My ordination anniversary was in mid January. I wrote this then, but am posting it now.
On a cold January day, four years ago, I was ordained a priest in the Old Catholic Church.
It’s been a strange journey. There was a lot I didn’t know about the structure and the organization (or lack thereof) of the Old Catholic Church when I joined. Like any organization there are quirky personalities and people who are in it for ego or to get their own needs met. With the Old Catholic Church there is the added layer that so many people have been hurt by the Roman Catholic Church. They come to the Old Catholics looking for solace, for a place to serve, for a home. I get it. I, too, was hurt deeply by the church I grew up in. One thing I have noticed with both evangelical LGBT people and some Old Catholics is that they cannot seem to let their past go. Their faith becomes more about clinging to what they once had than about creating something new. This manifests in different ways: for gay evangelicals it looks like clinging to bad and outdated theology, holding on to harmful ideas about sexuality and intimacy, feeling like they have to be celibate, trying to be “respectable”, and refusing to leave churches even when those churches are killing their souls.
For Old Catholics it can look like prioritizing hierarchy over everything, to clamoring after titles and recognition, to being bound up in what the Roman Catholic church is doing (even though the Roman Church has no bearing on our work as Old Catholics). It can look like preserving tradition at any cost. It can look like wanting ordination just so you can say Mass for yourself. Both of these trends are inward looking. They are all about getting your own needs met and to hell with everyone else. They are toxic to the core.
When I was ordained I thought I knew what my path was going to look like. I was going to stay in one diocese. I was going to start a new church. I was going to lead that church for years and years. None of those things happened. Right after I was ordained, the Old Catholic group I was ordained into imploded. I still don’t even know all of the details. But it was messy. I had to make decisions quickly as it happened just a couple of weeks after my ordination and I hadn’t even gotten to know the other people yet. Already I was in a new diocese with a new Bishop. The person who told me about the Old Catholic Church, who brought me in, was out of the picture. It was disorienting and worrisome to say the least. I stayed put for a while but I felt like the place I was in wasn’t a good fit. I felt like I was always running afoul of rules I didn’t know existed. So when I met a Bishop with whom I shared similar values, I put myself under his care. And there I have remained. It has been an educational and affirming situation and I am so thankful I made the decision to be a part of his diocese. That diocese recently shifted and joined another Old Catholic group and so once again things change. I am learning the only constant is change.
I did start a church, pretty much right after ordination. I learned so much from that experience and from the people I met and had the honor of serving as a priest. I did my first wedding and my first funeral. I preached weekly and led Bible studies. I learned how to have hard conversations with people who disagreed with me and wanted to take over. I learned that sometimes the best thing you can do is invite someone to find a place where they will be happier.
I also learned how to say goodbye. After three years the church wasn’t growing. We were holding steady at 3-5 people every week. Dear, loving, giving, amazing people. But we were working so hard and we were getting exhausted. I was getting exhausted. We tried different models. We tried different outreach opportunities. I met with people, I advertised, I prayed, and still we didn’t grow. So we made the hard decision to shut down. I hated it. I still hate it. I still wish we could have found a way to continue but the way we were going wasn’t sustainable.
Suddenly I found myself as a priest without a parish. It’s been hard. There are no real models for this kind of work, other than chaplains, maybe. Some people think I’m not a “real priest” because I don’t have a parish.
But a priest isn’t just someone who offers the sacraments. They aren’t just someone who preaches or does weddings and funerals. A priest is someone who counsels. Who teaches. Who offers support. A priest is someone who helps people create a theological vision. A priest is someone who disciples and pushes and comforts and leads. I still do all of those things, I just do them differently. I do it via Twitter and email and Sanctuary Collective. I teach through webinars and articles and blog posts. I create a theological vision through my writing and speaking. I lead by creating opportunities for people to connect and learn and grow. My work doesn’t look like I thought it would but it is still ministry. I am still a priest. I am doing the work I have always been doing; reaching people for whom there is no other place to belong.
It is hard work. It is good work. It is holy work.
It’s been four years. May God grant me a lifetime of this work.