I was introduced to Tom when he arrived at our parish as a seminarian a little over a year ago. I thought we were hosting a typical young man, who had nearly completed his studies and was getting some "field" experience under his belt. Now, when I say "introduced," I mean I was at a Mass where Fr. Scott announced his arrival and sort of saw Tom standing toward the middle of the church, far from where we usually sit.
Tom's not a "go-getter" in the classic gregarious sense - he's very quiet and unassuming, and I honestly forgot about him until he started serving as a Eucharistic Minister on the same Sundays I was a Lector. He was older than I expected a 'seminarian' to be and perhaps a bit more awkward with the routine of Mass. I put it down as an unfamiliarity with our parish; although the Mass has pretty much the same form all over the world, like the variation between households in the US, our parish has certain ways of doing things that I could see as possibly different from others.
Sometime around the summer of 2008, we heard he was going to become a deacon and his presence at Masses was more frequent. He tended to only serve the Eucharist, never lectoring or giving a homily, never really stepping into anything remotely considered limelight in the course of the Mass. Somewhere along there, I realized he was a family man although I never saw his wife with him, and sometime in there, I heard he had converted to Roman Catholicism. I do remember briefly wondering if they had perhaps broken up over his change of faith-form. Thankfully I was incorrect.
Later though, last Fall, Fr. Scott announced with great joy that Tom was being ordained as a deacon and mentioned that he and Tom's wife were both very excited about Tom's ordination. I missed the ceremony, unfortunately, and then it started to make more sense - Ah, yes, this married man would be like our other married deacon. That's good, we need the help - big parish, you know. Then Father went on to say they (he and Tom) had great hopes that soon Tom would be allowed into the priesthood.
Cool, I thought, Tom would make a great priest! I looked forward to hearing him lector the Gospel and wondered what his first homily would be like. In December, I got my chance, and his voice carried well, the homily was well-written, and he was obviously comfortable with speaking in front of others. It was only a few weeks after his deacon-ordination that we heard that Pope Benedict had sent word that Tom had been accepted for ordination. The Pope is the only one who can make that decision and in a very real sense, Tom was called by the Pope himself to be a priest in the Roman Catholic Church.
That's really when I realized I hadn't fully understood his story - Tom was a Lutheran pastor who served in a church not far from our town. He concelebrated with the more-local-to-his-church parish on several occasions and had great hopes in the 90's for the reunification of Lutherans with Roman Catholics. When that didn't happen, he started inquiry with the Archbishop and came in "full communion" along with his wife and two sons a few years ago. Still, there were no guarantees he would be able to return to the ministry he loved.
We attended his ordination in Seattle two weekends ago and he stood as deacon with his wife and grown sons at the beginning of Mass and by the end, he was standing as priest with all the other priests that had come to witness and celebrate.
The first married priest in the Archdiocese of Seattle and one of only about 100 in the US. I never thought I'd see the day and, like Obama's inauguration yesterday gave me hope for our nation, I have great hope again for the Church. Change comes slowly, painfully slow for many, including myself, but change *is* happening, *has* happened and I couldn't be prouder.
Fr. Tom doesn't want to be the poster child for the married priesthood. He emphasizes that he's the exception to the rule. His focus is on the opportunity to minister as he feels he's been called to do. The Archbishop acknowledged that Tom's first priority is God, but that his first responsibility is to his wife.
Tom's ministry will be complicated to manage but I imagine very fulfilling. Tom's story is a terrific example of integrity in action, of moving down a path that sometimes looks traditional but becomes something so much more because the focus is on the path, not the destination.
I hope he's able to stay with our parish awhile. It's possible we'll help him get his legs as a priest then he'll be assigned somewhere else. But we do need another priest in our parish and I know I'm not the only one making special requests at the foot of the altar.
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Next: Ambahan and Babayin