly had no desire to even know me. I was not a pleasant person to know and even worse to work with.
I expected and, yes, demanded respect. After all, I was a priest. People should respect me. And once I was consecrated as a Bishop, that only got worse. I drove away laity and clergy alike with my hubris. Some of those people died before I had my Saint Paul moment and my conversion of heart. If they were still here, I would want to beg them for forgiveness for the way I acted. I was not Christ-like. I was not even anything I would call Christian.
What changed? I found myself in a spiritual crisis that rocked my faith. My mind started to betray me. I started to suffer from depression and the years of mental and physical abuse from my mother. I started showing signs of PTSD, though it would take another decade and a half to officially be diagnosed. My mind was damaged and my faith told me all I had to do was to pray. Pray like I never prayed before and I would be healed.
But no matter how hard I prayed, my mind was not healing. I was not getting better. Medications helped, but even that felt like I was betraying God. After all, I shouldn’t need medications, if only I had more faith, I would be healed. My faith came crashing down around me. In that moment I finally realized that all I had been taught was wrong.
Father David Jennings and my very patient wife, Deacon Dana Godsey, started to help me pick up the pieces of my shattered life and faith. The lovingly helped me find myself and my faith again. In that process, I finally started to understand that I was not called to be an authoritarian leader demanding people follow my form of faith. I was called to be a servant. My calling was to help those people who had lost their faith, who needed gentle guidance through their crises.
I am not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. I still have my moments when I am depressed. There are those days I feel so alone and unlovable. And yes, there are days when I look back on the pain I caused people early in my ministry and I cry.
However, there are also days of great joy. There are days when I get to officiate at a young (or old) couple starting out on a path together forged in love. I get to be at the bedside of people when the gates of Heaven open wide and welcome them home. I get to bring Jesus to the sick and suffering. And I also get to stand at the altar and see Jesus smiling back in forms of bread and wine!
Those are the moments that make the crisis of faith, the struggle to find myself, the mental health and physical health issues seem so small.
My family, it has been and will continue to be my honor to serve each and every one of you for another, God-willing, 20 years.
I do ask you for one thing: Pray for your priests. Pray for Matthew. And pray for me. Pray for your deacons and bishops too. Remind us when we go astray of our calling to be servants. Keep us humble and loving. Remind us often of what we mean to you. Like we remind you that God loves you, remind us that God loves us and that you do to.
My fellow clergy, continue to inspire us to be better versions of ourselves. Remind us that we are loved and remind us to tell you and others that we love them. Take time to remind us to be positive and humble. Come and check on us and never be afraid to pick up the phone and call. After all, we are all family!
And my brother Matthew: Remember that you are always a deacon. Remember that you are loved. You are chosen to do this work, not because you are perfect, but because you are broken. And yes, you are broken just like I am. And it is through those cracks that the light and love of God shines out into the world around us.
I hope to see you all at Deacon Matt’s ordination and to give each and every one of you a big hug! God loves you and so do I!