For many years I have been on a journey. ¬†This journey began with my being raised in a Congregationalist church. Then I became "Born Again" and became an Evangelical. ¬†That was followed by my being "Baptized in the Holy Spirit" with the evidence of speaking in tongues. ¬†Thus I became a Pentecostal/Charismatic preacher for 34 years before retiring and leaving the Pentecostal faith.
My journey then took me into the Episcopal Church and then finally into the Catholic faith. ¬†It has been a journey of learning, discovery, change and progressing closer to, and becoming more like Jesus.
Ultimately it led me to find a loving God, a loving family, acceptance, peace and to truly find Jesus in the Catholic Church.
I was born May 26, 1948 in Machias (ma chi as). Maine. The word Machias is an Algonquin Indian word meaning little bad falls in honor of a series of waterfalls that run through the town. ¬†If I were to sum up my life, that would be an apt description. ¬†I have had many falls that seemed to be bad at the time. Many times I was ready to give up, throw in the towel, and lay down somewhere and die. ¬†However, then I would always rise again. ¬†
I learned that failure is not final with God. ¬†God is always ready to forgive, pick me back up, clean me off and get me back on the journey again, moving once again toward heaven and him. ¬†The only failure comes when we refuse to get back up and choose to wallow in the mud.
I have also learned that Christianity is not about rules and regulations which lead to legalism. ¬†It is about following Jesus and letting him live and shine through me. ¬†It is to be "the real deal", not perfect but getting better. ¬†It is like good wine. ¬†I get better, the more I grow on this journey.
Growing up I always felt like a failure, like I was never good enough, nor seemingly could I do anything right.¬† To be successful at something, anything, was my strongest desire.¬† I flunked out of college and my life, for all practical purposes, was in free fall, totally out of my control.¬† I began to search for answers.
The church which I was raised in seemed to be much too liberal and not a "bible believing" church.¬† (I was wrong, I see now.)¬† It became almost an obsession with me to find "the true church" which had all the right answers and the correct understanding of the Bible.¬† Thus I ended up in Evangelicalism after going forward at a Billy Graham movie, "The Restless Ones", shown at Chapman College in Orange California October 25,1966.
The gentleman who counselled me worked for the Christian Servicemen's Center in Santa Ana, California, and I began working there, sharing my testimony, leading others to Jesus, and beginning to teach using Billy Graham materials.¬† Life was beginning to look a bit better.¬† It was also at this time that I made a commitment to follow the Bible and the Holy Spirit wherever it might lead me, no matter what anyone thought.
I still felt like something was missing from my life when I found a group from Youth Challenge in San Clemente.¬† They told me about the Baptism in the Holy Spirit with the evidence of "speaking in tongues", which would give me the power I needed to live a victorious Christian life.¬† Sounded good to me and I could see it was "biblical", so they prayed for me and I received the "Holy Spirit" the week before Christmas in 1968.
The group I was with believed that once you had the "Spirit" he would lead you, and all one had to do was yield and he would give you the world to speak.¬† So at that point I began preaching.
Meanwhile I had accepted a call to public ministry in March 1967, and in 1970 began my studies at Melodyland School of the Bible which led to my ordination in 1972.¬† In my initial call God told me that he had a special message for me to give to the whole world.¬† It would take almost another 30 years to see what God meant then, and to see the fulfillment of that vision, and to come to understand what it was about.
In January, 1973, just after my ordination, I went to Grass Valley, California where my parents were living, and began ministering in their church.¬† At this point my life seemed to have a veneer of order, but it really didn't.
Within four months I was booted out of the church, barred from ever preaching there again on the grounds that I spoke in tongues (which was true, and they were against it), and on suspicion I might be gay - suspicions my mother had shared with the pastor.¬† At the time I was in the closet, and in no way ready to come out and accept who I really was.¬† I had done some fooling around, yes, but was not ready to come out.¬† It would be another 30 years before I was able to do that.
I was involved in two different ministries in San Jose, California before moving north in November 1973 to Eureka, California.¬† The pastor I had served under in Grass Valley had moved to Eureka after leaving the pastorate in Grass Valley, and joined a church that he thought I might like.¬† So I went up to see him and the New Life Fellowship.¬† I liked what I saw and became a member also.¬† I would remain with them for about five and a half years.
It was a part of the shepherding movement, popular in the 1970's, with its belief in discipleship through submitting yourself to elders and obeying them.¬† If they were wrong, God would judge them, not you, because you were just obeying your elders.¬† To challenge an elder or criticize them was paramount to criticizing God himself.¬† It provided order in my life as well as structure, which I badly needed.¬† As long as I obeyed, followed the rules, all was well.¬† However there was a problem.¬† All the control was being enforced from outside influences, and I was still not in control of anything, and for me, life was still in free fall, especially on the inside.¬† That led me to make mistakes that could have gotten me into a lot of trouble legally.
Beginning in April, 1978 and lasting through 1983 I committed a series of acts for which I could have gone to prison.¬† Much of it was handled through the church initially, until they dis-fellowshipped me in April 1979.¬† Again, my life was in free fall and nothing seemed to be going right.¬†
I was introduced to a young lady in Oregon.¬† I thought I was in love with her and she with me, so I moved north to marry her.¬† In the end I found out she was not in love with me, was in fact dating other men even though we were "engaged", and was only engaged to me because all of her other girlfriends were engaged and she didn't want to be the only one who wasn't.¬† That lead to a major blow up with her, a major let down for me, and I ultimately ended up back in Eureka.
There I began working with two different "Word of Faith" churches.¬† One I had helped to establish in 1979 just after I left New Life, and it did pretty good for awhile.¬† Then it had leadership problems so was struggling to stay alive.¬† It ultimately died in March 1982, about the time I came back to Southern California.
The other was a church, all controlled by one family, of which I and one other guy were the only non-family members.¬† I was made an assistant pastor of the church in March 1981.¬† The church ultimately folded.
At that point I went into major depression, thoughts of suicide, unworthiness and so on, and ultimately I returned to Southern California to be nearer my family who was living there at the time, thinking that if I were closer to them things would get better.¬† We were pretty estranged and my moving back against their wishes did nothing to improve things.¬† ¬†At best I was tolerated for the next three years until the death of my dad.¬† Then they all moved back to Maine (in July 1985), leaving just my sister and I in California.
I worked with Gospel Outreach in Perris, California, then ended up moving in with my parents in Oceanside, California.¬† That didn't work, so on the day of my grandmother's funeral she had left me $25, so I took that, filled up my gas tank, and went north to San Clemente, California to stay with friends.¬† Ultimately I found another discipleship group like I had belonged to in Eureka.¬† I joined, and would remain with them for the next 16 years.
Again it provided a good foundation for me.¬† It also me an opportunity to teach on occasion, write, and try to get my life together.¬† I was able to get a job, save money, get my bills paid off, and on the surface things seem to be better.¬† I also worked on their "Bread for the Hungry" program, which gave free food away every Wednesday to the needy.
At first it was done from our garage.¬† We lived (about 25 of us) in a three story house in the Pier Bowl area of San Clemente.¬† Then, when we outgrew that, to Saint Clements Episcopal Church, and finally to St. Michael's Church in San Clemente.
My day started at 6am, to be in Bible Study by 7am for an hour, followed by breakfast.¬† I would then go to the local Ralph's store to get whatever bread or other items they had for us.¬† I would box everything in banana boxes that we had collected earlier, put it all into shopping carts and take them to the trash bin area of the Del Taco, where I worked.¬† I would leave everything there for another gentleman to pick up.¬† Then it was on to work from 11am to 2pm, then across the parking lot to Worldwide Tracers, where I worked as a private investigator until 5pm.¬† I would then travel about 8 miles on my moped to San Juan, Capistrano, where I was a manger for Baskin Robbins.¬† My shift there was from 6pm till 10pm or later.¬† I did this five days a week while also working for the church.
As far as my relationship with the church went, it seemed I lived, literally, in the mouth of a volcano and was always waiting for the next eruption.¬† Perhaps like living before a firing squad, waiting for the shots to be fired.¬† It seemed like I was always in trouble for something, leading to a lot of pressure, guilt and condemnation.¬† Then in June 1989 I was fired from my job at Worldwide Tracers after revealing something to a Christian man as something God had delivered me from, intending it to stay between us, only to have him tell his boss, which lead to my termination as apparently there is no statute of limitations on what I did, and they were afraid I could still be prosecuted and sent to prison.
It was a job I really enjoyed doing and would gladly have done for free.¬† The results were that I went, once again into extreme depression, thoughts of suicide (only my fear of going to hell and burning forever prevented me from that, as it had previously in Eureka).¬† Major stress, on top of what I was feeling at home already, led to my having a mini stroke on July 21, 1989 which ultimately forced me to retire at age 42.¬† I should have taken that as a warning but I did not.¬†
I thought that if I worked hard enough I could convince them what a great asset I could be to them, they would appreciate me, let me be a minister with them, and ultimately support me in my own ministry.¬† So I worked faithfully helping the pastor advance in her ministry and get awards for work "she did", but which I had actually done.¬† I was glad to do it and see her succeed, except that from my perspective there never seemed to be any reciprocation and helping me to get started in ministry.¬† Then in 1998 I started having migraine headaches and chest pains that never went away.¬† That went on for a year.
The church was a part of the "Word of Faith" Movement".¬† One of the things we were taught was to claim something and believe, and you would have it.¬† I was also told it was God's will to be in Divine Health, and therefore any sickness or disease was of the devil.¬† By this time I was having Grand Mal seizures almost daily, was diagnosed with Meniere's Disease, which is a disease of the inner ear affecting hearing and balance.¬† I lost 50% of my hearing in both ears so I have to wear hearing aids in both ears.
The feelings that I was gay were also beginning to return again, so I would rebuke the devil, claim my healing, claim my deliverance, try to work enough faith and belief so I could receive healing, then re-doubling my efforts, only to fail again, and on and on it went like a vicious merry-go-round which never stopped.
It began in 1979 when I was first introduced to the "Word of Faith" Movement and became a minister with them, and continued till I finally had a major burnout and left them in 2002, and began the journey which would lead to where I am now.¬† I left the disciple church in 1999.¬† Within an hour after my leaving them my migraines were gone as well as my chest pains and they have never returned.
For the record let me state that I believe that what they did, they believed was for my good and what I needed.¬† At first they were right, but then, as the years went on the rules and environment became too stifling and I felt like was well on a road to another stroke if I hadn't left.¬† So we parted ways amicably.¬† We remain friends to this day and I still love them, pray for them, speak to some of them occasionally on Facebook, and maybe one day I can get out their way and visit them again. Meanwhile if they ever get to San Diego I would love to see them again, and if they needed a place to stay they would be welcomed in my home.
Getting back to my story, I joined another "Word of Faith" church in San Jacinto, California.¬† In the beginning it was good and I actually got to preach periodically.¬† I also enrolled in their Bible College with the idea that I would be ordained with them upon completion of my studies.¬† As time went on, different issues came up culminating in my being told by the pastor when I went forward for prayer in front of the entire congregation, that he had prayed for my ears, and he knew God had healed them, and I just needed to claim my healing.¬† He believed that since I was still wearing hearing aids I obviously would rather play with the devil than be healed, and therefore he would no longer pray for me.¬† Grrr.¬† In the meantime I was beginning to have my doubts about the all the confessing, rebuking etc. I had been doing, as it was getting me nowhere and leaving me a whole lot of pain, guilt, condemnation and stress that I didn't need.¬† I was very ready for a change and something new.
In 1992 I met a Charismatic Episcopal priest who challenged me to study what they believed as "Episcopal".¬† That led me to a ten year study, of which I came to believe was, in fact, biblical, and I found myself agreeing more and more with them.¬†
Then, in 2002, as I was looking for something from the "Word of Faith" movement I went to a local caf√© to have breakfast.¬† There I saw a priest that I thought looked familiar.¬† As it turned out, after I went up and introduced myself to him, I had met him when he was in Seminary at St. Michael's, when the church I was with was doing our weekly food run on their parking lot.¬† He invited me to his church and when he found out I didn't have a car he came eight miles to pick me up for church and then took me home.¬† He, or someone else from the congregation, did that every Sunday or for church events for two years until they moved behind my home, and I could walk to it.¬† Later I had a car so I could drive.¬† The first thing I remember feeling, walking in where the church was being held, was peace, the presence of the Holy Spirit, love and acceptance, where my wearing hearing aids was not an issue, and I ultimately joined, and was confirmed in the church in 2003.
That same year a very good friend of mine, Marlene Campbell, introduced me to a group called the "Disciplined Order of Christ".¬† It is a group, part of which is here, in San Diego.¬† They meet once a month for prayer and to study a Christian book on some matter of interest and discuss it.¬† I was invited to a retreat where a man who was an associate of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was supposed to speak on racism.¬† At this time I was still pretty much of a Conservative who believed in a literal understanding of the Bible, especially the King James Version.¬† I also believed I had the truth, and the only truth, that everyone had to accept.
The gentleman, a graduate from Harvard University, decided to speak on racism, but also to preach his liberal theology, denying the Virgin Birth and many other things I believed in.¬† I felt like he was attacking me, and I was livid.¬† I also had a volcano erupting inside of me.¬† I was ready to go up to the speaker, tell him how wrong he was, tell him exactly what the Bible said, and that he needed to repent and teach the real truth of the Bible, that if he didn't he was of the devil and was going to hell.
Fortunately before I could deliver that message, the President of our local chapter Dr. John M. Lurvey, was there to take me aside and help talk me down until I was calm again and in control.¬† I stayed for the full retreat and ended up joining the group, which is one of six groups I am involved with today.
Afterwards, and especially after I got home, I was convicted badly about my attitude and what had happened at the retreat.¬† I was really shocked by my reaction to the speaker.¬† I began to pray, and God gave me what I call the "Tapestry Vision".¬† For those not familiar with that, I had a vision in which I saw a tapestry which was torn, tattered and had a faint image on it.¬† Around this tapestry there were many threads laying haphazardly.¬† As I looked on this vision further I saw a hand begin to pick up the threads and begin to weave them back into the tapestry until the image was restored. The image was of Christ, and the tapestry was perfect with no more tears or ragged edges.¬† As I prayed, God revealed to me that the ribbons represented the various sects, denominations and groups which had torn away from the original tapestry.¬† God is now wanting to take those threads and weave them back into the original tapestry so the image of Christ can be clearly seen by all.
That vision was the beginning bridge for me that would help lead me away from the Pentecostalism of my past into the Episcopal Church, and finally the Independent Catholic Church movement.¬† It lead to my coming out as gay in 2004, writing my book "Gay and Okay - A Conservative Mind Change" by John W. Brown published in 2014 and available on Amazon.
In 2006 God led me back to San Diego where I had lived for awhile as a kid.¬† After trying out a couple of churches I joined an Episcopal church near my home.¬† Although technically a gay-affirming church, I felt it was more like "don't ask don't tell".¬† If you don't tell us you're gay or make an issue of it we won't ask, and you are welcomed here.
In the meantime I had made contact with a monastic community that I thought sounded good.¬† Boy, was I ever fooled.¬† One of their rules was that you had to belong to a Catholic church.¬† That is how I ended up at the "Cathedral of Saint John the Beloved" in 2008, where I have been for the last ten years and where I officially became a Catholic.¬† Today I am a lay reader for them and serve on the parish council, as well as being the church's representative in the House of Laity of the Communion of Synodal Catholic Churches, of which we are a part.
In 2009 I left the monastic community I was involved with, swearing to never join another monastic community again as long as I lived.¬† However I could hear a voice calling me to some type of monastic living, which I tried to ignore.¬† I told God I was not interested.¬† Period!¬†
That went for a couple of years.¬† Then, one night in 2012 I woke up with the words "Community of Solitude" flashing in my head.¬† My immediate response was "God, I already told you I am not interested".¬† However the words kept flashing in my mind, so after a couple of days I got on the computer and typed in the words Community of Solitude, and it took me to their webpage.¬† As I started reading I found myself getting excited and thinking this was something I could do and live with.¬† However I was still skeptical, so I decided I'd contact them, tell them outright I am gay, and I just know that they will reject me, and that will be the end of that, and I can forget this whole monastic thing.¬† Boy was I ever wrong again!¬† The next day there was an email from them telling me that they had no problem with my being gay, and would like to talk with me further.¬† That resulted in January 2013, in a three year discernment, which ultimately led to my taking lifetime vows at a retreat in Arizona in the fall of 2015.
One of the things I liked about the community was that they allowed for name changes upon joining or at the taking of final vows.¬† One of the things I used to say when I was going through all of my struggles was that I needed a divorce from John Brown, where I could walk away from him and start all over again.¬† Cos allowed for that, and so I chose the name Lawrence Damien.¬†
The reason was threefold.¬† First, it was my brother, Michael's, middle name.¬† Michael died from AIDS on March 17,1993.¬† Due to being in a homophobic church at the time I was unable to go back and see him until four months after his death, when I went back for the burial.¬† Since then I had always wanted to do something to honor his memory.¬†
Secondly, I took the name in honor of Lawrence of the Resurrection, who wrote the book "Practicing the Presence of God", which had a major influence on my life as a Pentecostal, and even more now that I am a monastic.¬† It's a reminder of what I am called to do, which is practice the presence of God wherever I am and in whatever circumstances I find myself in.
Thirdly, Damien is for Saint Damien of Hawaii who worked with the lepers, the outcasts of their day that no one wanted anything to do with, except Father Damien.¬† Gays, like myself, have been treated as outcasts and undesirables by many, especially in the churches.¬† Many others have suffered and many still do, from injustices and marginalization.¬† To all of them, I believe I have been called to minister, even as Jesus would.¬†¬†
Since the name change, opportunities of ministry have opened for me like I could never have imagined.¬† Through the Christian Gays group and chat room I am able to minister to hundreds worldwide.¬† So the vision God gave to me of a message for all the world at the time of my call to ministry has been fulfilled, literally.¬†
At this time I am involved with six different groups/churches on a regular basis.¬† I continue in my prophetic office proclaiming what God gives me to edify, encourage, take us higher into a new day, and to help bring understanding of what God wants from us, wants us to understand, and where God is leading us as we continue on our journey together to him.
I have no regrets over my past and am thankful for it as it has made me the man I am today.¬† I have also found Jesus and love, acceptance and peace like I never knew existed before.¬† All I can do is praise God for it.