Friends, I want to share with you some new developments in my life and ministry. Those who know me well know that this has been a year of unexpected transitions. As one avenue of ministry which I had pursued for years closed, a multitude of new and exciting prospects for discernment and service opened up, most especially the vocation of professional hospital chaplaincy which, three months into my residency, is proving to be a life-changingly, life-givingly awesome experience.
Since returning to Lexington, Kentucky in September, I’ve had the privilege of worshiping with congregations of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), and I’ve been warmly welcomed by them, finding in their people and pastors a community in which both my wounds and my gifts are valued. After the first of the year, I will be placing membership with one of their congregations here in Lexington, and will be exploring the possibility of having my ministry recognized and endorsed by this fellowship.
I know this will surprise, disappoint, and perhaps even hurt some of my dear brothers and sisters in Christ in the Roman Catholic Church, with whom I’ve worshiped for the last twenty years. Please know that I don’t at all repudiate the good people I’ve been blessed to know as a Roman Catholic, the experiences I’ve had by your side, nor the beauty and validity of Roman Catholicism as an expression of the Christian faith. I am by no means jumping into polemics mode—a mistake I made when I made a similar transition 20 years ago and for which I am deeply ashamed—or becoming anti-Catholic. Every aspect of me has been deeply, irrevocably, and positively formed by the gift of twenty years as a Roman Catholic Christian. I look forward to many future opportunities to worship with Catholic people and to labor alongside you as, together inspired by the witness of the gospel, we work for the common good. I am especially excited to continue in collaboration with the Emmaus Farm, an intentionally and explicitly Catholic social outreach program in Eastern Kentucky. As St. John Paul II celebrated, “in the spirit of the Sermon on the Mount, Christians of one confession no longer consider other Christians as enemies or strangers but see them as brothers and sisters.” So, I hope, we remain.
A lifetime and a half would not suffice to express my gratitude to the people and many priests in the Dioceses of Joliet and Lexington, to the people of St. Mary’s Church (Minooka), St. Patrick’s Church (Joliet), St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church (Lexington), St. Joseph Church (Winchester), to the late Bishop Joseph Imesch, to the late Mrs. Claudia Krause, to Archbishop Peter Sartain, Bishop Ronald Gainer, to the late Fathers Frank Vitus and Mark Fracaro, to Fathers John Regan, Josh Miller, Mike Powell, and Frank Brawner, to Mrs. Mary Lou Schuster, to Conception Seminary College, to my professors and spiritual director at Saint Meinrad Seminary, to Dr. Melanie-Prejean Sullivan and Chaplain Linda Bieker, to Dr. Christopher Anadale and Sarah George, to all of those who have been brother seminarians and the many who are now brothers in ministry, for their unfailing support, which has enriched me to my very core for two decades.
Heartfelt thanks are also owed to three Disciples ministers: my first CPE supervisor Ken McCullough, my once and future CPE supervisor Donald Chase, and my future pastor, Jeff Sames.
This transition is not a repudiation, but rather simply what I have discerned to be the best way for me to move forward in living out my Christian identity and my call to ministry—both of which predate my affiliation with Rome by years—in a way that is both personally healthy and authentic.
The Disciples emerged from the 19th century Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement, with which my family has been affiliated since at least the 1870’s, and share common roots with the churches of Christ, the fellowship in which I was blessed to be raised and among whom I first obeyed the gospel and ministered. Today’s Disciples generally identify as part of the progressive Protestant Christian mainline. Among Disciples’ hallmarks today are welcoming all to the Lord’s table in Eucharist, respecting freedom of thought and conscience, respect for the great traditions of Christian history without binding any opinion on the conscience of others, racial and gender equality, and the welcoming of men and women both into ordained ministry. May God who has begun this good work in them—no, in us—bring it to fulfillment.