I never thought when I entered college as a Religion major in 1979, that 30 some years later I would be an Old Catholic priest. I did not grow up Catholic. I was a member of the United Church of Christ. My plan was to finish college, go on to seminary and become a UCC pastor. Well, God had other plans.
After college, I was living in St. Paul MN with my brother. I attended St Paul U.C.C. and was involved in the choir there. I was still deciding on seminary. I decided to wait. Macalester College in St Paul had a “design your own” master’s program. I applied and got preliminary acceptance pending certified transcripts from Lakeland. It was then that I found out that I was actually two courses shy of my degree. Surprise!!! So, I worked a retail job and eventually moved to Madison, WI. While in Madison, I worked for a small newspaper selling advertising. I moved back home to Appleton about seven months later.
While back home, I worked as a CNA for five years. This was very fulfilling, but took a physical toll on me. I went to work as a bartender at a Tennis Club in town. I remained active in my church. Singing in the choir, and serving on several committees. I was trying to save up the money to complete my degree at Lakeland. The pay was not very good and saving was not easy. I prayed for guidance. God answered, but not the way I wanted. The answer was “NOT YET”.
In 2008, I met my partner, Rick Phillips. He had attended an Independent Catholic Church when he was in grad school in Illinois. Knowing of my desire to be a pastor, he suggested contacting the bishop that was in Springfield, IL. I did so and thus began the road to ordination. God finally said” NOW”!!!
Rick and I began conducting prayer services at our home. We soon had a friend join us. I was appointed Lay Administrator and SS Cyril and Methodius was formed. We moved and set up a chapel in our basement. Over the next 3 months we grew to 5 members.
In December of 2010, I was ordained to the diaconate by the Most Rev. John Reeves- Presiding Bishop of UICC. We continued to draw more people some joined us some just visit now and then.
May 28, 2011 is a date that I will never forget. It was the day that I felt God’s grace and the Holy Spirit stronger than ever before. ORDINATION DAY!!! Not only was it my ordination, but our little parish hosted National Synod. At that time, we were celebrating Mass on Sunday instead of Saturday; so, in addition to all the festivities on Saturday, I celebrated my first Mass (solo) the next day.
Looking back, I never thought that I would be anything Catholic. Yes, I always have enjoyed the pomp and ceremony, having experienced Masses over the years at family weddings, funerals, etc. (my mother’s father grew up Catholic). I never thought that a blend of the progressive theology of my upbringing in the UCC and the pomp and ceremony of the Mass could ever exist! To my surprise and delight, I found it!!
Even when things are going well on one front, turmoil lurks in the shadows. Our little parish was not getting much support from the upper clergy, so we decided to search for a new jurisdiction. We began conversation with the OCCI. We found our new home!!
During the transition, I went through some personal turmoil. Rick decided to end our relationship. I guess that I knew it was coming but chose to ignore the signs. I was devastated. His decision ultimately caused me to be, for all intents and purposes, homeless. I was for the first time in my life, totally on my own. I spent a lot of time feeling sorry for myself and crying a lot. I quickly came to the realization that I needed help.
During an appointment with my doctor- follow up on my high blood pressure and diabetes, I admitted to being somewhat depressed. My doctor had me take a test and low and behold, yes, I was suffering from depression. She prescribed Prozac for me. I soon realized that I probably should have been on it a long time ago, but that is a whole different story!
I have, for the past several years, been dealing with arthritis in my back and neck. On top of that I had had shoulder surgery and developed capsulitis in my right shoulder which has limited my range of motion. As if that isn’t enough, I was also diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. I have been wending my way through the process of filing for disability due to my health issues. This process has been very slow and trying on one’s patience (been at it for almost two years) small wonder that I was depressed. After waiting five long years, I was finally approved for disability in 2016.
I have always had a good spiritual life. I turned to prayer, thanking God for my doctor and the invention of Prozac. I literally gave thanks to God for Prozac! I also prayed for guidance; asking God to show me the right path. I decided to put my life into God’s hands.
I remained living with my ex until June. It was not a very comfortable situation. I eventually found a place to move to. I rented a room in a small house on the lake. My roommate, someone who is the total opposite of me, became a good friend. The scenery at the lake was very calming- I really needed that. This situation lasted until early August. My roomie was getting custody of his grandson and needed the room. I needed to find a place to stay AGAIN! Once again, I prayed for an answer. It came in the form of one of my parishioners. He offered to put me up for few days. During this time, I apartment hunted, but no luck. With funds running low, I had few choices. I splurged and spent one night in a motel. While I was praying to God for an answer, a dear friend of mine called me and invited me to stay with her and her husband for a few days. After staying there for a few days, I was “on the street” again. Relief came in the form of another good friend with whom I had previously had a twelve- year relationship. We had remained good friends since our break- up some eight years earlier. This was where my stability found its home. After staying with my friend for nine months, my long wait for being approved for disability ended. I was approved. I began searching for my own apartment. Within a week I finally found MY home! I have been in this apartment for three and a half years now, celebrating Mass in my living room.
Since becoming involved in the Old Catholic Churches International, I have truly found my spiritual home. A home filled with love, collegiality, deep faith, and oh… did I say LOVE?? I feel blessed to be in the company of my brothers and sisters in Christ. With God’s Grace, I hope to remain in His service for many, many years.
Rev. Fr. Andrew Smith grew up in Appleton. WI. He studied Theology, Philosophy and Sociology at Lakeland University in Sheboygan, WI and completed his theological studies at Holy Redeemer Seminary of the UICC. Fr. Andrew was ordained to the diaconate in December of 2010 and to the Order of Presbyters in May of 2011. He entered his novitiate in the Order of Preachers Old Catholic in August of 2016 and took his three- year vows in May 2017. Fr. Andrew is pastor of St Dominic Old Catholic Church in Oshkosh, WI. He enjoys cooking, reading, writing and is an avid history buff.