Archives for January 2013

Finding Community

For much of my life I’ve felt like the odd man out. I’ve always been out of step. I was never one of the cool kids. I never had the same interests or hobbies. I’m introverted. I like to read and spend quiet weekends alone. I wasn’t the happy, bubbly high schooler. I wanted to talk about bigger issues, not the latest whatever. I’ve found it difficult to make and keep friends. I tend to be rather intense in relationships and I prefer a smaller group of very close friends rather than a large group of more casual friends. home


I have often felt like the “wrong kind” of whatever. The wrong kind of person, christian, catholic, priest…the list goes on and on.


Lately, though, I am beginning to see my outlier life as something that is a blessing not a curse. I know what it is like to be on the margins. I know what it is like to feel like an outcast. And I know what it is like to be myself even when no one around me is willing to accept me.


I’ve been thinking a lot about community; especially church community. For years I wanted to be a part of different organizations. I wanted to fit in, to be picked. When I was reading Seth Godin’s The Icarus Deception: How High Will You Fly? one thing he said really stood out to me, “No one is going to pick you. Pick yourself.” You have to pick yourself. You have to follow your heart. He goes on to say, “I think it’s because their outlier tendencies made it clear to them early on that they would be less likely to be picked. Less likely to be at the top of their class or chosen by the fancy college or recruited by P&G. Precisely because they didn’t fit in, they had little choice but to pick themselves. And once that choice is made, it becomes a habit.”


One of the things that being trans* has taught me is that integrity is worth the cost. For years I ignored my gender discomfort because I didn’t want to risk transitioning. I was terrified at what it would cost me. And I’m not going to lie, transitioning has definitely cost me. But it has also given me peace that I have never had before. That moment when I walked into the office and got my first shot of testosterone I picked myself.


I spent a lot of years trying to fit in with certain church or christian groups. I wanted to be liked by them, I wanted to be respected. I wanted to be asked to speak at their conferences and sit at their tables. But all the while I was miserable. I had to come to realize that they aren’t my community; they aren’t the people I am called to be in community with. And that’s okay! So now I am trying to do the work that calls to me. To listen to my gut instincts (because I can generally trust my gut). I want to do work that is honest and that speaks to my heart and I trust that by doing that it will bring together other people who are on the same journey.


At my ordination more people watched the livestream than were there in person. Community is forming even if it doesn’t always look like other people think it should. Some folks laugh at me for spending time on twitter or for taking the time to livestream the ordination, but they don’t understand that these folks are my community. You are my community. You are my friends. We are charting a new world together.


I get a lot of messages saying I wish there was a community like yours where I am. I think the answer needs to be, start one. Pick yourself. Live your most authentic life and other people will be drawn to what you have to offer. Find your community; on twitter, on a blog, in a coffee house. Do the work that only you can do and your community will find you. Stop trying to fit in when you were born to stand out. Stop not saying what you want to say for fear of how others will respond. Stop blending in, holding back, sitting down. Be bold. Be yourself. Community will follow.




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Ordination Videos

Just wanted to share a couple more ordination related things before I move on to some other topics! IMG_5646 - Version 2

In case you missed, an essay about my path to ordination was on the Huffington Post last Friday.

I finally got the videos of the ordination uploaded. They are embedded below. If you are still wanting to know more about the North American Old Catholic church, I really recommend you watch video three. Bishop Ben Evans offers a bit of really helpful history in his homily. He also responds to folks who say that the NAOCC isn’t Catholic.

Ordination to the Priesthood part 1 from Shay Kearns on Vimeo.

Ordination to the Priesthood part 2 from Shay Kearns on Vimeo.

Ordination to the Priesthood part 3 from Shay Kearns on Vimeo.

Ordination to the Priesthood part 4 from Shay Kearns on Vimeo.

Ordination to the Priesthood part 5 from Shay Kearns on Vimeo.

Ordination to the Priesthood part 6 from Shay Kearns on Vimeo.

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Weekly Bookshelf

When I go into someone’s house or apartment for the first time, I find myself especially drawn to their bookshelves. I want to see the books that they read and the ones they have on display. I like to know which ones have mattered enough to keep, which ones are dogeared and worn, and which are on the stack to be read next. the.icarus.deception
This week I read the newest book by Seth Godin: The Icarus Deception: How High Will You Fly?. It definitely ranks as a must read for anyone who is interested in doing work that matters.


Godin takes on the Icarus myth. He says that the way the story is normally told is a caution against flying too high; being too big for your britches, but that what people leave out is that the other warning in the story was about flying too low. We do ourselves a disservice by not bringing all of who we are to the table. He says, “It’s a book for anyone who has been overlooked or brainwashed or seduced into being invisible. A revolution is here, our revolution, and it is shining a light on what we’ve known deep down for a long time-you are capable of making a difference, of being bold, and of changing more than you are willing to admit.” Godin’s main theme in this book is that “We’re all artists now”.


He says that anyone who does work that encourages interactions and connections between people is an artist. This book really resonated with me in thinking about ministry. It’s a book about facing your fears and doing better work. When I think about what it means to plant a new church, to chart new waters, I need to be reminded to face my fears and do it anyway. To increase connections and to try new things. Godin says, “We made a mistake. We settled for a safety zone that wasn’t bold enough, that embraced authority and compliance. We built our comfort zone around being obedient and invisible, and as a result, we’re far too close to the waves.” (That sounds like so much of what church work is to me.)  This is a book about following your gut, doing what you know you are called to do. Instead of settling for safe, “Creating ideas that spread and connecting the disconnected are the two pillars of our new society, and both of them require the posture of the artist.”


I highly recommend this book. I highlighted things on almost every page. This book was exactly what I needed to read at this point in my life.


What are you reading these days?


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A New Reality

It has been a whirlwind couple of weeks. Amazing and exhausting all at the same time. As an introvert, big events (like my ordination) take a while to process. I’ve spent the past week being mostly quiet, trying to process everything that has happened (and slowly, slowly trying to put my apartment back into some kind of liveable shape!). IMG_5646 - Version 2


When I sent out the press release about my ordination I thought that there might be a bit of interest; some local indie paper, a couple of blogs, etc. And then, suddenly, I was getting emails and phone calls. Folks were sending reporters and photographers. I’m not entirely comfortable with the attention. I don’t want it to be newsworthy that a church is doing the right thing in ordaining a trans* person. I don’t want it to be newsworthy that there are churches that welcome all people. But in this world these things are news. I’ve had to keep reminding myself of why I sent out the press release: A new community needs people to get started and people have to know the community exists. Even more than that, though, I think of what it would have meant to me as a kid to see a transgender person being ordained. I think of how much it would have meant to know that I could still live out my calling.


I have to admit that I’ve felt a new sense of vulnerability since the press happened. I’ve been fairly anonymous over the years, only recently attaching my name and photos to things I’ve written. I’ve been both desirous of being out as a trans* person (in order to give much needed visibility) and also uncomfortable with being pigeon holed into only being able to do queer work. Suddenly my name and face are attached to headlines that say “Transgender Man Is Ordained” and I feel vulnerable. Like everyone is watching, like I am suddenly very, very visible. I have had to remind myself over and over and over again to not read the comments on anything posted about me. (When I have ventured into those comments sections it’s been difficult. On the one hand there are people (both gay and straight) saying that being trans* is really sick. Then there are queer folks saying that I am stupid for remaining in the church.) It’s a new reality to adjust to.


Then there is the ordination itself:


As far as I can tell, the ordination rite in the Old Catholic church is designed to do two things: 1: to affirm your calling to ministry and 2: to scare the spit out of you with the weight of that calling.


There are several things that stand out to me about the service. The power of laying prostrate on the floor before the altar as the congregation prayed for the wisdom and blessing of the saints, the feel of the hands on my head and shoulders as people offered their words of blessing and prayers for my ministry, and the Bishop handing me the Gospels and telling me “Receive the Gospel of Christ, whose herald you now are. Believe what you read, teach what you believe, and practice what you preach.” It is humbling to have that kind of trust placed in you. Humbling to have this calling. I feel so thankful that I get to do this work.


I am sure that I will have a lot more to say as I continue to process this momentous event. I’ll have video of the service up early next week (I hit my upload limit and have to wait for it to re-up)! But until then, here are some photos of the day (I tried to embed them, but it wouldn’t work!). They were taken by the very talented Orrin Pratt.


Thank you all for your incredible support. There were more people watching the livestream than were in physical attendance. It makes me so grateful for my online community. I am blessed to have you in my life.

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We are getting ever so close to ordination time! Tomorrow I’ll have a post up detailing how folks can participate, even from far away, so be looking for that!


I am feeling mostly calm today. I am still waiting for a couple of things to arrive in the mail, but it won’t be a disaster if they don’t show up. Everything else is mostly in place. I still need to write a bunch of thank you cards for the folks who have been so amazingly helpful, and get a few more things together, but other than that it’s all ready. The programs are printed, etc. I would definitely appreciate prayers for these final two days: That I can remain calm, that I’ll sleep well, and that the sickness that is infecting my workplace will skip over me! IMG_0853


The ordination has been getting a bit of press coverage which has been fun (see below if you are interested in reading some of it!). I am especially interested in getting the word out about House of the Transfiguration so that people know there is a place for them. It’s been fun to tell my story and to be one more visible trans* clergyperson, especially one who claims Catholic as there seem to be fewer of us (for a lot of reasons).


I was telling one interviewer that when I was growing up I had no idea trans* people even existed. And even when I was beginning my transition I didn’t know any trans* clergy. Of course over the last several years I have met many clergy who identify as trans* and that’s been awesome. It’s been great to see more folks getting press as well. It needs to be common knowledge that you can be trans* and still live out your calling. And even more than that, that you can live out your calling fully (not just sequestered into ministering in queer circles or queer churches). These are important stories to tell.


I am also realizing a new what an honor and a privilege it is to wear the collar. People trust you with their stories and their lives. But you also carry the baggage of all of the faults of people who wore the collar before you and that is difficult, but a powerful reminder to always work hard to be worthy of the calling and the trust. I need to remember to always center myself in that calling and that identity in Christ.


So here’s the press coverage. I’ll update this as more come in putting the newer ones at the top of the list. Several places simply ran the press release, but others did more in-depth stories. Just gonna put this here both in case folks are interested and for my own records:


News Spot #1

News Spot #2

The Star Tribune

The Advocate

My interview with Interfaith Voices.

LGBTQ Nation

City Pages

Instinct Magazine

Truth Wins Out


The Seattle Lesbian

Pink News

Gay Star News

Believe Out Loud

Kollman Catholic Digest

Queer Church News

Black Christian News


interview with Daniel Hayward

Women’s Ordination Conference

My own story on Believe Out Loud

Clerical Whispers

What’s Up ATL

Daily Queer News

Gay Catholic Priests

Daily Kos

Jodie Foster and Coming Out

Last night I was hanging out on Twitter (as one does) and my feed started going fast and furious about Jodie Foster. I don’t have an antenna and so I had no idea what they were talking about. Some were saying she had come out, some were saying that her speech was garbled and confusing, and on and on. I was able to watch the speech on YouTube and I, personally, found it incredibly moving and sincere. jodiefoster-profile-jpg_032007


The criticisms of Ms. Foster made me uncomfortable and upset. (I understand that some of them are about her friendship with Mel Gibson, and I’m not touching that in this post.) I took to twitter and in a string of tweets said the following (spelling cleaned up):


“Really queer folks are damned either way: we don’t come out and we’re considered cowards and liars. We do and we’re playing identity politics. My life and identity are my own. I try to live my truth as best I can and help others, but I also need to do it on my terms and in safe ways. sometimes people will want be to be out and I won’t, or they’ll want me to shut up and I’ll refuse. My identity doesn’t belong to you.”


I wanted to expound upon that today. I know that a lot of people think Jodie Foster should have come out years ago by making a public and succinct statement “I am gay”. Some folks thinks she owes it to the public to be open about her life and her sexuality. Some people say that it’s cowardly to not come out, or that she could have helped a lot of people had she come out. And I get it. It helps to see people in the public eye who look like you. It helps to have strong, vocal, out, people on the screen and in the news. I would love for everyone to be able to be out and open about it. I would love to see more queer folks on tv, in movies, writing books, etc.


But not all of us are called to be activists. Not all of us want to talk about our sexuality and gender identity 24/7 (and honestly, if someone in the public eye comes out, they will be asked to talk about it 24/7). We do not owe anyone anything.


Can staying closeted about your sexuality be an act of cowardice? Yes. Can it be necessary or life preserving? Yes. It’s complicated and personal.


I know there have been times when I have come out or been out because I felt like I had to. I felt like I was being judged for not being out, looked at as not radical enough or not a good enough activist. In those moments I was out but I was bitter and angry about it. I was frustrated and maybe fearful. It felt like I was doing it on someone else’s terms. It did not make me a good activist or a good example for other people. I was too busy being resentful to be able to be helpful.


There have been other times that I have chosen to come out; to offer support, to teach about my life, and it has been on my own terms. In those moments I was able to be out with grace and with power. In those moments I was able to speak my truth in boldness and love and hopefully help other people.


There is a double edged sword here as well. There have been times when I have been out and been told to be quiet, asked to talk about something other than my sexuality or gender identity, told that I was playing “identity politics”. The world is hostile. Must we be hostile to one another?


Certainly there is privilege involved in all levels: For some it is a privilege to remain private, for others it is a privilege to be in a place of emotional and financial safety where you can come out. But here’s the overall point: You don’t owe anyone anything. Jodie Foster doesn’t owe anyone anything. If she is at peace with herself and her family, then that’s all that really matters. And quite frankly, after the responses I’ve seen to her online, she certainly doesn’t owe the queer community (who have been vicious) anything. As she said last night, she came out to all of the people she actually knew. Why should we ask her for more?


As a transgender person, coming out is even more complicated. When I don’t disclose my transgender history I am not being closeted. In fact, all of those years of living perceived as a female, that was my closet. Being seen as male is being seen as who I truly am. For people to insinuate that I have to disclose to everyone is hurtful and presumes that my gender is somehow “fake”. There are also less protections for transgender people who come out; more chances to get fired, get evicted, get assaulted. It’s a higher stakes game in a lot of respects.


We need to change the dialogue. We need to reframe the emphasis on “coming out”. We demand it of people but then don’t provide the resources they need in order to be healthy and safe. We call people who don’t come out “cowards” and then we overlook the damage that happens when someone comes out too early. We have a “National Coming Out Day” without taking into account what that means for people.


All of this is to say that coming out is tricky and complicated. It’s something that has to happen over and over again. But it’s not something that can be demanded. It is not something that is owed to anyone. It needs to be done on your own terms, in your own way, in your own time. You shouldn’t feel pressured to come out before you are ready. When you do feel ready you should have a support system in place, safe people to come out to first, a plan for if things go badly. You should make sure that you’ll have a place to stay that is safe and secure.


If you feel called to be an activist that’s awesome. If you don’t, that’s okay! You need to live your truth to the best of your ability in ways that feel safe to you. There will be people who feel called or able to be more open about their lives. There will be others who want or need to be more private. There is no “right way” to be queer. Your identity is your own.



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Ordination Land

My ordination is a week from today, and to be honest, it’s just about all I can think about right now.


Planning an ordination is more complicated than one would think. Lots of details keep coming up that I wasn’t expecting. I’m thankful that the church I am working for it allowing me to rent the chapel to have the service (and that a friend was kind enough to pay that rental fee for me). I ordered a tea and coffee service for the reception thinking it included cookies…it didn’t. So that sent me scrambling to find folks who might be willing to take care of the food so I don’t have to worry about that (and honestly, also, because I am a crappy baker).



Then there was finding a piano player who could handle a couple of different types of music, hiring a photographer, finding someone to leave the congregation in singing the one contemporary song in the service (that person has yet to be found), making sure that I have all of the church supplies I need for the service, and more.


And putting together the program booklet. The service will be a traditional Catholic ordination and Mass. Most of the people attending will not be Catholic. In order to make it so that they can follow and participate in the service I’ve had to work really hard to put together an order of worship that includes everything they will need (without being 100 pages). I’ve had some people helping me to put it together which has been great but it has still be incredibly time consuming.


I’m still waiting (and crossing my fingers) on several things that are in the mail and will hopefully get here in time. I am trying to make sure that I have a half day (because that’s how long it will take me to get there) to get to the church supply store in case something doesn’t show up in time.


Then there has been the press. It may seem self-serving to try to get press for this event, but there are a couple of reasons that I have been making the attempt:


Growing up I thought that ministry was going to be closed off to me because of my gender identity. There still aren’t enough stories (though thankfully more each year) of transgender clergy. If my story can reach someone who feels called but thought there was no space for them than that’s amazing.


And I’m trying to start a new parish. Hopefully the press will allow people who are looking for a place to find out that one is starting. It allows me to reach people that advertising never would. So I am thankful for the press that has been coming through.


That’s all of the detail stuff. There’s also a lot going on emotionally as I get ready for this day:


Gratitude and Joy: I am so thankful that I found a church willing to ordain me as all of who I am. I am thankful that I feel so at home with them. I am thankful that they are giving me the opportunity to serve. I am thankful for the folks who are reaching out to help with the ordination, who are baking things, who are reading Scripture, who are driving folks around, and who are taking photos.


Nervous and Anxious: That things won’t get done, that I’m going to forget something important. That I’ll do something silly during the service (trip, light something on fire, drop the wine).


Sad: There is a bit of grief and sadness over the people who aren’t going to be here. Some folks can afford the money or the time to travel. Some folks, folks who were incredibly important in my development, don’t support me any longer because I am queer. There is just some sadness over people I wish could be here but who won’t.


Humbled: I am humbled to be joining a long line of clergy, a long line of priests. I am humbled to be called to this work, to be called to serve people in this way.


The countdown is on: This time next week we’ll be getting ready to do this thing! I appreciate your prayers and words of support during this last push to get everything done.



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Lost In Translation

It’s been one of those weeks: you know the ones where all of your self doubt gets riled up and you’re not sure that you can ever do anything good in the world. You all know that I am currently planning my ordination. And I’m learning a lot about myself in this process. I wanted to share some of the things that are coming up for me.Uncertainty And Confusion


The other night I attended my friend Alison’s ordination. It was a lovely evening full of celebrating the life and ministry of this wonderful person. As a part of the service, any clergy present process in in their vestments so I put on my alb and my deacon’s stole. I was in line and ready to go, feeling fine. We process in. Our instructions were to sit in the first three pews on either side of the church. Everyone so far had been sitting on one side and the pews were getting filled up, so I thought I would take the initiative and start filling up the other side. I peeled off trusting people to follow me. No one did.


So there I was, sitting completely alone in a pew. With two empty pews behind me. And ALL of the clergy on the other side. I felt like an idiot. I felt like a failure. I tweeted something about it and people were gracious enough to respond with their own liturgical errors which made me feel a little better.


I found myself thinking that I am not cut out for any of this formal stuff! It’s all so intimidating. But even more it made me feel incompetent. I hate feeling incompetent. I’m realizing that in the planning of my ordination, incompetence is what I am feeling most of all.


I grew up in protestant churches. I speak the language, I know the motions, I know the hymns. I didn’t grow up Catholic. I haven’t had much exposure to in person Catholic community. I have read a lot, I love what I know and so many Catholics have inspired, strengthened, and enriched my faith. In some respects I don’t feel like I am converting; I am still a Christian, Catholicism is simply a different expression. But I am learning that there is a lot of different language in that new expression and I am often lost in translation.


I was working on the booklet for my ordination and called it a bulletin, apparently in Catholic circles a bulletin is something different. There are different hymns that I don’t know yet, different clothing that I’m still learning how to put on.


I am afraid that people are looking at me and judging me, that they are thinking that I am not ready to be ordained, that I am not worthy. All of my experience, all of my training (and it has been extensive; undergraduate and graduate degrees in ministry, internships, pastorates, full time ministry for years, etc), none of it seems to translate. And so I worry. I fret about being called a fraud.


But I am learning important lessons: I am learning how to ask for help (in spite of what people might think), I am learning how to be honest about what I don’t know and to not be ashamed about that. I am trying to remember that the most important parts of ministry are the ways in which we show up for people; the way we walk with them, the way we create space for them to experience God. It’s not about making ourselves look good or having it all together.


I am also learning important lessons about starting a parish. We need to explain things better. We need to define our terms, explain why things are done the way they are done, and not assume shared knowledge. Maybe you grew up seeing the priest wearing vestments every Sunday, but for people who didn’t it can be confusing. No one should have to feel incompetent when they come to worship. They shouldn’t have to worry about standing out or doing the wrong things or feeling like they’ll be embarrassed. If that means that we need to print the entire liturgy, then that’s what we do. If we need to stop and explain things, or create a glossary, or whatever, we do it. People can’t experience God if they are worried about looking silly in front of people or wondering what to do next.


We are all on this spiritual journey together, in different expressions, and we need to be gracious with one another.


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Weekly Bookshelf

When I go into someone’s house or apartment for the first time, I find myself especially drawn to their bookshelves. I want to see the books that they read and the ones they have on display. I like to know which ones have mattered enough to keep, which ones are dogeared and worn, and which are on the stack to be read next.



This week I read Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 9 Volume 2: On Your Own. I am a huge Buffy fan and have been loving the graphic novels that are continuing the series. It’s fun to continue on with the characters and to see what is happening with them. The art is wonderful and the stories are interesting. Highly recommended to “Buffy” fans.


I also read Cold Days: A Novel of the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher. It’s another of the Dresden Files novels. I have loved this series so far. This book struck a negative chord in me. While I am still enjoying the characters and the storyline, there was a lot of weird gender stuff in this book and a weird passage about gay people. I’m not sure what is up with it as it totally didn’t fit with the rest of the book. It was completely unnecessary. So that was frustrating because the story was good otherwise.


I’ve also been working through Danielle LaPorte’s Desire Map:  which I am really enjoying. I read the theory portion and will soon begin to work through the workbook piece. It’s been amazing so far. The whole thing is to shift how you approach goal making; to make it less about achieving and more about feeling the way you want to feel and having your goals be an outpouring of that. If you really want to shift how you think about goals and intentions, I highly recommend this. It’s been worth every penny so far.


What are you reading these days?


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Want posts by email and occasional extras, including my new ebook “A Guide To Recovering From Fundamentalism”?

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Press Release

NAOCC20Color20Logo202009.148134910_stdBelow is the full text of the press release. You can download the pdf here: press release Please distribute widely.





contact: Shannon Kearns
Tel: 610.462.1805

Ordination of Transgender Priest
Progressive Catholic Group to Ordain Transgender Man to the Priesthood

The North American Old Catholic Church, one of the largest Old Catholic bodies in the United States, will ordain Shannon T.L. Kearns to the priesthood on January 19, 2013. Kearns, who is a transgender man, will be tasked with starting a new Minneapolis parish, House of the Transfiguration, after his ordination. This will be a pioneering parish in Minnesota; one that combines the traditions of the church with progressive perspectives and embraces all people.

The ordination will take place at 3 pm at Plymouth Congregational Church, 1900 Nicollet Ave. Minneapolis. Bishop Benjamin Evans of the diocese of New Jersey will preside. He says, “The North American Old Catholic Church looks forward to establishing a presence in Minneapolis with the ordination of Father Kearns.  God’s Holy Spirit continues to bless us with growth!” The North American Old Catholic Church is a progressive Catholic tradition that welcomes all people. This church ordains women, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, married and partnered people, and those who have been divorced. The North American Old Catholic Church focuses on social justice and developing new parishes.

Kearns has a Master of Divinity from Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York. While in seminary he transitioned from female to male. Kearns says, “I am honored and humbled to have my calling to ministry affirmed by the North American Old Catholic Church. I look forward to many years serving as a priest.”

The North American Old Catholic church offers another avenue for Catholics who want ritual combined with progressive values.

Reporters and photojournalists are welcome to attend the ordination service. Father Kearns will be available after the ordination to answer questions.

To schedule an interview please contact Shannon Kearns. 610.462.1805 or
For more information on the North American Old Catholic Church:
For more information on House of the Transfiguration: