Today we celebrated the Birthday of the Church: The Solemnity of Pentecost. This day has extra special meaning for me. Two years ago, today the church chose me to be the Presiding Bishop of the Old Catholic Churches International.
In a couple of weeks, I will also celebrate the end of my eighteenth year of my Episcopacy and the start of my nineteenth year. It is at this point that I have been a Bishop the same amount of time that I was not a Bishop.
Over these 18 years I have had an amazing journey. I have met many amazing clergy and laypersons. I have made many good friends and have endured the pain of betrayal by many claiming to be friends. I have found it difficult at times to keep from becoming cynical.
When I first started this journey, I was a very conservative person. I was extremely pro-life, anti-LGBT, anti-feminist…I made Rush Limbaugh look like a liberal! I was raised in an environment that was full of hatred for anything different from their ideological beliefs. I did not think for myself, but was told what to think, what to believe, and that questioning those thoughts or beliefs was wrong.
All of that changed during a trip to Watertown, New York in the Spring of 2004. Mother Lynn “Boots” Boyce and I set out on a road trip to Watertown to meet with Bishop Mark Pultorak and Bishop David Worely. I was to be sub-conditionally consecrated by them to repair any defects from the con-artists who ordained and consecrated me in 1999.
Along the way, we had many great discussions. Some of those discussions were passionate and heated. Mother Boyce was a person of intense irony. She was what I would call a feminist, although, she would have denied vehemently. She had worked as a taxi driver in Seattle, a police office in Connecticut, the first female to fuel planes for Boeing, and a nuclear engineer. She loved to hunt, ride her motorcycle cross country, and was fiercely independent.
Yet, in many ways she was very conservative too. She was opposed to LGBT rights (although she had been accused of being a lesbian more times than I could count), and was a loyal NRA member who felt more guns was the solution to violence. She had been in the Navy and supported the Gulf War. She was against taxes and any form of welfare. In fact, it took her being diagnosed with cancer to get her to accept VA medical benefits. She worked hard and retired years ahead of others her age and lived off her built up pension from her various jobs.
Like I said, she was the definition of irony. The one discussion that started my transformation tied into conversations Father David Jennings and I had many years before. You see, Father David planted the seeds of progressive thought in my mind and Mother Boots watered them. The conversation we had involved birth control and abortion. On this topic, Mother Boots was progressive. She believed it was a woman’s right to decide what happened to her body. She believed that it was a matter of personal conscience, not broad religious dogma.
The problem for me came in the fact that I could not defend my own beliefs concerning birth control and abortion because my instruction said it was wrong. I could not question it, I must believe it. My instructors told me that the Bible prohibited abortion. And like the good little Roman Catholic, I believed it without question. So, when it came to defending that view, I could not. The real catch was that I was even less informed when it came to birth control.
She helped me to understand that the notion that birth control was abortion was wildly wrong. It could not be abortion if it stopped the process of conception. Abortion could only occur if conception had already occurred. Once that wall fell, it was like dominoes. I began to question each and everything I learned.
The final wall took years to fall, but it did eventually come crashing down. That wall was especially difficult for me because it required me to take a long hard look at who I was. That wall was my views on LGBT rights. I would discuss with Mother Boots years later that this wall was difficult for me because I was bisexual and was sure I was “intrinsically disordered”. I knew my parents, maybe even my wife, would disown me if I ever revealed that fact. I also knew that most of the members of my jurisdiction would either leave or ask me to leave.
I also believed that Mother Boots would leave me. I knew how she felt about LGBT individuals. So, when I told her, I fully expected her to quit the church. She did not quit. She was disappointed that I had not told her sooner. While she struggled with the idea of equality, she was very open about that fact that I was a dear friend and she was not going to end a friendship over me being bisexual.
My progress toward being more progressive was almost complete. The only left was to go back to all the people I had hurt by being narrow-minded and to apologize for my actions. A couple of the people I hurt had died before I had a chance to apologize. I carried that guilt around with me for quite some time. I have started to make peace with it, but I still have my moment.
Others refused my apology. I can understand that I hurt them deeply and nothing I can say or do can fix that now. I accept that. And others accepted my apology and have become dear friends. If I hurt you and I have not apologized and you are reading this, know that I am very sorry I was so bull-headed and narrow-minded. I hope you can find it within you to forgive me.
Thanks to some very remarkable friends, I have been able to work through much of the abuse I suffered as a child and young adult. This healing has helped me to come off many of the medications I had been on for years. It also helped me to make peace with the past. I could have spent the rest of my life beating myself up for living in the closet, for being narrow-minded, for all the pain I caused others, and for the pain that I suffered. Instead, I can begin to move beyond all that and help others who are suffering either from a prison/closet of their own making or from abuse and pain visited on them by others.
And so, every day I strive to be better than the day before. I strive to make amends for my past my working to make my future and the future of those around me better and brighter. I strive to bring the love of Christ to everyone I meet. I strive to see the spark of the divine in each person I see. And I work to make the world brighter, more loving, and more peaceful every day.
I hope by sharing some of my story that it will inspire you to help make the world a better place too. Remember, God loves you and so do I!
The Right Rev. Gregory Godsey, OSFoc is the Managing Editor of Convergent Streams. He is the Presiding Bishop of the Old Catholic Churches International and the Bishop Ordinary of the Diocese of Saint Maximilian Kolbe (AL, FL, GA, and SC). He is also the Director of the Office of Communications and Media Relations for the OCCI. He lives in North Augusta, South Carolina with his wife and son.