Monday, December 25, 2006

Christmas Midnight Mass Homily

Epistle: Titus 2:11-14 Gospel: Luke 2:1-14

One of the most interesting devotions ever to develop within Catholicism is the Infant of Prague. This model [at this point, I placed a particularly garish example of one on the altar], rescued by a friend from the garbage where grandchildren of a recently deceased devout grandmother had discarded a wealth of devotional items, has the cope painted on, but some models are designed so that one can make cloth copes in the colors of the different liturgical seasons, and change them. Sort of a “dress-up doll” for priests! Around its neck, I have the Infant of Prague chaplet.

The original statue, in a convent in Prague, was damaged in a war, so that the hands were destroyed, and in the seventeenth century, when the church’s priest was praying, he heard a voice say to him, "Have pity on Me and I will have pity on you. Give Me My hands and I will give you peace. The more you honor Me, the more I will bless you." He repaired the hands, and various miracles occurred, and the devotion to the Infant of Prague was born.

We hear, in today’s epistle, that “the grace of God has appeared, offering salvation to all people”. The grace of God appeared in the birth of Jesus Christ, the Eternal Word of God who took on humanity so that we human beings might take on divinity, restoring the image of God in which we were created, but which has been broken through sin.

And this miraculous birth, which took place through the grace of God, could only take place with Mary’s cooperation, through her saying “yes” to the divine call, communicated by the angel Gabriel.

Christ’s Incarnation was not just an event that took place 2,000 years ago, however. It is continued in our lives as Christians each time we, like Mary, say “yes” to God’s call to us in our daily life. Christ is born in the stable of our mundane, ordinary lives, whenever we show love to one another, whenever we feed the hungry or clothe the naked, whenever we bring about peace and justice in our small part of the world.

The Infant Christ says to us today “Give Me My hands, and I will give you peace.” The call is not to repair the hands on a broken statue – the call is to offer our own hands to Christ, to do His work today. So when you receive the Infant Christ in Holy Communion in a few moments, offer Him your hands – and whenever you see a statue of the Infant of Prague, or the figure of the Infant in a crèche – give Him your hands. Christ will give you the blessing of peace. Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 11, 2006

Unity in the Independent Sacramental Movement

There has been a lot of talk lately within the Independent Sacramental Movement about "unity", and I would like to throw in my two cents.

First, some people look at our movement and see the lack of a central organization controlling things and see disunity. They see a lack of neatly organized regional dioceses, with only one bishop per region and only one diocese per region, and see disunity. They see small worshipping communities meeting in homes or rented space, clergy who must work at a secular job to make money, and see a failed model of church.

I look at the same things and see something different. First, having been in both the Episcopal and Roman Catholic denominations, I know that mainstream churches have a lot less unity than many realize. The Episcopal Church's struggles have occurred in the newspapers, with splits, and constant fighting, and lawsuits over property. While the structure of the Roman Catholic denomination allows it to enforce a greater degree of uniformity, having been in both a traditionalist parish and a liberal order, I know that there is a lot of hostility and resentment between liberals and conservatives, traditionalists and modernists, and there are different camps within that denomination that have as little to do with one another as possible, each seeing itself as the authentic expression of Roman Catholicism.

When I look at our movement, I see a movement that empowered African Americans through the consecration of George McGuire and the establishment of the African Orthodox Church at a time when they were relegated to second class in mainstream denominations. I see a movement that consecrated a woman as bishop eight decades before the Episcopalians got around to it. I see a movement that reached out to gay people in 1946, long before any other denomination would touch us with a ten-foot pole. I see a movement that welcomed people attached to the Tridentine Mass and the 1928 Book of Common Prayer when they were persecuted by the Roman Catholic and Episcopal denominations.

None of this would have been possible had we had a centralized authority like the Roman or Anglican denominations.

When I look at our movement, I see a multitude of small, close-knit communities where the faith of Christ is practiced by committed Christians, with the church defined by networks of relationships and not by accidents of geography. I see a movement where men and women are so committed to the ordained ministry that they exercise it without a paycheck, and a church willing to accept the gifts of those rejected by other churches. I see a movement that is committed to inclusion. And while I do see some problem clergy and some troubled communities, I've seen those in the Episcopal and Roman Catholic denominations as well. (I'm not picking on these two denominations in this post, by the way, it's just that most of those in our movement seem to have been in one or the other or both of these two denominations, and they are the denominations, along with the Eastern Orthodox, that our movement most often compares itself to, and I don't know the Eastern Orthodox church well enough to comment, though I suspect it has the same problems as all other churches, since its members are human beings.) I'm reminded of Jesus' parable of the wheat and the tares -- the owner of the field counsels against pulling up the tares, for fear of also destroying some of the wheat.

My vision of unity does not involve reducing the number of jurisdictions, or restricting the creation of new ones, or of attempting to form some sort of grand megajurisdction. Rather, I would like to see jurisdictions get to know one another (and take the time to do that well before moving on to other steps). I would like to see us regard ourselves as a family, much as churches with congregational polity do, and work collaboratively where possible. For example, when I receive inquiries from those interested in ordination, if I think there is another jurisdiction they might fit in better with, I refer them. Local interjurisdictional groups can meet together for fellowship. There can be national gatherings for fellowship and worship (and hopefully nothing else).

However, I am extremely suspicious of efforts to create institutions beyond the jurisdictional level. First, such institutions divert energy and resources away from what ought to be our first priority, which is the creation and sustenance of local parish communities. Second, they will inevitably attempt to control the jurisdictions, which will not work, and which will only create more animosity. Problem jurisdictions will always be with us, interjurisdictional efforts to control them won't work, and the efforts to do so would be better expended on creating healthy commuities. Like the wheat and the tares, let God deal with sorting out which is which. If you see a jurisdiction that seems unhealthy, stay away, but pray for them, and rather than attacking them, build up your own.

So I hope that the current move for unity will achieve REAL unity, that based on genuine community and real relationships, and not the creation of yet another organization that, like all its predecessors in our movement, will fail and only divert efforts and energy from building church.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Prayer in Response to Act of Hatred

The Unitarian Universalist Church of Delaware County ( has provided a very warm welcome to my parish, St. Mary of Grace Independent Catholic Church ( -- we have been meeting in their church since May. As a welcoming congregation, they fly a rainbow flag in front of the church as a sign of their embrace of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community. Unfortunately, their flag was stolen, vandalized, and returned. In response, the Unitarian Universalist church had a series of candlelight vigils culminating in a beautiful service held last Tuesday night. Their minister gave a beautiful reflection: I offered a prayer, and Fr. Joseph offered a scripture reading. Below is the prayer I offered:

Loving God, We adore you, the Source of all life and the giver of life in all of its diversity. You developed the lavish beauty of creation over the ages through the prism of evolution. Creator of pregnant seahorse fathers, the duck-billed platypus, and gay penguins, You placed the rainbow across the sky as a sign of the covenant between humanity and the Divine, reflecting the Light of the Divine in many colors.

We come to you this evening broken and saddened. We are angry at the defilement of sacred symbol and the attack on principles we hold dear. We are saddened by the demonstration of hatred in our midst. We are frustrated that our efforts have not borne more fruit.

We ask you to heal us and our entire community. Let us not hate those who have perpetrated this act of malice, but inspire us to pray for their healing, too. Let us not be discouraged from our work to bring forward the Beloved Community, but let us be strengthened for even greater service.

We pray for special blessings on all of your lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender servants. Hasten the day when all who act in your name will fully welcome them into their embrace. Heal the hardened hearts of officials who refuse to allow gay and lesbian couples to marry. Strengthen, comfort, and uphold all young people struggling with their sexual orientation or gender identity, and be with us as we create a society in which all are welcomed as they were created to be. Lead us to live in love and renew us in our desire and work to eliminate racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, war, and poverty from our midst.

And as we are being healed of our pain this night, let us not forget to be grateful for the many blessings with which you have enriched our lives. Strengthen us for service to You and to creation.

And let us say, Amen.

Monday, October 16, 2006

I Hope to Blog More Often

I hope to start blogging on a more regular basis. I moved to my new home, a condominium in a rather sketchy neighborhood that is nevertheless within walking distance of downtown Philadelphia, in mid-July. Because of problems with various Internet providers being rather lackadaisical in setting up service, I only reconnected with the Internet at home last Saturday.

The new place is great. I have three bedrooms -- one is my bedroom, one is the library/guestroom, and the third is the chapel, where we sing Vespers together on Wednesdays (see September post below) and where I offer Mass and the Office the rest of the week.

I've always had a corner devoted to icons and prayer, since I was in Divinity School way back in the early 1990's. Since becoming involved in the independent sacramental movement, I have had an altar set up. However, this is the first time I have been able to devote a whole room (albeit a rather small one . . . ) to being a place set apart for prayer.

Once I figure out how, perhaps I will post pictures.

Thursday, September 07, 2006


The Augustinians of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and St. Mary of Grace Independent Catholic Church have started praying Vespers every Wednesday evening in the oratory in my apartment, followed by dinner at a local restaurant (so far an Italian restaurant down the street with great meal specials). Usually, there are two or three of us. It is quickly making Wednesday night my favorite night of the week. We chant a few Psalms to traditional Gregorian chant tones (we use the St. Dunstan’s Psalter, available from Lancelot Andrewes Press, read a passage of scripture, followed by the Magnificat, Mary’s song of praise (also chanted to traditional Gregorian chant tones from the St. Dunstan’s Psalter with the antiphon from the Monastic Diurnal Noted, also available from Lancelot Andrewes Press). Then, we pray, with the Lord’s Prayer, a collect of the day, and lots of silence with opportunity for individuals to make intercessions or thanksgivings.

This offers an oasis of peace in the midst of what are usually busy weeks. I would encourage others to consider making this a part of their prayer discipline as well – any Christian can lead the office, there is no requirement of ordination, as there is for some liturgical rites. Just invite a friend or two, and pray.

The Shame of Not Being Who We Aren't

I believe that one of the biggest challenges the independent sacramental movement faces is the shame many feel at our perceived failures because we don’t replicate the mainstream churches in certain ways. Here is a list of some of those ways in which we differ from mainstream churches and about which I have witnessed much embarrassment among independent sacramentalists:
· Tiny congregations
· Lack of a centralized unifying organization
· Very high proportion of membership who are ordained
· Unpaid clergy
· Lack of recognition by the “real” church, whoever that may be (for some, it is Rome; for others, it is Constantinople; for many liberals, it is either Utrecht or the Episcopal Church)
· Embarrassment at “bad” clergy

Of course, there are many others, but I do want to address the shame behind these, because I think the shame attached has done far more harm than the conditions about which the shame is felt.

The reason many people end up in the independent movement is because they are unable to be ordained in mainstream churches, especially the Roman Catholic and Episcopal churches, for a variety of reasons. For those from Roman Catholic backgrounds, it is often because of celibacy, sex, or sexual orientation. For those from Episcopal backgrounds, it is often sexual orientation, or because of arbitrary and abusive ordination processes that exist in most dioceses (especially liberal ones), or because someone deviates from the norm of the ideal priest in some way, or because of going against the prevailing trends. (For example, in my early 20’s, the trend in most dioceses was to discourage young aspirants to ordination, because the ideal was someone with lots of life experience, but then in my 30’s, the trend was to encourage those in their early 20’s as being more energetic.) Both the Roman Catholic and Episcopal denominations have many good, solid clergy doing great work, and both denominations have many clergy who never, ever should have been ordained – in fact, that is true of every denomination, because despite the best efforts of church bureaucrats of all persuasions, there is no perfect ordination process. Heck, JESUS made Judas Iscariot an apostle! And so many who end up in the independent world, where it is much easier to be ordained, are good people whose gifts were spurned out of human sinfulness. Many others are nutcases who were rightly turned down. In other words, we are EXACTLY IDENTICAL to every other Christian denomination – and probably every religious denomination of every persuasion – on the planet. We have good, bad, and indifferent clergy.

But because the overwhelming majority of our clergy come from other backgrounds, unfortunately, it is easy for us to view some mainstream denomination as the standard by which we should be judged. And it is easy to forget the problems the mainstream churches face, or else to reduce them to one or two issues – celibacy, women’s ordination, lgbt issues – and ignore the many other problems. I hear a lot of complaints among independents about the lack of standards for our clergy – yet we forget that the very absence of uniform standards is precisely what has allowed us to embrace the ministry of women and lgbt persons who would have been rejected elsewhere (particularly at the time we started embracing them) – and we also forget the harmful clergy who are nevertheless ordained in churches with high standards. We bewail the lack of a unified structure – yet forget all the headaches that they bring in churches that are more centralized (look at all the lawsuits over property in the Episcopal Church, for example) – and the reason we are unable to develop a structure is that, when push comes to shove, we are (rightly, in my opinion) unwilling to surrender the freedom that such a structure would demand.

I believe that, for us as a movement to move forward, we must recover from the “mainstream shame/envy” we feel, realize that we CANNOT and, more importantly, SHOULD NOT try to replicate the mainstream churches, but that instead, we should embrace the positive things about our own identity – including the positive aspects of those things listed above – and be who we are with the greatest degree of integrity and faithfulness possible. We are not here to replace the mainstream church – they have their own mission from God to which they must be faithful – we are here to complement them and provide ministry they are unable to, and that is our mission from God, to which we must be faithful.

I hope to explore some of these differences and the positive gifts they bring in the coming weeks.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Renewing the spirit

Some of my best experiences in the independent sacramental movement have been attending weekend retreats or gatherings where people from different parts of the country gather for a few days of fellowship, liturgy, and often, ordinations. My first such gathering, in 1999, was the yearly meeting of the Friends Catholic Communion. Although not a part of that body at that point, I was ordained a deacon on Saturday afternoon, and two bishops were consecrated the following day. I attended a couple of other gatherings of FCC, the last being a joint retreat with the Catholic Church of the Holy Grail (now the Contemporary Catholic Church) in Richmond, Indiana. In my early years of involvement with this movement, my religious life was divided between worshipping in a local Episcopal church where my involvement in the independent sacramental movement was not known, and practicing a liturgical and sacramental life in solitude at home, a practice which sustained my involvement in various social justice movements. Those weekend gatherings were wonderful because they supplied me with almost my only experience of community within this movement, apart from internet connections. (My experience is rather common, because many are ordained in our movement for a solitary liturgical life combined with a ministry in the world that is non-parochial, and many of these worship in mainstream churches who do not recognize their ordination.)

Since moving to Philadelphia, I have come to a much more integrated practice, since I am now co-pastor of an independent sacramental parish and therefore part of a small local community. Also, before moving, I did help organize an informal group of independent sacramentalists in New York who meet roughly quarterly for dinner and fellowship, and have continued to participate even after the move. And, while it is less than ideal, I have forged many close friendships with fellow independent sacramentalists by email.

Nevertheless, this past weekend, I had a MARVELOUS time attending the retreat of the Augustinians of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, to which was added an ad hoc gathering of Independent Catholic Christian Church clergy, including an ordination. It reaffirmed my strong belief that this is that part of Christ’s church to which God has called me (it’s not for everyone – our movement complements the more mainstream denominations in the one body of Christ). There were eight of us present for the retreat.

The liturgies were very powerful. Before the retreat actually began, I conferred the subdiaconate on Bryan Marabanian in a simple mass in the chapel. We prayed lauds and vespers each morning and evening, Friday evening through Sunday morning. John Bartholomew Scott was received as a novice on Saturday night. Friday night, we had a compline service of reconciliation, with Fr. Joseph Menna, Prior General of the AIHM and myself available to hear confessions, an oblate bishop anointing, and the giving of general absolution. We had a spontaneous compline on Saturday night that was mostly silence and Taize chant. This singing was quite beautiful – we were an all-male group (by happenstance, not by design, as both groups are open to women), and I added bass lines wherever I could.

Saturday morning, we had a beautiful mass for the ordination of Bryan to the diaconate. Several of us had tears in our eyes at different points. We did a contemporary setting of the Litany of Saints (Becker), and I included a verse with Independent Catholic saints. I could palpably feel their presence with us. The entire mass was very moving. This was the first time I have conferred major orders (not counting being a co-consecrator at episcopal consecrations), and it was a very powerful experience. I truly believe the Holy Spirit was present. Sunday morning, we had another beautiful mass for the renewal of Fr. Joseph's vows. His homily beautifully summed up the weekend.

Fr. Joseph led most of the sessions, which were focused on the Myers Briggs test, which everyone had taken, based on Jungian archetypes, and the implications for spirituality and for working together as church. The information was very helpful, and the exercises we did facilitated getting to know one another. The highlight was perhaps the assignment to determine the Jungian spirituality type (using the two middle polarities of the Myers Briggs) of the four main characters of the Golden Girls and Star Trek – one of the groups also analyzed Will & Grace! I also led a session on Independent Catholic history on Saturday evening, and I will be writing up the talk for an article.

The fellowship was wonderful. Old friendships were strengthened, and new ones were forged. Sadly, for me, this was very much at the expense of getting good nights’ sleep, and I ended up not going to work on Monday to recover! One of the retreatants received word late Saturday night that his sister had died. We supported him in prayer and friendship the rest of the retreat.

Fr. Seraphim McCune, an ICCC priest from Texas, although not able to be present, graciously gave a beautiful wooden monstrance he made to the Order of Augustinians of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

I very much look forward to future retreats as a way to renew the spirit – and I urge others in this movement to attend such gatherings whenever possible.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

On the Other Hand

Just to clarify what I said in the previous post – there is no perfect church on earth. Joining ANY church at all (my own included) means accepting a certain set of strengths and weaknesses.

Also, I do believe in the power of prayer.

So, it is quite possible for a progressive Christian to feel called by God to be a Roman Catholic despite that denomination’s flaws, and there are certainly many, many holy people and many, many wonderful communities within it. Conversely, a conservative may be called to be in a more liberal denomination.

However – and this is my point – to do this requires ACCEPTING the flaws of that community. Basically, one must approach one’s church membership with the attitude of the Serenity Prayer – “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference”. The point of the previous post is that the women recently ordained are trying to change things they cannot change, and are expending a lot of wasted effort in the process.

Ecclesiological fantasies – on the “Roman” Catholic Womenpriests

There are a number of Roman Catholic women who are being ordained by various bishops (most, perhaps all, of whom are, in fact, Independent bishops and not Roman) who are claiming to be “Roman” Catholic priests. In fact, this is not the case. The Roman Catholic denomination – like all organized religious groups, from fundamentalist churches to pagan covens – is governed by a set of rules, in this case, its Code of Canon Law. That Code is quite explicit in stating that only baptized males may “validly” be ordained, and that those who are ordained (or “attempt” to be ordained, in the case of ordinations Rome views as invalid) outside of the Roman Catholic or Eastern Catholic (in communion with the pope) denominational structures are automatically excommunicated. Furthermore, it is quite explicit that only the pope can promulgate changes to the rules, and since the pope appoints the cardinals who in turn elect the pope, it is quite accurate to say that no Roman Catholic who has not attained the rank of cardinal has any real say in the governance of the denomination.

I have been rather offended at these women’s claims to be the first “female Catholic priests”, since they ignore the history of both Independent Catholic and Anglican women priests. Furthermore, I think that they are deluding themselves in thinking that they can have a real effect in bringing about change, given the structure of their denomination. Progressives within the Roman Catholic denomination can chant “we are the church” all they want, but at the end of the day, the pope appoints the bishops, and the bishop appoint the male priests to serve in each parish, with no decision-making authority given to any laypeople.

For pointing all of this out in an online discussion, I have been attacked because this is “bad ecclesiology”. I happen to agree that it is horrendous ecclesiology, but that does not change the simple fact that it is the ecclesiology of the Roman Catholic denomination, for better or worse, and pretending that it is not because one does not want it to be does not change that fact one iota.

I happen to believe that, rather than hit one’s head against a brick wall over and over again is counterproductive. Much better for people who disagree with Rome’s ecclesiology to leave and join and help build churches they can believe in. (The same could be said for those in many other denominations, even those with more democratic structure, but I’ll leave making the Anglicans and Protestants angry for another day.) I am not impugning these women’s call to ministry, but far better for them to find communities willing to accept their gifts.

New Home

I have moved, and the process of moving has disrupted this blog -- I hope to do better.

My new home is great -- it is the first time in a very long time that I have had enough space. I even have a room set aside as a chapel. I will have to purchase some furniture (such as a day bed for the guestroom), and have a couple of bookcases to put together (IKEA), but I am very close to having a home that really supports me and my work. I've even had a couple over for wedding preparation -- not something that could happen in the old place!

The only glitches so far have been in the area of communications -- phone (I've been forced to get a cellphone), internet, and mail forwarding.

Nonetheless, I hope to blog more frequently from now on.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Disappointments at Federal Debate on Same-sex Marriage

I am utterly repulsed by the bigotry and hatred being spewed by those pushing for an amendment banning same-sex marriage (and, Senator Brownback, yes, those who oppose same-sex marriage ARE by definition bigots ["bigot - one who is strongly partial to one's own group, religion, race, or politics and is intolerant of those who differ"], and your misuse of this word is probably a violation of the "English only" law for which you voted, and no, President Bush, you CANNOT " treat [every American] with tolerance, respect and dignity" in a debate about denying a class of Americans access to marriage -- the debate ITSELF is intolerant, disrespectful, and a denial of basic human dignity.) Anyone who votes for such a reprehensible act of bigotry and hatred forever loses the ability to get my vote for any office.

But, sadly, as always, I am much more disappointed by our "friends" and "advocates" in this debate. First, I am tired of the "President Bush is doing this to draw attention from the IMPORTANT issues facing this country, blah blah blah". Yes, I understand that he is trying to divert attention from his monumental incompetence and failure. However, same-sex marriage is a very important issue, and to imply or explicitly state that it is not is an insult to every binational couple cruelly separated by our immigration police, every gay or lesbian person refused admittance to the hospital room of their dying lover, every widowed same-sex spouse refused a place at the funeral. Furthermore, I am getting to the point of wanting to vomit everytime I hear one of our "friends" get up to say "I believe marriage is between a man and a woman, but I oppose this amendment."


I will vote for an anti-marriage, but anti-amendment (whether pro-civil union, pro-domestic partnership, or whatever) as the lesser of two evils, but never again will I give a penny to or lift a finger for any candidate who does not publicly and without hesitation support my right to marry the man of my choice. (Nor will a penny of my money ever go in the offering plate of any church that does not perform same-sex marriages, and "holy unions" and "commitment ceremonies" don't count!)

Lobbying in Harrisburg

I had the privilege of speaking at a press conference and lobbying a number of state legislators in Harrisburg against the anti-gay constitutional amendment being proposed for the state constitution. This was part of the efforts of the new Faith Coalition for PA Families (more info here:, an interfaith coalition of clergy and faith communities who have come together to oppose this mean-spirited, bigoted attack on lgbt families. Sadly, the legislator with whom I and others talked the most (by which I mean we started sentences which he interrupted) is completely clueless on this issue. Kudos to Stacey Sobel of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Civil Rights, the Rev. Karla Fleshman, pastor of Imago Dei MCC, and the Rev. Nadine Sullivan for doing such a wonderful job. I had the privilege of riding up with Rev. Karla and lobbying with her and Rev. Nadine.

A New Home

On a personal note, I am delighted to announce that I have decided to purchase a small three-bedroom condo in walking distance of Center City, Philadelphia. It is closer to work than my current place, and I will have three times the room - including a guest room/room for my mother if she needs it after my father dies and a chapel. Also, this being the 35th place I've lived in my 39 years, I am looking forward to owning and occupying a home for several decades to come.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Blogging for LGBT Families

As Christians, we are called to emulate the love of Christ in all of our relationships. Sadly, throughout history, Christians and the various churches have perverted that love into hatred. Anti-Semitism has been described as the “original sin” of Christianity, and Christians have been guilty of persecuting and killing Jews throughout history, and only recently have some Christians begun to come to terms with this bloody legacy. In the nineteenth-century United States, most large Christian denominations split over the issue of slavery – the Methodists, the Presbyterians, the Baptists (the Southern Baptist Convention still exists as a result of this division), with the southern branches of the denominations defending the institution as being biblically mandated. The Southern Baptist Convention, the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, and the Presbyterian Church in the US came into being defending a system in which “family values” led to slaveholders raping their female slaves and refusing to recognize their offspring, married couples (whose marriage was not recognized by the state) being split up so one could be sold to a new owner thousands of miles away, and slaves being beaten to death. To this day, many denominations refuse to believe that women are full and equal Christians, worthy of every office in the church to which a man may be ordained.

Today, if we listen to evangelicals, Mormons, and conservative Roman Catholics, defending “family values” means passing legislation to deny legal recognition to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender families. Once again, the “good news” of the gospel has been perverted into very “bad news” for a group of people that some Christians have decided are evil. Supposedly, such laws protect the “sanctity of marriage”, but I cannot see how denying loving partners who have been together for decades the opportunity for a visit in a hospital advances such “sanctity”. I cannot see how invalidating a will on a technicality to give the widowed gay partner’s property to second cousins of the deceased who would have nothing to do with him in his lifetime constitutes “family values”. And I am ashamed and embarrassed to call myself an American when binational gay couples are forced to emigrate to other countries to be together because they are not recognized as a family because a body of adulterers, divorces, and thieves (Congress) pass a so-called “Defense of Marriage” act to deny them recognition. It makes my blood boil to see my fellow Christians so pervert the gospel that they believe persecuting a hated minority somehow fulfills Christ’s command.

Authentic love, love which reflects the profound love of the Persons of the Trinity for one another and for creation and the self-giving love of Jesus Christ, is love that causes a person to commit their lives to another. I have seen this love in countless gay and lesbian families that I have met. My friends Robert and Michael, who have been together 28 years. My friends Gus and Elmer, who have been together for 60. The man I met in Albany, testifying in favor of a bill to legalize same-sex marriage, who loved his children so much that he had their pictures blown up to posters to take to the hearing. The gay couple who, like many others, took in children with AIDS who had nowhere else to go. The many gay and lesbian couples who will go to great lengths to be allowed to raise children in their very loving homes – and who take in children who can’t be placed in other homes. The fifteen gay and lesbian couples at whose weddings I have been privileged to officiate. This heroic love is exactly the sort of love that Jesus sanctified at his first miracle at the wedding in Cana – and if he walked this earth in a body of flesh today, he would be changing water into champagne at same-sex weddings.

Jesus was persecuted by the religious leaders of his day – sadly, the majority of the religious leaders who claim his legacy instead turn to persecute others in his name.

So, on this day devoted to blogging for LGBT Families, I want to draw attention to the fact that there are those of us who bear the name of Christ who support full equality – who marry same-sex couples, who rejoice at baptizing their children, and who speak out against the campaign of hate currently being waged against these families today. I want to salute the LGBT parents who are doing such a splendid job of raising loving children. And I want to call on everyone who reads this to call your legislators to oppose any tampering with the constitution to deny these families rights, and tell them you support full equality, including marriage.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Religious liberty under attack in USA

Despite the fact that the First Amendment specifically prohibits both the establishment of a particular religion and guarantees the free exercise of religion, certain religious sects are attempting, with the help of anti-liberty politicians, to mandate that all Americans follow the teachings of those sects in their private lives. President Bush and many others are pushing the so-called "Marriage Protection Amendement" which would mandate that only heterosexual marriages be legally recognized in the United States, despite the fact that numerous religious groups do recognize same-sex marriage, including Reform and Reconstructionist Judaism, Unitarian Universalism, Ethical Culture, the United Church of Christ, the Metropolitan Community Church, many Independent Catholics (including the Independent Catholic Christian Church of which I am a part), and many Quakers, among others. Many states have already passed such amendments to their state constitutions, and efforts are underway in others.

Call your legislators today and tell them you oppose this assault on religious liberty in this country!

Friday, May 26, 2006

Blogging for LGBT Families Day: June 1, 2006

This blog will participate in Blogging for LGBT Famillies Day on June 1 to show my unconditional and absolute support for lgbt families and fervent support for same-sex civil and religious marriage. The Independent Catholic Christian Church views opposite-sex and same-sex marriages as equally sacramentally valid, and I am happy to have officiated at 15 same-sex weddings. I urge other bloggers to participate as well. For more information, see, Mombian: Sustenance for Lesbian Moms, whose idea it is and who is coordinating the effort.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

My Remarks at Equality Forum

I was a member of the Religion Colloquy panel for Equality Forum in Philadelphia on May 2. Here is the text of my remarks. (Of course, I don't read my addresses, and so this is only an approximation -- I know I added several off-the-cuff humorous remarks that got laughs.)

"Good evening.

I am the presiding bishop of the Independent Catholic Christian Church, which is one of a number of small Independent Catholic communities. Independent Catholics began in the Netherlands in the early 1700’s, with apostolic succession provided through the years by renegade Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Eastern Orthodox bishops. The first female bishop, Isabel Wilucka, was consecrated in 1929. On Christmas Day, 1946, Father (later Bishop) George Hyde celebrated Mass for an openly gay congregation at the Cotton Blossom Room, a gay bar in Atlanta – this is one of the first, perhaps the very first, religious service held for openly lgbt folk in modern times. Michael Itkin, a gay activist, was ordained as an Independent Catholic priest in 1957. Our movement is decentralized, and today, many Independent Catholic communities, including ours, are fully inclusive of lgbt folk, offering the sacrament of marriage to same-sex couples and ordination to lgbt people.

I lived in New York until about a year ago, and it was my privilege to serve on the board of Marriage Equality New York for five years and, in the summer of 2004, I was blessed to be able to officiate at same-sex weddings in New Paltz to continue the heroic work of Mayor Jason West. Over the years, I’ve done many same-sex weddings, but no opposite-sex ones – not that there’s anything wrong with that! The first few same-sex weddings were difficult to get through because I kept weeping because of the profound joy I felt. I always enjoy meeting with the couples ahead of time to prepare for the wedding, because I get to hear amazing stories of the extraordinary love two people express toward one another when they share their lives.

Same-sex marriages are an expression of God’s holiness in the world. Let me repeat that – same-sex marriages are an expression of God’s holiness in the world. I once rode to Albany to testify in favor of same-sex marriage before the state legislature with a gay couple who had been together for 60 years, and let me tell you that this was one of the profound religious experiences of my life. Any couple who has maintained their love and commitment for one another in the face of the extreme hatred of gay relationships that has existed in this society for the past half century is manifesting the glory of God in a very tangible way. And the marriages are valid regardless of whether or not the state or any particular religious organization recognizes them, or whether there has been a ceremony – it’s the love and commitment that matter. In the Catholic tradition, every sacrament has a proper minister who is empowered to perform it, and in the case of marriage, the ministers of the sacrament are the couple being married – the priest is only there to witness it on behalf of the church and pronounce God’s blessing on the marriage. Same-sex marriages are valid even when churches refuse to recognize them – because it is the two spouses who are ministering the sacrament of marriage to each other, not the clergy.

Many lgbt rights groups are organizing progressive religious groups to express their support for same-sex marriage to counter the loud voices of anti-gay religious groups and to dispel the notion that to be religious is to be anti-gay. And this is a very important task that must be done in order to gain civil marriage equality, and I am grateful to both our civil rights leaders and pro-gay religious leaders for doing this work. But as a person of faith and as a clergyperson, it is even more important to me that religious communities recognize same-sex marriages for reasons of their own spiritual health. To deny or to fail to recognize God’s glory as expressed in same-sex marriages is to commit HERESY – refusing to accept God’s gift of these marriages to the church and to the world is a SIN. If one cannot recognize God’s work, how can one come to know enough about God to teach the truth about God to others?

God created human beings first and foremost for the purpose of loving – loving one another, loving God, loving God’s creation. God did not create us in order to follow a lot of rules – rules of morality exist not as arbitrary laws handed down from on high – rather, they are the rules that enable us to live more fully human lives and to love more completely. Certainly, there is such a thing as sexual immorality – any time one person abuses another sexually, or any time one person uses another person solely for their own sexual gratification and not as an expression of love toward that person, that act is sexually immoral. But whenever two people commit their lives to one another, and remain as an anchor for the other person through times of joy and sorrow, times of health and sickness, times of success and failure – then, the glory of God is present, and it is a marriage. This is just as true of same-sex couples as it is of opposite-sex couples.

Religious groups that recognize this are bearing witness to the truth about God. Religious groups that do not are giving a distorted view of God. And if they get this part wrong, can we really trust that they’ve gotten everything else right? But praise be to God, an increasing number of religious communities ARE recognizing this work of God – Reform and Reconstructionist Judaism, Unitarian Universalists, Ethical Culture, the United Church of Christ, the Metropolitan Community Church, Quaker meetings, many Independent Catholic churches, and many Pagan communities. And many members of other religious groups, both clergy and laity, are working to get their communities to recognize same-sex marriage as well.

Those of you who are in same-sex marriages, whether or not you’ve had the wedding (and I’d be happy to help you with that, if you’d like!), recognize that every day that you are together, the glory of God is present. Your relationship is a religious act. Let all of us who are part of religious communities who already recognize same-sex marriage work tirelessly for civil marriage as well, and do our part to help same-sex couple recognize the holiness of their marriages. Let those of us in religious communities which do not yet recognize our marriages work for them to recognize this manifestation of God’s glory in their midst. And let all of us work together and pray for the universal recognition of same-sex civil marriages.

Thank you, and God bless you."

Monday, May 22, 2006

My Letter to the Editor about Arlen Specter

I sent the following letter to the Philadelphia Inquirer, which does not seem inclined to publish it:

Senator Arlen Specter states that he is opposed to the proposed federal constitutional amendment that would ban legal recognition of same-sex relationships, but says that it deserves a debate by the full Senate.

As a member of the clergy of a religious denomination that recognizes the equal sacramental validity of same-sex and opposite-sex marriages, I am outraged by his contempt toward the First Amendment by facilitating a debate about imposing the religious doctrines of some groups on those of us who embrace same-sex marriage, including congregations within the Independent Catholic, United Church of Christ, Metropolitan Community Church, Unitarian Universalist, Ethical Culture, and Reform and Reconstructionist Jewish traditions, among others. Just as no religious group is compelled perform a wedding for someone who is divorced or for an interfaith couple, so no religious group would be compelled to perform a wedding for a same-sex couple were same-sex civil marriage the law of the land. However, anti-gay religious groups should return the favor by no longer insisting that their religious doctrine exclusively define civil marriage.

I hope Senator Specter will apologize for his contempt of the Constitution and our nation’s lesbian and gay citizens and not repeat this deplorable act of political cowardice again.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Great ordination service

Last Saturday, I had the great privilege of attending the diaconal ordination of Francesca Fortunato in the Orthodox Catholic Church of America. It was held at Jan Hus Presbyterian Church on the Upper East Side in Manhattan. Bishop Peter Brennan, a wonderful and well-respected bishop in the independent sacramental movement, ordained her. She will serve St. John's Community, led by my friend Archimandrite Lynn Walker of the Eastern Vicariate of the Orthodox Catholic Church of America. It was a great opportunity to connect with old friends and make new ones.

Several of us also met for dinner this past Wednesday. It was a great time for fellowship and getting to know one another better. This is how our independent sacramental movement will be strengthened.

Friday, February 10, 2006

A 2,000 year-old conversation

I want to commend another Independent Catholic blog to everyone’s attention – Even the Devils Believe, by seminarian Chris Tessone. In particular, I want to commend his recent discussion of what it means to be “Catholic” in the context of the Independent Catholic movement, outside the Roman Catholic Church. I agree wholeheartedly with his comments, and want to amplify one of them: universality. Chris states that “Catholic teachings must be comprehensible in the context of the wider world.” I would add that being catholic/universal has a temporal component – that is, to be a Catholic Christian is to recognize that one is part of a two-thousand-year-old continuing Christian tradition, a two-thousand-year-old conversation, and that Christians of all other times and places are somehow mystically united with one in the church, the body of Christ. While this point may seem obvious, it stands in stark contrast to the view of many evangelicals, whose high view of scripture leads them not only to reject the tradition, but also to hold an ahistorical view that sees a pristine scriptural faith that was allegedly practiced by the early church, which then fell by the wayside until it was rediscovered by some modern group (some would say the Protestant Reformation was that point of rediscovery, others would place it at another point), when it began to be practiced exactly as it was in the early church – even though such an identical practice is not actually possible, because we live in a world that has changed. By recognizing the fullness of tradition and the diverse ways in which Christians have responded to contemporary society and its challenges, we are better equipped to face the challenges of our own day. (Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I must acknowledge that there are Catholic fundamentalists as well, both within the Roman church and within the independent movement, whose view of tradition is very similar to that of their evangelical fundamentalist brethren in that they see “tradition” as a rigid set of unchanging propositions that is handed down, rather than as an ongoing conversation that is constantly developing and renewing itself. This view is alien to the best of the Catholic theological tradition, but has gained a foothold in some circles nonetheless.)

My Ecclesiastically Checkered Background

I come from an ecclesiastically checkered background. I will give a brief summary here, so that readers can have some idea of where I am coming from, but this post will only contain the “where” and not the “why”, which I will save for further posts. My father and eight of his brothers are/were ministers in various conservative evangelical Christian denominations (my father was nearly 50 when I was born, so a number of my uncles have passed on to their eternal reward). My father started out Free-Will Baptist (licensed but not ordained), was for a short while a Cumberland Presbyterian minister, and spent most of his career as a Southern Baptist minister except for a few very unfortunate years in the early and mid 1970’s when he pastured a couple of Assemblies of God. Here are the denominational affiliations of my uncles (multiple listings indicates the successive denominations in which they are/were clergy):

Luther – Nazarene
Rupert – Nazarene, then United Methodist
Wilbur – Cumberland Presbyterian
Vernon – Southern Baptist, Cumberland Presbyterian, Presbyterian Church US, United Presbyterian Church –USA (these merged late in his life to form the Presbyterian Church USA)
Marvin – Cumberland Presbyterian
Robert – Cumberland Presbyterian
George -- Nazarene
Ellis – Free-Will Baptist, Cumberland Presbyterian

I was baptized at the age of 5 by my father in a Southern Baptist church, very early for a Baptist (and young enough to be considered an “infant baptism” by the Roman Catholics, which is hilarious given the strong opposition to infant baptism by Baptists). We were members of the Assemblies of God from the time I was 7 until I was 10, when we returned to the Southern Baptist fold. Remarkably, the summer I was 10, I was elected as a messenger (as Southern Baptists call their delegates) to the Southern Baptist Convention from our church (my parents were the other two messengers). A couple of years later, my father left the Southern Baptists again, for non-denominational charismatic churches, and was unemployed for 5 years. We would go to one church for a few months, until my father invented a reason why the pastor was scripturally unsound, and then another. For some reason, we wound up going to a United Methodist church, and I joined when I was 15. A year later, in 1983, I served as a youth lay delegate to the Holston Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.

In my senior year of high school, I started attending the Episcopal Church, and was confirmed as a freshman in college. While in college, I majored in Judaic studies, with a minor in Hebrew. I went to Harvard Divinity School, and while there, was received into the Roman Catholic Church. After working a few years, I entered the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement at Graymoor. After a year and a half, I realized that I could not become a Roman Catholic priest in good conscience, and I left both the Friars and the Roman church to return to the Episcopal Church. Shortly thereafter, I met John Plummer, who gave me my first in-depth introduction to the Independent Catholic movement, which I ultimately embraced, being ordained and ultimately consecrated a bishop, while at the same time continuing to attend my local Episcopal parish. About a year ago, I moved to Philadelphia, where I met two wonderful newly-ordained Independent priests, and became involved in their newly-formed parish, and it has been a joy to collaborate with them in ministry.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Pass the Unity, Please

There have been many attempts over the years to bring “unity” to the Independent Catholic movement. Often, this comes in the form of some proposed ecclesiastical council or synod. This is a slightly edited version of a post I recently made to an Independent Catholic discussion group in response to one of the latest attempts. I was surprised at how many supportive emails I got in response to it.

“Most of the time, when someone proposes some cooperative body, it is an elaborate one, with long lists of doctrinal standards, validity requirements, educational requirements, etc. Quickly, arguments develop over whether or not these are correct, and over who is or is not valid and is or is not properly educated, not to mention the endless arguments over whether or not this or that person has a “real” ministry – not to mention whether or not people like gays or women. (And for the record, I adhere strictly to the Nicene Creed; have the Mathew, Vilatte, Thuc, Duarte Costa, Ofiesh, Cummins, and a bunch of other lines – including an alleged Mary Magdalene line and various Irvingite, Mormon, and made-up Gnostic lines from dead Cathar bishops appearing in visions – even though I am not an Irvingite, a Mormon, a Gnostic, or a dead Cathar bishop; my M.Div. is from Harvard; we ordain women and lgbt folk and marry gay couples; and we had 10 people at Mass on a recent Sunday, including the man who will be confirmed at Easter – thank you very much.) I have witnessed many bitter feuds between people who have never met in person over these and other similar issues.

Now, if a friend of mine went on a first date and announced the next day that they would be flying out to Vegas within the week to get married, I would try to talk sense into my friend by persuading him or her to get to know the person before rushing into anything.

Similarly, I am very wary of agreeing to join some organization run by people who immediately want to issue all sorts of directives about this or that pet peeve of theirs -- but whom I’ve never met. And, yes, I know the independent sacramental movement is like a breakfast cereal – made up of assorted fruits, nuts and flakes – but I am actually a part of this movement because I like it and feel that this is where I can best serve God, and having been in mainstream denominations, I know that they also have their share of problems – so when the people wanting me to join their group which will finally – yes, this time, we’re really going to do it – reform the movement once and for all and unify everyone – are whining about the long laundry list of faults of the movement, I’m rather turned off.

Here is the actual and only way whatever degree of unity that we may achieve this side of the beatific vision – we need to get together for dinner and visit. No checking of consecration certificates or diplomas or doctrinal statements to see who’s worthy to sit at the table. And the conversation won’t be negotiations for some list of standards that everyone agrees to and no one follows – it will be for the purpose of getting to know each other, hearing each other’s stories, actually listening to one another. No elections for Grand High Patriarchal Poobah and Supreme Water Buffalo of All Independent Catholics Everywhere. And then in a couple of months, we need to do it again. And again. And we can visit each other’s churches.

After actually getting to know one another, and becoming a real community – organically, over time – then maybe we will begin to get to the point of achieving some unity. Some of us have begun doing that in New York and Philadelphia, and I hope others will do so as well.”

I am re-posting it here because I remain convinced that any real unity within our movement must begin with getting to know one another, rather than by setting up elaborate structures similar to the now-defunct National Conference of Independent Catholic Bishops or its proposed replacement, the National Conference of Autocephalous Catholic Bishops and Religious Superiors (website:

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Questions I'll Consider

First, for those of you who are not familiar with the Independent Sacramental Movement, the best resources for learning more about it on-line are the woefully out-of-date yet nevertheless quite comprehensive and the new, as-of-yet woefully incomplete, but hopefully expanding daily database For those who want to do more in-depth reading, the best resource is Bishop Dr. John Plummer’s The Many Paths of the Independent Sacramental Movement, available from Amazon: In the interests of full disclosure, I should mention that John is a close friend and my primary consecrator.

Here are some of the questions I intend to explore initially:
1. What is the role of the independent sacramental movement? Is it to form a new denominational structure that replicates that of more mainstream denominations, with church buildings, paid clergy, a lot of denominational infrastructure? Or is it good that we are small, meeting in homes or rented space, with volunteer clergy and lots of small jurisdictional family groupings?
2. Most independent sacramental communities have a much larger proportion of ordained clergy than is the norm in mainstream churches. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Are there other models that might be helpful in coping with this situation? What, exactly, is the role of independent clergy?
3. What is the best way to achieve some degree of unity within this movement?
4. There are many horror stories of people who are inadequately trained becoming bishops; of criminals, cheats, frauds, and other rapscallions being ordained; and the overwhelming majority of people have been in more than one jurisdiction, which causes much grief for those bishops whose clergy leave shortly after ordination. These have led to calls for some sort of reform, some set of standards to be widely adopted in the movement, yet no attempts to establish them have been successful. What would be the best way to establish these standards without sacrificing the freedom which the movement has found so precious?

I invite your comments, as well as suggestions for other issues to be explored.

I also intend to post humorous things amidst the serious discussion.

What this blog is about

The Independent Sacramental Movement, comprised of the Independent Catholic, Old Catholic (non-Utrecht Union), Autocephalous Church, Independent Orthodox, Continuing Anglican, and other movements of Christians holding the apostolic succession of bishops, priests, and deacons while not being in communion with the Roman Catholic Church headed by Pope Benedict XVI (Ratzinger), the Anglican Communion, the Ecumenical Patriarch, the Union of Utrecht, or the ancient non-Calcedonian Eastern churches, is a strange and wonderful little ecclesiastical world. This blog will explore questions facing our movement from the point of an insider – an Independent Catholic bishop who has been a part of this scene for over seven years and knows the joys, the exasperations, the frustrations, and the comforts of this part of Christ’s One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.