Earlier this year, I had a free morning until an appointment with Archbishop Rodi at 11am. We had been working closely together at this point for seven years and I figured this meeting would be business as usual.
As I sat in my armchair in my bedroom, a book that I had bought about five months earlier caught my eye—"On Earth as It Is in Heaven: Restoring God’s Vision of Race and Discipleship" by Fr. Josh Johnson. Fr. Josh is a brother priest serving in Baton Rouge. We both were serving as Vocations Directors and had become friends over the past couple years. As soon as I laid eyes on it, I got a strong impulse from the Lord, “Pick up and read.”
From the first sentence I was hooked. I was resonating with every word and felt the excitement that only the Lord can give well up within me. Fr. Josh starts the book quoting Revelation 7:9-12: "Behold, a great multitude which no man could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and the Lamb clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb!” And all the angels stood round the throne and round the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshipped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God for ever and ever! Amen."
He then made the simple point—This is what inspired scripture tells us heaven will be like. And Jesus taught us to pray “on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). The tough question, he challenged the reader to consider—Does our worship look like this? Do our churches look like this here in America?
And then he began to lead the reader in the ever-so-tricky reflection on race relations in the Church. As someone who was raised by a African-American-Methodist-police officer father and a Caucasian-Catholic-nurse mother, Fr. Josh was able to speak on the topic from a unique perspective.
Early on he quoted Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who once famously said, “It is one of the tragedies of our nation, one of the shameful tragedies that eleven o’clock on Sunday morning is one of the most segregated hours, if not the most segregated hour in Christian America.” In a masterful way, he drew me prayerfully into this topic.
I was lost in the book up until the minute I needed to head to my meeting with Archbishop Rodi. I brought the book with me into his office, not sure what was on our agenda but ready to share with him a couple insights I had already gleaned.
Sitting down across from Archbishop with the book in my hand, we started with a prayer. The first words out of Archbishop’s mouth after the prayer were, “Well, I’ve got a new assignment for you.”
I was taken back, “Really?!”
“Yes really,” he responded. And then continued, “Let me explain the whole thing first and then I’m happy to answer whatever questions you have.”
He went on to explain that he had been praying about my assignment and felt called to do something new . . . something that he felt the Holy Spirit bring to his attention . . . something that the Church needed and that I had the gifts to address.
First, he wanted to start a new department in the Archdiocese. He wasn’t exactly sure what he wanted to call it. But he wanted to task me with building a “culture of inclusion” among all of the different cultures present in the Archdiocese. He had noticed that the Church is becoming more and more of a multicultural reality. It is a blessing and a challenge to discern how we can all come together around the same altar to worship God and live the Christian life. He also shared his plan for me to become pastor of five small Black parishes around the Mobile area. He explained that he planned to assign two other priests to assist me.
Once he laid it all out, he said, “Well, there it is. What do you think?”
I must have had my mouth open in addition to being reduced to silence because Archbishop responded, “Come on now Victor. Help me out. Say something!”
After a few moments gathering myself, I felt the book still clutched in my left hand and said, “Archbishop, it sounds great!”
I thank God for being sovereign over every detail of our lives. I thank God for calling me to be a priest. I thank God for the chance to serve and grow here in the Mobile area. I thank God for Archbishop’s openness to the Holy Spirit!
I don’t know exactly all the plans the Lord has for us moving forward, but that experience convinced me that he has plans indeed! What a privilege to be a small part of them here on our native soil! Come Holy Spirit and show us how to gather around “the throne and the Lamb” to worship as one!
Fr. Victor Ingalls grew up in Montgomery, AL and has been serving as a Roman Catholic priest in the Archdiocese of Mobile since 2012. After four years of parish ministry and seven years of working with youth, preaching about vocations around the Archdiocese, Fr. Victor was appointed as the Executive Director of Multicultural Ministry for the Archdiocese of Mobile as well as pastor of four historically Black and Creole parishes.