This edition of Convergent Streams focuses on the journey of faith that we all have to traverse at some point. My story is much like many of those in this loose group of episcopi vagantes we call the Independent Sacramental Movement (ISM).
I was born to Roman Catholic parents. I spent most of my time from birth to 8 years old learning all I could about Catholic theology, polity and history. It was my sincere desire to become a Roman Catholic Priest. Our local pastor, a Franciscan Third Order Regular Friar named Fr. Francis Mastrovito, felt I had the calling as well. He did everything he could to pour gas on the flames of the calling that were already burning in me. Moreover, like a sponge, I soaked up everything he taught me.
Then in 1988, my father decided to take a journey of spiritual exploration and he took us with him. For the next 6 years we went to ever church and fellowship known to mankind. We would go to a church or home fellowship for a little while and then my father would uproot us, and we would move to the next church or denomination. All the while, deep in me, the fire of the Catholic faith remained strong and the calling to the priesthood never wavered. In fact, I so yearned for the sacraments, that I began to hold my own private “Masses” just to have the sacraments. When my father found out, he was furious and took everything I had that was Catholic away from me.
During this time, my mother went from drinking and drugs to various addictive behavior. She began to physically, mentally and emotionally abuse me and my siblings. As the oldest, I took the biggest portion of the abuse as I tried to protect my brother and sister from it. To this day, they still do not fully understand what happened. My father worked two and sometimes three jobs to keep the family afloat. He seemed unaware or willfully blind to the signs of addiction and abuse around him. He is still not fully aware of all that I suffered at the hands of my mother. He does apologize a lot for not noticing the signs sooner, but I have long forgiven him for it.
I was molested and raped by my cousin for almost 4 years. My mother did everything in her power to keep it a secret and helped to facilitate the abuse. My cousin is now in prison for other crimes against children. He will not answer for the abuse he committed against me or my other family members until he stands before God. And I have made peace with that fact. It has inspired me to work to ensure no one else goes thru what I did.
By 1994, my father had finally satisfied his spiritual curiosity and God led him back to the Roman Catholic Church. The priest who welcomed us back was a good and holy man from the Glenmary Home Missions. He had a true shepherd’s heart. He could see in me the calling and that it still burned bright. He took me under his wing to learn once again theology, church history, Latin and some Greek. Sadly, his time in our area came to a close about 8 months later. His replacement was not nearly as spiritual. When I told him that I felt a call to the priesthood, his response was to ask if I had a girlfriend. I told him no. He asked if I had ever had sex. I said no. He said to go out and get laid as much as possible, and then if I still had the call, come back and see him. He said there was no way I could have a call if I did not know what I would be missing.
Within a few weeks of him being assigned to our parish, we moved back to the parish in which I was baptized. The priest there was willing to humor me when I told him I had the call. He had me come to spiritual direction once a week. This “spiritual direction” consisted of confession and then a long list of chores such as cleaning the parking lot, cleaning the pews of the church, vacuuming the church or rectory, putting mulch around the flower beds and trees or other such physical labor. This lasted for about 2 years before I finally confronted him about this “spiritual direction”. I asked him why he was not having me read theology, pray the breviary (which I was doing without telling him) or some sort of preparation for the priesthood. His reply was that seminary would take care of that, but that the church needed my help with all these chores to save money.
All this time questions had been stirring in my spirit. I questioned celibacy, I questioned Papal Infallibility and the denial of the sacraments to people based on arbitrary rules. I tried to ask him about these things, but he told me that Seminary would answer those questions for me. When I pressed him about it, he would get angry and tell me that if wanted to be a priest I would obey him and the church and not ask these types of questions.
By 1997, I had my fill of this “spiritual direction.” I began to research these issues on my own with the aid of my new friend, the internet. I wandered into information about the ISM and started researching it. By 1999 I was ready to make my separation from the Roman Church. However, like many in the ISM, the gentlemen I encountered were charlatans. They came to my apartment, had Mass and ordained me in January 1999. Then in July of 1999, they returned to consecrate me a bishop. When they left, they left me with no certificates, no succession, a large phone bill, a large food bill and nothing but false information. The names they gave me don’t even check out! I was devastated. I hide in the shadows of the Roman Church. In 2001, after meeting Fr. David Jennings (who was not a priest at the time) and sharing my story with him, he encouraged me to come out of the shadows and to start a parish.
This first attempt was a terrible failure. As soon as the newspaper printed our little blurb about opening an Old Catholic parish in my hometown, the priest at our local Roman Catholic Parish began his campaign to stop me. He came to my house, confronted me on the public sidewalk out front and nose to nose told me that I was delusional and that he would ruin me. Later that day, about an hour before our first Mass was to take place, there was a knock on my door. It was the local police. They were there in my front yard, and my back yard with guns drawn. They pulled me out of the house and started to cuff me. I did not resist, and I told them the cuffs were not necessary. My crying infant son and wife convinced them to not cuff me. They put me in the back of the police car and took me to the local police department. They never told my wife what was going on or where they were taking me. They also let my dog out of the house and did not bother to help my wife who was emotional and dealing with a crying infant to get the dog back in the house. I sat at the police department for 2 hours before they told me why I was there. They had a mental health warrant and the RC priest had told them to wait until 6 PM to serve it and to wait until 8 PM to call the social worker to evaluate me. This, of course, insured that I was there in the Police Department during the scheduled time for our first Mass. It also ensured that my wife would have to explain to anyone who came to the house for our first Mass that I had been drug off by the police.
The social worker finally arrived, and it was someone I knew. She had been a life-long Roman Catholic and knew me from church. She sat down and asked me a long series of questions. Finally, she asked me about the Old Catholic Church. She said that the basis for the warrant was that I was delusional because the Old Catholic Church did not exist. The RC priest had convinced the county attorney that the Old Catholic Church was a figment of my imagination. Since I was also a gun owner and had an infant son, if I was delusional, then I was a serious danger to others and myself. I told the social worker not to take my word for it, but to search the internet for the Old Catholic Church. She left for a few minutes and came back to announce that I was sane and that the officers needed to return me home and to pray I did not sue them.
I did not sue them or of the RC priest, but he continued to preach against me from the pulpit and attempt to arrange protesters to stand out in front of my home with signs warning people that our church would lead them to hell. He never succeeded on the later, but he tried very hard to gather people to participate in his campaign. My saving grace and likely the reason my parish never took off was that most of the members of the local Catholic Church knew my family and me.
Within the ISM, I had spent most of my time from 1999 to 2004 fighting those who attacked me for being too young and for issues with my validity. This would come to an end though in 2004. In what was truly an answer to prayer, Bishop Mark Pultorak and Bishop David Worely offered to sub-conditionally ordain and consecrate me to put an end to the questions of my validity once and for all. With Rev. Mother Lynn “Boots” Boyce, I traveled up to Watertown, NY in March of 2004 (with a side trip to see Niagara Falls, which I had never seen) so that Bishop Pultorak and Worely could sub-conditionally ordained and consecrated me.
With the assistance of Bishop John Parker Jr., my family and I moved to North Augusta, South Carolina. This move occurred in February of 2003. We came to replace Bishop Parker who was dying of stage 4 small cell lung cancer. It became apparent rather quickly that most of the people who had been coming to church with Bishop Parker were there for him and once he passed on August 28, 2003, they stopped coming to Mass. For the next 16 years we have worked to try to build a local parish with marginal success. From 2002 to 2011, I was the Presiding Bishop of the Ancient Apostolic Communion, which Bishop Parker helped to found.
In late 2011, our entire jurisdiction decided to merge into the Liberal Catholic Apostolic Church (now called the Old Catholic Apostolic Church).
After separating from the UK church, we eventually choose the name the Old Catholic Churches International and continued to work to build up the Kingdom of God.
On May 23, 2015, I was elected to be the Presiding Bishop of the Old Catholic Churches International. I was elected to serve a 5-year term that would end in May of 2020. In August of 2019, the synod of the church amended Canon Law to allow the Presiding Bishop to serve indefinitely with a vote of confidence or no-confidence to occur every 5 years. In the light of that, my term as Presiding Bishop was extended until the next synod can hold such vote in 2024.
I serve as the pastor of Saint Francis Parish in Augusta Georgia which meets at Saint Alban’s Episcopal Church on Lumpkin Road in Augusta.
In the 20 years I have been in the ISM, I have seen many people come and go. I have seen good and holy Bishops and Priest as well as my share of bad and dishonorable Bishops and Priest. I have written a total of 5 papers supporting the theology of our church. Two of those papers have been used outside of the ISM by people respected in their churches and communities. My paper on Inclusiveness was sent with a packet of evidence and petitions to the Ugandan government in 2011 when the Kill the Gays bills were being considered. Several ISM priests have also asked for permission to print and distribute my paper on Inclusiveness amongst their parishioners and I have happily given them permission to do so. My paper on Female Clergy was used by a group of Muslim Imams, as a starting point for discussion that they hoped would lead to women being allowed to teach in their Mosques. (The discussions on this were held on a public forum that has since been taken down.) I know that several Baptist ministers have asked used my paper on Female Clergy to lead their congregations toward acceptance of women in their pulpits.
My faith has grown and evolved over the years. I used to be very conservative and refused to accept the LGBTQI community (mostly due to my own self-loathing as an in-the-closet bisexual) and female clergy. However, during my own process of evaluating my faith and working out my salvation daily, I have come to see things in a much different light. I find myself more open and accepting of all people. I provide care to everyone regardless of their faith or beliefs. I discriminate against no one. I believe we all carry a spark of the divine in us and that we should honor that spark without question.
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.