In this glorious Christmas season where a little more good will than usual abounds and heartens our journeys it is good to think about the church that Jesus planted in and as a result of his birth, life, death and resurrection and ministry. Church from the bottom up is what Jesus did and what he instituted. He moved among the people, all people, but especially the poor and sick and lame, the stigmatized and the outcast. And, there he sowed the seeds of the kin(g)dom of God.The church planted so long ago lives on now and is still growing from the bottom up, sometimes despite our attempts to enforce top down rules and regulations, something Jesus never did. He simply welcomed all whose lives he touched to love our God and our neighbors as ourselves. thanks be to God for the Jesus Christ of Christ-mas!
Here is an excellent article on the “People’s Magisterium” and an introduction to a wonderful documentary film By Michael McKinley Religion Editor coming from NCR online and an excellent response to it by ARCWP Bishop Bridget Mary Meehan.
Be Blessed as we move forward together as church into 2019,
thanks be to God!
Pastor Judy Lee,RCWP
Rev. Dr. Judith Lee, DMin, DSW, MSW
Good Shepherd Inclusive Catholic Community of Fort Myers, Florida
“I never thought I would enjoy a Memorial Service, but I sure enjoyed this one”. These were the words of one of our Good Shepherd Church “Elders” Mr. Harry Lee Gary after the Memorial Service and Celebration of Life for Nathaniel Chester, II, on Saturday December 15, 2018. All of the people around him from Good Shepherd Inclusive Catholic Community, Nathaniel’s family, and clergy and members of several local churches heartily agreed there was great joy in this celebration. St. Phillips C.M.E church on Lillie Street, Pastor Nicholas O’Neal and former Pastor Maurice Gilmore provided the worship space and led in the celebration. Nathaniel’s brother Michael Chester, also a Pastor, and all of Nathaniel’s family also had roots in this church. Together this rainbow hued group lifted one another in reflection, memory of Nathaniel, scriptures and song. Ten members of our Good Shepherd church family attended and were represented by Pastor Judy Lee for reflections. The joy that Nathaniel expressed so often in his life permeated all who were there to celebrate his life. Whether it was the joy of visiting family members and friends and sharing a meal with them, or the joy at the wins of the Dallas Cowboys, or the joy he often shared in church with his booming singing and Scripture reading voice or his “sing it over” as we sang the Amen, Nathaniel’s joy was the hallmark of his life. We can think of Nathaniel’s joy too as we celebrate Gaudate, Joy, Sunday the third Sunday in Advent today.
Nathaniel was one of our earliest Good Shepherd Church members who began with us in Church In The Park in 2007. He was a Cape Coral High School graduate and served in the Air Force. But his mental health struggles led to homelessness by the late 1990’s. He ended his homelessness when he moved into our Joshua House (Jesus’House) in 2008 and moved into and maintained his own housing after getting his life back on track in 2010. The journey for Nathaniel had many moments of joy and joy was in his very nature, nourished early by a loving faith filled family and church background. But also sorrow and struggles with mental illness and alcohol challenged his journey. The loss to early deaths of both parents and an older brother, Harvey, weighed heavily on Nate’s heart. And he wrestled with voices and delusions, many religious, using beer as medication until he was able to connect with Lee Mental Health Services and accept help. The tie with Good Shepherd, his new church family held him fast for many years.
below is Nathaniel (maroon sweatshirt) on the day he moved into Good Shepherd’s Joshua House-11/24/08.
Below,prominent in the blue suit Nathaniel is making his Confirmation in 2014 along with 16 other members of Good Shepherd. Nathaniel worked at being a loving Christ follower. Sister Pearl Cudjoe remembers that Nate always gave her a few dollars for the orphanage in Africa after church on Sundays. Stella Odie Ali one of our Board Members remembers the wonderful greetings and hugs Nate would give when she met him in the community. Brenda remembers sharing her cooking with Nate and how much he enjoyed it. Joe remembers him as a good room mate at Joshua House and a good neighbor in their community now. Our deacon Hank recalls Nate’s warm greetings and energetic singing. Family members remembered a loving, laughing, enthusiastic man who made them happy when in his presence. He tried to love like Jesus.
Almost miraculously for the first seven years that Nate was with us, Nathaniel used the Mental Health Center and stayed on his meds and off alcohol- until late 2015- 2016. The precipitants were not clear but then the illness, non-compliance and using beer to medicate returned with a vengeance and caused him and those around him untold mental suffering. Pastor Judy Beaumont with great patience and caring helped him to manage his funds and maintain housing and both Pastors accompanied him into and out of the mental hospital for stabilization and he was able to return to mental health time and again in the recent years. His very dear younger brother Pastor Michael helped him and walked with him as much as possible as well, but the torments of the illness were very strong. Recently he was off of his meds and the illness raged causing upsetting behaviors in the community. He also went off of his diabetes and blood pressure medications. In the midst of this tumultuous period Nathaniel was suddenly “missing” for three days, and it was learned that he died in his home on December 4, 2018. All who knew him were shocked and saddened that he passed at fifty-four years of age. When I addressed those gathered in the church I too remembered Nathaniel’s gifts of love and joy and then I shared the only way I understand it: when our suffering is too great, be it physical or mental, God comes and says “Suffer no more, I will take you home with me”. I shared the words of Jesus in John 14;1-3: “Do not let your hearts be troubled: trust in God”;trust also in me. In my Father’s house there are many rooms;if it were not so,I would have told you. I am going to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you,I will come back and take you to be with me that you may also be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going”. With God’s grace and the help of Good Shepherd and many others Nathaniel had gone from homelessness to a home. And with the grace of God he also went home to God in the midst of suffering his voices and now he suffers no more. I led the congregation in singing “Amen” with everyone doing Nate’s part “sing it over”. We felt we could hear his voice singing it over with us. To a sometimes hard life well lived- Amen! It will be sung over with God forever. It lifts sadness to know that Nathaniel is now home again, this time home with God forever and he is finally free of torment. His joy can be complete. The joy Nathaniel freely expressed in his life was present in the singing, worship, and reflections about Nathaniel’s life. We all left with hearts lifted by remembering God’s grace in Nate’s life and our own lives and enjoying again the joy of Nathaniel Chester,II.
Now Thank We All Our God: The Community Gathers In Thanksgiving with Pastor Judy and Pastor Marina Teresa, RC Women Priests
Members and friends of The Good Shepherd Inclusive Catholic Community of Fort Myers, Florida gathered on Saturday 11/17/2018 to give thanks to God and to bless one another with love and joy. This very special community is made up of formerly homeless, homeless and a variety of other members who are dedicated to compassion and justice for the poorest among us. The celebrants for the traditional Mass were Pastor Judy Lee,RCWP and Rvda. Marina Teresa Sanchez Mejia,RCWP. After a joyful worship service in which all join in consecration and all are welcomed to the Table, we also enjoyed a Thanksgiving feast prepared by Kathy Roddy and we celebrated several birthdays as well. As one member noted “the family is here together”. Twenty-three of us of all cultures and colors and life situations ranging in age from one year to 89 years with five young adults present as well were able to gather and also to pray for those who were not with us due to illness, death or other reasons. We prayed for the sick among us with a laying on of hands. We reflected that our dearly departed members including Co-Pastor Judy Beaumont, RCWP and Linda Maybin, Gary Knafla, Claire Powley,Mike Murray, Robert Swanson and several others were truly with us in spirit. And we welcomed Nancy Chism of Naples, Florida and “JG”,another newer member to our midst. We noted that several members from the 2007 Church in the Park and also from our Good Shepherd Church in the House were present and enjoying their homes and being together over the years. Some had come through life threatening illnesses and some were still battling cancer, brittle diabetes and other illnesses, some still struggled with how unbelievably hard loss is, and some struggled with how the future will be for them. But all expressed thanksgiving and hope.
The Readings for the day were Deuteronomy 8:7-18; Psalm 67; I Corinthians 13-9 and Luke 17: 11-19. In the Hebrew Scriptures we were reminded that it is our God who meets our needs and Who guides and sustains us through the wildernesses we face in life. There are many dangers in the wilderness, but God protects us from harm and fear and actually feeds and nurtures us in the hardest of times as well as in the best of times. Some of us are going through the hardest of times now. (We can think of our own lives and also of the people in the Caravan from Central America, and the people in the wild and all consuming fires in California). And we reflect on God with us through those hard times and we are thankful, even despite the difficulties and sometimes because of them, that we know that God still has our back. We are not alone and we can’t do it on our own. Yet, no matter how strong it seems, Evil will not prevail. God is still with us. Thanks be to God.
In I Corinthians 1 Paul tells the church in Corinth that he is thankful for them, for witnessing their considerable spiritual gifts in action. Pastor Judy reflected on how thankful she is for the good Shepherd church members who live the gospel and serve one another and others in great need. And like Paul, she noted “God will strengthen you until the end. God is faithful.”
Our Cook Kathy
And finally In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus gives us the parable of the ten lepers. All were healed when they asked Jesus to heal them, all were made whole. But nine went on their way while only one, a foreigner, a Samaritan, came back to say thank you. In fact, he could hardly contain his thanks and joy. Jesus said that this man’s faith had indeed saved him. And, our faith in the midst of strong troubles not only in times of smooth sailing, is what is healing us. We see that Jesus is touching all of us, and healing us- making us whole- even in the midst of trouble-we are made capable of love and joy on every level of our being. And the people said AMEN!
I only wish I could have captured the looks on the faces of those gathered as we sang “Thank you, God” together. It was from the bottom of our hearts and souls.
There was also a special joy in welcoming Phyllis’s newest grand child Derrick, almost one. And also in sharing the hopes of some of our younger members.
We closed our worship with a spirited variation of the hymn “He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands” with She’s got the whole world in Her hands- God, our loving Mother and Father, is carrying us and our world. And finally WE have the whole world in our hands-it is our job to care for the environment, for all God’s creatures,and for one another. And we are so thankful for the opportunity to make church together and to do this as a church community.
HAPPY THANKSGIVING TO ALL!
Pastor Judy Lee, RCWP
Rev. Dr. Judith Lee, RCWP
Here are two recent articles affirming change in the Roman Catholic Church in the direction of inclusion for all of the baptized who are prepared and called, specifically for women in the priesthood. While Australian Bishop Long recognizes that all of archaic clericalism needs to be changed before it can happen, he affirms the importance of women in the Roman Catholic priesthood. He applauds Pope Francis for bringing new wine to the church and considers women in the priesthood as another hope for new wine in the church even as the old wineskins of tradition and structure are also made new so they can hold the vital new wine.
This is from LifeSite News, lifesitenews.com, by Dorothy Cummings McClean, 10/23/18.
In the second article we get the viewpoint of a young female Husite Catholic Priest as she is seated as the only female at the Church’s World Congress for Youth. ARCWP Bishop Bridget Mary’s comment is that hopefully next year RCWP Priests who are now over 264 strong throughout the world may be seated and contribute to this important Congress.
Clearly women RC Priests are already here! (This picture is illustrative and only a part of one section of Roman Catholic Women Priests International- the US Eastern region.)
The Holy spirit of our loving God will call whom She will-let no structures impede God’s call. Here’s to new wine in the Church!
Blessings, Rev. Dr. Judy Lee, RCWP
Pastor good Shepherd Inclusive Catholic Community Fort Myers, Florida
Leslie Frances Handy,60, and Celie Katovitch, 29, were ordained transitional Roman Catholic Deacons in a sacred and joyful traditional Ordination ceremony at the Stony Point Conference Center in Stony Point, New York by Bishop Andrea Johnson of the Roman Catholic Women Priests, Eastern Region on October 14, 2018. Each woman is well prepared for the diaconate by life,service, ministerial and educational experience and will serve into 2019 in their respective communities of Baltimore, Maryland and Rochester, New York.
Fran Handy, as she likes to be called, has led a life of service. She was a religious Sister for many years before returning to lay status and continuing to pursue opportunities to serve God’s people. She holds a Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education and is completing a Master’s Degree in Theology and Pastoral Service at Global Ministries University. She is a part of the Living Waters Inclusive Catholic Community in Maryland and will serve as Deacon with them. She is married to Mimi Giguere, works a full time job and lives in Baltimore, Maryland. Her passion is to serve the poor, the outcast, children and families and the LGBTQ community.
Celie Katovitch of Syracuse, New York, has ministerial experience as an ordained Pastor in the Unitarian Universalist Church before returning to Roman Catholicism and membership in the Spiritus Christi Catholic Community in Rochester, New York. Her undergraduate degree is in Philosophy, Peace and Justice from Gettysburg University. She holds a Master’s of Divinity Degree from Harvard University Divinity School(2013) and is also a graduate in Spiritual Direction from the Haden Institute(2018). Her commitment is to serve the poor and disenfranchised.
We are truly blessed and happy to have Fran and Celie as Deacons in the Roman Catholic Women Priests, Eastern Region.
The first picture below is of Deacons Celie and Fran with Priest Jackie Clarys.
The second is all of the Eastern Region priests who were able to be in attendance at this joyful celebration.
The Ordination followed the Retreat of the Eastern Region’s clergy at the rustic and beautiful Stony Point Center from 10/12-14. On the first night we celebrated the lives of two of our priests who died this year: Judy Beaumont and Claire Gareau. Priest Gloria Carpeneto who had been Claire’s mentor told of her gentleness and service and her love of baseball. And I, at times tearfully, shared two poems about the life of unceasing compassion, prayer and service led by Judy. In a truly moving celebration of their lives we shared the grief of loss and the hope of lives lived entirely for and with Christ in love and service.
In the picture below our Colombian priests, Marina Teresa Sanchez Mejia, Judith Bautista Fajardo and Maria Elena Sierra Sanchez sit at the memory altar and consider the lives of Judy and Claire.
As Judy Beaumont and I went to Colombia four times to assist the priests there having our Colombian priests at this Memorial Celebration was particularly meaningful.
The topic of the Retreat was “Claiming Our Prophetic Voice and Witness” structured on the Samaritan woman’s encounter with Jesus in John 4. Our retreat leader was Amy Wellborn who was amazing. We applied this truly exciting story to our individual lives and to our mission as Roman Catholic Women Priests. One of the questions we considered was: “We also pondered the questions; How do we speak to power? How do we read the signs of the times? How do we create bridges to the future? and How do we embody the gospel message?”. As Roman Catholic Women Priests we are wondering if witnessing and being a new model of church is our prophetic call?” We did not find all of the answers but generated energy to pursue these important questions by our work and caring interactions.
How blessed we were and how fitting it was to end this important retreat with the ordination of two new Deacons! Celie and Fran, Fran and Celie,Bienvenidos, Welcome! ANd Bendiciones, Blessings! You remain in our hearts and prayers as you continue to serve our loving God.
This is the quilt of our names made by our Priest Barbara Beadles. Our departed members lead us at the top of the quilt.
THANKS BE TO GOD!
Rev. Dr. Judy Lee, RCWP
Humble St. Francis of Assisi whose Feast day is today is a Saint for our times. If there could be a Saint named to intercede for the Environment, for Sister Mother Earth, all of earth’s creatures, and for a rebuilt and renewed church, it would be Francis of Assisi. Probably Francis and all gentle saints both named and unnamed by the church are already praying for the preservation of God’s beautiful and boundless creation. Perhaps they are praying for each one of us to “do something” to save our planet and all residing in and on it, for action is needed now more than ever even as it was needed in Francis’ 12th Century world of Umbria and Assisi, and all around it. And, surely, they are praying for the conversion and return to God of a church where sexual abuse, inequity, and the abuse of money is becoming better known than the Gospel.
Francis, or Francesco as his well to do merchant father renamed him for his love of France, was a “highborn” and spoiled young man who won the favor of all he knew for his affable and party loving ways. He actively pursued dreams of being a warrior and nobility, not of being a holy saint.Yet, something happened to change Francesco. When he was 25 he had a dream in which he heard God’s voice telling him “it was all wrong” and asking him “Francis, repair my church”. church”. At first he thought God meant the dilapidated building where his village worshiped. So he did that only to learn that was not what the dream meant. This use of money angered his father and he had to pay it back and then he was disinherited. Francis was surprisingly relieved by this and, listening to his call from God,began a life of prayer and letting go of all material goods to share with the poor and infirm, and all of God’s creatures, whom he cared for with the same strong energy he used in dissipation in his former life. The hallmark of his actions was respect and love for all creatures great and small, for animals and birds, the infirm and beggars as well as the highborn and the pope. Equal love and respect. Wow! What a beautiful yet difficult lesson that is for us. Not all who follow the way of Francis will choose radical poverty as he did, but many can try to “give it all away”. And ,as for the conversion of the soul needed to live in simplicity and holiness as the poor and sick and all creatures are served, it can be a life long process. But to follow the Gospel in loving and showing respect to all, ALL- great and small- with equanimity is simply to live the Gospel as Jesus lived and preached it. It is that simple and that difficult. Most of all it is not an ascetic road, but one that demands actual action and hard work. Francis “got” what Jesus taught and lived: to love all of God’s creation and creatures, one must give one’s very self away. Francis ended his life chronically and terminally ill and blind and worn out from serving the poor, the sick and all of God’s creatures. He did not gain material comfort or ascend to nirvana or higher consciousness. He worked hard at serving his beloved God and all of creation until he died at 45. But for Francis, death was welcomed as freedom and unity with his beloved God and Christ.( For more about Francis one might see:
Francis wrote his famous Canticle of the Sun or Laudes Creaturarum- Canticle of Creatures when he was suffering his last illness and facing death. He says “Be praised, my Lord through….Brother Sun, Sister Moon, Brother Fire, Sister Water, Sister Mother Earth and all of God’s creatures,and finally through Sister Death.” He praised God through all life and through its natural ending- called the first death, but advised that the the “second death”, or life cut off from God after death, can not harm God’s beloved who love and serve God and all of creation and will be united with God in dying here. His is an action and love filled spirituality. He also said” it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and in dying that we live”. He urged us to “start by doing what is necessary;then do what is possible;and suddenly you are doing the impossible”. I think of Rev. Judy Beaumont who lived a life of service her entire life, serving and blessing others until the last few days of her life when she could do no more. Her life of selfless service and love was a Francis life although she served 35 of her years as a Benedictine Sister, and the last 6 years as a RC woman priest. And her surrendering finally to Sister Death into Life was what Francis was talking about.
And we need to do the “impossible” now, we are reminded that here and now our earth, our planet, is in peril; wars and conflict rage on; human poverty and senseless illness and death is on the increase; water and resources for life are destroyed; and there is cruelty and abuse to both children and animals that is on a scale that is hard to fathom. And,what should be a powerful vehicle for changing this, the church,is in crisis and shame in the realities of sexual abuse on such a wide scale while married men and women are still not able to “officially” be ordained priests to serve God’s precious people. We have a new Francis, our Pope, whose heart is in the right place to have an impact on all of this, but who is hampered by the realities of the Roman Church itself and its archaic structures and politics. But more than this, he is hampered by us. Each one of us needs to become aware of the threats to our planet and to God’s poor and all creatures, and we each need to “do something” about it, to have an impact on exercising the possible to do the impossible-change the directions tings are moving in. No one Francis , however powerful his or her role, can change anything. All of us need to become a Francis and assist.
Here is an example of a man, in fact a Jewish man, who made an important choice to live more like Francis. And I am not sure he would ever conceptualize it this way, but I was so impressed by him. He is my Doctor, Paul Yudelman and he has been a wise , compassionate and able Doctor who has saved my life in his discovery of a stomach cancer- now happily removed and giving no trouble for five years. He also ministered to our Judy Beaumont during her illness and passing with the greatest compassion and skill. His compassion made him different as a Doctor. He has reached retirement age and while I feel sad that he will no longer be my Doctor and we also had many great conversations, I am awed by his decision. He is giving up on making money in Medicine and says “he has enough”. He is moving to Washington State to be part of the Environmental Movement and will give his considerable energy, passion and compassion and wisdom to saving our earth. He challenges us and me in particular to do what I can here, where our water is full of red tide, dead fish and sea life and toxic blue green algae. Erin Brokovitch is now here to help local activists champion this cause. I can act politically with my vote and in other small ways to counter this.
I think too of those who serve the poor and homeless here as it seems an endless battle when there are no local or state taxes to assist with housing and finances. I think of the many churches, groups and individuals who share with the poor and help them attain what they need with dignity. I think of Tonya Van Scoy and her family and friends who continue their Saturday night feeding ministry in the park. They, like our Good Shepherd Ministry, have had to slow down some recently due to illness and many changes in their lives. But we have been doing what we could for eleven years. And we could do this because so many good Christ followers have helped us. I think of the faithfulness of Hank and Claire Tessandori and Judy Alves and Jim Pellstring and Rev. Judith McKloskey and Rvda Marina Sanchez and Pearl and Dr. Joe Cudjoe to our ministry and of many others. In our ministry Ellen and Jack McNally still make food for our community gatherings as does Kathy Roddy who knows what it is like to struggle, but more importantly to serve. And also many continue to give us material support that we share with the poorest although we have dissolved our tax exempt status. This is a pure act of love. And when we can no longer do this others replace us. I think of Joe and Cece Irvin and Boot straps Ministry. Fr. Joe is a married priest and we worked together in the Park from 2007-2010. Then we moved separate ways as our ministries evolved. Their Ministry is active now in North Fort Myers. And there are many others who serve, Grace Methodist Church downtown, and several small ministries like Pastor Mandy’s. And I think too of some of our formerly homeless and still poor folks like Brenda Cummings and Harry Gary who give their assistance and support to keep these street ministries alive for the poorest among us. And I think of Mercedes with HEAL who works tirelessly to help abandoned and abused pets to get a new lease on life and a home. I think of my friend Danielle Nisivoccia who cares for the feral cats near her home in Pennsylvania. She feeds them tasty mackerel and wet and dry food and builds them igloos and uses a renovated Green House for shelter for them in the hard winters. Another neighbor, Elaine, who is caring for her terminally ill mother also cares for many of the area’s feral cats. Danielle is also reaching time to retire from this hard work but can not envision selling that property because 2-3 old and weak cats still need her compassionate intervention. And with the help of Dr. Terry Sutton and her lovely Staff I still care for 19 cats here and several outside as does at least one other of her clients. It is hard work but her help makes the difference in so many ways.
And I think of our Roman Catholic women priests who give up the support of the church communities they loved to serve as priests and who serve the poorest and also animals. In this I think of Pastor Gabriela Velardi-Ward who has an Inclusive Catholic church in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village and who also feeds and cares for feral cats in her home in Staten Island, and, an architect,she works full time as well. I think of Rev. Marni who cares for the poor and for countless cats and dogs in Arizona where she builds homes for their shelter and comfort even as she struggles with health issues. And I remember our Franciscan Third Order Priest, Adele Decker Jones for her wisdom and love,and Rev. Tish Rawles for her love of God’s little creatures and applaud Rev. Elena Garcia who has spent a life caring for the poor. And there are many more women( and a few men) who do so in our over 260 validly but illicitly ordained priests and deacons world-wide.
And I think of countless ministers to the poor, both clergy and laity and Religious Sisters and Brothers who, like Francis give their whole lives to the poor both in the USA and abroad. All of this makes me feel that it is possible to join St. Francis of Assisi in his dream of “repairing the church” and loving and serving all of God’s creatures and Creation, our planet,-in doing the impossible. May each one of us try a little harder with God’s help.
Rev. Dr. Judy Lee,Pastor
Good Shepherd Ministries, Fort Myers, Florida