Friday, December 10, 2010

And "Father" makes seven...

The pastoral provision strikes again in Billings, Montana.

Rev. Barton Stevens, a Catholic deacon and former Evangelical Christian turned Episcopalian priest, took the final step toward what he calls his call to ministry.

"We're home. We've found where we fit," said Stevens.

A tale of finding a compatible church for family worship is not unusual, but the circumstances surrounding how Stevens became a Catholic priest are far from normal.
Under a provision enacted by Pope John Paul II in the early 1980's, the Roman Catholic Church allows former Episcopalian priests to become Catholic priests under the Roman Rite- pending the pope's consent, of course.

Stevens, who is married with five children, his kids ranging in age from 9- years-old to 4- months-old, is one of about one hundred priests in the United States ordained under those provisions.

He says the small fraternity keeps in contact with each other.

"Once word gets out that there's another one, I've gotten a couple phone calls from guys saying, 'Hi, I'm in Santa Fe, and I'm praying for you and I've got six kids', and I can hear them in the background," said Stevens.

Having support helps when you're one of few, but Stevens says the parishioners from the churches he will serve (Our Lady of Guadalupe, Little Flower and Holy Rosary) were overwhelmingly welcoming to his family.

"The people have been very, very nice and welcoming," said Stevens. "They are rather fond of my children. They're fond of me too, but they really like the children when they come to church."

Bishop Michael Warfel says although the use of the provision is rare, the Roman rite of the Catholic Church is one of few that still require celibacy from priests.
"In the Syrian Church actually the norm is married priests," said the bishop. "It's somewhat of a misconception that celibacy is the norm for the Catholic Church as a whole."

Warfel says Stevens will function as every other parish priest in the diocese, but must try to maintain the balance between the time needed to maintain parishioners and his family.

"Catholics expect a lot of their parish priests, and so, it'll be a challenge, but the primary way to live out his baptism is as a father and a husband," said Warfel.
Stevens says he's very aware of the challenge he faces, but is looking forward to working through them with his family and the church he now belongs to-no matter the reason he is being called "father".

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