Tag Archives: priesthood

Celebrating 20 Years as a Miscreant Priest 


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Yesterday was the 20th anniversary of my ordination to the Priesthood. July 7th 1996, it really is hard to believe that it has been that long, and this year it kind of snuck up on me. I had pretty much forgotten until I noticed an old friend from Camp LeJeune was wishing me well on it. If you are reading this Ray, thank you. 

Since Being ordained I have served in a lot of places as an Army and now Navy Chaplain, and I have served some of the most wonderful people ever, and in turn they have done more for me than I can ever imagine or repay. One of the things that a lot of people don’t understand is that the true joy in the priestly ministry is people, all kinds of people, regardless of who they are or what they believe. 

Over the years I have come to value that more than anything else. For me this is not about any kind of ecclesiastical power or desire for advancement. I do not desire to be a bishop, nor for that matter be in charge of anything. I prefer just to serve and care as I can, be with real people, and try as I might to show people God’s love by being real and caring for them. Now that doesn’t mean that I always do it well, I can be so stupid and insensitive sometimes, even when I am not trying to be. Judy tells me that it is because the male hormone causes brain damage. I won’t argue. 


Over the past twenty years I’ve have times of extreme faith, actually bordering on pious certitude bordering on arrogance. But I have also had doubts, very real doubts. In fact for almost two years after my tour in Iraq I can honestly say that at best I was an agnostic just praying that God existed. Eventually faith returned, and it has to be called faith, because it is not based on how much I think I know, but how little I do know. St. Anselm of Canterbury, the great Scholastic theologian described his task as “faith seeking understanding.” I used to think that way, but I don’t think that understanding the great mystery that is God is really possible, and that’s not a bad thing. I have faith in Jesus the Christ, I believe, and as one of the men Jesus encounters exclaimed, “I believe, help my unbelief.” 


I guess that is all part of the journey. When I look back at all of my time as a priest was my high point, it was my time in Iraq. In the midst of all chaos that I felt closest to God, even when I was struggling. As T.E. Lawrence wrote, “We were fond together because of the sweep of open places, the taste of the wide winds, the sunlight, and the hopes in which we worked. The morning freshness of the world-to-be intoxicated us. We were wrought up with ideas inexpressible and vaporous, but to be fought for…”  It was the richest time of my life, but also the most disappointing, personally and professionally. I found like Lawrence, that most people really don’t care about the Iraqis, and that most of my fellow clergy really didn’t care about me. No wonder Lawrence said, “the fringes of their deserts were strewn with broken faiths.” 

But all of that aside, despite everything, I have rediscovered faith, life, and joy in ministry. So at twenty years I am good, and hopefully I’ve got at last twenty more good years to serve God and the people of God, wherever they are and no matter what their faith or lack of faith is, and interestingly enough my idea of ministry has broadened. So I don’t think that the form of my future ministry will be in the traditional parish setting. That too is okay as I am still fond of the sweep of open places, and the ideas, often inexpressible and vaporous are still there to be fought for. 

So until tomorrow, have a great day, and as the wonderful and grace filled conclusion off the rite of penance says, “pray for me a sinner.” 

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Journey of a Christian Agnostic: Remembering 18 Years of Priestly Ministry

“Do you exist? I think not. I have never seen you or touched you or felt you. Well, sometimes I think you’re presen163017_10150113444907059_3944470_nt but that may be wish fulfillment. Intellectually, I have no reason to believe. Yet much of the time I act like I do believe …. Only when I have time to reflect do I feel doubts, and then after the doubts certainty that the universe is cold and lonely. I know that I am a hypocrite and a fool. Then I preside over the Eucharist in my unsteady bumbling way and I know that you are. I don’t believe but I know.” Andrew Greeley in The Beggar Girl of St Germain

Eighteen years ago, on a warm and sultry night in Libertytown Maryland I was ordained as a Priest. I had been graduated from seminary in 1992 and been ordained as a minister in an Evangelical Protestant church in 1991 and served as a chaplain in the Army National Guard and Reserve as well as civilian hospital ministry, but in the course of my studies and subsequent study I came to a more Anglican and Catholic understanding of life and ministry.

Since that time the world has changed and I have changed. Back then I lived my life with a fair amount of certitude, hubris and arrogance, a trait that many, maybe even most young ministers regardless of their denomination or religion often fall into, and unfortunately many who seek to climb the ecclesiastical ladder to power, influence and sometimes fortune never forsake. At one time I believed that church and church leaders should not be questioned, until I found that they like many others were just as prone to cruelty, injustice and desire for power and authority as anyone I knew in the secular world.

After encountering this lack of care, cruelty and and injustice, both in the church and among some senior military chaplains my eyes were opened. I should have known better because just before I left the active duty Army to go to seminary I was told by my brigade executive officer “Steve, you think that the Medical department is too political, cutthroat and vicious, we can’t hold a candle to the Chaplain Corps.”

Unfortunately he was right, not only the Chaplain Corps, but many churches and denominations. I know far too many ministers and other ordained clergy who have been crushed by the burdens placed on them by their faith groups as well as various chaplain ministries, military and civilian. When I was in seminary I was shocked by the number of “former ministers” that I encountered, many who had real, earned academic theological degrees, as well as a wealth of pastoral experience, but the common thing that must shared was being abused, abandoned and sometimes even persecuted by their faith communities, often for the most trivial of reasons.

While I do not have any regrets about following the call to ministry and the priestly vocation, and would do it again, I do not recommend it to most people, it is an incredibly difficult life .

Since that night in 1996 my life has experienced twists and turns that I could never have imagined. Like Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead wrote in his song “Truckin’” 
“what a long strange trip it’s been.” That being said most of my time as a priest has been spent serving in some capacity on active duty as a military chaplain, first in the Army, but since 1999 in the Navy.

After Iraq, my life changed, afflicted with severe PTSD and what also might be considered “moral injury” I collapsed, psychologically, physically and spiritually. For all practical purposes I was an agnostic, praying that God just might still exist. When faith, seemingly miraculously returned it ended the hubris and certitude. I became much more willing to ask questions, express my doubts and publicly disagree with the church that I was first ordained as a priest. That got me thrown out of that church, as my bishop accused me of being “too liberal,” and thankfully I am now in a faith community where I am a good fit.

Faith has returned, at least part of the time and to be honest I still doubt, and that is not a bad thing. Andrew Greeley, speaking as Bishop Blackie Ryan in the novel The Bishop and the Beggar Girl of St Germain wrote: “Most priests, if they have any sense or any imagination, wonder if they truly believe all the things they preach. Like Jean-Claude they both believe and not believe at the same time.”

I still serve as a priest and Navy Chaplain. I am happy and like Father Jean-Claude in Andrew Greeley’s novel I believe and do not believe at the same time. I have the honor of serving a small chapel for our students at the Joint Forces Staff College as well as teaching ethics, military history and leading the Gettysburg Staff Ride. I also find a great deal of meaning in writing on this website, something that was begun out of the anguish of what I was going through after Iraq. In this website I serve people that I may never meet, and when they write, share their own stories and seek and encourage me it renews my faith and hope. As Andrew Greeley said: “I wouldn’t say the world is my parish, but my readers are my parish. And especially the readers that write to me. They’re my parish. And it’s a responsibility that I enjoy.”

My politics and views on many social issues have changed significantly since I was ordained, they are significantly more liberal and I think better grounded in the grace and love of God than they were before. As far as the people I encounter, both in the chapel setting, at the Staff College and among people I meet in town I find that I am much more comfortable listening to and being there for others, especially struggling clergy and others who find church not a place of solace, but a place of fear where they are neither cared for or accepted, the outcasts. Thus I feel strongly that eery encounter, especially sacramental ones are times to show care for others. As Andrew Greeley wrote in his final Bishop Blackie novel The Archbishop Goes to Andalusia:

“Every sacramental encounter is an evangelical occasion. A smile warm and happy is sufficient. If people return to the pews with a smile, it’s been a good day for them. If the priest smiles after the exchanges of grace, it may be the only good experience of the week.” 

That was something that I experienced this weekend with a visitor to my chapel. That makes it all worth it, despite that I believe and do not believe at the same time and I will live with this tension and trust that the Jesus the Christ, God who took on the fullness of humanity for the life of the world will somehow understand.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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A Church of Love: Reflections on the celebration of my 15th Anniversary of Ordination

Christmas in Iraq 2007

It is hard to believe that I am a Priest and that I have been one now for the past 15 years. I held ordination in a two different Evangelical churches dating back to 1989 and had served as a Chaplain in civilian hospitals as well as the Army National Guard and Reserve before I was ordained as a Priest by Bishop Phillip Zampino of the Charismatic Episcopal Church Diocese for the Mid-Atlantic on July 7th 1996. It was what I thought was the culmination of my journey to the Catholic faith since the Charismatic Episcopal Church in that area considered itself very much on the Anglo-Catholic and Roman Catholic leaning side of that denomination.

My journey to a sacramental and catholic faith had began as a child when Navy Chaplain who was a Roman Catholic priest was instrumental in helping me continue to believe when a Methodist Sunday School teacher told me that my dad, then serving at An Loc Vietnam was a “baby killer.” I really do still trace my vocation as a Priest to that man even though my journey on the way to this faith was rather circuitous.  That journey continued all thorough my life as an Evangelical Christian and was intellectually cemented in at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary where in my Church History and Systematic Theology courses I became convinced of many Catholic teachings. It took another four years after graduation leave the Evangelical movement to the CEC and had I not gone there I would have likely ended up in the Episcopal Church or one of the more Catholic leaning continuing Anglican churches or somewhere in the Old Catholic movement.  What took me to the CEC was the recommendation of an Anglican friend who thought it would be a good fit.

I was ordained on the evening of July 7th 1996. The ordination date was actually advanced several months because of my impending mobilization to support Operation Joint Endeavor, the Bosnia peacemaking mission.  We arrived the night prior to my ordination and I had a talk with Bishop Zampino talking about the “new phase of ministry” that I was entering. He reminded me that the Sacrament of Holy Orders (Ordination) was not was not about a change of ministry but something different. In Catholic theology ordination is very different from most of Protestantism where there is little difference in the estate of the ordained minister and lay people.  In Sacramental theology when a person is ordained to the Priesthood there is an ontological change brought about by the Holy Spirit. Once a person has been ordained they are spiritually changed, which is the origin of the saying, “Once a priest, always a priest.” The Priest can be dispensed of his or her obligations as a priest and in the case of grave misconduct or heresy even forbidden to act as a priest; but they remain priests forever.

The Bishop’s words reinforced something that I already understood from my theological education and formation but had not been put as bluntly with such effect by any of my professors or the Priests that mentored me.  When I was ordained that Sunday evening it was on the feast of Saint Willibald of Eichstadt, a Celtic Benedictine missionary born in England who settled in the small Bavarian town of Eichstadt.  He remained as the Bishop of that small diocese for 40 years and is buried in the picturesque cathedral located in the city. His brother Wunibald was also a missionary and Abbott in Heidenheim and their sister Walburga governed the female community at the same abbey. I was ordained in the evening which also meant it was July 8th in Germany, the feast day of another Celtic missionary Saint Killian the martyr bishop of Würzburg. It so happened that my first assignment as a Priest would be in Würzburg just a few weeks later.  I feel a close connection to each of these Saints as the date of my baptism was that of the Feast of Saint Wunibald, December 18th.

My life since ordination has been rather interesting or as Jerry Garcia put it a “long strange trip.” I have travelled the world as a Navy Chaplain and been able to care for God’s people in many diverse and often dangerous places. To be a priest in the Navy, be a person Roman, Anglican, Orthodox or Old Catholic is an adventure, to celebrate Eucharist, to baptize and to administer the Sacrament of Penance as well as the Sacrament of Healing or as it used to be called Unction in often dangerous places is for me the pinnacle of the priestly ministry.  Many of my friends of other branches of the Catholic, Anglican or Orthodox traditions echo that sentiment. To proclaim the Gospel to men and women in harm’s way and to care for those of other traditions that are given to our care, providing what we can and helping them the best we can while respecting them and their beliefs.

For me the path has not always been easy and I think that most Priests can echo that. In my 14 years as Priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church I ran afoul of some rather autocratic Bishops all of whom are no longer in that Church.  I was banned from writing for a number of years because of my published essays which were considered “too Catholic.” During that time Bishop Zampino even suggested that I explore the Roman Catholic priesthood.  I looked into it in a number of dioceses but never went beyond exploring possibilities. Bishops were polite but less than interested in a married Priest from a Church that was considered valid but illicit.

So despite being banned from writing and even banned from contact with civilian Priests in the state where I was stationed by another Bishop who is now a Roman Catholic layman I remained in the church. During this time I became more disconnected and disenchanted with the church.  When I returned from Iraq I was in a full blown spiritual crisis brought about by PTSD.  My conditioned worsened to the point that for nearly two years I was a practical agnostic.  Faith returned in December of 2009 when administering the last rites to a dying man on the Emergency Room of the Medical Center where I was serving as a Chaplain.

But the faith was different and I no longer fit in the Church though I tried. Despite this my writings, which I had started as part of my therapy became too much for my church and even though faith had returned it was not welcome.  I was asked to leave and thankfully was received by the Apostolic Catholic Orthodox Church, a North American expression of the Old Catholic faith. Since my ordination was valid I was simply received into the Church.

I am very blessed to be able to serve as a Priest and care for the people that God brings into my life. It is now 15 years since that night when Bishop Zampino laid his hands upon me and ordained me into this life. Despite some to the twists, turns and even disappointments I am fortunate as my faith is real again and I can see the good in people and experience the Grace of God in my daily life.  It really is miraculous.  I have a joy again that allows me to pass through the painful and sometimes lonely times that I still occasionally experience.

In my darkest times my only spiritual readings were Father Andrew Greeley’s Bishop Blackie Ryan mysteries which I began reading to help me get through the nights in between missions in Iraq and through the nights when I returned.  In one of those books, the last of the series entitled “The Archbishop goes to Andalusia” the miscreant Auxiliary Bishop to the Cardinal Archbishop of Chicago goes to Seville Spain.  In the novel Bishop Blackie makes a comment after celebrating Mass in the cathedral at Seville. He said “Every sacramental encounter is an evangelical occasion. A smile warm and happy is sufficient. If people return to the pews with a smile, it’s been a good day for them. If the priest smiles after the exchanges of grace, it may be the only good experience of the week.”  (The Archbishop in Andalusia p.77)

I have found that this is more than true. My belief now is that the church must be a church of love.  In another book Greeley has a fictional papal contender named Luis Emilio Cardinal Menendez y Garcia makes a speech which the end of which I find particularly inspiring. While it speaks of the Roman Catholic Church I think that it speaks to most churches and reflects how people see us:

“So many of our lay people believe that ours is a Church of rules, that being Catholic consists of keeping rules. They do not find an institution which is like that very appealing. Nor should they.

In fact, we are a Church of love. Our message from the Lord himself even today is the message that God is Love and that we are those who are trying, however badly, to reflect that love in the world. I find that in my own city that notion astonishes many people. How we came to misrepresent that which we should be preaching above all else is perhaps the subject for many doctoral dissertations.

More important for us today, however, is the reaffirmation that we exist to preach a God of love, we try to be people of love, and we want our church to be, insofar as we poor humans can make it, a Church of radiant love.

Does such a Church have a future? How could it not?”

Saint Francis said “Preach the Gospel at all times, use words when necessary.”

I hope that I do that as imperfect as I am and as earthy as I tend to be.

On the anniversary of my ordination I ask you to pray for me a sinner.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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It’s what You learn after You know it All that Count’s: Padre Steve’s Advice for those contemplating the Ordained Ministry

Yesterday evening I had a dear friend of our call me to ask me about serving as a spiritual director as she began to seriously explore the call to the Episcopal Priesthood. As a Navy chaplain and Army Chaplain before that I have had many young men and some young women approach me about spiritual direction or advice as they contemplated preparing for the ordained ministry. These men and women have come from many Christian traditions as well as some from non-Christian religions. I consider this to be a privilege especially because almost all come from traditions different formerly Anglo-Catholic and now Old Catholic tradition.  Thus I feel honored to be able to participant in each of these individuals journey.

I do not take this responsibility lightly; the journey that these men and women are embarking is often fraught with risk and often painful.  Thus I really try to listen to their story listening carefully to their individual experience of God as well as how that experience relates to life, other people and their faith community.  The reason I do this is because I have had so many friends be chewed up and their ministries ruined by unscrupulous people and uncaring religious organizations while attempting to follow what they feel is God’s will for their life.

Since I believe in truth in advertising I make no bones about what I believe but also respect and hold holy what people bring to me. Thus I am careful to listen to them and be as helpful as possible without pushing them in any direction.  I have seen too many people manipulate others when they are in such a state and the results are seldom good. Since I know I don’t have all the answers that such decisions should not be entered into quickly and without the input of the person’s own faith community.  So I encourage them to work with their local church or faith community as well as denomination and work to help them make those contacts.

This is important because people that feel called to ministry can be vulnerable to many unscrupulous people regardless of their faith group.  There are some groups that will gladly ordain people for a substantial financial remittance and continued financial servitude. Of course such organizations will provide an “ordination” certificate or a “license” to preach many times without ever having met the individual.  Some groups have “seminaries” which issue “Divinity” degrees. Unfortunately many of these “church” schools are unaccredited degree mills.  Most provide no real theological training or preparation for the demands of ministry. The ordination certificate may provide some covering to the aspiring minister so they can perform weddings and have an IRS 501.3.c tax exemption.  Some might get to pastor a church under the umbrella of the “ordaining” organization.  However many times the degree is not worth the paper that it is printed on and the ordination is no more than a means to extract money from them.  Unfortunately I have lost count of the ministers that I have met who have had this kind of experience.

Even worse are the times that well meaning and sincere people end up being spiritual and sometimes physically or sexually abused by those in spiritual authority. This happens across the theological spectrum and is not simply isolated in the “fly by night” ministries that operate on a “for prophet” basis. Many men that trained for the Roman Catholic priesthood over the past half century have recounted many horrible experiences of abuse at the hands of their superiors in major and minor seminaries and sometimes even after ordination.  Many of these cases are recounted in excruciating detail in the media and in court cases.

Thus when a man or woman approaches me for advice or even spiritual direction I am careful to know the responsibility that they place in my hands and am careful to hold their trust as if it were a baseball bat personally autographed by Babe Ruth or Willie Mays.  Some people might say as if were a Faberge Egg or the Pink Panther Diamond, but I know what is really valuable.

My advice to those that come to me is always given with great caution. Since I have a great amount of experience serving with people of many faiths in addition to my own unique spiritual pilgrimage I value those that I have worked with and their faith, some have even helped save me from myself.  One in man in particular helped save my career when I was a young Army Chaplain.  Lieutenant Colonel Rich Whaley, a chaplain from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints saved my military career when I really lost control of my temper at the Army Chaplain School. I could list many more that helped me through good times and bad, seminary professors and chaplains almost all of which were of different denominations than me. They were men and sometimes women who cared about me who held my faith holy and who interceded for me sometimes with people and often to God.

As such I am careful to do the same for those that seek my counsel regardless of their beliefs.  I am fortunate. I have seen a number of these people go on to successful careers as military chaplains or in civilian ministry within their denominations.  I have also advised those that like me had grown beyond their denominational background or ha a progressive shift in their beliefs that cause them to feel that they must move to a new denomination. In those cases I am extra careful because I never want to even give the appearance of prostylizing, or for those unfamiliar with the term stealing sheep from someone else’s flock.

My advice to people seeking to enter the ministry, especially the chaplain ministry can be boiled down to these points.

* Take your time to discern the call. Many people rush into ministry only to find that it is not for them and in the process often end up hurt and disillusioned.

* Rely on trusted advisors that are willing to spend the time and walk with you during the discernment process. Don’t rely on pastors or others that promise to support you but in reality are too busy to take the time.

* Don’t rely on “cheerleaders” who simply tell you what you want to hear, and there are a lot of these people out there.

* Find people in your denomination that have experience in the type of ministry that you feel called that are not from you local church who can be objective.

* Seek out people from other traditions who have experience in the type of ministry that you want to enter. Often the latter provide more objective advice than those close to you and by getting to know them you can also get to know the kind of people that you will work with in your desired field of ministry, especially if you want to serve as a chaplain.

* Try to attend a resident seminary. I admit that it is possible to get a good academic theological or Biblical education in non-resident or online programs provided that they are rigorous and accredited by a real accrediting agency with actual standards. There are numerous “accrediting” organizations that are simply fraudulent and many “Bible Schools and Seminaries” claim such accreditation.

* Find a program that actually works with you and your faith group to provide spiritual formation.  In fact the formation aspect is often lacking in many well accredited resident seminaries but is most often absent in non-resident or online programs.

* Find a spiritual director that will walk with you through your education and formation. Some denominations will help you in this but many smaller churches are either unable or unwilling to do so, particularly those from the Evangelical tradition which focuses more on preaching.

* Make sure that your academic program is balanced between Bible, Theology, Church History Pastoral Care, and Homiletics.  Practical courses like evangelism and program management change with the wind and are often more about the marketing and packaging of a product. I had a friend in seminary who claimed that his Master of Divinity had a shelf life of 5 years. Of course if you focus on transitory method driven courses you will have a dated education because someone else will come up with something new a few years from now. If you focus on the balance that I talk about your education will never become dated. In fact it is those can be built upon where the others, well you’ll find those books in what you give to Salvation Army or Goodwill in a few years.

* Take the time to reflect on what you learn and what you experience.

* Finally do the basics. Study your faith, its scriptures, theology and traditions. Pray and maintain relationships with fellow students as others preparing for ministry.

And when all is said and done remember that “it’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”

One more thing. you need to really love ministry and the people that you serve. If you are in it for money, fame or to make a name for yourself you will suffer shipwreck. If you don’t have love and joy nothing else I have said here will help you.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Long and Winding Road: My Journey to Life

“Ministry means the ongoing attempt to put one’s own search for God, with all the moments of pain and joy, despair and hope, at the disposal of those who want to join this search but do not know how.” Henri Nouwen

 In February 2009, about eight months after psychological physical and spiritual collapse due to the effects of PTSD and in the midst of my struggle I began to write about my experiences on this site. My psychologist at the time had suggested that I go public with my struggles using my writing as a means to do so. It was something that I had contemplated for some time. I was a mess and struggling many days to even get to work. I was depressed much of the time, continually on edge, still suffered from nightmares, night terrors, flashbacks and sometimes an angry rage which swept over me when I felt threatened.  I avoided big crowds, was afraid to even go to church and I had a hard time trusting anyone.  In that time I would listen to the Beatle’s song “The Long and Winding Road” which in some ways became a prayer for me.

The long and winding road
That leads to your door
Will never disappear
I’ve seen that road before
It always leads me here
Lead me to your door

The wild and windy night
That the rain washed away
Has left a pool of tears
Crying for the day
Why leave me standing here?
Let me know the way

Many times I’ve been alone
And many times I’ve cried
Anyway you’ll never know

The many ways I’ve tried

And still they lead me back
To the long winding road
You left me standing here
A long long time ago
Don’t leave me waiting here
Lead me to your door


But still they lead me back
To the long winding road
You left me standing here
A long long time ago
Don’t keep me waiting here
Lead me to your door

The Long And Winding Road lyrics: Songwriters: Mccartney, Paul; Lennon, John. © SONY BEATLES LTD; SONY/ATV TUNES LLC

So I began to write and find some solace even as I struggled with even the existence of God.  One thing that I found was that there were really very few people, especially ministers secure enough to enter into a healing relationship with me. I felt isolated among my peers especially those from my own church.  Since I have detailed that journey to include a restoration of faith in God in December 2009 about two years after my struggle began I won’t go into great detail in this article.  All I knew is that it seemed that most Priests and other ministers either didn’t know how to walk with me, were afraid to walk with me and were most certainly uncomfortable with a colleague, especially one with my experience dealing with the pain psychological and spiritual effects of PTSD including being from all practical purposes an agnostic.  As one psychotherapist labeled it I was “radioactive.”

Eventually some in the leadership of my former denomination which I had served faithfully as a priest for 14 years asked me to leave the church because I had become “I had changed since coming back from Iraq” and “had become too liberal.”I had known this was coming for some time and had been making preparations for it but the timing of the notice from my former Bishop came as a surprise.

I had begun to voice opinions, especially on social and political issues that rankled some, maybe many in my former church. Since only a few friends from that church remain in contact with me I presume that I rankled more than I did not.  There were times during the early part of 2010 that my wife would ask me after reading something that I had published if I was trying to get thrown out. I wasn’t trying to but I was at the point where I knew that I had to be honest and transparent about my struggle as well as how my beliefs had changed a result of war and of PTSD.  I was diplomatic and tried to say what I had to say without getting too controversial. That began to change in the summer of 2010 and reached its head on September 23rd when I published Faith Journeys: Why I am Still a Christian. https://padresteve.wordpress.com/2010/09/22/faith-journey%E2%80%99s-why-i-am-still-a-christian/

I actually did not intend for the article to be too controversial, but looking back I can see how it was interpreted that way. It was for all practical purposes a declaration of independence and a severe criticism of the lack of care that I had felt from the church that I had served for most of my ministerial career. I think that the central part of that article that attracted the attention and wrath of my Bishop was this section”

“This is the Jesus that I follow and the Jesus that I believe is present in body, soul and spirit in the Eucharist.  I believe like Hans Kung and others that this table belongs to the baptized community of faith and not to an exclusive Priestly class who dictate who can come to the table.  It is not the exclusive property of any denomination or Church organization especially those that most loudly state this to be the case.

Now if saying this makes me a heretic then a heretic I will be. It is better to be a heretic in the eyes of Pharisees than to be one that denies justice to the persecuted people of God.  I guess that makes this moderate a liberal and to some an unbeliever.  Yet I believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. I believe in the Jesus that defied religious systems to offer the grace of God to the people that those systems rejected and the Jesus that was far more critical of “believers’ than those rejected as unbelievers.  I guess that is why I can accept women as ministers or even Priests, accept homosexuals as Christian brothers and sisters, and see Christ and the grace and love of God in people that are not “Christians” even the Muslims in Iraq that treated me with respect and even if they had an “Aryan” view of Jesus still showed a greater reverence for Jesus and the Blessed Virgin Mary than many that claim Jesus for themselves.”

I ended the article with this gem: “Why am I still a Christian when I have so many problems with how many Christians practice the faith? Because I believe and not because will not I tow anyone’s party line be they liberals or conservatives….So in the words of my favorite heretic Martin Luther I say “Here I stand, I can do no other. So help me God. Amen.”

My goal since faith began to return was to be available to those that feel cut off from God and the Church, to walk with people in the midst of struggle, pain and despair, especially fellow ministers and chaplains.  I don’t have all the answers, in fact I know very few, except that I know that God can use the pain, alienation, struggle and despair that I went through then, as well as the struggles that I still have in the lives of others like me that are willing to walk that lonely path to reconciliation with God and humanity.

As far as my former church and bishop are concerned I still care about them and hope for the best. There are many there that I still call friends and a very few that I can be completely honest and transparent with for they while remaining in the church think much as I do even if they do not agree with me entirely.  Since my departure a number of others have left that church for other reasons, mostly because they wanted to be in communion with a larger number of Anglican Christians.  Others have stayed in the hopes of working toward renewal.  The Bishop who asked me to leave was himself asked to leave when he attempted to secretly take the priests of the military diocese to another communion barely four months later.

It is a long, winding and often lonely road but I have found solace, community and faith upon it. Those that I have met traveling on it have become my brothers and sisters on the journey. And that my friend makes it all worth it.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Implants? On my 13th Anniversary of Being a Priest…What’s up with that?

cantaloupes

I found out today that I’m going to get an implant….and I can’t believe it. And I find out about this on the 13th anniversary of being ordained as a Priest and I was not a happy camper.  The dentist looked at me and told me that the root canal which I had come in to complete would not be possible.  This kind of pissed me off, not at him but for the fact that I knew that this was going to happen.  Going in to today I knew from the first dentist who examined me two weeks ago that there was only a fifty-fifty chance of saving the tooth, but only a ten percent chance of that.  So when the dentist showed me the live camera images of the abyss that used to be the inside of my tooth and the fractures on both sides of the abyss I was not surprised.  Not happy, but not surprised.  Of course I was hoping and praying that the root canal would be done with and that I would not see dental again until my next exam.

As his team dug around in my mouth the dentist told me that they were going to have to set me up with Oral Surgery to extract the tooth and put an implant in its place.  Since my mouth was still full of crap I had difficult time trying to reply.  The crap included a rubber dam and its suspension system.  I was informed that this was to keep crap out of the abyss and keep it from getting infected. The dentist didn’t say crap, but that is what I inferred. I also had a butt-load of anesthetic aboard.  When he asked me the question: “Are you familiar with what an implant is?”  I mumbled an unintelligible answer that went something like “yam eh ike marl hmmmn wah”  And I kind of motioned over my chest with my hands to try to give as visual but my attempt at communication failed.  He said, I’ll wait until we’re done for you to answer and I said “thang u er.”  Since my woeful attempt at communication was not understood so I relaxed as best I could for the remainder of the procedure.

steve at dentist

When they were finished the resident had sealed the abyss, removed the dam and washed out my mouth.  My mouth, which still hurt some from the work two weeks ago, and the tooth which still had some throbbing as a bit of nerve had survived the first go round caused me some persistent pain even through this morning.   This particular tooth had been repaired twice as a child, the first by Doctor Mengele and once as an adult before it erupted two weeks ago.  Now after being excavated for the second time in two weeks my mouth felt like a battle zone even with the full effect of the anesthetic.

The dentist then asked about if I understood what an implant was and in my smart assed way said, “Yes, it’s like those things that they put in Mariel Hemingway back in the 1980s right?”  The dentist looked at me funny and then, maybe being just a bit older than me then shook his head and started laughing and said “No not that kind of implant.”   The resident and the technician being a bit younger than us took a bit longer to get it, and the dentist said, “I saw you motioning with your hands but just didn’t understand the connection.

So I will be getting an artificial root for the old tooth which will be surgically removed possibly under a general anesthetic.  I wonder which is worse, enduring a great deal of pain or going under as I am a fan of neither.  They say it will take 6-9 months to have the artificial root to be fused into the jaw bone, after which a new crown will be constructed over it.  I’m told that the entire process will take about a year to complete.  I get my consultation with the Oral Surgeons the middle of August so this story will probably go on in future blog posts in the coming months.

Today is also the 13th anniversary of me being ordained as a Priest at what used to be the Cathedral of the Resurrection, Life in Jesus Community when it was part of my Church.  I am ever grateful to the bishop who ordained me back then, in those days he was a teacher and father.  We parted ways when he led his community out of the Church after having his Archdeacon tell me that he was not leaving as the Church experienced a major crisis.  While his leaving bothered me it was the deception that I found most difficult and combined with actions of two other former bishops in the church which impacted me in a very personal and hurtful manner which ended our relationship.  Since he left I understand that he was removed from the leadership of his community and that the community was not doing well.  That saddened me as back in the mid and late 1990s it was a wonderful place where the ancient and modern converged, where hospitality and kindness was shown and people were blessed.  I do not know what happened over the years, but it is sad as I cannot go back to the place where I was ordained and have it be the same.  When the bishop’s council on ordination recommended that I be ordained I was told by one of the priests said “Steve, you’re home.”  Unfortunately only one of that council remains in the church, and that community is no longer home.

891Christmas Eve in Iraq

Since then I have been blessed.  I was ordained on the evening of July 7th the eve of the Feast of Saint Killian and his companions, an Irish missionary to what is now the German area of Franconia where at Würzburg he was martyred in 689 AD.  It was just a few weeks later as a mobilized Army Reserve Chaplain I reported to Würzburg to support the Bosnia operation in my first assignment as a Priest.  I lived in town as there was “no room at the inn” on base and since I spoke German I would head downtown in the evenings for Mass at the Killian Dom (Killian Cathedral) as well as visits to many of the other churches.  I found it interesting that the occasion of my ordination was the eve of feast of the man responsible for planting the Christian faith in the first place I would serve as a Priest.  I feel quite a connection to St Killian as a result of this and whenever I go to Germany I attempt to attend a Mass at the Killian Dom as well as a few steins of Würzburger Hofbrau Pilsner.

killian domKillian Dom Wurzburg Germany

Since then I have celebrated the Eucharist and served God’s people around the world in places that I would have never dreamed.  My first Eucharist at sea was on the USS Frederick LST-1184 on Easter 2001, the same ship that in high school Navy Junior ROTC I first felt the call to be a chaplain in March of 1978.  I’ve celebrated near the fence line at Guantanamo Bay, all over Al Anbar Province, been a base chaplain and served in units and at sea all over the world.  I celebrated my 7th anniversary celebrating at the ruins of the Martyr Church of Saint Phillip the Apostle in Pamukale Turkey, the site of Ancient Hierapolis.

Today for the first time I spent it in a dentist’s chair.  So my mouth feels like a bombed out combat zone, I have the shattered shell of a tooth being held together by a temporary patch and praying that it won’t come apart before it is extricated and I have to wait over a month to just begin talking about the details of how process will unfold with the Oral Surgeon who will perform it.  Tonight I will try to eat something soft so as not to tempt fate, drink a good beer or two or three and get ready for work tomorrow.

Pray for me a sinner.

Peace, Steve+

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The Call

Note:  To clear up some confusion my references to “The Deity Herself.”  God is neither male nor female and Scripture records that God made Man and Woman in his image, not just Man.  Likewise there are both male and female images used in the Hebrew which refer to God.  I am not turning to “goddess worship” if anyone is concerned. I patently, as anyone who knows me well, understand God within the accepted bounds of the Trinity.  My use of the female imagery is for the most part to get people to think and maybe actually notice that I am referring to God. Maybe too it will encourage women who have been hurt or victimized by men, especially abusive fathers to see that the Christian message is not something that excludes them.  While some may not approve, or even think that I have succumbed to “political correctness,”  I see this as legitimate use of the language, which because of its limited nature can never fully show us the glory of God. Peace and Blessings, Steve+

I’ve been asked by some how I was “called” into the ministry or my vocation as a Priest and Chaplain.  I have done a lot, I mean really a lot of reflecting on this over the years.  Honestly, I don’t really know how it happened.  I mean I like sort of know, but the “how it happened” is pretty much a God thing I guess.  Looking back I think I get it, but am still amazed that I get to do what I get to do.  To use the words of Elton John “I’m still standing after all these years.” The reason I say this is because I’m NOT the greatest theologian, preacher, pastor, or even chaplain around.  Likewise, I know that I am certainly not among the most “spiritual.”  For me the Christian life takes work, really hard work.  There are guys and gals around who who can do circles around me in most of these facets of the Christian life and ministry.   Now on the other hand I don’t think that I drag up the rear, but I’m not going to over play my hand.  There are things that I think that I do pretty well, but I consider myself kind of a journeyman.

General George Patton recounted in his memoirs that “he prayed that he would never get ‘the Call’ because he knew that he would have to leave the Army.”  In some ways I think I can understand that.  Now I know that I was called.  In fact that call probably goes back to a pretty early age.  I found among things grandmother had saved a short paper I had written in the 4th Grade about Easter.  It was not about the Easter Bunny but it was about the Resurrection of Jesus.  So I guess that I had some kind of faith stuff going on back that far.  I think that the first inkling of a call came when I was 11 or 12. At the time the Roman Catholic Chaplain at our base took care of my Protestant family when a local church Sunday School teacher told me that my dad was a baby killer.  Toward the end of high I felt  that call during a NJROTC cadet cruise from San Diego to Pearl Harbor and back.  I wrote my grand parents that I felt that I was being called to be a Navy Chaplain.  I did a short term mission with a Christian Singing group called the Continental Singers and Orchestra in the summer of 1979.  By the way I was the spotlight tech, I did not sing, the Deity Herself was wise enough not to inflict my “joyful noise” on our audiences.  That trip was remarkable, but when I was getting ready for it my local church had a nasty split.  As a result I got caught in the middle of it.  I was in military parlance “collateral damage.” To tell the truth, that experience was kind of sucky.

That was rough, in fact my reaction was to withdraw.  I left that church when I returned and started attending the church of my girlfriend. Patently she is now my ever patient and long suffering wife.  The poor girl should have realized what she was getting into with me when about a month into our dating relationship I left for three months.   Yet she has persevered.

What I figured during this time was that the Deity and I would make a deal.  I would stay in church.  I would even teach Sunday School, and that I would go in the military as a “good Christian officer.” She being the Deity of course would agree to that deal, everything would be copasetic and we would cooperate on my terms.  Pretty arrogant for a 20 year old, but hey, like most young people I had my really dumb moments.  She of course had other plans….

So I went in the Army because Judy forbade me to join the Navy.  She had good reason. Her two sisters married knuckle-headed sailors who were always deployed.  Neither of course were good husbands.  She however let me go into the Army.  I said “cool beans” and I thought I was on my way to fulfilling the deal I had made with the Deity.  As I made my way through my young Army career it seemed that She used very unfair and devious means to rub the call in my face.  Chapel friends would tell me that I needed to stop running from God.  A good friend left the Army for seminary.  In fact the good Deity ensured that I was miserable even though I loved being an Army officer.  Finally in 1987 She used my Brigade XO, LTC Ike Adams to kick me in the teeth. We would run together at lunch. One day while running he asked: “Hey Captain, what do you think your doing with the rest of your life?”  I responded in typical junior Army officer fashion: “Well, I’m going to the Advanced Course, take another Company and after that get promoted to Major.”  I mean I had this planned out, and then he cut me off…”Well I don’t think that’s what God has in mind, you were called to the ministry and are running from it.”

If there was ever an “oh crap” moment, this was it.  People had been pinging on me for five or six years about this, but nobody, ever ever  dropped the bomb like that.  I could have died.  I had never mentioned anything about this to the man. Yet here he was, or God was, reading my mail.  This was not fun.  So I asked him: “How do you know?”  I was stunned by the reply.  “Well the Holy Spirit revealed it to me.”  Now Ike was not and is not a flake.  He was a Social Worker and career Army officer.  He retired from the Army and went to Asbury Seminary where he got his M.Div and University of Kentucky where he picked up his Ph.D.  He’s now the Chair of the Social Work Department at Asbury College.  Shaken by the incident I took myself home.  I told the long suffering Judy what had happened.  She told me “Well I could have told you that.”

So a year and some change later I left the Army to go to seminary.  I was accepted at Asbury, Austin Presbyterian and Southwestern Baptist.  I chose Southwestern for the simple reason that it was cheaper.  Back in those days before the Fundamentalist takeover of the seminaries, the Southern Baptist “Cooperative Fund” underwrote the majority of even non-Southern Baptist students tuition.  What would have been a $5,000 per semester or so bill was reduced to $1,000 a semester give or take a bit depending on the semester.  It was a good thing, because seminary was hell on earth.  How we made it through that ordeal is beyond me. It was like going through the gauntlet of Klingon Pain Sticks in the Rite of Ascension.

First Judy got sick and had to leave her job, a crummy one working for the government in an office rife with sexual harassment.  I left active duty during the Texas Oil bust of 1988.  I couldn’t get a job.  Seminary students without a technical skill were a dime a dozen, and the attitude of many employers was that they didn’t need you and if they did, they would not pay you much.  We lost everything, I mean almost everything but our books and our dogs.  We lost our house, our cars, and were pretty much poverty stricken despite working  full time in social service agencies, night shelters, pizza parlors and part time as a janitor.  Finally I had to take a semester off just to try to get back on our feet.

About that time I was accepted into the Chaplain Candidate program in the National Guard.  I got back in school, but once again came to a point were my job was drying up and with it the money I needed to go to seminary.  I had been given my two week notice.  I was the highest paid hourly worker, expenses had to be cut and I was gone.  At that point I thought stick a fork in me, I’m done.  I took my last finals that semester in absolute despair thinking that all had gone for naught.  Walking down the hallway in tears I met a couple of my Professors, my Church history and Missiology professors. They saw me.  Both simply let me cry and then prayed for me.  I got home that afternoon, ready to quit. I figured that it was over and that I had failed. I was going to find a regular job and start over, maybe go back in the Army.  As I walked in the door the phone rang and I got a call from a Christian ministry that Judy forced me to apply to. They offered me a job doing counseling.  It paid better than anything I had since the Army and even had, get this, tuition assistance and medical benefits.   Now we still had some more rough times but somehow God got us through this incredibly difficult but formative time in our lives.  I think that She was ensuring that I would be able to care for those going through similar circumstances and never let me forget Her care and assistance as I slogged my way through seminary.  The weird thing about seminary was that this independent evangelical guy came out on the Anglican and Catholic side of life.  I had my Baptist and Assembly of God friends ask me if I was a “closet Catholic or Anglican.” Believe me, that was not a cool thing to be asked in a Southern Baptist Seminary that was getting hit hard by a Fundamentalist assault.

I finished seminary and was ordained in 1992, at which time I also became a National Guard Chaplain.  I did a Clinical Pastoral Education Residency at Parkland Hospital in Dallas from 1993-94.  That was an experience that helped me continue my education, formation and discernment at I continued to track in this Anglican-Catholic manner.  On top of this Judy became Catholic in 1994 and we moved to West Virginia where I took my first post CPE Chaplain job. This was a contract position at a hospital in the town where my parents were from and where my both of my grand mothers lived.  Unfortunately I worked bad hours and spent weekends on call at the hospital or with the National Guard or Reserves.  I had no fellowship, pretty much no life outside the hospital.  I was isolated and I knew that I did not fit in many of the churches in the town.  At a chaplain conference I met a Priest from a Anglican “Continuing Church” who told me about the Charismatic Episcopal Church in 1995.  My friend told me that he thought that it would be a good place for me.  I met with the local bishop and in July 1996 I was ordained as a Priest.  It should have been September, but the time-line was moved forward when I was mobilized for the Bosnia operation.  The day before my ordination my bishop made a comment to me.  He said that this was no longer about simply “doing ministry.”  He said it was about a Sacramental Grace that was ontological in nature.   In other words, it was something that God would do to change me in that Sacrament.

When I was mobilized I lost my contract job.  Thankfully, the Army managed to find ways to keep me employed as a base chaplain when I returned from Europe. This let to a string of events which eventually led me to the Navy Chaplain Corps.  I know that my call is that of a Priest.  That now is my identity, though I function as a Chaplain within that vocation.  I have been blessed in every assignment with wonderful people and almost in every place a supportive atmosphere.  My long military and Chaplain experience has helped me not screw up a lot since coming to the Navy.  I had made plenty of mistakes in the Army. The cool thing is that like changing services is like going from the National League to the American League in mid-season. All of your stats start over.  Kind of like the Bible says, “old things passed away, behold all things become new.”

I am a proud journeyman. I love what I do and the people that I work with and serve.  At the same time one day I will retire from the Navy.  I am sure that the Deity Herself will patently guide me into whatever She has for me as a Priest in her Church. I cannot imagine anything else.  I love being a mentor to young people, especially young ministers and seminarians.  If I have my way I hope to be serving as a Priest until the day that I’m really finished.  This is not about preaching, it is about serving God’s people, in Word and in Sacrament in whatever capacity the church decides to use me until I am done. I figure that since Jesus and the Holy Spirit and a whole lot of persistence  have gotten me this far that it must be right.

I hope that this somewhat explains my call and vocation as a Priest.  It has been to use the words of Jerry Garcia: “A long strange trip.”

Peace, Steve+

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