My name is Fr Spencer St John and I was born on April 30th 1949. My first recollection that I was different from others came when I was three years old. Distressed over being given and dressed in a pretty and very frilly dress, I went crying into the playground and ripped it to shreds. Even at that tender age, I was teased and excluded from activities that I wanted to join. As I became a little older, I played alone and developed my imagination. Writing became my escape.
Everyone said I was a girl because that’s how my reproductive system was designed and that I was only a ” tomboy” that would outgrow my ” problems”. Reaching puberty, my body and mind spoke differently. My development was very masculine and I was not attraced to men. Girls would show strong interest, but I would retreat into my own world already knowing that there was no place for me in our society.
My parents had no way of knowing my unhappiness, but my mother became very protective of her child because of the way she saw others treating me and I was living the life of a hermit. I made animals my friends and spent most of my time running up and down a river bank on an unending exploration of nature. I would lay on my stomach on a small bridge and watch fish swiming in a world that was just as alien as the one I was in. But it did not take me long to discover that all things are created by God and have their own special place in the world. Often, I would lay on my back in the grass and watch the clouds. I understood they treated Jesus bad too. I would always cry and wish that God would take me back up there with him.
I grew into young adulthood and became even more spiritual. I was empathic to the pain of others and began to forget about my own. People still whispered behind my back, sneered and made unkind comments but, when they needed someone to talk to, they came to me. But I remained ” in the world, but not of it.” I had five years of psychological evaluations, but noone ever gave me a physical exam or care. A group of doctors told me I was a hermorphodite. My birth certificate is closed so I can not have it and my identification as a female can not be legally changed.
At times, I watched people in love and wondered what my life would be like if I had one like theirs. The foremost question in my mind was ” why”. For what purpose did God create me to be persecuted and alienated from the world I lived in. I knew there had to be a reason and this deep and unconditional faith gave me the strength to go on. I knew that God made me the way I was for a reason only he knew and it was something I had to accept.
I reasoned that, if my life was to be lived like a priest, then maybe I was meant to be one. I joined a church and began biblical studies through them. Toward the end of the course, I was told that I would not get credit for the classes unless I ” changed my ways”. It was then that the church told me that , if I didn’t, I would go to Hell with no salvation. I was confused, angry and hurt. What they were telling me was that, no matter what good I ever did in my life, I was doomed to be a sub human creature of the dark side. I knew I could not change and I never believed God did not love me. If I had to go to Hell, then there must be a reason for that too. If it was Gods will, then so be it. I would still be a priest and try to help others that were in the same pit I was in.
I joined another church and became close to the people there. When the deacon became priest and it was time to choose another to take his place, the position remained empty. There was noone suitable. I approached them with the “whys” and was told that I could not become a priest because I had not been to a seminary. I knew the real reason.
One night I was sitting at my computer when an email came from nowhere that changed my life forever. It was not from a list. It came directly to my address from someone I did not know. It was very strange, because noone had my email address. I read it.
The letter was clearly one of near hysteria and came from a monastery that I had seen online many times. There was no name..just the letter. Most people would have thrown it into their trash bin but, being sensitive to the pain of others, I brought up my properties and went hunting.
What I found was a former prior who’s monks had been stripped of their baptismal names and excommunicated from their ordinations and vocations because he had dared to question their abbot. Their home had been closed and they were turned to the street with nowhere to go after ten years of life vows. The prior had been ” persueded” to take new vows as a hermit and never live in a cloister again. I was stunned and very, very angry.
It was the begining of a roller coaster ride. I contacted their superiors explaining what had happened and their standing was returned but, by that time, new brothers had joined us that were of different faiths. The prior was told he alone could return under the guidance of another bishop. He said no and put the registration of the monastery into my hands. The old abbot came looking for me and we had a nasty encounter in an online forum filled with monks and an investigator from the Roman Catholic church that someone had quickly called. I was certain the old abbot wanted the order as he tried everything to discredit me.
Because I had been elected by vote of the prior and monks, it was determined I had legal rights to be the new abbot and the integrity of the old abbot was suddenly questioned. We pulled away from the church and became independant. We all supported our own place of worship so we would not be considered a “schism”. I was not going to let something like this ever happen again. Even though our church activities and order are seperate, one brother, who is a Greek Orthodox bishop, traveled from Indiana to Florida to ordain me. My dreams had not only come true,but far exceeded my wildest dreams.
Presently, the prior remains alone as a hermit in a little farmhouse in Sulzfeld, Germany that is now our motherhouse. He kept his vows. There is no cloister there. But, the new brothers spread out to different parts of the world and are preparing to build sister houses that are linked to the solitary motherhouse. Some have been successful. One lives in India and, with four new sisters, maintains an orphanage. The bishop, who is married, is fixing up what used to be a youth camp for another cloister. His twelve year old son became a novice until he is eighteen and, with the help of his father, is determined to build a sliding scale monastic seminary for those that can not afford tuition. One is in Japan and one is in New York, with hermitages of their own, where they spiritually reach out to the world. One is in Lithuania waiting for a cloister to be built so he can join to help with our growth. There is no prejudice and no church doctrine. We all follow our own faiths independantly and stand togeather as brothers of our order. We are small, but we have a strong foundation and there are many possibilities for our future. There is much hurt, confusion and doubt in God amongst those that were hurt so badly. But there will be healing.
Thoughts about my spirituality and being intersex is simple. No matter what your religion is, nothing is impossible when you put your life into the hands of our creator and accept his divine will. To me, Faith and religion are not the same. God is not a God of written text or organizational decree, but a God that comes from the goodness of ones heart. To follow that belief is all you need in this life.
Spencer St John
To reach Spencer, please contact us here at Bodies Like Ours