The Franciscans are on the move again.
At the conclusion of Saturday evening’s mass at the Parish of Saints Francis & Clare, Father Joe delivered challenging news to the faithful.
“We are asking God to lead us to a new home,” said Father Joe.
Explaining that the building in downtown Fort Lauderdale (101 N.E. 3rd Street) that the parish has called home since 2009 has been sold, Father Joe asked for suggestions from churchgoers. The parish has 10 months to find a new church and is seeking to raise $300,000 for the purchase.
“We want to stay in the Fort Lauderdale-Oakland Park area, east of (Interstate) 95, north of Broward (Blvd.) and south of Commercial (Blvd.),” Father Joe said.
The parish is part of the Ecumenical Catholic Church, a more socially liberal order not under the jurisdiction of the Vatican or Roman Catholic Church. Father Joe and his brothers are friars and they wear special habits to identify their order.
“Collars turn people off,” Father Joe said. “This,” he says of his brown colored habit complete with hood and rope styled belts, “this talks to people.”
At the Parish of Saints Francis & Clare, the friars spread the message of the love of God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost. Masses on Saturday evening and Sunday morning offer communion of bread and wine, symbolizing the body and blood of Christ, who is said to have laid down his life for all.
“So that sins may be forgiven,” Father Joe said.
Along with mass, the friars work diligently to be visible and active in the community. From blessings of animals at Marlins Park in Miami to hospital visitations in Pembroke Pines, the friars go where they are called and needed.
“Wherever we are we allow the presence of God to be with us,” Father Joe said.
Father Joe moved to South Florida in 1989 from New York. He was raised in Brooklyn and taught in the Catholic schools there. He started the Franciscans of Fort Lauderdale in 1995 and describes the parish as an “open and affirming community.”
On a Thursday afternoon, Marilyn Francis was found vacuuming inside the church’s sanctuary. A lay representative, Marilyn agreed to an interview with SFGN about her role in the parish.
“It’s a very inviting and welcoming place,” she said. “I feel like I am participating in a spiritual community again. I feel very connected to the brothers and I feel like Jesus is present here.”
Marilyn said she identifies as a straight woman. Father Joe said the current congregation is 60 percent straight and 40 percent gay. He has blessed both opposite-sex and same-sex weddings, but said he could not follow the Roman Catholic Church’s direction on marriage because, “I’d be a hypocrite.”
The parish is named in honor of Francis of Assisi, a saint from the 13th century who gave up a life of luxury to live in poverty and bore the stigmata. Likewise, Clare, his devoted companion, was inspired by Francis’ message and established the Order of Poor Ladies.