Finding his calling
If professional success is the key to personal satisfaction, Brendan Barnicle should have been content.
He has assisted congressional representatives, helped found technology startups and worked in key positions at investment banks and law firms. But Barnicle says he shuffled from industry to industry because he was searching for something that eluded him. Now, Barnicle thinks, his search is over.
Two years after being ordained as a priest, Barnicle recently accepted a position as rector of St. Francis of Assisi Episcopal Church in Wilsonville.
"When I was in business, I absolutely felt that (spiritual void). Even on my most successful days as a business person, it's not comparable, not even close, to when I go to the ordination of another priest," Barnicle said. "That, to me, is so much richer, so much more spiritual, so much more present than anything I ever did in the business community."
Barnicle grew up as a devout member of the Roman Catholic Church and even considered becoming a priest. But while working at a homeless shelter as part of the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, he met his future wife and realized that lifelong celibacy was not a realistic option.
"I'm very extroverted, and so to have lived as a single person would have probably been pretty challenging for me. I don't know if I would have flourished in that," he said.
So Barnicle took a different route. First he said he worked for former U.S. House of Representatives members Mike Kreidler and Elizabeth Furse.
"I spent a lot of time meeting with mayors and city councils and business groups and chambers of commerce trying to figure out what it is that needs to happen, how can the representative be helpful to them," Barnicle said.
Then he bounced around, attempting to jump-start technology companies like former PayPal competitor eCharge and MyLackey.com, worked as a corporate finance lawyer and also as an investment banker for Roth Capitol and KeyBanc Capital Markets.
Barnicle has noticed technology companies like Google beginning to emphasize "mindfulness," which he views as an indicator of what is plaguing the technology-focused culture.
"I had spent lots of time looking at what was happening with our economy and our world on the economic and tech side, and as I did more and more of that work, the one thing I continued to see was this gaping spiritual hole that was developing for people," he said.
Meanwhile, though he still attended Mass, Barnicle grew frustrated with the Catholic Church. In his view, it too often was promoting political viewpoints, including its opposition to same-sex marriage and abortion, stances he said distracted from more valuable messages.
"Politics was being preached from the pulpit so much as opposed to so much more that is there between Scripture and our theology," he said. "We thought perhaps there might be a different way and, fortunately, with the Episcopal church we found that."
Realizing that the Episcopal church had a very similar liturgy, but was more accepting of same-sex marriage and abortion, he and his wife decided to walk across the street from St. Mary's Catholic Cathedral in Portland to Trinity Episcopal Cathedral. They loved their new spiritual home.
Soon after, Barnicle's urge to become a priest returned. And because celibacy is not a requirement in the Episcopal church, he also could remain married.
Barnicle's process to becoming a priest took five years and included a year of discernment, three years of seminary and ordination exams.
While conducting religious ceremonies, Barnicle says he experiences sensations he had never felt before.
"I feel this love, this warmth, this support and, honestly, it's a feeling I have every time I lead our community in Eucharist," he said. "Whenever I stand up there, break the bread and remind us that we are in the presence of God together and that Jesus is with us, that's a unique experience unlike anything I had had prior to being a priest."
Previously, Barnicle was the rector at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Portland, where he worked largely with homeless populations, before switching to the job in Wilsonville in mid-August. He said mobilizing the congregation toward community service was difficult at St. Stephen's.
"Downtown, it was tough to do because a lot of our parishioners, some lived outside or didn't have any resources, they were super-needy. There wasn't much they could give to help with that. They needed just direct care. But here we don't have that sort of need. We have this incredible ability to go do something," he said.
Barnicle said St. Francis has an average attendance of about 120 people and that he was drawn to the church because of the commitment of its members to community service.
"I thought we could do some really interesting things here. We could really help bring the gospel and the hope that the gospel has in it to people in this community," Barnicle said.
A couple of Barnicle's goals are to reach out to the Latino/Latina community and to get more children involved in the church.
Some things he said the church is considering include speaking in both English and Spanish during Mass and adding a bouncy house on the front lawn so kids can play while their parents attend service. He also would like to have more services at times of the week other than Sunday morning and plans to use social media actively, including posting his sermons there. He's also open to suggestions.
"(In) this church the slogan is, 'All Are Welcome.' To be really welcoming, I need to do more than just say, 'You're welcome to come here as long as you do what I do.' I need to be willing to say, 'What do you want to do? What makes you feel comfortable?' and change accordingly," he said.
During Barnicle's ordination process, he contemplated with a priest why it took him so long to find his true calling and if his previous professional experience would be applicable. He said the woman told him "God will use it all."
And Barnicle has found that to be true. He says he uses his political and entrepreneurial skills to grow the congregation and get to know the community, he uses his investment background to handle investments for the diocese, and his legal background to negotiate contracts like building renovations.
"Every bit of those experiences I've had, God has used in my roles in ministry, and I anticipate that will continue to be the case," he said.
For more information about the church, visit http://www.stfranciswilsonville.org/.
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