Acts of Forgiveness

Faith Journeys of a Gay Priest

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About the Book

In 1980s America, coming out as gay as a father and husband was a significant journey for anyone to make. Coming out as gay as a priest guaranteed immersion into controversy, contradiction, and challenge. This book tells of The Reverend Canon Ted Karpf’s navigation of new social and romantic journeys, all within the context of his priestly vocation in the Episcopal Church.
Covering from 1968 to 2018, Karpf recounts his vivid memories, life-changing dreams and resonant reflections on living a life of faith in a socially and politically tumultuous period of history. His narratives are crafted as poetic meditations on enduring values and meaning, which can remind any reader that we are neither abandoned nor alone, and that forgiveness is a fulfilling way of living in a world of contradictions.

About the Author(s)

The Reverend Canon Ted Karpf is an Episcopal priest and public health expert, certified Gestalt therapist and adjunct faculty at Boston University School of Theology. He is an international human/gay rights activist engaged community and faith-based health responses and resides and offers spiritual direction in Northern New Mexico.

Bibliographic Details

Ted Karpf
Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Bibliographic Info: ca. 40 photos, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2019
pISBN: 978-1-4766-7959-4
eISBN: 978-1-4766-3758-7
Imprint: Toplight

Book Reviews & Awards

• “Ted Karpf is an international journeyman of hope. Acts of Forgiveness: Faith Journeys of a Gay Priest offers a rare glimpse into the life of a man who in the face of death, betrayal, and loss has been given every reason to abandon the God who loves him and yet he pilgrimages onwards. More than a memoir, Ted’s testament to the power of grace shows how abiding faith neither leaves nor abandons God but finds hope in the unavoidable tensions of the life we all share.”—The Reverend Joshua Case, Associate Rector, Christ Church, Charlotte, North Carolina

• “It is a truism that being Christian requires—demands—love and forgiveness. What we don’t so often acknowledge in our age of bumper-sticker wisdom is the enormous courage necessary to live love and forgiveness day by day. Ted has shown us how it’s done.”—Dee McRae, former associate editor, Smithsonian magazine.

• “Karpf promises to ‘turn the dross of my life into gold,’ and keeps that promise with vulnerability, insight, and compassion for himself and others. He meticulously spins out the tale of his life, giving us a healthy reminder at every turn that God is to be found in the most unlikely of places. It is clear, in this reflection on his life, that he has indeed learned that skill and executes the task of seeing and hearing the world with precision, insight, and clarity.”—The Right Reverend Gene V. Robinson, Bishop of New Hampshire, 2003-2013

• “In Acts of Forgiveness, The Rev. Canon Ted Karpf weaves together the many threads of his life’s work in ministry by sharing the challenges beset upon him while seeking to remain faithful to his call. Time and again, Ted exposes the challenges of working domestically and internationally as an openly gay man and a priest working in a ministry that all in the church had not come to embrace, understand or believe that it even had a place in the church especially, to it’s shame, the Church in Mother Africa. In this powerful reflection and sharing of a life’s journey where his feet never wearied, and his faith never waned, he presents a life lesson to be read, marked and inwardly digested of what it truly means to keep the faith.”—Canon Diane M. Porter, senior executive for program, The Episcopal Church, 1986-1998

• “Acts of Forgiveness is a beautiful and poignant story of how our willingness to face the overwhelming challenges we encounter in our relationships with ourselves and others, by choice or by chance, can heal us as individuals, institutions and communities. And, while the story is told in the context of the AIDS epidemic and coming to terms with being gay, it is ultimately a story of the triumph of faithfulness, forgiveness and grace in the face of shame, stigma and discrimination. It is a must read for anyone who has struggled to emerge as who they truly are from a complicated past. I think that speaks to most of us.”—The Honorable Sandra Thurman, national AIDS policy director, The White House 1995-2000

• “Ted Karpf’s life journey embodies Michelangelo’s working vision: ‘I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.’ That symbolizes the splendid arc of Karpf’s life—an evolution from unformed possibility, through great trials, to a loving, forgiving, contributing member of humanity. Karpf’s implicit message of hope is urgently needed in our wayward era. Inspirational autobiography at its best.”—Barbara Montgomery Dossey, PhD, RN, FAAN, author of Florence Nightingale: Mystic, Visionary, Healer and Holistic Nursing and Larry Dossey, MD, author of One Mind: How Our Individual Mind Is Part of a Greater Consciousness and Why It Matters

• “If you wonder whether the church can still remain a moral force in these angry and divisive times, read this book. In his intimate and profound memoir, Ted Karpf details a lifetime of crucifixion and resurrection. He was betrayed by those pledged to love him from his vicious parents, to the gay lover he left his marriage for, to the close friend who cheated him out of most of his life’s savings, and yet, he triumphed. He was brought to his knees by the struggles of his children. He was silenced for years by the church he was dedicated to serving, and yet, he triumphed. He triumphed through the sheer power of his love and trust in God, and by his determination to relentlessly forgive.”—Chaplain Laura Palmer, New York Times bestselling co-author

• “This story not only shares experiences of almost five decades, it also sheds light on longer and complex backgrounds of ancestors, traditions, and global settings. As a priest’s tale, Father Ted celebrates his calling and his ordination. In doing so, he invites the reader to experience one’s own faith and failings.”—The Reverend B.J. Stiles, former editor of motive magazine, National Endowment for the Humanities, 1974-1984

• “Ted Karpf has written a difficult and important book, a social justice memoir that challenges secular readers with its religious language, abusers with its painful analysis, and activists with its stories of good deeds punished. This Methodist-turned-Episcopal-priest models the very trans-religious values he holds so dear”—David I. Schulman, supervising attorney, AIDS discrimination unit, Los Angeles city attorneys office (ret.)

• “A poignant, courageous and gripping story of a boy surmounting an abusive childhood, then dealing with abuse from bigotry and prejudice in his chosen church as he struggles to follow his call to priesthood. …inspiring”—Douglas A. Puryear, M.D., staff psychiatrist, Penitentiary of New Mexico; psychiatric emergency services, University of Texas, Southwestern Medical School and Parkland Hospital, Dallas, Texas

• “Born out of his poet’s soul and a real talent for written communication, it is so much more than a well-constructed legacy for his deeply-loved family. It is excellent reading for all who are called into vocation only to discover that Church must never be confused with our God of love.”—The Reverend Loraine Tulleken, priest, journalist, author

• “When I finished reading Acts of Forgiveness, I realized I had just experienced the book-length version of Nietzsche’s aphorism, “only out of chaos a star is born.” I did not feel as though I was reading a text; rather, I was sojourning with Ted Karpf as he spoke candidly, and lyrically, about his complex existence, with its struggles, joys, successes, and failures laid out with precision, clarity, and honesty. This is not just a story of Ted’s journey: it is also a template for others seeking to own their chaos and make a star.”—Skip Moskey, historical researcher, writer and editor, Washington, DC

• “Acts of Forgiveness is a remarkable and compelling life chronicle of faith formation and maturation; discovery and identity; daunting challenges and obstacles. Most of all, it is a personal journey of healing, forgiveness, gratefulness and love for others.”—Ron Ferguson, Episcopal School Headmaster, retired

• “Acts of Forgiveness by Ted Karpf is a very personal memoir of one individual’s understanding of God’s dealings with him, set in the times he has lived/participated in. His Christian journey has been a pilgrimage including nearly four decades as a priest in the Episcopal Church. He invites the reader along on his journey through deeply felt personal experiences.”—Lester N. Wright, MD, MPH, Flinders University, School of Health Sciences

• “The raw honesty of Karpf’s account set alongside his unending faithfulness, never cheaply procured but somehow utterly intrinsic to who he is as a man and as a child of God, let alone as a priest, moved me more deeply than I can say. In these pages the story is told of a man, long void of naiveté, whose undying hope bears witness to that for which we long most deeply.”—The Reverend Floyd Monroe (Buddy) Stallings, retired rector, St. Bartholomew’s Church, New York, New York

• “Exquisitely written, this book is story-telling at its best. It is a deeply personal story. The Reverend Canon Ted Karpf has shared his life with generous truth and uncompromised integrity. He reveals the intimate bonds between human relationships and self-knowing, abuse and resilience, mentoring and growth, ritual and mystery, closeness and distance, life and death. Readers will long savor this book as a testimony to the complicated, arduous journey of life, imbued at every moment with the mysteries and loving presence of God. Recommended”—Dr. Mary Elizabeth Moore, dean and professor of theology and education, Boston University School of Theology

• “Throughout the eleven chapters of Acts of Forgiveness, the Rev. Cannon Ted Karpf reflects on his relationships as a son, father, husband, and grandfather as well as his careers in public health, AIDS advocacy, and development. Weaving through his stories of love and loss, he negotiates the waters of gender identity from his earliest years to the present as a gay man in a heteronormative world. This memoir is about a holy life of ugliness as well as beauty, a real, honest-to-God life.”—Cheryl C. Boots, senior lecturer, humanities, Boston University, author of Singing for Equality: Hymns in the American Antislavery and Indian Rights Movements, 1640-1855

• “While billed as a memoir, this very readable work feels more like an extended poem or meditation. … As American society increasingly fractures into self-selecting enclaves of like-mindedness, Acts of Forgiveness proclaims a very different approach to life. Such an approach is bold yet vulnerable, values interdependence over individuality, and is unapologetically reliant on the sacred and mysterious. Seekers of meaning and coherence in our uncertain times should find much in this book to challenge their convictions and encourage their quests.”—Elizabeth C. Parsons, author of What Price for Privatization? Cultural Encounter with Development Policy on the Zambian Copperbelt

• “Each chapter addresses different Acts of Forgiveness and describes heart wrenching and heartwarming episodes of learning them from his life working in the church and in HIV/AIDS, and from growing as a father, husband, son and friend. Lay people and clergy alike will find Karpf’s Articles a remarkable guide to explore our own past, to assess how we are living in the present, and to consider how we might act or want to become. His is a wonderfully raw story and he offers a wonder-filled gift and guide to people of all faiths.”—Jesse Milan, Jr., President & CEO, AIDS United, Washington, DC

• “Acts of Forgiveness…this particular priest’s stories will both inspire its readers and, perhaps, render them speechless, as they follow both the worn and unworn path of Father Ted Karpf. His story, told calmly and honestly in considerable detail, teaches the reader what it can mean, to serve The Lord and His children, while being on an individual rocky path of discovery and acceptance. Though not a summation, the final chapter is like a fireside chat, allowing the reader to put the pieces together. I love it!”—Sue Keith,director of the writing center, retired, Guilford College, Greensboro, NC

• “If you are afraid read this book. If you are alone read this book. If your world is collapsing read this book. If you think it is easy being the one in charge read this book. If the light has turned to darkness read this book.”—Charles E. Walling, assisting priest, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Fayetteville, Arkansas

• “Father Ted has been a mentor and friend for many years, and we have shared concerns for those who have been excluded or damaged by the world’s barriers and prejudices. This deeply felt story of his complex journey through life is challenging, as it invites the reader to consider the same questions about faith, family, commitment, service and identity that he has faced and answered over the years. Taking those questions personally and seriously may lead to a different destination that he achieves, but will none-the-less prove of value.”—Kristine Gebbie, National AIDS Policy Coordinator, The White House, 1993-1994, Secretary of Health, Washington, 1989-1993

• “Ted Karpf’s memoir is a grace-filled testament to the power of faith. …beautifully written…an important read for ministers, caregivers, justice seekers and all who care deeply about lived Christianity.”—Christopher Evans, Professor of the History of Christianity, Boston University School of Theology

• “Ted Karpf shares the anguish of coming out as a gay priest alongside many of his parishioners in the conservative Dallas Diocese of the time. A hero for his ministry, yet forbidden to minister, when he declared his sexual orientation. Courage and integrity are the hallmarks of this deeply compassionate and painfully honest memoire.”—Rev. Dwight H. Judy, Ph.D., professor emeritus, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, Evanston, Illinois, author of Discerning Life Transitions: Listening Together in Spiritual Direction

• “Artfully told narratives that challenge the reader and—at the same time—call us into companionship with the author are infrequently encountered treasured widows into the soul. Articles’s of Fatih is exactly such a treasure. It reminds us all that forgiveness is a way of life, which ultimately calls each of us to become seekers of justice for all people.”—Joel T. Katz, MD, MACP, Marshall A. Wolf, MD distinguished chair in medical education, Harvard Medical School, Boston

• “I have known Rev. Ted Karpf since 1978. For forty years, I have been witness to this pilgrim priest’s wandering in the wilderness of a world he sometimes saw as an impediment to his vocation, but which he ultimately embraced as central to his calling. In Acts of Forgiveness Father Ted affirms that priesthood is not a fainthearted withdrawal from the world but a bold embodiment of it as eucharist: a call to remain sanguine and faithful no matter how bloody or messy that world has become. Describing his own struggles with sexual identity as well his clashes with church hierarchies who frowned on his AIDS ministries, this book is a compelling account of what it means to be authentic in a Christian context.”—Edward Moran, author and Presbyterian layman

• “In Acts of Forgiveness, Ted Karpf gives an unflinching account of a life of love, rejection, grieving, and, above all, repeated forgiveness . His memoir draws on the many struggles and gifts of his sojourning, pilgrimages and encounters to reflect on what it is to be ‘real’ to oneself and others. With searing honesty Karpf shares his longings and learnings. His life stories show us how, through the spiritual practice of forgiveness, he comes home to himself and comes home to God.”—Jean Duff, executive director, Center for Faith and the Common Good

• “Ted Karpf has written a luminous, clear memoir that invites the reader to accompany him on his life pilgrimage. Son, father, Father, spouse, seeker. Gay man, often a prophet without honor (Mark 6:4) in his own Church, inveterate speaker of truth, and champion for the wounded and those without armor or weapons. And, first and last, a seeker of his own truth and ground in life. This book is a gift both to those who know Father Karpf and those on their own complex journeys.”—Cathleen Crain and Niel Tashima, managing partners, LTG Associates, Inc.

• “Ted’s memoir of his journey toward identity, purpose and resilience, is a moving story, beautifully told. His example of radical forgiveness both resonates with me and challenges me.”—Julie Shimer, retired CEO, Welch Allyn Corporation

• “Father Karpf’s moving memoir is of great historical significance for he documents with candor the spiritual and pastoral journey of a gay priest in The Episcopal Church during the decades in which this Church first came to acknowledge the ministry and service of LGBTQ men and women. This book is an invaluable contribution to the historical narrative of The Episcopal Church.”—The Rt. Rev. R. William Franklin, Bishop of The Episcopal Diocese of Western New York, dean emeritus of The Berkely Divinity School at Yale University

• “Those who read Acts of Forgiveness, will have a taste of what Ted Karpf’s friends have long enjoyed: the blessing of his company and his penchant for storytelling that ultimately instructs and uplifts. This is a book from which the next generation of activists and ministers can glean wisdom and encouragement for their own lives, just as we have done in Ted’s company over the years.”—The Reverends Anna and Chad Kidd, Boston University School of Theology

• “Ted Karpf’s life journey is a witness to dimensions of faith that too often are unseen: pain linked to courage and a resonating empathy, theology translating to a constant urge to act. Few will read his story without asking themselves what more they themselves could do, even as they marvel in Ted’s remarkable journeys of soul and hands.”—Katherine Marshall, senior fellow, Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs, Georgetown University

• “Ted Karpf is a priest of immense integrity and imagination. But this contemporary confession bears testament to something yet more rare: he is a human being of the fiercest honesty. Acts of Forgiveness should be essential reading for everyone exercising public ministry as also for anyone who wants to know in what discipleship consists.”—Canon Chris Chivers, principal, Westcott House, Cambridge