An Interview with Fr. David

A Candid Conversation

 Q: What is your background?  When did you come to St Peter’s and where did you come from?  How did you become a priest?

 David:  In twenty words or less?  I received a “call” to Christian ministry in the summer of 1991.  At the time, I was the Chief of Police in Madison, WI.  This event changed my life.  So, after over thirty years in four police departments, I retired and attended seminary at Nashotah House in nearby Delafield.  After graduation, I was ordained and then took a year’s residency in Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) at Meriter Hospital in Madison.  Then I went to my first parish, St John’s in Portage, WI.  At the time, St John’s was a small, struggling parish who had lost their priest.  We were blessed to work with the people for nine wonderful years as the parish became a vibrant again.  After my wife, Sabine, retired in 2003 (also from the police), we decided to “downsize” a bit with regard to work.  So, I found a great priest to replace me at St John’s (Dave Huxley, one of the police officers I had hired when I was in Madison!).  Then Sabine and I learned that St Peter’s was open and we immediately fell in love with the place and the people.  We started serving St Peter’s in January of 2005 and are looking for many more years in ministry here.

Well, let’s start out with this question: Why should anyone become a Christian?

  David: Why not?  Looks like I have walked into this one… But let me first say that there is a big difference between the Jesus we Christians know from the Bible and the way in which Jesus’ teachings are practiced.  I think one should think about becoming a Christian because it is one of the primary ways in the world to practice love.  It was Jesus who said that all we had to do were just two things: totally love God and totally love one another.  I think choosing love is a good idea – though I will have to say, no one ever said to would be easy!

 So, if a person was disposed to think about becoming a Christian, how would they begin?

  David:  Good question.  Now the Christian fundamentalists will tell you to just confess your sins and ask Jesus to come into your heart, and you will be forever saved.  I think there is another way that is just as effective.  To me, an inquiring person would want to first check out these people who say they are Christians.  What are they like?  Are they loving – not just to insiders, but to outsiders like you?  Are they kind to you and to others?  Are they patient with your questions and even your unbelief?  If they are not, turn around and run – fast!  But if you find that these are the kind of people you would like to be around, then you need to ask a lot of questions, begin to read the Bible by first reading John’s gospel.  Then start attending some Christian events – become a “seeker.”  Then, after a while you can decide if you want to take the important step of being baptized; which is how one first becomes a disciple of Jesus – a Christian.

 But what if I have a lot of questions?  What if I don’t believe?

 David:  To me, faith is falling in and out of belief (sounds like a country western song, doesn’t it? “Falling in and out of love!”).  There are many times in our lives in which we may question, even doubt if we believe.  That’s okay.  It’s part of the journey and God still loves us.  When one worries about whether or not they are “good” enough to be a person of faith, I always tell them that there is nothing they can do which will make God love them less, and there is nothing they can do which will make God love them more.  God simply loves us – all of us.  Our creation story from the Book of Genesis, which is the text of three faiths: Jews, Christians, and Muslims, tells us we all were created in the image of God.  Pretty powerful stuff – we ALL are God-imprints – everyone of us!

What about the Bible?  Can a person realistically believe the Bible today?

 David:  I would first say this about the Bible, not to approach and read the Bible today would be to miss one of the most important pieces of literature that human beings have ever produced.  I don’t think you can call yourself an educated person if you have not seriously read the Bible.  Is it infallible, inerrant, God’s Word?  The Bible is the heart of the Christian tradition and the product of two historical communities – ancient Israel and the early Christian movement.  It is a human product, written by a number of people, using a variety of literary techniques, over a thousand years.  They wrote about how they saw things and how they experienced God in those events.  The Bible contains our sacred stories and they apply to us today in many ways.  There are sacred stories about love, hate, war, betrayal, and forgiveness – things we all experience today.  The Bible is historical (written for the people who lived then), metaphorical (has more than a literal meaning) and sacramental (shows us how God becomes present to us).  We can learn much about God and Jesus from the Bible and I heartily recommend you read it.  But please use a modern translation such as the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) or Eugene Peterson’s contemporary translation of the Bible called, “The Message.”

 Now that you have brought up other faiths, what about them?

  David: Well, what about them?  While Jews, Christians, and Muslims share the same creation story, we also know that God did not just give them God’s imprint.  God’s imprint is on ALL human beings.  We ALL are created in the image of God.  Now there has been a lot of talk about “Christian exclusivism;” that Jesus is the only way.  Now I have thought a lot about that statement from Jesus that no one comes to God but through him.  But I believe there is more than just one way to interpret what he said.  One of the ways, a more fundamental approach, is to say that, “That is exactly what Jesus meant; if you want to be with God, you must be a Christian.”  But isn’t that a rather dangerous position to take in a multi-faith world; a world that has known considerable inter-religious violence?  Is there not another way to understand Jesus?  Besides, how does the fundamentalist approach help us to live together with other people of faith in the world?  Today, we live with Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, other people of faith, and many others who are not of a faith.  I think the way we should approach them is to first of all say that God is love.  And, yes, the way of Jesus is the way of love.  But if others in the world who are not Christian practice the “way of love,” then I am confident that they, too, will be able to “come to the Father” along with the rest of us.  If not, what is the end-point of an exclusivist position, to convert at sword point all the non-Christians in the world?  I am confident that is not what Jesus meant.

 Okay, let’s get to some specifics.  What about St Peter’s – is St Peter’s the best church in Waukesha County?  Should I come here?

  David:  Of course it is and you should!  Seriously! For those who are members and regular visitors of St Peter’s (including me), our church is best for us.  If it isn’t, then we need to find someplace that is — quickly.  We all have the opportunity to engage in a deep spiritual walk in life.  Without that walk, life is simply work and die.  A church community is a place that helps us know and experience God and provides an opportunity for us to serve others.  I see the church as this:  a field hospital for those of us with broken lives, we stagger in there, and we are given aid.  After a while, our lives are healed, we recover, and when we are able to continue the journey, we do a very important thing — we reach out and help others who are looking for a field hospital.  That is church to me.  A spiritual hospital – not a social club!

 If I were to come to St Peter’s, what would I see and, hopefully, experience?

 David: First of all, I hope you would experience a welcoming atmosphere – hospitality; that people would welcome you, but not bowl you over!  Secondly, I hope you would experience the sacredness and beauty of God and God’s creation.  St Peter’s is a small church – vibrant, yet intimate. You would also sense that St Peter’s is a forward-thinking and progressive (not fundamentalist) church.  We love sacred music and we sing songs about God and Jesus, we praise God, we give ourselves to God, and we ask God to help us, our families, and the world.  Because we are a “liturgical” church, we have candles and flowers on the altar, I wear a historical garments (vestments) and each Sunday, we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, or Holy Communion.  We do this each week because on the night before Jesus died, he asked us to celebrate this sacred meal.  A meal in which he promised he would be present with us in his Spirit.  Through this sacred meal, we find forgiveness, strength, encouragement in our lives.  This is part of the rich tradition of our church which goes back to the early days of the Christian Church.  After worship, we take time for coffee, treats and fellowship.  Everything we do has a reason – historical and theological.  In fact, those of us who are Anglican Christians use a three-fold test of things religious and spiritual:  First, is it in the Bible?  Then is it part of our Tradition?  And, thirdly, is it in or Reason?  We believe our faith should be reasonable as well as biblically-based and a traditional practice of the Church down through the ages.

David, is there anything else you would like to say?

 David:  Yes, I think being a Christian is a wonderful experience, a wonderful way in which to live this life.  It is a life that I highly recommend and that everyone should check out.  I invite you to come to St Peter’s – doubter, seeker, or strong in faith.  I know we are a church where you don’t have to park your brain on the front steps before you enter.  St Peter’s is a real place and a sacred place.  And if we are not the place for you, don’t give up, check out some other churches.  But remember what I suggested earlier: “Are they loving? – Not just to insiders, but to outsiders like you?  Are they kind to you and to others?  Are they patient with your questions and even your unbelief?  If they are not, turn around and run – fast!” 

You Can Catch the Spirit at St Peter’s (Really)!