I’m a 56-year-old priest ordained 20 years ago by the Rt. Rev. William D. Persell in Chicago. During a 2018 sabbatical, I discerned what Frederick Buechner calls “the place where deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet,”1 and began training as an interim minister to lead congregations through periods of change, self-examination, opportunity, and sometimes crisis.
I’m a cradle Episcopalian, baptized in August 1965 at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Shreveport, La., where I grew up. At St. Paul’s, I was an acolyte (tallest, center back), junior lay reader, and co-editor of the St. Paul’s Youth News. I graduated from Loyola College Prep in Shreveport, and Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, where I “studied” religion academically but not in person. I was a bartender at Satisfaction Restaurant and Bar. I was an anonymous “Monday, Monday” humor columnist (“L”, Jan.-May 1987), and production editor at The Chronicle, and was happily distracted from academics and piety by Sigma Chi Fraternity.
After college, I moved in with a high school friend on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. He and I supported each other’s job hunts by watching Bewitched every day. I worked several temp jobs, including Armand’s Chicago Pizzeria, the Korean War Veterans’ Memorial, Political Americana, and my favorite, a stint as Jeane Dixon‘s personal secretary, typing up tape recordings of prognostications she dictated in the middle of the night into a tape recorder, in my case, mostly regarding Harry and Leona Helmsley (no relation). I also answering the phone now and then for Al Jolson‘s brother George, who shared an office with Mrs. Dixon and turned properties at the Watergate.
At last, Bewitched paid off, and in 1990, I found a tech support job at a publishing company in Washington called the Bureau of National Affairs, Inc., now Bloomberg Industry Group. In 1990, Ultimately, I was promoted to manage the integration of their internal publishing systems with the newfangled Internet, having used Lego blocks as visual aid when I described to the Board of Directors how a standard interface can help connect vastly different systems. At BNA, I frequently was dispatched to answer cranky calls from the head of BNA Plus: Becky Karnes was a Des Moines, Iowa native, a graduate of George Washington University and Georgetown School of Law, and a demanding and formidable woman feared by most of my fellow tech nerds. But I thought she was smart and funny. In April 1992, we both feigned illness and played hooky at the beach in Ocean City, Maryland. A year later, we were married at St. George’s in Arlington, Va. My church attendance improved.
Shortly after we were married, some management shake-ups at BNA gave us reason to believe that our future lay elsewhere. Becky’s work was more specialized, and mine could be replicated almost anywhere. So she started her search first, and was snapped up by the former Commercial Clearing House (CCH), now Wolters Kluwer US in Riverwoods, Illinois. She went in as publisher of a major business unit, and later became CEO. I worked in downtown Chicago at a software development company, and later managed distributed systems at TransUnion Corporation. As my 30th birthday approached, Becky and I took a winter vacation in Cancún, and the getaway helped me get something straight in my head: I had wondered for a long time whether God was calling me to be a priest, and concluded that God was waiting for me to figure it out.
Nothing works quickly in God’s One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, and three years later, Bishop Frank Griswold, then of the Diocese of Chicago, told me to wait a year before starting seminary, because Becky was pregnant with twins. Becky and I disagreed. Bishop Griswold became Presiding Bishop, and Chicago called a provisional bishop who concluded we were right. Our kids were born in May 1998 in Evanston, and I entered Seabury-Western Theological Seminary, now Bexley-Seabury, in the “Michaelmas” (fall) term of 1998, graduating in 2001. I was ordained as a deacon on June 16, 2001, and as a priest on December 15, 2001, and was a member of the Seabury board for 11 years.
I served two years as Curate at Christ Church, Winnetka, then seven as Rector of Transfiguration, Palos Park, where I also was chaplain to the Palos Park Police Department, and co-founded the Palos Park Police Foundation. When Bishop Bill Persell announced his retirement, I was appointed as a member of the bishop search committee, and managed communications for that effort as we released a slate that included Jeffrey Lee, who ultimately became my next bishop. In 2010, I left to accept a call as Rector of St. Margaret’s in Palm Desert, California, were I served for nine years. Early in my time there, I officiated and preached the funeral of former First Lady Betty Ford. I later led two pilgrimages to the Holy Land.
On my 2018 sabbatical, I discerned a call to spend the remainder of my active ministry specializing in parish leadership transitions as an Interim Rector. I was trained through the Interim Ministry Network, and remain a member. Becky and I bought a house in her hometown of Des Moines, Iowa, and that now is our permanent home as we accept deployment for interim parish leadership. My first interim call was to All Saints’ Episcopal Church on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin, and led that congregation through 15 months of COVID pandemic. Our 23-year-old twins, Nell and Robert, graduated in 2020 from Willamette University in Salem, Oregon and Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, California, respectively.
My résumé as of May 2021 is here.
1 Buechner, Frederick. Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC. New York: Harper & Row, 1973.
Updated 2021-11-19 16:33:45