By Patricia Montemurri
Detroit Free Press
March 29, 2009
There are few women who can say they are married to a Roman Catholic priest. And few people who can say their dad is the man whom Catholic churchgoers address formally as "Father Steve."
But Cindy Anderson and her three sons can, and they were among the rush of congregants who gathered for 10 a.m. mass on a recent Sunday at St. Mark the Evangelist Catholic Church in Goodrich.
The parish priest is Cindy's husband and the father of Austin, 24, Steven Jr., 14, and Christian, 11. The Rev. Steve Anderson has been a Catholic priest since 2003, when he became the second priest in Michigan to be ordained under an exception to the Catholic Church's celibacy rule for married ministers serving some Protestant denominations.
About 100 married men, mostly ministers in Episcopal churches in the United States, have sought permission from the Vatican to be ordained as Catholic priests since Pope John Paul II allowed it in 1980.
"It does take some explanation, for sure," said Austin Anderson, an automotive engineer. "People think I don't know what I'm talking about, at first. 'Maybe you mean deacon,' they say. 'Maybe you mean another denomination.' "
Then there's the joke he hears whenever he explains what Dad does for a living: "Do you call him 'Father father'?"
For Cindy Anderson, being a priest's wife has meant a rare and challenging role.
"I've heard good response," the 49-year-old said. "I hear ... we'd like to see more of this. I've been well-received. Some say, 'We've been ready for this.' "
Laura Sullivan, a Kettering University mechanical engineering professor, is one of them. She followed Anderson from his previous parish, Holy Family in Grand Blanc, to his current posting.
"This is somebody my kids could talk to. Somebody married people can relate to. He brought such a fresh breath of air," Sullivan said after Sunday mass.
Kathie Trombley, another St. Mark parishioner, concurred.
"He inspires us all. I don't know of anybody who had a problem with" his being married, said Trombley. "As far as his preaching, having a wife has just enhanced it."
Michael Diebold, a spokesman for the Diocese of Lansing, which oversees Anderson, acknowledged that parishioners have welcomed the novelty of a married priest, a concept that flies counter to the Vatican's unwavering support for priestly celibacy.
"If there are people who find he's more approachable because of that reason, then that's a good thing," said Diebold. "Not to denigrate all the single priests who are out there, but if there's a segment of the population that finds that to be a positive in their lives, that's a good thing."
Not against celibacy
Both Anderson and the Rev. William Lipscomb, a Traverse City parish pastor who in 1997 was the first married Episcopalian minister in Michigan to be ordained a Catholic priest, say they are not campaigning for an end to Rome's celibacy requirement.
"I'm a priest. I'm not a policy-setter," said Anderson, 50.
He carefully avoids taking sides, but he doesn't believe his marriage and family have impeded his ministry.
"As a married man, you see the fruitfulness and legitimacy of a married priesthood," said Anderson. "The ancient way is for priests to have been married. ... That's not the way it's done now."
From St. Patrick Catholic Church in Traverse City, Lipscomb, who is about to become a grandfather for the first time on Holy Thursday, April 9, said he concurs with the celibacy requirement.
"I agree with the rule. ... I'm not carrying a banner to change the rules. If something happens to my wife, I'm going to be what every other priest is," said Lipscomb, 70.
He and his wife, Shirley, live in a house they own a few miles from the church, instead of the parish rectory. Their four children are grown -- two of them are now Catholic. He officiated at one son's Catholic wedding last year.
Both Lipscomb and Anderson said their faith journeys to the Catholic Church weren't motivated by controversy over ordaining women and gay priests in the Episcopal Church.
Lipscomb said he was drawn to Catholicism, in part, because he was impressed with the Catholic priests and services he encountered while serving as an Episcopal chaplain for 28 years in the Air Force.
Anderson's journey has taken him through the Presbyterian Church of his youth, to earning degrees from the conservative fundamentalist Oral Roberts University. In 1995, he became an ordained minister in the Charismatic Episcopal Church, a movement founded in 1992 and described as a blend between traditional Episcopalian practices with a Pentecostal influence. Anderson founded a Charismatic Episcopal Parish in Brighton called Church of the Resurrection.
Anderson said it was his readings of early Christian scholarly works that fueled his desire to become a Catholic.
"I didn't come in out of a reaction. I came because God was guiding me that way," Anderson said.
He and his family converted to Catholicism in 1999. He entered Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit in 2000, the same year now-retired Bishop Carl Mengeling asked the Vatican to allow Anderson to study for the Catholic priesthood.
Cindy Anderson reverently -- and good-naturedly -- has gone along.
It was natural for her and her husband to explore together the impact of Christian teachings, she said. When he talked about where his studies were leading him, she agreed to share the journey.
'We're a good team'
Steve and Cindy Anderson met at summer Bible school at White Lake Presbyterian Church in White Lake Township. She was teaching music to the Bible school kids, and he was leading group activities.
"Thirty-four years later, I still do the music and teach all the songs. And he does all the other church activities, like the mass," she says. "We're a good team."
The Andersons also live in their own house, several miles away from St. Mark's, in Grand Blanc. The couple begin their day with a standard set of Catholic prayers, reciting them together from 5:30 to 6:30 a.m. in his home office.
On this particular Sunday, Cindy Anderson's outfit includes an orange T-shirt emblazoned with "This is our Faith" on the front and, on the back, "And what a wonderful faith it is."
It's the line her husband delivers to finish every homily. Youth groups at churches where he has served and at Flint Powers High School, where he is a chaplain and teaches a theology class, print the shirts to raise money.
Steve Anderson has some news to deliver this day. He's being reassigned to Good Shepherd Catholic Parish, about 37 miles away in Montrose after only several months at St. Mark's. There are audible gasps and sighs from the parishioners.
"The bishop thought something I had was something they needed," he said.
He is to begin his new assignment in July.
The news drew a tear from churchgoer Marjorie McElroy, 43, of Grand Blanc.
"He seems so like us, so normal," said McElroy, an information technology associate with three children. "It seems as if it's easier to relate to him very quickly, pretty much from the moment you get to know him."
Having Anderson and his family be part of the parish, she said, "tied the whole concept of the parish family together for us."
- Pope's action allowed a reunion of faiths
- Pope John Paul II enacted a provision in church law in 1980 to allow married Episcopal ministers to become Catholic priests.
- Some Episcopalian ministers wanted to convert because they long hoped for a reunion with the Catholic Church. Some simply felt the Episcopal Church was getting too liberal on issues such as female and gay priests and felt more at home in the Catholic Church.
- The pope extended the conversion provision for the priesthood to both Episcopal and Lutheran ministers, in part, because the denominations share a rich sacramental life and rituals with the Catholic Church.
- Pope Benedict XVI is continuing the practice.
- The Catholic Church's first priests were married, but the church has had a rule of celibacy for about 1,000 years.
- The Roman Catholic Church also encompasses some Eastern rite churches, such as the Ukrainian Catholic Church, that always have allowed their priests to marry.
Photo: Cindy Anderson takes communion from her husband.