GREENVILLE, South Carolina — The ordination of Deacon Richard Ballard as a Catholic priest marked the beginning of a new phase of the spiritual journey for the priest and his wife, Ruth, who once served as ministers in the Lutheran church.

With his family and friends in attendance, Deacon Ballard became Father Ballard May 26, during the rite of ordination celebrated by Charleston Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone at Our Lady of the Rosary Church.

During his homily, Guglielmone spoke about scriptural pointers to “important elements of what it means to be a priest,” and how the Apostle Paul addressed dissent in the early Church.

“To deal with that dissension, there has to be some way of reconciling the differences, of finding exactly what is it that the Holy Spirit desires,” Guglielmone said. “What is it that is the right way to inform the people of God, and to invite them to continue their journey in faith?”

After the ordination, Ballard talked about his own spiritual journey, one that had its roots in his early childhood.

“I felt from an early age that I had a call to ministry,” he recalled in an interview with The Catholic Miscellany, Charleston’s diocesan newspaper. “As I grew older and was able to articulate what that meant in a more comprehensive way, I answered the call where I was at the time, and that was in the Lutheran Church.”

“It seemed like a natural progression to go into the ministry from where I was,” he added. “I would never have considered anything else because I didn’t know anything else at the time.”

After completing his undergraduate degree at Mars Hill University, the young Ballard attended Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia. Upon graduation, he was given his first assignment at a Lutheran parish in Chapin.

Richard and Ruth Ballard, both ordained Lutheran ministers, served other churches in the Carolinas before moving to Millersburg, Pennsylvania, where they served in a parish together for 15 years, Ballard said. It was while the couple were in Pennsylvania that they started weighing a move to the Catholic Church.

Ballard described it as “feeling a tug.”

“We had always considered ourselves to be what was called evangelical Catholic, sort of a movement within Lutheranism that interprets Lutheran writing in a Catholic way, a way that is most compatible with the unbroken tradition of the Church,” he explained. “So we continued on that trajectory and, for me, it solidified with a more-intensive study of the ‘Early Church Fathers.’ What I read in the ‘Early Church Fathers’ seemed to me to be clearly what the Catholic Church is.”

Ballard said the couple felt compelled to take a leap of faith.

“We resigned our ministries, which correspondingly meant the loss of our income, and the loss of our home, because it was a church-owned rectory, and simply took a step of faith,” which landed the couple in Asheville, where former pastor Ballard worked as a lay counselor. The couple also joined St. Barnabas Catholic Church in Arden, North Carolina, where they started to learn what it meant to be a Catholic, he said.

The couple then moved to Greenville, where Ballard became involved with St. Mary Church as the director of pastoral care, a post he held for two years.

From St. Mary, Ballard moved in 2000 to Our Lady of the Rosary to work with Father Dwight Longenecker, a neighbor and friend to the Ballards. Within a year, he was ordained a deacon in the church.

Although Ballard said he didn’t plan to return to ministry, his plans took an unexpected turn.

“It became clear to me that the Lord was calling me to the priesthood,” he said. “This was not something that I had thought (about) or asked for on my own, but people had been telling me that I really should consider this. So through a variety of circumstances that seemed to me to have in them the hand of God, I became open to that possibility.”

Ballard said Guglielmone was instrumental in clearing his path to the priesthood by applying to Rome for the needed dispensations.

Once they were received, Ballard said, the bishop set the date for his ordination.

His role at Our Lady of the Rosary will be as parochial vicar.

“I look forward to continuing to work there, which for me, I think is a good thing,” he said. “I already know the people at Our Lady of the Rosary. I’ve come to love them and work with them in their joys and their sorrows, and they have been most welcoming to me — supporting and gracious — so I appreciate this opportunity to be able to begin my priestly ministry with them as well.”

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Stevenson writes for The Catholic Miscellany, newspaper of the Diocese of Charleston.

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