Peter's Corner: Journey to St. Stephen's, Part II
I am writing after a long silence, some of which has been a sudden case of writer’s block and some of which is the pace of everyday life at Saint Stephen’s. And then, all of a sudden it seems, came the second half of Lent and Holy Week. Oh, and did I mention the flood we had after the deluge of Palm Sunday? In my clever way I want to say that all of the above is history, but the Resurrection is not history…it is NOW. So, if you will permit me, in the NOW of the Resurrection, I want to finish my story of how I arrived at Saint Stephen’s door, and what the signposts along the way were that brought me here.
The ten years I spent just down the street from Saint Stephen’s, at the Charter High School for Architecture + Design on 7th and Sansom, radically changed my life. During these 10 years (2005-2015) I began to see the world differently, especially how the Gospel was to be lived. As my vision changed, so did my understanding of my relationship with the Roman Catholic Church. It was time to act on what I believed and so I quietly departed from Roman Catholicism. Though deeply personal and NOT grounded in anger, governance, treatment of women and gays, clergy conduct and the role of Bishops, and the ever-present “Church before Gospel” were the imperatives for me to leave. And I knew that I needed less confinement in my ministry, whatever that would become. If CHAD was a call to a new kind of community, so was being received into the Episcopal church and this “conversion’ became a major signpost. Soon enough, a clearer picture of ministry came into focus.
With a nudge from our daughter in a conversation we had as I drove her back to college, I realized the next call was to go into discernment about becoming an Episcopal priest. Though it was somewhat mysterious then, the idea of becoming an Episcopal priest now seems quite natural because I came to understand more fully that for most of my life, I lived practiced a kind of “pastoral service,” the “doing good” and “doing good work” I referred to earlier and that this pastoral service may have been its own kind of ministry. In virtually all the positions I have held in my professional life of more than 50 years, I functioned ministerially. Frederick Buechner’s famous quote, “vocation is the place where one’s deepest gladness meets the world’s deepest needs” fits perfectly here. What came next came quite naturally, i.e. “sacramental ministry,” though it took time and a process to respond to this call. While I was head of CHAD, I read for Holy Orders at Virginia Theological Seminary (in Alexandria) under the tutelage of the Rev. Dr. Frank Wade and after almost 5 years of study, I was ordained a priest on June 13, 2015 and I officially retired from CHAD on June 30, 2015.
One of the things I think about all the time is how my priesthood would have taken a different shape and texture if I had been ordained two or three decades earlier in my life. But the fact is I wasn’t ordained when I was at the age of 30 or 40; I was ordained when I was 70 years old. Sometimes I am astonished at this. But the call was there for decades and what I know now is that it took me a long time to figure out what God wanted from me and, once I did, age meant nothing. Sacramental ministry was the last piece in the tableau and the last verse of the call. Yet, I think very about this matter of age, especially since I will turn 75 this Summer. But this is something to take up in a later post.
After my ordination, I was called to a curacy at a Center City parish where I stayed for almost 16 months. All things considered, it was a wonderful initiation to parish life and as I look back, I realize how much I learned in the short time I was there. In the early months of 2017, I was asked to come to Saint Stephen’s as the Vicar and on March 1, 2017, Ash Wednesday, Saint Stephen’s became an active parish again. And NOW it is May of 2019 and Saint Stephen’s has entered the third year of its new life and I, as its Vicar, with it. Next time, I’ll write more about the NOW of Saint Stephen’s and some of the elements and pieces of our ministry.