by Brian McLane
"It's awesome to think that somewhere in the bishop's office, here in Prince Albert, there is a paper in a correspondence folder, with my name on it, signed by Francis, Bishop of Rome!"
Seminarian Michael Averyt spoke those words in an interview shortly after receiving approval that he is to receive the Rite of Ordination to the Priesthood for the Diocese of Prince Albert by Prince Albert Bishop Albert Thévenot, M.Afr., at St. Joseph Parish, on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, Dec. 9th.
The investigative process took four years. Averyt becomes the first married priest for the Diocese of Prince Albert since its foundation in 1891.
As Averyt begins his new and exciting journey of faith, Mary's words: "Here I am Lord. Be it done unto me according to your word" have special significance for the sixty-three-year-old seminarian.
"As with Our Lady you don't always know the true implications of what that answer means. You just accept it on faith," Averyt said. "God will lead you to where you are supposed to be."
Averyt is thankful for the tremendous support of his wife Renske, whom he describes in a recent vocation newsletter, as "a God-given gift, not only to me, but those I have served. In her own way, she is like the Blessed Virgin Mary, who was asked to sacrifice much so that the one she loved might fulfill His Father's vocation for Him."
Averyt began working for the Diocese of Prince Albert the same year, he and his wife were received into the Catholic Church at Easter, in 2008, at St. Mark's in Prince Albert.
That above-mentioned correspondence folder started nearly four years ago as Averyt was settling into his then-new job as Director of Adult Faith Education for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Prince Albert. That's when Bishop Albert Thévenot, M. Afr. and Averyt began discussing the possibility of ordination.
"The Pastoral Provision" explains Averyt, was setup after Vatican II, under Pope Paul VI, whereby men who were clergy in other traditions could become Roman Catholic clergy even though they were married. And there is a process that is outlined as to what that should be.
Those provisions led Averyt to Newman Theological College at St. Joseph's Seminary in Edmonton where he took classes, during 2011-2012, to meet those ordination requirements. Averyt's case was sent to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome. The file is then presented to the pope for a decision.
Michael Edwin Averyt was born Feb. 24, 1950, to parents, Virgil and Edith Averyt, in Riverside, Calif. He married Renske K. Henn, a widow with two teenage children, Keith and Sheila, on Sept. 29, 1984, in Courtenay, BC. Presently, Keith Henn resides in Chesterville, Ont., while Sheila Henn, married, with one child, Alicia, resides in Victoria, BC.
Few seminarians have Averyt's work experiences or education.
Averyt was ordained a Lutheran pastor in 1977 and became Associate Pastor at First Trinity Lutheran Church in Chicago, from 1977 to 1978. He moved to Canada later that year and became an Assistant at St. James Anglican Church, Carleton Place, Ontario. On May 1, 1979, Averyt became an Ordered Deacon at Christ Church Cathedral in Ottawa where he was ordained an Anglican priest on Nov. 29, that same year.
From 1979 to 1981, Averyt served the Anglican Diocese of Ottawa, first as Deacon-in-charge, then Rector of the Anglican Parish of Stafford, Ontario.
With a move to British Columbia in 1981, Averyt became Assistant Curate at St. John's, Courtney, BC until being appointed Rector at All Saints', View Royal, BC where he remained until 1993. From 1993 to 1999, he was Rector at St. Mary's in Saanichton, BC, followed by a four year appointment as Rector at St. Luke's, Cedar Hill, Victoria, BC.
From 2003 to 2007, Averyt was Archdeacon of Prince Albert, for the Anglican Diocese of Saskatchewan and Principal of James Settee College for Ministry. (An Archdeacon is an Anglican cleric ranking below a bishop).
Averyt's education includes an Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) Degree with high distinction from Concordia Sr. College in Fort Wayne, Indiana; a Master of Divinity (M.Div.) Degree from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, Mo.; a Master of Sacred Theology (S.T.M.) Degree from Christ Seminary (in Exile) in St. Louis; and a Doctor of Ministry (D. Min.) Degree from San Francisco Theological Seminary in San Anselmo, California.
Averyt also spent eight years as a Militia Chaplain, at rank of Captain, with 11 Service Battalion out of Victoria, BC. He and wife Renske are also accomplished weavers and engage in various forms of handwork.
"I didn't get up one morning and say I've got to look at the Catholic faith," said Averyt. "It goes back to when I was a boy."
Averyt says he was brought up in an evangelical and independent tradition.
"Most of my father's people are Pentecostal and Baptist of various shapes and stripes."
In the fifth grade, Averyt started attending a Baptist church. "My mother once joked that my first word was 'Why'?" That inquisitiveness led to Averyt's long study of Scripture, which seemed to indicate "there was more to the Eucharist, or what I now know as Eucharist, that there was more to it than a piece of cracker and grape juice," Averyt added. That led to a quest for sacramental understanding, through Lutheranism, to Anglicanism, and ultimately to Rome.
"Each step in the journey prepared me for what was to come," Averyt said, "You see a lot of interesting scenery along the way."
One image that comes to mind over the years for Averyt is the image of Abraham.
"Being told to pull up stakes in Ur. Travel to a land which I will show you. You won't know you've arrived until you've arrived, has been good for me."
At age 58, in 2008, Averyt found himself without a job, feeling somewhat useless, which he describes as "a scary experience."
"What do you do?" he asks. "We took the risk. This job opened up with the diocese. A friend encouraged me to apply. And, I got it."
Averyt says he and his wife became Roman Catholic "quietly." The priest at St. Mark's, at the time, was "very helpful and understanding" as the couple began their journey into the Catholic Church.
"I knew we were on the same page when he said we are not talking about your conversion to Catholicism, but talking about your drawing closer to Christ," said Averyt.
"Someone who knows me, knows that nothing has been done carelessly. The decisions to travel were as carefully thought out as I could."
"The journey is a question of faith," Averyt added. "I've appreciated the steps in each leg of the journey, each thing. Even within my ministry, in the other places. Each thing has prepared me for what was going to come, given me tools and insights."
"And, I've also seen that God does work very effectively in other parts of the vineyard," said Averyt. "And that's not to say anything or to deny the fact that the fullness of the Christian faith is reflected in the Roman Catholic Church, of course, it is."
"Those things that are good and true in other Christian denominations and in other faiths, we support and encourage because those who participate in those things participates in God," said Averyt, paraphrasing from Nostra Aetate, the declaration on the relation of the church to non-Christian religions, proclaimed by Pope Paul VI in 1965. "And I've seen that in spades!" he adds.
"There have been an incredible number of people who have been encouraging to me, from all strata of society as well," Averyt said. "And that has been very touching for me . . . and a sign of the validity of my vocation."
Among the special people at Averyt's Dec. 9th ordination will be "the lady who triggered all of this" four years ago.
"I owe her big time," said Averyt, in reference to "the lady" who came to the resource centre in 2008 "frustrated to tears because the shortage of clergy meant there was no one to help her with a particular ministry" at one of the prisons in Prince Albert.
"The shortage of clergy is really an issue," said Averyt. 'And that was so forcefully brought home by this person who was completely unaware of what she was doing. That's how God works."
"I'm also very glad that part of my mandate (after ordination) will be to provide sacramental services for prisons," said Averyt who will be continuing as Director of Adult Faith Education for the Prince Albert diocese, and coordinator for the Permanent Diaconate Program, scheduled to begin in early 2014. Averyt is also the diocesan representative of the Parkland Restorative Justice Committee.
"We wear a lot of hats here," added Averyt.