We began our ministry here in the Ozark Mountains many years ago as a small Celtic Catholic community of seekers and believers under the patronage of Saint Melangell. Our community quickly grew and has over the years transformed into the Order of the Shepherd’s Heart. What we have now is a living breathing communion of people and ministries scattered across the United States which, while being birthed by Celtic Christian tradition, is a part of the Free Catholic Movement within Christ Catholic Church Diocese of the Prince of Peace. Though we are still quite small we are faithful and constant, only changing to become more of what God has called us to be in this ever changing world.
Oral tradition tells us that our Rule was formed over many years, by many different voices, from many different traditions, finding itself to be the guiding “rudder” for several different autocephalous communities all born of a relationship with the Celtic Catholic Church of old. Over the years we have edited Our Common Rule of Life as the Holy Spirit has led us and it has become a unique and inspired document that characterizes specifically our particular community of believers as expressed in the Order of the Shepherd’s Heart. Our Common Rule of Life in turn has formed the kind of community we’ve grown into, the kind of religious order we are becoming, and the kind of ministries we involve ourselves in. Our Common Rule of Life is the structural support for our life of faith which we have built on the sure foundation of the Word Made Flesh, Jesus Christ.
Our ministry has always been focused upon bringing back the wandering. We have sought to be a sanctuary for all who were in need of reacquainting, or discovering for the first time, their Christian faith. Christianity has so often become a dangerous and unwelcoming faith, a faith where the wounded or radically different have been and are ridiculed, marginalized, discarded, and or shunned. We hope to present a different kind of Christianity to the world around us, a kinder more gentle Christianity and one based on love and radical inclusivity, practices our Lord Jesus Christ exemplified in his ministry some 2000 years ago.
Our inclusiveness demands that we welcome all who would seek to find a Christian home with us, turning no one away, traditional, conservative, moderate, progressive, and liberal thought, doctrine, and liturgical expression are all welcomed, however, our support for the LGBTQIAPP (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, intersexual, asexual, pansexual, polyamorous), our commitment to follow the Prince of Peace as pacifists and peacemakers, and our radical inclusivity and hospitality has always been unwavering and unapologetic. It is who we are and what we do. Seeking to be a home to all who wish to join us in this ministry, we allow for various life-styles, so that all who feel called may find their place with us. We are committed to nonviolence, egalitarianism, radical diversity, spiritual mysticism, sustainable living, and the breakdown of culturally constructed gender roles.
We welcome open dialog with people from different walks of faith so that we might better understand one another and cooperate where cooperation is possible. Where differences become apparent we practice tolerance and acceptance, sometimes without agreement but always with charity. A rule that we try to live by is that we always attempt to accept those around us for who they are. Accept–but this does not always mean to agree. Respect for our own integrity will not allow us always to agree with others.
The foundation of the Order of the Shepherd’s Heart is and always has been Love. The major expression of this foundation of love is acceptance and integration. As such, we integrate all religions from a Christian base, all Christian denominations from a catholic base, and all religious and monastic traditions from a Celtic base. Celtic spirituality is our mother, but we are children born from it into the world in which we find ourselves. We see our ministry as a reconciling agent in the world, integrating a call to solitude with a call to community, a call to contemplation with a mandate from the Gospel to the evangelical life. We also integrate various conditions of life into one spiritual community.
Resembling a rolling pasture in many ways, our community has experienced both growth and change over the years. Like any group, some folks have come and found a safe place to be with us for a while before moving on, some have found a home, a family, a tribe, with which to build a life, and some have passed on into eternal glory, but regardless, we’ve loved them all for however long we had them amongst us and we treasure our shared memories and fellowship. We have always been much more of a family than an institution and for that we’re thankful.