An Inclusive, Welcoming Faith Community in Santa Barbara

How Did It Begin? A Personal Recollection

From One Who Was Involved From the Outset

The first seeds of our Eucharistic community were sown in the Fall of 2003. A small group of women met at the home of Joanne Miller and Sr. Suzanne Dunn in Carpinteria, CA. They had answered Suzanne's invitation to gather and support one another in light of the work of a woman named Margaret Wheatley. Wheatley is an educator and writer who sees the weaknesses in our traditional institutional structures and believes that hope for the future lies in an increased role for the cooperative, inclusive leadership style of women. In that spirit, the women met monthly to learn, to explore, to listen, to support and encourage one another.

The membership of the group changed over time; by Spring 2006 there was a core of nine women – Suzanne, Joanne, Carol Murray, Linda Ekstrom, Gayle Engle, Sr. Marilyn Rudy, Sr. Maureen Murray, Lynn Kienzel, and Kathleen Dewey. We called ourselves the Women of the Willing Disturbance, or WWD. The women worked in various professional fields – the Catholic church, education, and the business world. There were a variety of spiritual paths represented, but a common denominator was the desire for spiritual sustenance. No one had a thought of forming a Catholic worship community.

And no one was surprised when, in late 2005, two guests from Catholic churches on the Central Coast joined us for dinner. That evening turned out to be the beginning of a surprising spiritual journey for all of us. Our guests wanted to enlist the help of the WWD with logistics and hospitality for a one-day national conference scheduled to be held near Santa Barbara. As we sat around the table that night, it became clear that our guests were fully involved in a movement to ordain women as Roman Catholic priests; one of our guests, Olivia Doko, was already in preparation for her ordination. We heard of two organizations which were actively dedicated to the ordination of women. That night we were invited into a movement that was to sweep us into history. As we left the meeting that night, we were changed – and never looked back.

One of the organizations we learned about, the Women's Ordination Conference, sponsored the Santa Barbara conference on February 18, 2006. The other group, Roman Catholic Womenpriests, provided organization and speakers for the conference. At the end of the day of talks and workshops, a Roman Catholic Womanpriest presided at the concluding liturgy. As the conference ended, we felt spiritually fed, empowered and ready …… for something. It was time for a debriefing.

That evening, all the WWD members, except one, went out to dinner. Suzanne had a prior commitment. Since we were seated at two separate tables, it wasn't until after dinner when we met outside the restaurant, that we discovered how the Holy Spirit had been at work that evening. Independently, each table had reached a common conclusion. Joanne had the joyful responsibility of going home that night and telling Suzanne that our community felt she would be a remarkable priest. Unknown to us, Suzanne had already spent time in prayer and discernment about ordination. She knew she would need the support of a community and trusted that, if priesthood was to be in her future, God would clearly provide the community and the call. That clarity came in the form of the WWD women.

Our monthly meetings gave us the opportunity and privilege of supporting Suzanne as she prepared for the priesthood. We attended an RCWP ordination in 2007 and became acquainted with several RCWP members, and then we eagerly anticipated and participated in Suzanne's ordinations. By the time of the ordinations, our group had grown to include Gail Granger and the return of two original members, Linda Husted and Jeannette Love. Suzanne was ordained to the deaconate on April 27, 2008 and to the priesthood on September 7, 2008.

Beatitudes Home Liturgy

The first liturgy of what would become the Catholic Church of the Beatitudes was celebrated in Joanne and Suzanne's home on September 14, 2008. For the next nine months, we began to shape our church, our ritual, and our mission. We chose a name, and we chose to be a community of inclusiveness and collaboration. As our worshiping membership grew, it became clear that we needed to move from our home church and find another sacred space, one that could accommodate our growing numbers. It was the people of the First Congregational Church who opened their hearts and their church to us. We celebrated our first liturgy in that sacred space on July 5, 2009.  — KD