Sts. Clare & Francis, an independent Catholic church, in Webster Groves has set itself apart as a place of worship where members of the LGBT community can be themselves, women can be ordained as priests and people who are divorced are allowed to remarry. The church will celebrate ten years, growing from 15 to 141 members, and lead by openly gay pastor Frank Krebs.

“We’re a church where some people come because they either feel more comfortable in our surroundings than they find themselves feeling in other places,” Krebs says.

Sts. Clare & Francis is part of the Ecumenical Catholic Communion (ECC), a national denomination that operates 51 churches in 20 states. It has 125 clerics, with one-third of them being female.

The estimated membership in the United States is 10,000. In 2014, Krebs was named Presiding Bishop of the ECC, which moved its headquarters to Los Angeles to St. Louis.

Sts. Clare & Francis Church, the ECC church Krebs presides over, achieved legal, autonomous, non-profits status June 25, 2016. Two priests volunteered their services on a part-time basis when the community began, one of them being Krebs. He eventually became full-time once the church achieved legal status.

Today, Krebs continues his tenure as pastor while being assisted by one full-time and two part-time priests and one full-time office manager.

Krebs, born and raised in St. Louis, was ordained as a Roman Catholic priest in the Archdiocese of St. Louis in 1972. Krebs was not open about his sexuality when he was ordained. He says he was not even sure what he identified as when he was a practicing priest, because priests are not usually sexually active.

“What I was aware of was just my own attractions and I was confused by them,” Krebs explains.

After a period as an associate pastor in three suburban parishes, he became pastor of Sts. Peter & Paul in 1977. In 1993, Krebs left the priesthood to pursue a second career as a management consultant.

“I left the priesthood because I thought that I need to kind of figure out what’s going on with me sexually,” Krebs explains. “I really didn’t want to live as a celibate (abstaining from marriage and sexual relations for religious reasons) anymore.”

Krebs had been seeing a therapist as an outlet to express what he was feeling. Krebs even thought about moving to Chicago and nobody, not even his friends or family, would even have to know he was gay. His therapist asked him if he really wanted to live two different lives.

Krebs says being celibate did not allow him to fully express himself and his humanity. It took him about three years to be comfortable with his sexuality. The first time he really fell in love with someone was when he started to come out to his friends and family.

“Once I did it, it was easy because they were so accepting,” Krebs says.

Krebs was away from priesthood for around 10 years. However, he returned in 2003, this time as a part of the ECC. One of the reasons was because he was part of a support group in a parish for gay men.

“That was the most comfortable I felt in a parish because we were supporting each other,” Krebs says.

Krebs eventually met Art Mains, a licensed clinical social worker in 1998. The two married in 2008 during the brief window when gay marriage was legal in California.

The beliefs of the church sill like in Catholicism, with respect to the teachings and person of Jesus Christ and the New Testament, among others. However, the noticeable difference is how it markets itself: Distinctive. Inclusive. Catholic.

Krebs says his church would perform a same-sex marriage, ordain women as priests and remarry those who have been through divorces, which other Catholic churches do not allow. Krebs says a lot of the beliefs of the church and the ECC stem from the roots of Old Catholicism, an understanding that existed for the first 800 years of Christianity.

Krebs says he would like to see his church evolve, such as becoming a place of worship not just on Saturday evenings, but on Sunday mornings. He would also like to ordain a younger priest to help make the younger people in the church feel included and comfortable.

“I would like more people to know about us,” Krebs says. V

by Bill Loellke