ST. LOUIS - The stained glass walls of the old, deeply traditional German-inspired sanctuary date back to the 1800s. The Ash Wednesday service is just like every other one in Catholic churches across St. Louis. Life almost could stand still here, if it weren't for who sits in the pews, and who preaches from the pulpit at St. Catherine of Sienna on Jefferson and Potomac.
"Where we change is the practical way we embrace our Catholic faith: married clergy, female priests, gay and lesbian inclusion," Father Phillip Lichtenwalter said. "I might have a lesbian couple come to me and ask to be married in the church where as Rome would say no, we say yes. We do recognize it as a fully sacramental marriage blessed in the eyes of god and the church."
He's an ordained priest in the American National Catholic Church.
"I don't ask who you love, who you vote, I don't ask what your background was," he said.
He answers to his congregation, and he doesn't hide who he is.
"I was born and raised Roman Catholic," he said. "I went to the seminary to study for the priesthood. And I'm a gay priest."
He felt the call to the collar from the second grade.
"Friends used to call me Father Phil when I was in second grade," he said.
Father Phil said Catholic churches aren't usually welcoming to the people who sit in this sanctuary. Here they are home and so is he.
"It's come….and that's the gospel message plain and simple," he said.
This same sanctuary where Father Phil marries same sex couples is where he'll be married too. A priest from the American National Catholic Church in another part of the country will come here to marry Father Phil and his partner in May.