Feb 082019

My experience as a priest

experience

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!

Feb 022019

Trust in God is not an option

Trust

God reminded me of an important lesson that I should have learned a long time ago. Trust in God is not an option.

My dear brother, Saint John Parker, Jr, a Bishop in our church until his death in 2003, used to say that very phrase all the time. I was by his side when he died on August 28, 2003. He bled to death when the cancer breached his carotid artery. He knew he was dying and that his wife and I could do nothing to save him. With his last bit of strength he signed to us that he loved us. His very last act on this earth was to make the sign of the cross. To his very last moment, he lived that statement. He believed that trust was not an option.

As you all know, my family has experienced a very difficult time over the last month. There have been many ups and downs. Setbacks and slow forward progress as well. And then we found out that we would not have any income for a while. My heart sank and my stomach started its predictable rotations.

Today, a dear friend and fellow worker in the vineyard of our Lord, came to me with some assistance. It was out of the blue and completely unexpected. Then, as I sat here preparing to write this posting, I had an issue with the church servers and went to fix them. Everything crashed and nothing would install or correct.

I despaired again. As I sat here in tears, Deacon Dana came to my rescue with love and support. In what was only a miracle, suddenly the answer came. And everything fell into place. The server is back up and seems to be no worse for the experience.

Twice in one day God reminded me that trust in God is not an option. I failed the test, but learned from the experience. We as Christians claim to be followers of the Christ, and as such that means that we should trust him. Part of love is also the ability and/or desire to trust God.

Today I was reminded of this truth. I ask for God’s forgiveness and the forgiveness of my church family for not trusting more. And I ask you to join me in this journey toward total trust in God.

Together, we can overcome any obstacle if we only trust God.

Jan 252019

Keep moving forward

forward

Life can be very difficult sometimes. This past couple of weeks have been living proof of this for me and my family. For some, when confronted by these struggles, they continue to move forward. For others, the burden is too great for them to continue forward. And this is ok.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. reminds us that, “If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.” This does not mean that we cannot stop and gather ourselves first. Rather, it is a call to not stay in that place for too long.

I deal with the difficulty of sitting too long in the dark spaces of my own mind. Far too often, I let the pressure and weight of the world to keep me from moving forward. Also, I allow my mind to look at all the worst possible outcomes of every situation. It is part of my own brokenness and struggle with life.

However, as I am trying to learn myself, I cannot allow myself to stay in those dark places. Darkness will not win. Hate will not overcome our love! And thus, I have to look at the possible positive outcomes even in moments of great darkness.

However, we live in one of the darkest moments in modern history. We see a rise in hate, bigotry and racism. White Privilege is on parade for all to see as if it were a badge of honor. We see the “others” being abused, disenfranchised, and thrown away. Our young people have even found that they can practice racism and bigotry openly with little consequence. As people often cry, “After all, they are only children! Won’t someone please think of the children?”

I am thinking today about the children. All the wonderful children who strive to do the right thing all the time. Not just when the cameras are rolling or when there may be consequences if they don’t behave. I am thinking of all the children of color who have to work extra hard to not get shot by people in the street simply because they are scared of the color of the children’s skin. I am thinking of all the children locked up for crimes they did not commit. The children who will live the rest of their lives in jails because they had a joint in their pocket.

I am thinking of the children at the border snatched from their parents by people acting under our authority. Children who may never see their parents again simply because their parents wanted a better life for their children. The children who braved thousands of miles only to be denied water, food, and proper care at the border.

I think about all the LGBTQ children who are abused by their parents, school teachers, fellow students and by our own government simply because of who they are. Those children denied their right to live as the gender they most closely identify with. The children bullied day in and day out because they love someone of their own gender.

I weep for the children who are now in their tombs. Those children killed by a “good guy with a gun”. Children who died of malnutrition or exposure to the elements at our border detention camps. The children who had their futures removed from them by systems put in place long before their birth or even our births. I weep for those children who were so bullied because they are LGBTQ that they felt the only way out was suicide. I cry for those children whose parents killed them for coming out as gay or trans.

When I find myself in a dark place, I have to remind myself that thanks to my own privilege I will never face many of the things these children face every single day. I will never know discrimination like they do. The police will not come to “investigate” me for being suspicious just because of the color of my skin. I will not have insults of a deeply painful and racist nature thrown at me for just trying to get a cup of coffee or enjoy a public park. I will not be denied service because of the color of my skin or because they can tell I am LGBTQ.

If there was ever a time to take Dr. King’s advice to “keep moving forward,” now is that time! We, as Christians, can no longer remain silent in the face of such great darkness. We must use our voices to speak up against oppression, racism, and bigotry. As the Rev. Dr. Robin Meyers reminded us at the Interfaith MLK Service last week, we must rise up because of the “Fierce urgency of Now!” (https://www.carnegiefoundation.org/blog/the-fierce-urgency-of-now/)

So, take your time to gather yourself and to find your way out of your darkness. But do not remain idle. Keep moving forward. Keep fighting for what is right. And keep holding up your light for the sake of the children!

Jan 042019

New Year – New Goals

New Year

This past week we ushered in a New Year and I spent time in the hospital with pneumonia and the flu. It was a chance for me to reflect on many things in my life. It also reminded me of the great many things we take for granted in our lives.

As I lay in the Emergency Room and listened to the conversations in rooms around me, I was reminded that we all take life for granted. In a moment’s notice, we could find ourselves without our loved ones or even dead ourselves. As I have said before, I intend to tell people how I feel about them as often as possible. I do not want to leave this world or have them leave without knowing how I feel about them.

Another thing that I noticed is that we worry about the most insignificant things. How much money we have, how many possessions we have is not important when they lower you into your grave. What will matter is how we treat each other and how much we love one another.

We also take for granted all the great opportunities we have. We have a parish here that spreads the message that God loves everyone. We work to accept everyone and work toward equality for all. This is a special place and a safe place. And you can be part of our parish! You can be the one that helps our parish grow beyond what it is today.

In 2019, resolve to spend more time in fellowship with others. Resolve to tell those around you just how much you care about them. And resolve to love more, grow more, care more, and spread the word of parish more!

And beginning living our different kind of Catholic Faith!

Dec 282018

The Holy and Unconventional Family

family

On Sunday we will celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family. Continuing my theme from last week, I want to talk about family again. This time, I want to talk about the unconventional Holy Family. This posting may seem rather controversial, but hear me out.

The Christ Child had a rather unconventional family. You see, Mary was impregnated by the “power of the Holy Spirit” (Luke 1:35). In many traditions, the Holy Spirit is considered to be feminine in nature. Add to that the belief that Jesus was God the Father’s “Son” then you have Jesus having two mothers and two fathers! This is not what most people of faith would consider a “normal” family.

However, I believe it is just as it was intended to be. We speak about how Jesus was a person like us in all things. It would stand to reason that even in his own family life, he would experience a wide breadth of what family meant. In this one family we see an unwed mother, a step family, and an LGBTQ family. This is amazing and wonderful!

Last week I talked about how we can choose our family when it comes to who we spend our time with. Likewise, we as a church can be proud of all the various types of families that make our churches part of their families. We need to learn to accept all families!

Here at Saint Francis we do not judge those who walk through our doors. We looked to support them with our prayers and encouragement. This type of support is rare in the church. Many churches expect you to change or be perfect before they can support and encourage you. We believe that you are special and unique just as you are. It is our job to help you continue to grow spiritually and that does not require us to regulate your relationships and families.

This week, come and join us and find out what it is like to be part of a church family that loves and supports you just the way you are!

Dec 212018

Christmas is the time for real family

I get depressed around the holiday season. Many of us do. Mine comes from so many terrible family gatherings during the holiday season. And, of course, the many Christmas’ when there was nothing under the tree.

Over the years I have learned that it is not what is under the tree that matters. I have also learned that it is about those I celebrate Christmas with. However, I have also had to learn that it is also about learning to stay away from those people who make Christmas a fight or a struggle.

Christmas should never be about putting ourselves in situations that make us uncomfortable or cause us pain. We have to take care of ourselves during this time of year too.

As I watched the Longest Night Service from our sister parish of Saint Miriam in Flourtown, PA, I was reminded that I was connected through the miles to a family in PA that I love dearly. I was connected in their worship, in their pain, in their love, and in their joy. They too are my family and I love them dearly.

The thought also came to me, I want others to feel this love, this connectedness. That is why I invite so many people to join us at Saint Francis. You do not have to continue going to churches that do not accept you for who you are. There is no reason for you to hide who you love or who you are just to fit in at church. You can be a part of a family that loves you just the way you are and who will embrace your entire family!

Christmas is the perfect time to connect to a family that will support, embrace, and love you. Come experience that kind of love and support at Saint Francis!

Dec 152018

Baby Catholics?

baby catholics

This past week I had a well meaning person make a comment about our parish that bothered me. They called us “Baby Catholics who had only been around for 90 years.” I do not believe that they meant it to be offensive or hurtful, but it was. So I wanted to use this week’s blog post to explain the history of our denomination.

In what will come as a surprise and anger some people, the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church started in 1054 AD. While they both claim to be from 33 AD, the church that was starting by Jesus in 33 AD was broken into two new churches in the Great Schism of 1054. I don’t say this to offend anyone or to anger anyone, but merely as a point of fact.

In 1122 AD, the Old Catholic Church was formed and granted autonomy by the Roman Catholic Church. It was in order to preserve Catholicism in the Netherlands and to end the Investiture Controversy between the Pope and the Roman Emperor.

Admittedly, the Old Catholic Church was small and limped along for several hundred years, it was around and keeping the faith. By the late 1500’s and early 1600’s the Roman Pope decided that Old Catholics needed to be absorbed back into the Roman Church. It did not happen simply because people don’t like to be given freedom only to have it removed.

This fight between Rome and the Old Catholics lasted for about 100 years before Rome gave up. Fast forward a few hundred years to Vatican I and the issues with Papal Infallibility. Bishops and Priests who decided they could not stomach the Papal Infallibility dogma, decided to pull away from Rome and to co-opt the name Old Catholic.

This is where the misconception that we are only 90 years old or so comes from.

Our Jurisdiction, the Old Catholic Churches International comes from a long line of Old Catholic Jurisdictions that date back hundreds of years. This path takes us all the way back to 1122 just like most Old Catholic jurisdictions around the world.

Our church continues to preach a message of love, inclusion, and acceptance of all people. Old Catholics have worked to spread the original message of Jesus the Christ to the world around us. This message is all about loving God and loving our neighbors.

Come visit us this Sunday and experience a different way to be Catholic!

Dec 072018

A better version of ourselves

better version

We have a choice every day of our lives. We can either work to become a better version of ourselves, or we can give into the dark corners that lie within each of us.

Make no mistake, working to become a better version of ourselves is hard work. But to quote one of my favorite lines from President John F. Kennedy:

“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills,because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win,and the others, too.”

Anything worth doing is worth doing regardless of the struggle. And, my dear brothers and sisters, it is a challenge we must accept. In our world today, too much hatred, bigotry, and division exists. And unless we work to become better versions of ourselves, we will never see the kind of change that we all desire to see.

However, you can do the easy thing. You can continue to allow the hatred, bigotry, and division to keep us down. We can allow the voices of division to keep us from recognizing the great struggle that poverty have created in our cities, states, and our nation as a whole. They can continue to use race, gender, sexual orientation, and religion to divide us. And we will continue to see people die in the streets from starvation, neglect, and abuse.

We as a people have to stop the continued march of these darker instincts. Our Christ calls us to be better than those things hiding in the shadows of our hearts. We are called to become more like the Christ in our daily lives.

Resolve with me today to begin working to be a better person. Work with me to stand against the hatred by sharing love, against violence by sharing peace, against bigotry by being accepting and inclusive, and against poverty by helping those most in need in our back yard and at our borders.

Then, and only then, will we truly see and end to the hatred, bigotry, and division in our world.

Nov 302018

A new year and a new path

year - Liesel [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

Sunday we start a new liturgical year. The First Sunday of Advent is always the beginning of our church year. It may seem a bit odd, however, after nearly 40 years as a Catholic, you get used to it!

With the start of a new year, it is time for us to start taking stock of our lives. It is time for us to look at the things we are proud of and the things we are not so proud of. In my life, I have almost equal portions of both.

Advent, while not truly penitential, it is a time for internal reflection. Advent guides us to Christmas morn and the Christ Child in the manger. Much like the migrants of today, the Christ Child, inside his mother, traveled many miles to find that they were not welcome.

They traveled to the hometown of Joseph for the registration required by the census. Once they arrived, they found that all the rooms were rented and they were left on the streets. Eventually, they finally found one generous innkeeper who was willing to let them stay in the stable/cave with the animals.

It was filthy, smelly and the animals were likely noisy. Nonetheless, it was somewhere out of the weather and a place Jesus could be born in private. I am certain Mary and Joseph were exhausted. And no more was the Christ Child born, then came the shepherds to visit him. No rest for the weary!

All this excitement brings me back to what condition my soul is in when I meet the Christ Child. Have I loved my neighbor as myself? Was I kind to those around me, even those I disagree with? Did I welcome the stranger and the homeless? Do I give food, shelter and clothing to those in need?

And do I place God as first in my life? Or do I allow the noise, devices, apps, phones, TV’s, and other such things to crowd God out? Do I take time to visit with God at church, to fellowship with my brothers and sisters of faith? Or do I spend my time on the golf course, watching TV, playing video games or something else?

In the Feast of the Holy Innocence that follows Christmas, we remember the children two and under who Herod killed in his search for Jesus. It is also a reminder to use that life is way too short. It should remind us to never take anything for granted. Not our families, not our churches, not our friends, not our own lives. Instead be thankful for them all.

In conclusion, this Sunday, I hope you will consider joining us at Saint Francis and finding the path toward the Christ Child. Together we can learn to appreciate all the great gifts God has given us.

And we can start a new year practicing a new way to be Catholic!

Nov 242018

Thanksgiving and growth

thanksgiving

This week I was reminded of a very important part of being a church family. Sometimes being a family means that we have to reach out to others and share that family experience. On Thanksgiving Day, we had a chance to do just that.

Too often we allow ourselves to become comfortable in the familiar. We like to sit in our usual pew, go through all the usual motions, and talk to the usual people. Sometimes we need to be jogged out of our comfort zone and expand our horizons.

That is how we as Christians grow and how we as a church family grow. Inviting our friends and family to join us at church helps us all grow as a family. And it challenges our comfort zone as well. Spending time getting to know others helps us to better help others as well.

As we welcomed in new people to our Thanksgiving Dinner, I was reminded that sometimes we have to step out of our comfort zone to see Jesus in others. Once we recognize Jesus in others, we can better connect to them and help them through life’s journey.

This weekend, take a moment to invite others to visit with us. If you have never visited our parish, take a moment to join us for the great Feast of Christ the King.

Come and experience a different way to be Catholic!

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