People of the Wine

“Beer is made by men, wine by God!” -Martin Luther
“I cook with wine; sometimes I even add it to the food.” -W. C. Fields

When I began my journey into the Old Catholic church and eventually the path toward priesthood in the Independent Sacramental Movement, my first mentor offered an observation about the clergy I would find in our church. He wrote that there are two kinds of people in the Old Catholic church: “The people of the wine, and the people of the jug.” At first, I didn’t understand, and I wrote back and asked if he was the jug or the wine. He responded, “I am happy to be reminded that I am a ‘people of the wine.’” I still didn’t understand what he meant and began musing over his observation. Two years after my ordination, I began traveling from coast-to-coast visiting Old Catholic clergy, and I’m starting to think that I may understand what he was trying to convey about our people.

When you ponder the importance of both parts, (the wine and the jug) it becomes obvious that both play important roles in their relationship to each other. Basically, the wine and the jug need each other and both play a unique role. Musing about my mentor’s statement brought a few ideas regarding how the jug could be symbolic of ISM clergy who are constantly focused on the symbols and trimmings of the liturgy. They understand the significance of structure in liturgy and the corporate organization of their jurisdiction. They are dedicated servants of protocol and their ecclesial titles. So it was logical that they could be “the people of the jug” that my mentor wrote about. What about “people of the wine?” I did more pondering and study about wine and what was recorded in scripture about it.

As I traveled across the country meeting ISM clergy, I kept deliberating about “the people of the wine.” Soon I began to notice that some of them reflected what the Poet King wrote in his Psalm of praise: “You make the grass grow for the cattle and plants for people’s work to bring forth food from the earth, wine to gladden their hearts, oil to make their faces shine, and bread to sustain the human heart.” (Psalm 104:14-15 NABRE) Here King David is writing about wine given to us by the Creator that makes glad the heart, refreshes the spirits, and exhilarates them! My mentor’s concept about “people of the wine” started to come into focus as I began to meet Old Catholic clergy who not only were joyful and happy–their countenances beamed thankfulness and appreciation for God’s bounty in their ministries and lives. Pliny the Elder declared, “in vino veritas” (in wine there is truth) and I’m delighted to attest that I’ve met many Old Catholic clergy who are the living embodiment of truth and thus would be considered a fine example of “people of the wine.” Such was my encounter with Bishops Marilyn Sieg and Evelyn Hill who brought much gladness to my heart as they shared their experiences about serving as Old Catholic clergy.

I met Bishops Marilyn and Evelyn at their condominium in Orlando, Florida, in February 2014. I had originally scheduled a two hour interview with them, but I was so fascinated with their experiences that the visit carried over to a second day. Both of them had diverse backgrounds, yet were able to connect and became a team and they have many incredible experiences to share. Bishop Marilyn entered a convent in 1941 at the age of 13. She became a Franciscan nun and served in the Order for 35 years. Bishop Evelyn also joined the Franciscans, but she waited until she was 38, opting first for a stint in the US Navy and later obtaining a college education and employment by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Bishop Marilyn decided to leave the Community and she began taking courses at the University of Wisconsin. She was also looking for employment so that she could depart from the Community and begin a new career in education. She took an audio visual class and applied for a job at WHA Television in Madison, Wisconsin as a television educator. She told me that she didn’t really think they would give her the job, and she was very surprised when they offered it to her. For ten years she taught language and other courses on television and became a celebrated Madison luminary.

Bishop Marilyn says she had always wanted to be a Roman Catholic priest ever since she was a little girl; whereas Bishop Evelyn was raised a Southern Baptist and never thought about it. In 1976 Bishop Marilyn submitted a paper regarding the ordination of women into the Catholic priesthood. She eventually became a founding member of the Women’s Ordination Movement, where she met Evelyn Hill who shared the same interest in women’s ordination. They both felt they could not be confined in a church that refused to recognize their leadership skills. Both Marilyn and Evelyn joined the Sisters for Christian Community, a non-canonical order of nuns that started on the outskirts of Portland, Oregon. Eventually Marilyn and Evelyn were elected to head the Order and they became interim pastors at an independent Lutheran church for more than five years. During that time they took care of the sick, buried the dead, and did everything a pastor would do; however, they were not ordained. In 1989 Evelyn and Marilyn moved to Phoenix expecting to live a life of leisurely retirement. However, their plans were interrupted when Bishop Carlos Florido, the Presiding Bishop of the Orthodox Catholic Church, invited them to be ordained as priests in his jurisdiction. “We really struggled with our decision,” Marilyn told me. Here was the opportunity she had dreamed about, but leaving the Roman Catholic Church was never a consideration as far as she and Evelyn were concerned. “We never lost hope that the Roman Catholic Church would reconsider their position regarding women’s ordination.” The two were ordained as priests in the Orthodox Catholic Church, and in 1992 Marilyn was consecrated and later she became Presiding Bishop of that jurisdiction.

At the close of our second visit, Bishop Marilyn surprised me with a copy of a book that she and Evelyn had published entitled “MINUTES – Moments in Meditation.” A few weeks ago I contacted Bishop Marilyn and asked for permission to produce a series of one minute meditation videos using the text from the book. I was amused when Bishop Marilyn told me that many thoughts in the book had been written while sitting under a hair dryer at the beauty salon. I couldn’t imagine how such profound thoughts had originated at such a curious location. I think it was then that I realized that both Bishops Marilyn and Evelyn were truly what my mentor would consider “people of the wine.” In fact, I would say that from the perspective of the Old Catholic tradition, these Saints would be considered “new wine” that had been pressed from the rich grapes of their lives and ministry.

And what about “the people of the jug?” Thanks to the “people of the new wine” I think I have a positive outlook and clearer understanding about the two types of people in the Old Catholic church. Jesus had something to say about new wine and wineskins (same idea as wine jugs) and I do believe it fits the Independent Sacramental Movement very well: “People do not put new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise the skins burst, the wine spills out, and the skins are ruined. Rather, they pour new wine into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved.” (Matthew 9:17 NABRE)

Leave a Reply