God So Has My Back


 

 

Earlier today as I sat at a traffic light in Northern Virginia, I noticed that the large fireworks stand on the corner was vacant.  Although it seems like just yesterday that corner was full of sparklers and roman candles, today – the last day of July – it’s vacant.  I know in just a few weeks that corner will have morphed into a fall pumpkin stand, and soon thereafter a Christmas tree stand, and so on.  You can mark the passage of time by watching that corner evolve season after season.

I think I’ve been especially aware of watching that corner recently because my own life has been evolving this past year or so …  although not as predictably as that seasonal stand!  It was just yesterday, or so it seems, that I was the 50-year-old pastor of a large Catholic parish in Alexandria Virginia. I had the privilege of serving at Good Shepherd Catholic Church (GSCC) for what were eight of the most wonderful years of my life. I loved very much the privilege of being involved in people’s lives.  I loved the baptisms, First Holy Communions, marriages, and even the funerals, where we got to minister to individuals at one of the most challenging times in their lives.  It was a true gift to be at GSCC and to minister alongside wonderful, talented individuals.

Transition

In April 2011, I made a significant announcement to my parishioners (and dropped a proverbial bombshell for many!) that I had asked the Bishop of the diocese for a leave of absence for vocational discernment.  As I shared at the time, I had spent much of the year prior to that announcement in thoughtful prayer, counseling and discussion with my family and loved ones.  Although it was a difficult decision, it was definitely the right decision.  My immediate plans were to pursue a graduate degree in Social Work, while I continued the discernment process I had embarked upon.  I was admitted into a Masters program at George Mason University, and was thrilled to be fulfilling a long-time desire to become a licensed social worker.  In the meantime, I planned to continue the process of discernment and transition that my heart had been seeking. For some time, I had been seeking a better alignment with my faith and my faith community.  I had long been inspired and intrigued by the Episcopal Church, and I wanted time to seriously consider what that implied for me.

I left GSCC and started graduate work, planning to complete the Masters program.  Although the work and the schedule were demanding, I was loving it. But then, soon thereafter, my mother took a turn for the worse health-wise. In addition, my dog, Brock, required major surgery.  I soon realized that I wanted to devote my time and attention to helping my mom (and Brock of course), and it was just not possible to give adequate attention to my graduate work.  I withdrew from the Masters program, and was able to commit myself to helping Mom and Brock reach a place of better health.  Praise God – they both eventually made significant progress.

In the meantime, I found myself in a different place than I had planned or anticipated.  I had not intended to begin a formal transition process into the Episcopal Church right away … possibly not until after completing my graduate work  … but my life had taken a different turn.

A New Journey

My official year of discernment capped a longtime journey.  As long ago as May 1990 – when I was ordained a Catholic priest – I had been reading about an exciting evolution occurring in the Episcopal Church in the United States.  I was attracted to what seemed to me to be a very inclusive and welcoming church theology and community: clergy could be married, women could be priests, openly gay individuals could serve in leadership positions. Admittedly controversial topics such as these were very much in line with the way I had hoped the Catholic Church would one day evolve; but as time went on I could tell the Catholic Church was not at a place where they would embrace such dramatic change. More and more I sensed God giving me permission to be the one to change.

So, with my graduate work indefinitely on hold, and Mom and Brock on the road to recovery, I embraced the opportunity to begin the transition into the Episcopal Church.

I began “Reading for the Orders” in the Episcopal Church (EC). Since the EC recognizes the ordination of Catholic priests, I did not have to go to seminary again. The EC asks someone like me, who was ordained in the Roman Catholic Church, to live as an Episcopalian for one year so that I can become more familiar with the culture of the EC. This has been a life-giving year in this regard, as I have very much enjoyed my time in what Episcopalians refer to as “the Middle Way” – the sweet spot situated somewhere between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. Recently I have been invited by the Rev. John Baker, the rector of St. Aiden’s Episcopal Church in Alexandria, VA to join St. Aiden’s each week for a bit of a liturgical internship. God so has my back! I’ve enjoyed so much the experience, especially as I am given permission to either serve, lector or sometimes even preach.  This fall, I will take an exam equivalent to what Episcopal seminarians take prior to ordination.  After passing those exams, I will meet with leadership groups in the EC for their approval, before being fully received as a priest in the EC.

New-found Affinity for All Things ‘Pig’

Along the way I discovered that a congenital heart condition that I’d known about for many years required immediate attention. In March 2012 I had my aortic valve replaced with a porcine valve (bless the little pig who gave its life for me!), and I also had a bypass while the doctors were already inside my chest – OUCH! I’ll share more about this experience at another time, but suffice it to say that in addition to studying for the Episcopal Church I have been doing my own physical recovery so that I can minister for the next fifty years!

Beyond that I will interview in Episcopal parishes searching for a rector (a pastor) and hopefully be hired full-time to love and serve in a parish community. As much as I’ve enjoyed what my mentor/tutor  refers to as my “Sabbatical Year,”  it’s high-time for me to get back in the saddle of being a priest and hopefully a rector.

The Journey Continues

As I drive past that corner fireworks / pumpkin / Christmas tree stand in the coming months, I cannot be exactly sure how my own life will evolve. But, I do know that through it all, God so has my back!

I look forward to sharing my journey with you through this blog. If you’d like to subscribe to the blog and follow along as my journey unfolds, I would love to have you along the way. Please pray for me and please know that you are in my prayers as well.

Peace and love to you all,

Chuck

 

 

6 Comments

  • Bob Watson says:

    Chuck.
    Great to see that you are doing well. I hope to meet up with you again!

  • Ellen says:

    Wow,,,God has my back, too!

    This Lent instead of giving up something, I’ve been trying to be better about praying. So, when I couldn’t sleep tonight, I started to “count my blessings, instead of sleep” (name that tune).
    Anyway, God delivered and I found your blog–this is an early Easter blessing!

    So glad that you, your Mom and Brock are better.
    Will update all of your fans…you and your family have been in our prayers.

    Thank you and bless you for all that you are and do!

  • Martha says:

    Father Chuck
    I am so glad to have found my favorite, joyful priest! Thank you for your inspiration.

  • Maureen says:

    Dear Father Chuck,
    I am so happy for you. You are such a good person, a good priest and you will make a wonderful Episcopal priest. I am hoping to get to your reception in the Episcopal Church.
    Maureen

  • Joann says:

    Chuck,
    I am so, so glad that you are healthy and happy! We miss you and now that I know you are in a good place, I know the whole family will be pleased! I look forward to catching up with all your blogs. Merry Christmas to you, Brock and all your family. May 2013 bring you peace and wonderful adventures!

  • Barbara says:

    Chuck, after surviving Black Friday and Cyber Monday reminders to go out and “get”. how nice to “receive” the good news of your blog. Thank you.

    I just finished reading a memoir by the father of a young woman, 27, wife, daughter, mother, sister, aunt, friend, doctor who died very suddenly in front of her two young children. Her parents immediately came to her family’s assistance and just move in.with them. The memoir gives insight to all manners of living with grief. Towards the end he cites a passage from a book that shares a quote from a husband in Auschwitz in a letter to his wife. “If there have been at various times,trifling misunderstandings in our life, now I see how one was unable to value the passing time.” The father then writes: As far as I can tell, this how to live–to value the passing time.

    I am thankful to be able to continue sharing a passing of time with you and all who have blessed my life.

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