On November 6, 2011, on the book of the Gospels, I signed the Nicene Creed and a statement in which I professed to “believe in and hold firm all that the Holy Catholic church believes in, teaches and professes as handed down by the Fathers of the Church and Ancient Tradition.” By doing so, I effectively hung up my pulpit gown and stole: items I had received on the occasion of my ordination as a Minister of Word and Sacrament in the Presbyterian Church in America.
“I was fighting so many demons that I lost track of where they came from and how they were manifested. I became enslaved to spiritual poverty, sexual depravity, and a greed for money that would take its toll on my emotions and psyche for years to come. Everything in life seemed easily disposable, especially my money, which I spent lavishly to maintain my steady diet of alcohol and drugs that would salve my emotional pain.”
From my earliest memories Jesus was my best friend. I loved church, worship, and my Bible, which I unfailingly carried everywhere. My dad used to joke, “Don’t you trust my driving? Is that why you always take your Bible?”
The Lord’s grace throughout my life has always been abundant. In reality, I can’t recall a time when I have not loved, desired, and pursued God. I always wanted to hear more about Jesus and to share Him with others.
I started out defending my faith, but gradually I felt I had nothing to fall back on. I knew what I had been taught, but when challenged, I could only refer vaguely to the Bible… When I would mention the Bible, my best friend would say, “I gave up believing in fairy tales when I was a child.” Those words struck me hard in my youth.
I was born in the ghettoes of Chicago’s South Side in 1961. My first memories are of dilapidated apartments, window frames without windows, trash strewn on the streets, urine-soaked alleys, and a neglected-derived independence. As a three-, four-, and five-year-old, I remember many times coming and going from the apartment my mother, siblings and I shared while my mother, an active alcoholic at that time, had friends over from morning till night — days filled with card games, cigarette smoke and all the beer and vodka they could want. When I was about seven years old, my father, whom I had only met once, came to the apartment announcing that my six siblings and I were going with him. It was the last time I would see my mother for years. Much later, my father told us my mother told him she was moving and leaving us at the apartment, and warned him that if he didn’t come get us, we would be abandoned.
I sat at work with my head in my hands looking at the computer screen. I couldn’t believe what I had just read. There was no possible way that was the truth. How could it be? I always thought that I was right and the Catholics were wrong. If the statement I had just read was true, it would mean so much would have to change. Yet, how could they be right? This was only supposed to be a harmless trip to EWTN.com in order to disprove my fiancée’s parents and their firm Catholic beliefs.
I was born third of four boys to a family in Wisconsin; though most of my life growing up and starting my own family was spent just over the border in Minnesota. My father’s grandfather had emigrated from Namur, Belgium just after the American Civil War and joined America’s largest Belgian-American community in Door County, Wisconsin. My mother’s side had been in the U.S. much longer, descending from Scots-Irish ancestors. My grandfather, who died when my father was just 17, had married outside the Catholic Faith in about 1910 to a German-Lutheran woman; hence our part of the family was raised in the German-Lutheran faith, and our step-grandfather pastored a German-Lutheran church in northern Wisconsin for half a century.
It has been said that life is a journey and not a destination. For close to fifty years I followed a spiritual path that was shaped in and through the Anglican Communion. Choirboy, altar boy, priest, secretary to the Diocesan Synod, Franciscan friar, confessor to bishops, and chaplain at the 1998 Lambeth Conference, I have seen it all in Anglicanism.
I was in the newsstand of a Miami bus terminal, my saddle oxfords a bit scuffed and my uniform crumpled after a steamy day of classes, when I spotted something that utterly horrified me. It was not an X-rated magazine, but something much worse: a book called “Why I Am Not a Christian” by Bertrand Russell.