Photo Credit - Katie Kolbrick Photography
Ok this story was meant to be published sometime ago, but life got too crazy this year! Anyone who knows me, know that I'm not a religious person. That doesn't stop my curiosity about people and the world. I personally love listening to stories about people from all walks of life. People who touch our lives daily, I'm not talking about big name Artists, TV and Hollywood Stars, none of that. I find the lives of people I meet on the street far more interesting and I feel I could learn a lot from listening to their story. Father Colin Parrish is no exception.
He is someone many people feel they connect with, talk to with an ease and someone whom they can trust. Our interview went on for almost two hours, it was a long interview to edit, but I utterly enjoyed listening to his story. I hope you will too.
First of all, thank you for doing this interview with me. The first time I heard about you was how amazing you are as a pastor. The way you were described, you are like a Rockstar Pastor, how do you feel about that?
I mean you know, I take it as a compliment only if it just means to me, I interpret it as I connect with the people well. The part about it, you know, it’s hard for me, the other part is I take it as a compliment but the other side, it’s a little bit hard, I also don’t want it to be focused on my person too much, processed Catholic Priest we are supposed to be reflecting Christ, for being Christ is working through us so, we try to get out of the way a little bit with the personality without suppressing our personality like kinda both end, so, I’m always a bit bashful in front of it, kinda like ya, I’m glad that people appreciate me a lot, I’m really glad, at the same time, I just don’t want it to become a cult of personality and I don’t want the pedestal effect either.
What were you like as a little boy? What was in your head then, were you always curious about spirituality and God? At what point in your life that it became clear to you that you would love to be a pastor? I’m curious about the emotional and mental process.
Yes in some sense, I was raised in a non-religious family, Atheist family, ahm, but my parents had some grasp in spirituality, When I was a kid, my mom was a pretty hard core Atheist and my dad was agnostic, you know, I think my mom figured it out, being an atheist is harder work than being a Christian, but the face off end up overtime, I got sent to Catholic schools actually when I was a child, because I had a lot of learning disabilities, and I needed to be cared for in a more personalistic way, then what the Public School system in Seattle was able to provide at the time, so, I really got introduced deeper into religiosity there, and I was all for it, it’s like, if I hadn’t a care, I won’t have followed it, but I’m a very willful man, way too much pride, even as a child, so I would have rejected it if it didn’t resonate.
When I was a kid, I had some pretty intense religious experiences in my school, that were really good and they were pseudo mystical experiences, and they were very intense, those kind of mystical experiences when I first hear about god and Christ and his church really captured my imagination, even before that.
Before that one of my most striking experience, I remember in my living room, my parents were cooking dinner and I wasn’t really supposed to be messed with the tv, some channels I was not allowed to watch like MTV, we had cable so I turned on MTV because my parents were in the kitchen, and it was Sir Mix a Lot, baby got back came on the music video for that, I was 6 years old, I was watching this video and I was trying to figure out, what the hell is going on, when you’re six year old, sexuality has not hit you yet in the same way, so I wasn’t sure what was going on, and then this commercial comes on, it was for Mercedes commercial and there was this guy with this beautiful woman in passenger seat and driving through the hills of L.A. and they go off through the sunset and there was something about..I don’t even remember what the commercial said.
But then I turned off the TV and i sat there in silence and i was really struck cause there was a deep awareness cause what was being shown was that if i had all the money and power, I’ll be happy and i just kind of thought about that and as a kid, I thought, I don’t think I’d be happy or that is enough for me, to fulfill me, so I came up with a real judgment that those two things were a lie to me and they giving a promise they cannot fulfill. So even for me as a kid, I recognized that so I had a spiritual side of myself, i was very aware of these things and I was very of my own heart and my need for happiness. So as a kid I was aware for spiritual things but I wouldn’t have been called a Christian, he was just kinda basic human heart but I was very awake in that kind of sense.
The in between being in the first grade and being wanting to be a priest, there was a lot of different crazy experiences in school, the long and the short of it is, is basically I ended converting to Catholicism when I was eighteen and about 15 years ago, I was in Indonesia, Bandar Aceh, I was in the military and so I ended up converting and after that initial experience I had a chat with a fellow on my ship, a priest and he just asked me what do you think about being a priest, I was 19 and at that point, I was going to get married, try and be a good husband and a good father and have a respectable job, that’s actually what I wanted and I had some career goals but at that point in my life I just really wanted to be a good man and right down when I said no, that’s when it really clicked really hard for me and it was super beautiful and so I was about 19, that’s when I realized this is the method Jesus gave me to make me happy.
This was right before Bandar Aceh, we had a deployment that lasted through July that year and we had a holiday cruise, it was a mini deployment and so anyway that was in June 2004. So ya, this is the method by which God made me to be happy.
What was the transition from being Colin Parrish to Father Colin Parrish like to you? Was it a huge change of lifestyle?
Ya i mean, yes and no, the biggest lifestyle change that happened for me was then I have my conversion, I was just not a good dude, a stereotypical sailor and when I had the conversion, I really stopped doing a lot what I was doing and, so I was trying to start living a life that was more in conformity or in coherence with Christ and his desire for humanity and the church. So I try to live more of a moral life and greater or lesser degree of success like everybody else. When I got out of military, most of my military time I was a practicing Christian, trying to do my best. When i went to the seminary, training period for priests that was a big change, that was a huge change, just because I was used to being in the military.
I came into the seminary when I was 24 I have tattoos everywhere, I cusped, you know and I’m in the seminary with guys and that’s just not their reality. That was a big culture shift for me and then I got used to that and also there’s a lot of things you learn in the seminary of how to be a celibate and how to live this life well, what does a prayer really look like for you, a whole bunch of things. So life slowly changes over the course and I had nine years in the seminary, nine years of education, when I got ordained as a priest, a lot of them is very similar, a lot of the habits and ways of living I already developed a good part of a decade were already in place.
The biggest change though were people’s expectations of me, culturally speaking it was harder for me in some sense cause I was coming back in Seattle, people don’t know necessarily what to do with you when you say you are a priest. It’s a big unknown for them maybe they feel uncomfortable, maybe they’d feel uncomfortable if I just said I was a fire fighter, maybe it was all just a projection on my part. It was a culture dynamic, I’m like kind of an outsider here, I’m like OK well, here we are, and the rhythm of life is very different. Right now I’m working 14 hour days, that wont be forever but learning to live that way was, being more sacrificial in my life, was the big shift.
It was a big lifestyle change but also hard to quantify, it’s like becoming a dad or a mom, what changes and your heart pressed to be able to identify the things you do on any given day because there’s so many tiny things that you’re doing, but everything has changed and also how I’m interacting with people on the street, I have constantly on the background of who I am and when they’re talking to me and this is true for my friends, I have a lot of close friends, I have weekly Sunday dinner I go to every week and other affair I go to on Monday evenings with 20 other friends, even for them, I’m aware this change in me, so when somebody’s talking to me on the street or meeting them in a coffee shop, there is the reality that they’re also talking to a priest, so I also have that in the background a little bit and there is a vision you have for people, you are aware of many things going on, you are trained to listen with many ears.
80 percent of the the time when they’ll learn I’m a priest, regardless if they’re Christian or not, they’ll ask me more of what I do, somewhere they’ll just start spilling, tadadddda, which is fine for me. It doesn’t bother me at all, so I’ll get to see people’s hearts a lot, the other 20 percent of the time, they’ll open up to me, it’s usually they’ll get angry and they’ll get super combative about stuff which is also OK because it has nothing to do with me.
I remember having a conversation with this guy, he referenced a scandal, he wasn’t angry at the Church, as I asked him more questions.
I’m a stable individual, and a lot of times people get mad at you because you are a stable individual, because you are a safe place to be angry in front of which is totally cool. So they can get angry at me and it’s not about at me at all, when I was asking more and more questions, what his feelings and what is going on, how the scandals angered him and he was talking more and more about his own inner life and the sorrow that he experienced on a daily basis about a loss of a loved one, that was important to him and the feeling of not having an identity. All these things, he’s angry at God, I’m his emissary, crazy emissary,
I’m essentially allowing this man having a scream session at God. Who am I to object to that, doesn’t necessarily feel good but in the end, I would like to believe that he walked away feeling more at rest at least and so one way or another people will open up to me.
You are a host for a Podcast channel called “The Threshold Podcast”, how did that come about and what is it like being a talk host for you? Please also share with us what the Podcast is about and how often do you host or co-host a talk on The Threshold?
My good friend, the main host is Tony and he’s a buddy of mine and i worked with him in my last church, he and I were really intrigued about having conversations with people about faith, so people didn't feel that they were being sold something or being attacked, definitely not that, we didn’t want that for anybody. He is from Texas originally and I’m a convert here and for his culture its very normal for him to talk about religion, for me it’s my life in a very concrete fleshy way, so we thought it was very weird that people didn’t want to talk about these things, about faith and spirituality and things like this because at least for us that’s like the most important thing.
I would argue that is still the most important thing for almost everybody by the end of the day. So he came up with the idea of like how to talk about it and he was basing it of one book called Forming Intentional Disciples, it’s a Christian book basically about what are the thresholds people go through when they convert to Christianity, what are the common thresholds, wave points, big markers like broad generalizations but like easily discernible, one of the first one is Trust. If somebody doesn’t have trust in basic experience with a Christian or of the church or Jesus in some way. Any of those images, there’s no way they’re gonna encounter Christ and so how do we develop trust when no one wants to talk about religion, and so he realized, he just kind of went through his memory.
All the good conversations he had throughout the course of his life with people and he realized that when it came to religion, the reasons people liked having conversations with him is because he’s able to affirm the good thing, so everybody’s experience is always something that’s a Christian can affirm, that some good thing the person is experiencing regardless their religious affiliation or spiritual affiliation or whatever, so he came up with that idea and I was just ordained as a priest just coming back to Seattle and I was like, “Tony I’ve been in the MidWest for four years, I need a way of dialing back into my culture, and so I asked him if could be on it and he said, ya that would be great, so we just wanted to find out what people thought and then also let them know, by the way we are Christians and we just want to affirm why we are here that is good.
Up until June 2019 it was once a week, but Tony moved him and his family to Philadelphia so since he moved, he’s been restarting his life, we have one or two episodes lined up right now, I’ve to kick him in the ass to start soon.
For a topic we have the same format every time. There’s a podcast called “On being” by Kristen Tippitt, it’s super popular. I listen to a couple episodes, just this spiritual woman, she asks this meaning questions. We just try to find people that we find interesting and we want to hear what’s your experience? And that’s what we do and then we ask more or less similar questions. Like the next one, there’s a guy, one of the cashiers at this gas station near my house. I go in there everyday to buy cigarettes and I always talk to him and he’s super funny, and I always thought how did this guy get here? So I’m going to ask him to be on the podcast just because he’s a good dude.
What do you think was the most important life lesson or life experience for you that defines who you are today or that helped with your character building?
I think experiences is one thing, it progresses over time, it build up but when I came to the realization just as a human, that I have desire, and that my desire is infinite, things going to make feel content and comfortable but then I get bored you know, or that’s one thing I’m looking to do, looking to see or looking to experience and when i did do it, ten minutes later I’m like when’s the next thing?
You know..when I really accepted, not only it’s OK to feel the dissatisfaction but also that it’s oK to feel the full weight of my desire, I came to understand that my desire for fulfillment, happiness, joy whatever like it’s a greatest gift I’ve been given, that’s the thing has built the entirety of my character. Because every single decision I’ve made in my life, has been uncompromising, like I want my desire to be answered and I won’t be restful until it is. So that’s led to every single decision I’ve ever made, period. You can take it with a sense of lightness.
Who was and is the biggest source of inspiration for you when it comes to spirituality? How about an artist or musician, who is your favorite?
St Therese of Lisieux, also known as “The little Flower” - She came from a bourgeois French family in the 1800”s, although her parents were super interesting, her father was trying to be a priest and her mom a nun, both got rejected and then they met each other. Her mom Zélie owned a factory and owned her own business in 1860’s. And during that time in France that’s super ahead of her time. She came from a very religious family but still very bourgeois, upper middle class, and Therese was a nobody and then she entered a monastery about 30 miles from her house, she had a really ordinary life of a cloistered nun, she wasn’t out in the world in the world, there’s all these little things in her life, and other sisters in the convent who annoyed her to her own chores she had to do and her own prayer but she lived with these moments with a deep intensity. She has this intense memoir, the story of her soul, she was super beautiful and intense, she died when she was 26 from tuberculosis but, so reading through her writings with the intensity of her heart really resonates with my heart. So here’s this woman who was super smart, she only have the only equivalent of a high school education and she’s a doctor with the Catholic Church and one of the official teachers for the Church.
The other one is this guy named Father Luigi Giussani, he was an Italian priest, he died in 2005, and his way of looking at the world and looking at Christ is really amazing. I tell people, I learned to be human when I became a Christian. I learned what it meant to have a heart, to have mercy on myself, to have an honor for my desire, all these things, he was one of the people who taught me through his writings and through the friends that has experienced it, people that were friends with him.
And the last one is one of my friends, her name is Mary Allen, she’s a consecrated celibate, she has a normal career and she lives in a house with other women who are also celibate women and they just have normal jobs. She is tenacious, I call her once or twice a month and we would talk, she’s on the East Coast. She’s really been somebody that I really follow, she’s one of the people that helped me understand and learn from the lord what celibacy is, she’s a Christian and she’s just awesome.
We met through an organization in the church I belong to. She’s radical.
Favourite Artist - The Symbolist painters, it’s very niche. They were painting a lot during the Art Deco period and preceded them, they are kind of Art Nouveau, romantic school of painting, they were realistic painters, representational, however they would represent these fantastic mystical scenes, Gustav Klimt is a Symbolist for example. Painters like them are my favorite school, many of the painters in that school I love, part of it was how my parents raised me, I still love it.
Favorite music - Hardcore, it’s like Punk, except, there is a lot more yelling, less melody, it’s more noise. I’ve been listening a lot lately to a band called “Not To Lose”. They’re hilarious. Hardcore is really big for me but I listen to a ton of stuff. I’m going to see a band called “Me Without You” that’s my favorite band. They’re disbanding this year. They should since they’ve been together for so many years.
On the Northwest Catholic website you stated “I was really depressed and upset with my own life and no one gave me a reason for living.” That’s a pretty raw and honest statement to make. Why do you think you were feeling that way, what did you do at the time to help with all the feelings you had and how do you feel today overall?
When I was in school, and with my family and my extended family, whenever I asked them a question about “Why am I who I am or who am I?” People were never be able to help me ask that question.
Even as a priest, I made a pretty good idea an assumption, what you are made for and all that good stuff right, but I can’t answer the question for you, you got to be the one that asks that question and answers it, I can help to guide you. It really is about your freedom at that point.
But no one was doing it for me so, the only thing I really got was, “Well you do the things you are doing now, so you can have a healthy career”, well I’m like why do I need a healthy career? “So you can have a comfortable life like a nice house.” But what’s that for?
“Because that’s what you should be looking for.” And it never just resonated, so when I was asking these really big questions, people would just shut them down, either they’d feel uncomfortable with the question or they didn’t know how to ask it themselves so, it got interpreted for me, Dude what’s the point? What’s the point of living? There has to be more to my existence and so I was also coping with my behavior that was self harming in different ways and was also self harming for other people because I really didn’t know myself. I didn’t have a sense of stability in myself about like, am I worthwhile? Am I worth loving? All these things you know..
What will satisfy me? I was a rebel in some sense. Like how I treated women, how my relationships look like, I didn’t have boundaries. I’m being very coy about this but you can feel free to imagine the details in your head, I’m sure you’ll be right. Anyway what I would do, I’d really pour all my questions and heartache into my relationships, I think everybody will experience this at some point. If you live in a relationship and only from the brokenness and heartache, you’re going to destroy that relationship.
And because like that other person, on one level they can’t fix you, they can’t fix your problems and also even deeper, even if they were able to handle a lot of it, they are not able to fulfill your heart the way you need. With that, my only experience with myself, there is this healthy hunger and there is an unhealthy one, one that is infinite and one is unanswerable, one that is not healthy and not helpful, and that’s what I lived out of so, for me now though, is radically different, I’ve also been in a process of healing a lot of the wounds in my life, I go to therapy once a week because damn it, I need it, it’s super helpful, and like my prayers, is big. Now, my reason for living and my reason for existence is very clear for me and am I good at living out of that every time? I’m not perfect at all, but, it’s super clear.
When I go into my depressive period now, it’s a lot because of trauma and stuff like that, you know, and I have a really firm belief that’s what got me to be there and so does my therapist help me out of it. I don’t know about your own experience but at least for me, there is so much of the wounded part of our hearts, a lot of it is our work, we got to say yes to doing the work.
Do you ever have that moment of doubt thinking what the hell are you doing? Do you ever have a bad day, what do you do to change the mood when you do have one?
This is super embarrassing for me because I really don’t because I have my doubts in other areas, such as it’s so easy to have a doubt about your lovability, so easy to have a doubt like can you grow and heal? That’s where my skepticism really comes into play. When it comes to in the area of God, my own life as a priest, I don’t have any of that but mine is more personal and relational in that sense so I can easily fall into skepticism and doubt in that place and so you know, it’s like some of my friends who are recovered addicts, it’s so easy to fall when you’re in the process of sobriety, it’s so easy to say, I don’t know if I could live without this thing. It’s such an easy doubt to fall into. I feel it’s very similar in the process of healing and stuff like that. That’s where I experience it.
I do have bad days, my definition of a bad day is when I feel totally isolated, that is my bad day. I can have a lot of hard things happen, for example one of my friends just died and I had to deal with her body and clean out her apartment and stuff like that, that’s a hard day but, I wasn’t alone and so I wouldn’t call that a bad day. It’s hard but it’s not bad. It’s a bad day when something happens where I feel like I can’t live up to something and expectation I can’t live up to and then when I start feeling I have to perform for people that’s when it becomes super bad for me and then I start going into isolation mode, that’s when I have a bad day. What I’d do? I’d go see a friend that I’m close to and say, I’m feeling this way right now, and I just need to speak it and sometimes I specifically ask, just tell me that I’m wrong and that really takes me out of it really quick.
Do you think the Catholic Church will ever open its doors to women to be a Pastor or Priest one day or is that a pipe dream for us ladies?
No, I don’t think they will.
This is my basic rational, for whatever reason Jesus picked men for his ministry even though he had super qualified women around him, like his mom, Mary Magdalene, Martha and her sister Mary etcetera and these are the women that would have been on point.
The other thing, we don’t know why but, that was the case, the other part about it is that, the priesthood itself is not inherently supposed to be one of power. It does have power obviously but that’s not the primary aspect. It’s about the aspect of sacrificial love like renouncing myself for the sake of other people. So it’s interesting because even though only men can be priest, a lot of the movers and the shakers are women as far like people we rely on for spiritual insight, for their judgment about things.
For example, my last parish, like the youth minister there, Amy, this woman was like easily, the Pastor would differ to her, “Amy what’s your vision on this?” Because she’ll a different angle and more of an encompassing view, and her spirituality is so deep and the Pastor just recognizes that.
Just because a priest has the governmental authority or whatever does not diminish anybody else’s role in that sense. Now last part my own interpretation of why it happened. This is not teaching, this only opinion. I think the reason why Jesus instituted male only priesthood is because it’s a way of forcing men into a position of service and it’s also a way for us to help heal the wounds of our fathers so, the biggest wound that I see in almost every single person is, ok not every single person but the most common wound I see, are wounds that come from a father, somebody’s father was absent, neglectful, abusive, not interested or whatever, those wounds can go so deep, so deep and I think the part of the reason a priest is a priest are males because we are supposed to revere the heart of a father and to heal that. That’s my opinion.
Without using religious terms, if someone said to you, “Colin, I feel lost and I feel like I’m in the bottom pit of the earth right now, I don’t know what to do.”
What encouraging wisdom would you say to him/her?
Whatever despair that you’re experiencing around your heart, about is everything going to be better, Am I worth it? All those things. Any of those dark voices, those are all lies. They’re lies and that you need to be with other people as well to help you see who you are, because you are already worthwhile, you are going to make it and also like you can’t do that on your own, you are not meant to, you are not meant to do it all alone. And so this is a co work with other people, people who love you, if you don’t have people who love you come be with me and my friends.
For anyone out there, young or old, who has a curiosity or interest in priesthood or would like to learn more about the life of a priesthood where can they go to learn more?
How would one know if priesthood is right for them?
Basically if you want to learn more, you can go to our website, Seattlevocations.com. Or you can listen to a podcast called Catholic stuff you should know, that’s a helpful one.
How would they know? Well if somebody says you should think about it, one if a practicing Catholic says you should think about it, you should think about it. If it haunts you, but in a good way, then you should pay attention to that.
On a personal note, were you ever in a serious relationship with someone? How was the experience for you and do you think you grew from it or damaged?
I had a couple of serious relationships, but the most serious one was highschool into the navy, I was still in a relationship when I was in the navy, it was serious enough, I was naive and immature but I was serious about it, I wasn’t in love with her, I had a lot of girlfriends in high school and in the navy I did too at least for the first year. But I will say this I didn’t fall in love until after I had already been in the Seminary, I fell in love after I started life, it was my first time really falling in love. It was the most beneficial experience ever, it was super helpful for me and we are still friends. And since after that point, I fell in love a couple more times and which is totally fine, I am not scared of that stuff, it’s really beneficial, super beneficial.
I grew from it. Before I was a Christian, my relationships were probably more damaging, but, afterwards when I fell in love with these women, what happened for me, was just like they is pain to it naturally, that’s healthy, but it just gave me life in a new way, I don’t think before I was open to feeling, I don’t count it circumstantial, the only times I fall in love was after my conversion, like it made me open to be that vulnerable. It was awesome.
Do you cook? Favorite food? Favorite drink? Favorite cocktail/wine/beer? Favorite Seattle restaurant?
I do, but I’m super bashful about it, I can cook well, so the last thing I made was Italian sausage lentil soup. A lot of times when I make my meals, I make for the week. I'd just make it and put it in a container, it will be super simple like baked chicken, roasted vegetables. I’m starting to experiment with curry and I’m saving to buy an insta pot soon.
Favorite food will be fried chicken, any crap you can buy from the grocery store, Safeway or QFC.
Favorite drink - Cold brew coffee.
Favorite cafes - Cafe Vita on Pike, I really like that joint or the Cafe Vita on Fremont Ave. Particularly the Fremont one, it’s got a lot of light and I can do a lot of work there, the other one Cafe Victrola on 15th and Cafe Zoka in Tangletown, Greenlake, I do a lot of work there.
Favorite cocktail/wine - My favorite drink right now is black lager, my favorite one is called Irish Death, Iron Horse Brewing in Ellensburg. I’m not a big mixed drink guy but I like a Sidecar but I like Scotch. I like LaPhroaig.
My watering hole is Hattie’s Hat, I had my Ordination reception there.
I’d say my favorite restaurant is - Twilight Exit on East Cherry and 19th. They do diner food, I go for the ambiance.
Do you believe in Aliens or Extraterrestrial Intelligence?
I don’t know if I’d say believe, but I think there’s a strong probability that there is extraterrestrial life. There’s a whole bunch of cool questions around this.
Are you afraid of anything at all?
Dental work, High pressure air hoses, I’m afraid basically falling from the air.
What in your opinion is our world’s biggest challenge? Why can’t we get along? How can we reach a common understanding and finally live in peace with each other?
Myself. I’m being cheeky. But I honestly think right now, the biggest problem in the world is everybody’s pride and distractedness, we are easily distracted for very many reasons, everybody can talk about, and that a lot of the times, there’s not a sense of self that we have and if we don’t have that sense of humility in our own self as well, it’s super hard and we are distracted as well and it’s super hard to notice anybody else, to think about that, to think about their experience.
There are very, very few evil people on this planet, you know, but there are a lot of broken people that do bad things. And I think that what can we do sounds cliche’ but you know, can we listen to each other, like go out to dinner with somebody you don’t like, like do something common together like dig a ditch or go hiking together.
If you could have any super power, what will it be and why?
My super power would be to assemble things together with my mind because, I really just love building stuff, also I get so hung up on the creative process, I think more specifically, things I imagined I can make, straightaway happens.
Finally, what is Love to you?
Love is somebody sacrificing themselves for the good of another, but I think also combined with that, love is the ability to really see truly who somebody else is and say yes to that and not to say yes to my own image of who they really are.