My journey with the Church can be described in drag jargon: it’s been a “hot mess.”
I launched from the surface of the United Methodist Church when it became clear that it wasn’t home. To where, I knew not; but after a brief stopover as an inquirer into the Eastern Orthdox church, I found myself sitting in an Episcopal cathedral at the beginning of Advent, singing the comforting Advent hymns of my childhood. And I received the Eucharist for the first time in months after a what had been traumatic season. In a flash my identity in Christ, my being raised with Christ, and my calling to ministry came rushing back to me in a phoenix’s blast of heat and light.
I fell into orbit–a long, slow, halting one, one in which I was even confirmed in the Episcopal Church, but one that at the same time passed through a nebula of “Old Catholicism” that somehow entranced me into lingering there, observing the ways in which men and women whom had fallen “outside the lines” of the traditional Church were living out their vocations and doing ministry in ways that resonated with me. I said, “I want that.” And it was made available.
But I have a sense that I was sailing along too quickly–the gravity of the Church was strong enough to slow me down, to make me consider whether I was on the right trajectory at all, but it wasn’t enough to get me to land. And so faithful to this idea of “stability” soldiered forth, receiving holy orders in the Old Catholic tradition, full of hope and salt and jejune energy to do work along the margins and live out my vocation. The time I’ve spent living out this path has been a grace beyond measure.
Some people have asked me, “why’d you go Old Catholic instead of Episcopalian?” Well, it’s not because I have any deal-breaking critique of the Episcopal Church. I adore the Episcopal Church. I sought orders in the Old Catholic tradition simply because I chose to pursue that path, because it was where I sensed God calling me. And sometimes one misfires and goes wildly off the rails.
In hindsight, I had to take this detour for my own formation and integration. While working through the formation process under my former bishop I took the steps I needed in order to attend to my spiritual, emotional, and physical needs. I bit the bullet and began going to therapy. I learned and practiced emotional stability and self-compassion. I’m a more whole person because of this stopover in my journey–simply because my former bishop required that I be good to myself.
What’s more, the people I have met and with whom I’ve walked out my baptismal promises during this chapter of my life have been some of the most consistently gracious, beautiful, and God-bearing people I’ve ever had the privilege of walking alongside. A small community of people peppered throughout the world came together to do something beautiful, and they have (and continue to do so). They have asked and expected much of me. And they have been faithful.
The love shown by this constellation of people makes recent events that much more challenging. At the beginning of December a number of events unfolded that knocked me off of this path, on which I had trying to walk faithfully and gingerly. The tradition I was a part of had its challenges, but it had its benefits as well–but because of the sudden resignation of the leadership, I found myself without guidance, structure, or accountability–as did everyone else in our fledgling jurisdiction. And that’s a tough place to be for a fresh priest. What’s more frustrating is that this isn’t the first time this has happened during my Old Catholic journey. But the gravity of love shown by those people whom I spoke about before has been a stabilizing force all the same for everyone involved.
In the days following it occurred to me: maybe it’s time to close this particular chapter, grateful and wiser. And so I’ve sat with that thought for several months now.
At this moment I’m taking my lunch break amid a stack of notes for work that I’m slowly piecing my way through, thankful. Thankful for a fantastic job in a rewarding field. Thankful for an amazing cheesesteak from the cafe across the street. Thankful for the gravity of love. Thankful for this transformative time in a hybrid tradition–one of catholic sacramental imagination and free-church go-getter-osity, if such a thing could be pulled out of the ether and written down.
Questions race about like so many post-it notes (you should see the desk of a social worker)–questions about my next steps, my own path of living out my vocation, about what God requires of this clay vessel whom God has made with such a story and such a family and such an identity. This clay vessel needs to be placed on a shelf and put to service in a healthy household that’s not going to overload the dishwasher or carelessly drop him to the floor.
I’ve been worshipping and serving alongside a beautiful Episcopal community near my parents’ house in suburbia for over a year now. I’ve had the benefit of building a friendship with a rector who has been following my journey, cheering me on, and consistently urging me to be true to my calling as I’ve been organizing a new eucharistic community. On Christmas Eve, my rector told me to pray about “who [my] people are,” go find them, and live in community with them.
I think I’ve found my people, and I think they’re Episcopalians. All the while I’m guided by the gravity of love that has launched me (as gravity can do) from one community of the baptized to another.
I’m having a conversation with folks from the Diocese of Virginia and with my rector about entering the discernment process for ministry in the Episcopal Church. A slow, smoldering neurosis burns down somewhere deep within me, because I don’t know what the barrage of committees to come will think of my story, or how they’ll react, but that is the danger of opening the deep places of oneself up for assaying and discernment in community. All the same, telling stories and living stories in community is what we are called to do as the baptized. My only intention at this point is to ask people to help me listen to God’s calling; Richmond seems prepared to do that. (and that’s a Very Good Thing).
I don’t know what the next chapter holds for me, or for my ministry, or for anything really, but I know that there will always be a Table and a gracious Host who makes himself available to all of his friends, wherever they are in their story-telling journey. And that is comfort, and light.