“Saint Jude. Not, ‘Hey Jude.’ But please don’t hold me to it…”
If I had a dime…my parents were Beatles fans, but they named me for the Patron Saint of Lost Causes and Hopeless Cases. They had no idea how inspired that choice would prove to be. They were both disabled, struggling with mental illness and addiction. It fell on me and my older sister to care for our two younger sisters, and eventually my mother as MS gradually claimed her health. I had to grow up quick to survive. But I found an alternative home in the Church where I was safe, loved, and valued. Jesus’ bold words of hope and justice inspired me, even then. I was also blessed to have grandparents who did what they could to support us. My Gram nurtured my faith, imparting her Sicilian joie-de-vivre along the way. While my Grandpa, true to his Swiss roots, instilled the virtues of hard work and study.
Moving from Connecticut to Mississippi, I discovered a strange new way of being Christian through a charismatic Southern Baptist church. But I loved it. Learning how to connect with God directly through ecstatic worship, spontaneous prayer and deep-dive Bible studies gave me great joy. Again, I experienced the love and support of a spiritual family. But I also discovered I was gay, which complicated things. Halfway through high school, a former French teacher from Connecticut, Patricia Perry, delivered me from a deteriorating home front, sending me to France one summer and then boarding school to finish out high school. During that time my maternal grandparents took me in and worked closely with Mrs. Perry to help me succeed in this strange new environment of privilege and safety. Their generosity altered the course of my life. When I sing “Amazing Grace,” I mean every word.
At Northfield Mount Hermon, my newfound fundamentalist faith was put to the test. Little by little, the Rev. Betty Stookey, the boarding school’s chaplain, opened my heart to dig deeper and explore the biblical and historical roots of the anti-gay sentiment I inherited from my friends in Mississippi. She knew that for me this wasn’t simply an academic exercise. My life depended on it. Earlier that year, like so many LGBT youth, I had considered suicide. Some people study theology because they find it interesting. I studied theology to save my life. Survival drove me into an academic career of studying religion, scripture and theology, but fascination and love for God kept me there. So I decided to make a major of it in college, spending four years in the intellectual adventure of a lifetime, learning about everything from the religious traditions of Africa’s West Congo to contemporary theories of religion’s origins to models for interpreting it as a system of images, customs, cultures, ideas and beliefs.
Another great influence on my development, Prof. Anne McGuire of Haverford College, exposed me to the wonderful diversity and treasure that was early Christianity. For the first time, I learned of other writings that didn’t make ‘the cut’ for the Bible, becoming aware of the complex historical shape of Christianity. Questioning everything, deconstruction led to disbelief and I became an atheist for a couple years. I spent my junior year abroad in France (An atheist in Paris?!? I know, how cliche lol) the same year that 9/11 happened. That experience heightened my awareness of America’s place in the world, and convinced me that our world needed a more thoughtful approach to religion. So, I continued my studies at Harvard Divinity School.
Harvard was the last place I ever expected to reconnect with God, much less in a class about Hinduism! Strange as it seems, reading Hindu mystics effusively declaring their love for their “Lord” fanned the waning flames of devotion to my Lord, which I had all but smothered in my relentless pursuit of the rational truth. That same year, as I was taking Greek, Coptic and Biblical Archaeology, a family health crisis caused me to reevaluate my life direction, and I pivoted from the academic track to the pastoral track. I could no longer pretend that my interest in religion was purely intellectual. I might have been done with God, but God was not done with me. My new adviser, Prof. Kimberley Patton, took me under her wing, introducing me to yet another stream of Christianity – Greek Orthodoxy. At the same time, switching from an M.A. to an M.Div. meant engaging in real life ministry.
I worked at St. Francis House in Boston, New England’s largest day shelter, benefiting from the wise and whimsical mentorship of Bro. Dan Walters, a Benedictine with a Franciscan heart. We served our hearts out every day, and almost daily attended Mass together in a small chapel downtown. I decided to give Catholicism a second chance. The second internship, at the Paulist Center, didn’t end so well. At the same time, the Vatican was blaming the child abuse scandal on gay people, and conducting an Inquisition in America’s seminaries to root out professors and students suspected of being gay. That was the last straw. Not only had the Church failed to enact meaningful reforms to adequately address the real problem, but they were all to happy to use gay people as scapegoats. Similarly, I learned that John Paul II took extraordinary steps to define the priesthood as male, refusing women like my grandmother God’s call on their lives for ordained service in the Church. I needed a new spiritual home.
As grace would have it, a friend introduced me to a monastic community of the Episcopal Church, called SSJE. Fast forward several months and with the brothers’ loving guidance, I began to discern the call to priesthood I had experienced in my childhood. Christ Church Cambridge in Harvard Square became the setting where I did that work of discernment under the steady care of the Rev. Joe Robinson, the Rev. Jeff Mello and Susan Serino Root. I could not have asked for better companions in that process. Their deep competency and love for ministry prepared me to understand That process led me to take up a missionary post, teaching theology at the Episcopal Seminary in downtown Port-au-Prince. My time there was cut short by the Haiti earthquake of 2010, but I was grateful to be alive. Once, again, my faith was shaken to the core. Seeing death on that scale brought up old questions, prompted by my mother’s disease, of how I could possibly believe God to be good in the face of such arbitrary suffering. Since I had lost most of my worldly possessions in the quake, and had no where to go
But, once again, God made a way where I saw no way. Four people really pointed me back to hope: Bro. Curtis Almquist of SSJE and my systematic theology professor at Virginia Theological Seminary, Prof. Kate Sonderegger, who embodied the graciousness, humility and depth of the Word they pointed me to; the Rev. Paul Roberts Abernathy, the Rector of St. Mark’s Capitol Hill, whose incomparable eloquence, honesty and vivacity continue to inspire me today; and Peggy Parker, whose passion connecting the creative life to a life of faith fed some unseen part of my soul again after being starved in a world of words. After graduating with my second Masters, I took a job out in San Francisco at Grace Cathedral. In my six years there, I’ve been honored to oversee our Innovative Ministries, which include Yoga on the Labyrinth, drawing 600 people each Tuesday, Candlelight Labyrinth Walks, drawing about 250 people each month, and, most dear to my heart, The Vine, a new worship community I planted in the Cathedral in 2017. It’s been a journey full of grace and truth.