Meeting in Public

Not a Meeting of Pint Pipe and Cross, SF


For nearly 2 years Orthodox and Catholic men have joined in the Pint Pipe and Cross, SF, (Not Pictured). We have been meeting in a local bar, the Edinburgh Castle Pub, for enjoyment of a book, a beer, and pipe, as well as for fellowship. This has been a growing experience for all involved. It continues to be a source of support and prayer, although sometimes we don’t much talk about the book we’re reading. (If you’d like to know more, reach out to me on FB for an invite to our next meeting.)

So I was overjoyed to hear a friend who felt that she would like to start the same sort of group for women. I had one piece of advice for her: meet in public. I had two reasons for this. Recent events have actually made the Public Catholicism even more important and so I will bring up a third reason further down in the post.

  • There is no host. Asking someone to host (even on a rotating basis) leads to stress for that person. You want them to read the book (ideally) and have some prepared points to discuss, questions to raise, etc. Asking them to stress out (even only once a few months) about playing host is to add too much trouble. Also what if they have family or flatmates? What if their living situation is radically different enough to be of concern to them should other people see it? Meeting in public means no one has to be “It” this month, or any month.
  • More importantly, People can see you doing your Catholic Thing. Evangelism is so important and at least once every couple of months, someone butts into our book group at the bar asking questions. It was even-more interesting the night a priest showed up in clericals. Going out in public as Catholics tags you and your group. Going to the same place month after month means that people expect you. You become a representative of the faith in that bar, coffee shop, or diner. People wonder who you are. They may want to be one of you.

It’s the latter point that is most important to me. Since becoming Catholic I’ve met so many local, native people. They were a rarity in the “newcomer” communities I’ve been a part of for the last 20 years. Newcomers are always present in SF. They’ve been beatniks, hippies, bankers/real estate people, gays, artists, and techies. Each group has found a new place to live here but has somehow managed to stay isolated from the rooted natives. It seems that the natives like it that way. Inasmuch as all the natives actually pride themselves on how much SF was, at one time, a Catholic City (25% of the Bay Area population still identifies as Catholic) this isolation is a failure of evangelism. We were tolerant – getting out of the way – when we should have been hospitable: telling these newcomers, Look, if you want to live in a City named for St Francis, come to church and hang. Become a real San Franciscan. Instead, natives have tended to hide away, to slowly retreat from the public square – except in politics.

It was the same in Buffalo: dozens of Catholic orgs hiding behind history and unwilling to reach out to the hippies, artists, and travelers who were moving in and taking over the tumbling-down Victorians. They might change things you know. Now that they have changed things, the OG folks are left in the dust.

It may not be the same where you are. But if you have a new industry in town, why are your evangelists not plotting to hold outreach? This brings me to my third point about going-public:

  • Coronavirus / COVID-19 means that people are terrified of going out in public. Local businesses are feeling the pain caused by the panic. Being willing to go to a coffee shop or bar repeatedly when no one else is there will make you a hero. You’ll own the place when people start to creep back out in public. (The advice is for people who are sick to stay home… )

Second Birthday


Two years ago today, with the helpful n of my fraternity Brother Joe on my shoulder, Fr Michael officially welcomed me into communion with the Roman Catholic Church. By her own teaching, I’ve been Catholic since 2002 when Fr Victor gave me the sacrament of Chrismation, but I was “not in full communion”. While there are vagueries of theology that may not interest the non-Christian, and while there are similarities in politics that may not let the outsider see any difference at all, yet perhaps to other sheep, all sheep do not look alike.

I still can’t put my finger on it.

Two years.

I’ve made so many friends, found so many locals, both in the spiritual and the physical way. In my rooted, Benedictine desire to be a San Franciscan, I’m not alone. To be clear, I’ve discovered that Stability and Spiritual growth are somehow connected. My peripatetic past notwithstanding, it seems important to be here now, to be Catholic in the Local, to incarnate in the scandal of particularity the universal truth of the faith.

How’s that read?

What I mean is I think I spent 50 years running hither and thither as an Orthoneo-Episcopagan Hedonist just to finally land as a rooted lay monastic in San Francisco. Somehow it’s all connected: location, vocation, and salvation. If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own back yard. Because if it isn’t there I never really lost it to begin with.

Late have I loved thee


Catch me now while I’m still in the crazy, honeymoon phase, but I think of 2002, when I was leaving ECUSA and didn’t want to go RC, because they were just on the edge of chaos, or so I felt. 15 years later I could see that American Orthodoxy and American Catholicism were not that far apart…

But I lament something else.

I hear folks at Church who have known each other since Catholic Kindergarten and I lament not having been raised there. Even in the Archdiocese of SF, one of the largest in the world, folks you can’t talk to someone very long without finding out they went to school  just over there with everyone else. And as welcoming as literally everyone everywhere is to converts (unlike Orthodoxy, to be honest) it’s hard to still feel on the outside sometimes: to not know the lingo, to not have experienced the history (even if one knows it).

This is not a case of “I wish I had been raised in SF…” for this is true everywhere. I’m reading a book on the history of the Courage apostolate in 1980 in the Archdiocese of NY. You can tell the same thing was going on there. I’ve known Catholics from New Jersey and western NY express the same thing. I hear the same things about Denver as I’m listening to the Catholic Stuff podcast.

It’s a gigantic church – world wide is the meaning of Catholic – but locally it’s always very intimate. It’s a village, here, right now. And I’m fully integrated into it. But I lament not having been so since childhood. I feel like I missed something. Methodists are not like this. Nor are Episcopalians. I think the Greek Orthodox are like this, but I don’t know. And maybe the Arab Orthodox? But it also seems like those communities have “the old country” roots on their minds. The Catholic Church is here and now… here it is a village.  Here, now, there are roots.  Here, now it’s Catholic.  People move from Catholic Australia to Catholic San Francisco and plug in: same memories, different places.


And Envious.

I realized a while ago that there’s a reason for spaghetti dinner on Sunday: you can set the sauce to cook in the oven, on by the fire, or in a crock pot without breaking the pre communion fast. Grandma or Momma can set everything up and walk away… come back after Mass, a feast is ready for the family after boiling the water.  I can imagine that there are other such food traditions that make so much sense in the light of piety… cioppino, fish fries, pretzels… monastic beer… I was raised in a culture devoid of active piety.

And I’m thankful to be here now… but envious of not having had it before. I know there are things like this in Orthodoxy, but I never lamented their loss or my missing them. Nearly everyone I knew was randomly cobbling together something new from old things. Here… I have a spiffy new suit, yes, but everyone else has well warn, comfortable garments. They are not threadbare, they are equally spiffy. But they don’t look new or out of place.

There’s always something new to plug in to. There’s always something new to connect with: the connection is never refused, but it’s like discovering you had always been homesick for exactly this. And you could have done this a while ago.

Catch me now in my honeymoon phase. I may later complain about isolation and religious neophobia. But right now, I just wish I had gone to Catholic School.