Feature Article: ANCC, NJ

Originally written and photographed for Out IN Jersey Magazine

We Are All God’s People
Bishop George Lucey talks marriage equality, God, and ANCC, a new kind of Catholic Church

Just a short note, first. I’d like to thank my wonderful friends, Susanna and Annette, for putting me in touch with Bishop George and Father Geety.

“We’re all God’s people,” Freddy Mercury croons. “Make welcome inside your home, […] love and be free.” Some may recognize the song, maybe even sing along….

It turns out that the core meaning of the words “We’re all God’s people” stands at the basis of the Catholic Church, and of Saint Francis of Assisi. Located in Glenn Ridge, New Jersey, Saint Francis of Assisi is one of the many parishes of the ANCC, the American National Catholic Church, a new kind of catholic church, described on its website as “a contemporary expression of an ancient faith.” Quiet and welcoming, Saint Francis opens its doors to anybody who wants to join, get married or just step in on a Sunday to attend mass. It is a place that feels like home, and that many call home, as do Bishop George Lucey and Father Geety Reyes, who welcome people into their church, and shed a brand new light on the Catholic Church and its role in today’s society.

“We are God’s creatures,” Bishop Lucey says, explaining that ANCC follows what the Catholic Church has always taught. “The church celebrates that we are created in the image of God,” he says, and, as a result, “we are created with human dignity, as human beings.”

Bishop George at St Francis Church
Bishop George Lucey of St Francis of Assisi in Glenn Ridge, NJ.

Bishop Lucey, or Bishop George as many call him, holds a doctoral degree in psychology and has taught psychology at New Jersey colleges. He has always been an out gay man, who also followed the Scripture. So, years ago, he sold all his belongings, and then went out in the country and the world, to help others—in particular the poor, and those living with HIV/AIDS and other illnesses. For a while, he worked as a deacon in a hospital. As a deacon, he could officiate wedding ceremonies. And so, many people in the hospital would inquire about his parish, which he did not have at the time.

Then, in 2007, Bishop Lucey asked his partner if he agreed to invite a few people to their home, to say mass. And that’s how the church started, in Bishop Lucey’s apartment, where each Sunday night he would say mass for about 35 people. One year later, he was giving a series of talks on addiction and spirituality, when the ministry of Saint Francis of Assisi showed him the chapel and offered it to him, free of charge for the first year. The first mass took place on Memorial Day. Only a couple of people showed up, which made Bishop Lucey second-guess his decision. But over the years, through word of mouth, more and more people started showing up for mass. Nowadays, Bishop Lucey reaches over 600 people through e-bulletin, and says mass to almost 200 individuals, each Sunday, in church, at a county jail, and at a psychiatric center in New Jersey. The mass is filmed and posted on YouTube. And there are plans to say mass in Spanish, too.

Bishop Lucey comments that the Christian faith is based on the idea of unconditional love–of God, and of each other. At the core of the Christian belief is the command that Jesus gave us, to love one another. “It was radical, and it threatened the institution,” he says, “[because He] didn’t mean to love just people in your tribe. And, so, Jesus’ command to love everybody scared Rome, because what would all mean, if we were all equal, and loved one another….”
And so, everybody is accepted in the ANCC, including individuals who’re divorced or remarried. Members of the LGBT community participate fully in the ANCC. “There has always been a special place in the church for all of us,” Bishop Lucey adds, mentioning that in the ANCC nobody, not even those serving God, is considered above others, because, he says, “at the foot of the cross we all stand on ground level.”

Bishop Lucey has officiated civil unions, and then marriages, for many years. So, after the Supreme Court’s ruling on the side of marriage equality earlier this summer, Bishop Lucey continues to do what he’s been doing for years, and that is to marry anybody who sincerely wants to get married.

“Generally the Catholic marriage takes place in the context of a mass, but if you don’t want the mass, you can have a vow ceremony,” Bishop Lucey explains. The sacrament sets it aside.” Some choose more traditional vows, while others write their own.

There is a marriage preparation program meant to guide those who want to exchange marriage vows at Saint Francis or in any other ANCC parish. Couples can contact the church to schedule a time, usually, a Saturday, to meet with Bishop Lucey and Father Reyes, and discuss the ceremony. During the initial meeting, couples are given a short history of the sacrament of marriage.

St Francis parish of the American National Catholic Church, in Glenn Ridge, NJ. ©Alina Oswald.

Bradley and Leo got married at Saint Francis, and so did Donato and Ivan. Some couples become part of the marriage preparation program and can assist new couples with, well, preparing for their wedding.

Some couples are Catholic, and some are not. They can choose an ANCC parish of their choice.
There are several ANCC parishes, across the country–in New Jersey, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Florida, New Mexico and North Dakota, to mention only a few. All of the ANCC parishes use the same liturgy, the same kind of language, if you will, because, as Bishop Lucey explains, “It is important when you come into a place, [that] you know the [language] and you feel at home.”

To learn more about the American National Catholic Church, please visit http://www.theANCC.org or http://www.americannationalcatholicchurch.org
To learn more about Saint Francis of Assisi, check out http://www.StFrancisNJ.org.

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