“And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.” -Revelation 21:4
On the verge of tears I listened to “Say Hallelujah” by Tracy Chapman the other night. Tracy is one of my favorite musical artists and a person who exudes a deep love of life and an ever present compassionate understanding of the human condition. In so many wonderful ways she’s an activist for the poor, the oppressed, the down trodden, and an incredible empowerer of women. Her spirit is fierce, her heart loving and her personality exuberating.
Well, why the tears? A few days earlier I had just been at the bedside of a very dear friend, Bp. Mary Ann Croisant, OSH (Mac to her friends). As I sat by her bed she slipped into the arms of her loving God and away from her bishop who held her frail hand. When I heard Tracy Chapman sing this song I was reminded of Mary Ann, in oh so many ways, and I couldn’t help myself as tears finally fell for the loss of my dear friend and colleague.
You see, Mary Ann embodied all of those attributes that I ascribed to Tracy Chapman and so much more and the song itself was a remembrance of Mac’s life and her ministry and mission and how she would want us to respond to her life and her passing.
Let me go back a little ways…
Mac and I met years ago on the internet as we both began to explore the Independent Sacramental Movement (ISM). We had a lot in common in terms of spirituality and how we saw the world and we both felt a strong call to the priesthood and to service in the Church universal (catholic). She was a cradle Episcopalian and I, a much later convert, but both of us came from that venerable Anglican tradition and we shared a typical “via media” approach to being church in terms of polity and ecumenism. I think we actually met in an egroup for the Celtic Catholic Church. A deep love of Celtic Christianity was awaking in us and we felt its natural pull along our path, a pull that drew us into that wonderful Christian tradition of the Celtic people of long ago but also a pull that drew us closer to one another. I read her posts to the egroup with great admiration and joy, as I had found someone who thought and felt much like I did. We became fast friends, or perhaps a better way to describe our relationship was that of “anam cara,” the Celtic “soul friend.”
After the Celtic Catholic egroup we discovered the Thomasines and shared in the development of the Community of the Companions of St. Thomas. While we were never officially a part of that community we counted them amongst our friends and companions on the path. We wound our way around the internet exploring different jurisdictions within the ISM and finally wound up on slightly separate paths, Mary Ann with an Anglican group and I with the United Catholic Church and later Christ Catholic Church. We finally came together with a shared ministry in the Ecumenical Free Catholic Communion, as a brother and sister in the Order of the Shepherd’s Heart, and that’s when our relationship bloomed.
On its positive side, the ISM is full of people with hopes, dreams, drives, motives, passions, exuberance, creativity, wisdom, compassion, and a desire to put all of that to work serving within the greater Commonwealth of God. They are people of great spirituality and insight who only want to serve for the sake of service by answering a calling whispered in their ear and placed upon their heart by God. They serve in many different ways and from within many different traditions as lay people, religious brothers and sisters, deacons, priests, and bishops. They work tirelessly often with no thought for themselves or their own well being and they take to heart the command from Jesus to love God and to love one another regardless. They do wonderful things helping many, many people when often no one else will. They more often than not live on the edge searching for those who have fallen through the cracks from the mainline churches. They minister as they can, where they can, and as needed. They do so at great personal costs and with usually little to no financial help. They live on faith and trust in grace.
On the darker side, the ISM also offers a home to dysfunctional people with over-sized egos and immature passions, who all too often pontificate as arm-chair theologians in order to simply hear the sound of their own voices. These would-be clerics quite possibly suffer from a borderline personality disorder and are almost always full of schemes, ulterior motives, and out right fraudulent behaviors. These hacks suffer from an obscure and curious disorder we call, “scarlet fever,” which manifests as an all-consuming desire to be a catholic bishop, sport a pointy hat, and wear purple while collecting titles and paper mill degrees. Most all of them in time become archbishops, metropolitans, patriarchs, first among equals, et cetera ad nauseum. In my time in the ISM I have run into many, many on the darker side of the ISM and to my own ever-lasting shame and great sadness I have been duped into participating in consecrating a few of them myself. God forgive me.
Even though those poor souls on the darker side of the path were ever present in our respective ministries, Mac and I were still drawn to this wonderful mismatch movement of misfits called the Independent Sacramental Movement. Though we each thought about turning back to our roots in the Episcopal Church the spirit of the ISM wouldn’t let us go. We realized independently of one another that ministering to the misfits was what we really wanted to do, what we were called to do, and indeed misfits were who we were called to be.
It took some time and some talking and praying but Mary Ann finally answered the call to serve the Church as a bishop and I was honored and humbled to consecrate her and welcome here into the historic episcopacy on April 18, 2009. I laid my hands upon her head, and the High King of Heaven Himself, through the power of Holy Spirit, marked her as a bishop in His Church forever.
We served together with Bp. Eugene Kyle as the three Convening Bishops of the Ecumenical Free Catholic Communion. I leaned on her, learned from her, and valued her wisdom, compassion, and loyalty. She, Eugene, and I were almost always of a single heart and mind in our corporate vision of how and where we wanted to shepherd the Ecumenical Free Catholic Communion. We made a wonderful team and the Council of Three will not be the same without her. She was a clear voice – always calling for compassion, inclusivity, and ecumenical understanding. She celebrated the freedom of being “free catholic” and never once shrank from her responsibilities as a bishop of the Ecumenical Free Catholic Communion. Though once she did tell me that while she had been a perfectly happy priest, that could not always be said of her tenure as a bishop.
On a more personal note, Mary Ann was a fiercely loyal friend and confidant. She was encouraging when things were uncertain or were looking down within the communion or life itself. She was empowering when my strength or resolve sometimes seemed to fade and I just didn’t know what to do next. However, her greatest gift was just simply the unconditional love that she gave when I needed a friend and someone I could count on. When Mary Ann loved you, you knew you were loved no doubt about it, and that love never wavered.
While I would not want to rob her of one moment with the God she loved so dearly, nor would I want to drag her away from heaven, I will miss her so very, very much. I look forward to celebrating with her in heaven where once again, as we all gather on the other side, we will be able to cry out together, in one voice, hallelujah!
She was by every definition a Child of God and a Good Shepherd of His people. May she rest in peace and may we all be inspired, encouraged, and empowered to follow the shining example given us by St. Mary Ann Croisant.