The Communion Communiqué is your one stop shop for the latest news in the Convergent Christian Communion. This Communiqué will be distributed during the Ember Days of the Liturgical Year. Great Lent Edition
Name: SERAPHIM TITUS (James) McAllister
Ministry: Prodigal Son Eastern Catholic Church
Connexion: St. Augustine of Canterbury
Favorite Saint: St Maximillian Kolbe
Favorite Quote: “Never be afraid of loving the Blessed Virgin too much. You can never love her more than Jesus did.” -St Maximillian Kolbe
It's Is Like This Reader Maxim (Davi) Hayes
I am not a gardener. Multiple innocent flowers, houseplants,–even cacti have died while in my care despite my best efforts. I’ve committed every gardening faux pas known to humankind: I’ve overwatered; I’ve underwatered; I’ve exposed my plants to too much sun, or not enough; I’ve used the wrong plant food; I’ve deposited the wrong plants into the wrong climates. I’ve never been able to find the right balance. The situation is so hopeless that my wife doesn’t let me near any vegetation in our home for fear that a sideways glance or the touch of one of my brown thumbs might impede growth and progress. Nevertheless, I love trees and plants, even if they don’t love me. A forest on a mild spring day is one of my favorite places. Out of the stark, cold, dead of winter, a spring forest abounds with new life, blossoms, and bright greenery. Plants are a timeless, relatable reminder of the cycle of life, the seasons, as well as Jesus Christ’s Passion, Death, and Resurrection. They are also a prominent metaphor for faith in many of our Lord’s parables, including the Parable of the Mustard Seed:
“He proposed another parable to them. ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a person took and sowed in a field. It is the smallest of all the seeds, yet when full-grown it is the largest of plants. It becomes a large bush, and the ‘birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches.’” (Mt. 13:31-32)
I imagine my faith in Jesus Christ as a mustard seed planted in my youth. I nurtured it alongside my Eastern Christian church community for many wonderful years. It grew from one of the smallest seeds in existence into a sturdy, tall mustard tree. Take a moment and visualize this tree with me. It’s large, viridescent and gold, with a broad trunk, standing alone in a field. I came to this tree in my mind countless times throughout my childhood to talk to Jesus: before my first reconciliation; before my first Holy Communion; in times of joy and sadness; to pray for the people I loved, and for His mercy upon me:
“O, God, be merciful to me, a sinner. O, God, cleanse me of my sins and have mercy on me. O Lord, forgive me, for I have sinned without number.” (The Byzantine Prayer Before Communion)
When I came out as LGBT, everything changed. I was shunned by my family and church. Almost overnight I was no longer part of my faith community. It seemed that as I embraced the truth of my sexual and gender identity, another truth, Jesus’ love for me, was slipping away. I was told my behavior was sinful. Many implied that God no longer loved me and I was going to Hell. I didn’t understand this at the time, but my greatest sin was not my homosexuality, but what I would do next: I chopped down my mustard tree.
I already told you that I am not a gardener. I’m not adept at keeping plants alive in perpetuity. Would I be any better at complete demolition? In my distress over this crisis and impossible convergence of faith and queerness, I went back to my mustard tree one last time. I took an ax and chopped it down. I brought in a backhoe and ripped the stump out by its roots. I returned to what was now a gaping hole in the ground. “Lord,” I said, “The Church says you no longer believe in me, so I can no longer believe in you.”
You still do.
I shook my head vehemently. I stared at the empty abyss where my faith once thrived. “Lord, I am not a gardener.”
Yes, you are.
I shook my head again and pointed to the evidence. He smiled and looked in the direction of my gesture. There, on the ground, was a mustard seed, a remnant of the tree I had removed in poor judgment and haste. I picked it up and put it in my pocket.
Keep it with you, or all is truly lost.
God, both in my own experience and in His revelation through Jesus Christ, has always been persistent. I spent the subsequent years embracing my authentic identity and denying my faith. The alternative seemed too impossible and painful to confront. In January 2020, my wife and I welcomed twin boys into the world. It is common for people to return to church during big life events, and so rather predictably, I could feel that mustard seed practically sprouting in my pocket yet again. After all, my children should not have to suffer for my sins, and I knew, given my religious background, that I had to baptize them. As it turns out, no canonical Eastern Christian church would do so given their parents’ queerness.
You may be surprised to hear I am glad that this happened. I am grateful for the additional trauma and pain it caused, because this was my turning point. This was the moment I was able to recognize that the mustard seed I kept with me, my faith, God’s love, was still alive. Miraculously, impossibly, it was growing. So if I could feel His love for me and for the queer family I created, that meant that the Church’s messaging and His were out of alignment. In other words, God never rejected me; other humans had, through a fallible interpretation of Scripture. As Psalm 145 states:
“Do not put your trust in princes, in mortal men, who cannot save.When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing.”
God knew time would heal me and an understanding of the truth–that He made me queer in His image, and He loved me – would prevail.
I brought my mustard seed back to the field and planted it. I prayed the Jesus prayer over it. I hoped it would grow despite my terrible track record with gardening. Shortly thereafter, I began organizing the Saint Apollinaria of Egypt Eastern Christian Church, which was ironically, a mission plant. “Lord, I am not a gardener.”
Yes, you are.
I initially named the mission after a saint who was born female and impersonated a man in order to live out their days serving as a monk in a monastery. They could have joined a convent and continued presenting as female, but they did not. This choice struck me as a strong indication of Apollinaria’s possible transexual identity, and I strongly related to it.
The last two years have filled me with joy as I became reacquainted with my faith and began to study it in depth in preparation for ordination. I have allowed God back into my life, and He has taught me that so many things I once thought impossible are possible with Him. My life is filled with family, supportive church friends, and a deeper and more meaningful relationship with Christ. I am building a church community that is Eastern Christian in theology and simultaneously LGBTQ+ affirming. That mustard seed is growing into a tree again, and that tree would not be here today if the old one had not died. Jesus had to suffer and die to trample death by death. Sometimes, we have to weather storms to see rainbows.
We recently changed the name of our mission plant to The Mustard Seed. While Saint Apollinaria will always hold a special place in our hearts, the Parable of the Mustard Seed fits and feels better. It’s accessible, relatable and personal. It’s the prayer we utter unceasingly for our church community and ourselves: to grow and endure; to take root of the ground with fervor and resiliency, and to do the seemingly impossible. I never thought of myself as a gardener, but God has given me a church plant to nurture. I will continue to spread the good news of the Gospel, because by His grace and mercy, He believes I can; and I believe in Him. As it turns out, I always have, even when I didn’t realize it.
Welcome to our two new Deacons!
On Sunday, February 20, 2022; the Most Reverend John Gregory, assisted by the Right Reverend Sean O'Neil, ordained Minister Seraphim Titus and Minister Mallory O'Neil to the sacred order of Deacons. The Presiding Bishop gives thanks to Prodigal Son Eastern Catholic Church for hosting these ordinations. The liturgy used was that of the Divine Liturgy of the Apostolic Churches, found in the Convergent Prayer Book, with the necessary Diaconal Ordination elements added.
St. Thomas Weller as a Model for Writing Charismatic and Evangelical History Bishop Sean Samuel O'Neil
A recent documentary called The Jesus Music is the latest example of the erasure of LGBTQ+ people from charismatic and evangelical history. Since popular conservative filmmakers like Andrew and Jon Ervin will not be straightforward about the LGBTQ presence in such circles, convergent Christians need to be queer about it. Revisiting the musical and ethical interests of Father Tom Weller, a saint recognized in the CCC, will help us hear the Spirit’s groaning for LGBTQ+ liberation in our convergent past, present, and future.
While charting the sometimes-bumpy course of Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) over the decades, the Erwin brothers point to a pivotal moment when young Christians from across the U.S. congregated in Dallas on June 17, 1972. They came for a Jesus music festival in which the famous evangelical preacher Billy Graham was the keynote speaker. The documentary shows the masses, estimated to be as many as 200,000, belting out an acapella version of “They Will Know We Are Christians by Our Love.” That was one of Tom Weller’s favorite songs, and I imagine he would have felt the same Spirit-chills I experienced while watching that scene. Tom’s preferred rendition of the song came from Jars of Clay, which he humorously called “Clay Pots,” since he could rarely recall the band’s name. Dan Haseltine, the lead singer of Jars, appears briefly in The Jesus Music. As does Kevin Max, a solo artist and former member of the hugely popular and groundbreaking DC Talk. There is no mention in the film, however, that both artists transitioned to an LGBTQ-affirming theological stance, which in the case of Haseltine sparked some debate on social media. This is a glaring omission since the Erwin brothers prove willing to confront other kinds of controversy in the film.
They include, for example, a focused segment on racial segregation in Christian music, giving space for many people to persuasively decry the white domination of CCM. The Erwin brothers also provide a sympathetic portrayal of Amy Grant. They make the widespread skepticism she received after her divorce and remarriage look not only unfounded but cruel. But viewers learn nothing about artists like Ray Boltz, who achieved CCM acclaim before departing that genre when he came out as gay. The filmmakers do not mention Jennifer Knapp either. Before she revealed she was a lesbian, the soulful crooner was a major player on the Christian scene—both as a solo artist and through collaborations with members of Jars, Third Day, and Sixpence None the Richer. Going farther back in history, viewers are none the wiser about the sexuality of Lonnie Frisbee. The film recognizes his pivotal position in the story of CCM, noting his signs and wonder ministry drew a throng of hippies to Charismatic Christian faith. Some of those converts comprised the talented pool of musicians who spearheaded the Jesus music of the 70s. The filmmakers do not mention that Frisbee was a gay man.
Just as they ignore the LGBTQ role in the development of Christian music history, they do not cover the changing landscape of the present. In this respect, Lauren Daigle—perhaps today’s most popular crossover artist, with hits in both Christian and secular contexts—has an unintentionally ironic appearance in the documentary. In a talking head, she lauds the “boldness” of Christian artists, but the film does not explore, or even mention, her own bold stance: she refused to cower to conservatives who demanded she denounce homosexuality as sinful after she performed on Ellen, a show hosted by the famous comedian and lesbian Ellen DeGeneres.
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus feels abandoned on the cross, crying out the words of Psalm 22:1: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” In a Jars song called “O My God,” Haseltine enumerates a list of sinners and saints who use that expression and know the feeling of abandonment: “liars, fools, sons, failures, lost and found, ailing wanderers, healers, angels, whores, men with problems, leavers, brokenhearted, separated, orphans, war creators, racial haters, preachers, distant fathers, fallen warriors, givers, pilgrim saints, lonely widows, users, fearful mothers, watchful doubters, and saviors.” If that were a guest list for a party, Saint Tom Weller would have been eager to host. He knew that ignoring people on the Christian margins, especially LGBTQ+ people, is an insult to the God who created them, the Spirit who gifted them, and the Redeemer who saved them.
By request, this article has been reprinted from the St. Lucy's Edition of our Newsletter
The early life of St. John is shrouded in mystery. While we know that he was born in Palestine in the year 579 A.D., not much is known of his parents or of the days of his youth. All we know is that St. John received a general education and that he entered into the monastic ranks at the age of sixteen. From that early age, St. John embraced the life of solitude and ascesis, as he progressed greatly in the spiritual life.
To really understand what St. John represents, one has to be familiar with the Book of Exodus, the second book of the Bible. Understanding Exodus is important, because the people of his day revered St. John so much that they saw in him another Moses. Like Moses, St. John spent forty years in the desert. Not only that, but St. John even ascended the same mountain as Moses, Mt. Sinai. He was likened to Moses because, like the great prophet of old who brought down the tablets of the Law, he too brought down a gift to share with the people. That gift, a book called The Ladder of Divine Ascent, is still being read by Orthodox Christians today. The Ladder of Divine Ascent, a book that describes how man can ascend to God, like the Ten Commandments tells the faithful how they will find order and harmony in their lives.
Them Terrible 3's, Rocky Rev. Canon Michael Angelo D'Arrigo
Sometimes, even clergy struggle with faith. Faith in themselves, faith in their communities, and even faith in our Triune God. I'm not writing this to freak anyone out. Actually, I'm saying it because doubt is a helpful tool in building faith. We all remember Doubting Thomas from scripture, the one who needed to feel the wounds of Jesus in order to believe he had returned. And yes that is a kind of doubt, but for now, I'm way more interested in talking about another apostle. Probably, the one whom we all relate to most.
Simon was a Jewish Fisher. He was married. His mother-in-law lived in the household. There were likely children about. He wasn't just any Fisherman, he likely owned his boats, and had employees. When Jesus first come to Simon and crew, they pretty much drop their nets and follow him. Especially likely, because other employees could pick up the nets and continue the business. Later when Jesus takes Simon and John, and few others to Caesarea Phillips, to the least Jewish place, to the mouth of Hades, where sulphur belched from it's depths, and pagans gathered in Grottos dedicated to Pan and Dionysus and had huge Orgies. Jesus uses that place as an object lesson about where he will build his new church. Then he asks them who he is, after suggestions of Elijah, etc, Simon says you are the living son of God, the Christ, the Saviour. This is the moment when Jesus tells Simon that from now his name is Peter. That's fine and good unless you understand the Greek. In Greek, Peter is Petras. In this case, it's meant as Little Rock, or as our folks like to say Rocky. Hard headed, stubborn, but we'll intentioned Rocky. He always gets it in the end.
Despite Rocky's claims of knowledge of who Jesus is, when asked by others during the time of Jesus' trail etc, Rocky denied him, and not just once or twice, but three times. So, of course when Jesus did die, Rocky frightened of persecution went back to fishing, even after finding the grave empty on Resurrection Sunday. In fact he doubts the Marys and had to see for himself.
Post-resurrection Jesus kept showing up for visits, and each time, there's a doubt from one apostle or another. Rocky is out fishing all night, coming back to shore with no fish. He sees someone on the shore, that person suggests they try dropping their lines one more time. And lo and behold, so many fish that Rocky has to jump in and help get the net on board. Now he knows it's Jesus on shore, and yet. Once he jumps from the boat and swims to shore, there is still enough lingering doubt that he cannot fully express his love for Jesus, despite Jesus asking three times. (I hope you see the trend).
Despite all of this doubt, Peter contributed greatly to the writings we call the New Testament, and was martyred still fully committed to the spread of the Good News.
Some days we are all Rocky, and on other truly Spirit Driven days we are Peter. Neither is perfect, but both are the epitome of humans. Both allowed doubt to grow their faith. This is my wish for your Lent. That you acknowledge and work with and through your doubts and fears, and Arrive at the Pascal Feast stronger.
With this assignment, comes a need for more prayer, start a new habit of prayer. And know that you are loved.
Peace my siblings in Christ, today and every day ...
NOTABLE FEASTS & COMMEMORATIONS
03/19 - St. Joseph (West)
03/25 - The Annunciation
03/31 - Canon of St. Andrew of Crete(East)
04/02 - Akathistos Saturday (East)
04/09 - Lazarus Saturday (East)
04/09 - Great and Holy Week Begins
04/10 - Palm Sunday (West) / Flowery Sunday(East)
04/13 - Easter Triduum Begins with Great and Holy Wednesday
04/14 - Maundy Thursday (West) / Great and Holy Thursday (East)
04/15 - Good Friday (West) / Great and Holy Friday (East)
04/16 - Holy Saturday/The Great Vigil of Pascha
04/17 - Pascha
04/18 - the Octave of Pascha (West) / Bright Week (East) begins
04/25 - St. Mark the Evangelist(West)
05/02 - Sts. Philip and James - transferred(West)
05/11 - Feast of SS Cyril & Methodiux(East)
05/29 - Holy Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council (East)
05/31 - Visitation (West)
06/05 - The Day of Pentecost (sometimes called Whitsunday in Anglican Rites)
Hidden in Plain Sight:
How God is Using a Black Latin American Saint in our Communion Bishop Sean Samuel O'Neil
I had no idea a tiny representative in the Convergent Christian Communion (CCC) was lurking on our fireplace mantle, much less that God would use him to cheer the heart of a suffering dog downer. Over a year ago, we had purchased a diminutive image of St. Martin de Porres to place on the collar of our smallest dog, Scotia. When that figure fell off the rambunctious Boston Terrier, we put it on the mantle for safekeeping. It was obscured by a larger statue of the same saint. I only discovered the smaller image because we were dusting and rearranging the mantle to make space for a painting I had purchased at a thrift store the day before. It had seemed like providence when I came across the image of an eagle with my favorite Bible verse, Isaiah 40:31, since I had just preached on that passage the day before. Given the series of serendipitous circumstances that led to finding the tiny Martin charm, I thought God might have a plan for it. The next day, I placed it in my pocket.
I once again forgot about it when I went to visit a friend I had not seen for a couple of months. I was greeted by only one of his dogs, rather than the inseparable pair I was accustomed to seeing. I gently inquired about “Zorro’s” absence. “He has throat cancer,” my friend explained sadly. “They said he would have six more months if he received chemo and just two if we didn’t. We decided to try treatment.” It was only later when I was walking to the car, and I reached into my pocket for the keys, that I was reminded I had the St. Martin charm. I ran back and knocked on the door. “I just came across this last night,” I explained. “St. Martin de Porres had a supernatural connection to animals. I am going to be praying for Zorro and I would like to give this to you as well.” My friend looked touched, like his ache had been soothed for a moment. “Thank you,” he said warmly. “I’m going to put it on Zorro’s collar.” This was not the first time St. Martin was plucked from obscurity for obviously holy purposes.
Martin was the product of an illicit liaison between an elite Spanish soldier and a freed African slave in the sixteenth century AD. He grew up in Lima, Peru, where he showed an early proclivity for prayer, but his African and indigenous ancestry meant he was ineligible for official church positions. He nonetheless offered to serve in a priory in Lima. Although he was content to carry out menial tasks, it was soon apparent to many that Martin had an unusual gift for healing prayer. He prayed not only for sick people of all races and social classes, but extended compassion across the boundaries of species as well. He is often pictured with a dog, cat, and mouse since lines between predator and prey dissolved in his life-giving presence. On behalf of the St. Martin de Porres Connexion, I invite all CCC members and friends of our Communion to appeal to St. Martin in your prayers, and to remember him as an example of the ways God continues to spotlight the grace and dignity of all beings on the margins.
WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY CONNEXION?
Unlike in more traditional Diocesan and Eparchial models found in mainline and canonical churches our Communion does not assign episcopal oversight through geographic means. In June of 2021, our governing Councils approved a transition to an affinity-based model. Upon adopting an affinity-based model, three Connexons were created to represent those relationships; a fourth being recently created for the Eastern Rite.
We chose to use ‘Connexion’ because it was an organizing form not historically tied to geography (like those listed above). As in early Methodism, our Connexions reflect an affinity-based model (i.e., when Methodism was still part of the Church of England), with a key differentiation in our use of the historic episcopacy. In this form of governance, the fullness of the church (both lay and ordained) work in concert to achieve the work of Christ. Additionally, the term ‘Connexion’ further stresses the interconnectedness of the various parts of our Communion.