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Marriage forbidden, couple started over

Andy and Jim CastroLang are United Church of Christ pastors who first met in the Catholic Church and then married. They hold their wedding day photo in the backyard of their south Spokane home July 15. (Christopher Anderson)
Andy and Jim CastroLang are United Church of Christ pastors who first met in the Catholic Church and then married. They hold their wedding day photo in the backyard of their south Spokane home July 15. (Christopher Anderson)

Faith guided pastors to love

Sometimes falling in love has painful consequences. For Jim and Andy CastroLang it meant giving up another lifelong love.

The couple met in August 1981 at Blessed John XXIII University Center in Fort Collins, Colo. Andy had been hired to facilitate campus ministry. Jim was a newly ordained Roman Catholic priest.

Andy recalled, “He opened the office door for my friend and me. He said, ‘I’m Father Jim,’ and I thought, no way! He looked like my little brother!”

Jim was assigned to help her coordinate the campus ministries and the two worked closely together. It proved to be their undoing. “We were both Vatican II babies – cradle Catholics,” said Andy. “We spent a lot of time getting to know each other, discovering each other’s beliefs.”

As they shared their hopes and dreams for the church and for the world, Jim said, “That’s when the first spark happened.”

Andy had a longtime boyfriend that her family hoped she’d marry, but after she met Jim, she broke up with her suitor. “I fell in love with him (Jim) within two weeks of meeting him,” she said.

They both struggled against the powerful attraction that had captivated them. A month after they met as they walked back from a Campus Crusade for Christ meeting, they paused to sit on the gymnasium steps. Andy said, “We lay back and looked up at the stars … .”

Jim interjected, “And you blew it!”

She laughed. “I’d decided to tell him that he was really special, but I wanted to just be friends. I leaned over and kissed him on the cheek and he leaned back and kissed me on the lips, and that was it!”

Two weeks later Andy wrote in her journal, “I want to marry him.”

But Jim and Andy weren’t simply star-struck lovers. She was a Roman Catholic lay woman, and he had dedicated his life to serving God and his church. Marriage could never be an option for them. Theirs was a forbidden love, an unthinkable violation of their commitment.

They talked about their strong feelings and agreed to stop all contact outside of work. “It made my ministry even better when we channeled that spark and energy back into our work – and we worked so hard that year,” said Jim.

However, their professionalism would only last so long. “Then Jim would say, ‘I miss you,’ ” Andy recalled. And they’d be lost, swept away in a tidal wave of passion that both exhilarated them and broke their hearts.

“I knew it was wrong in all things Catholic,” said Andy. “And secrets are bad for both your body and soul.”

From their South Hill living room Jim looked at Andy and shook his head. “Our ministry was going great, but we couldn’t survive it.”

They went on a staffing retreat and decided to privately tell each staff member about their relationship and ask them for wisdom and direction. Over the course of the weekend, it was decided that Jim would immediately leave the area and that Andy would stay to finish out the year.

Aching and confused, Jim went to a Benedictine monastery in New York, and Andy continued her campus ministry. They were supposed to have no contact, but Jim snuck in a few calls.

He found it difficult to contemplate a future without his connection to the Catholic Church. “You don’t just become a priest and then stop,” Andy explained. “We were both starting to realize what this was going to cost.”

The church was part of their identity. They both came from staunch Roman Catholic families, and Jim’s parents were so proud to have a priest in the family. “I loved my ministry,” Jim said. “I loved that community.”

But he also loved Andy and couldn’t envision a life without her. They spent a year apart. “It was horrible,” Andy said.

In September 1982, they moved to the Seattle area for a fresh start and a chance at a normal relationship. Jim struggled to find a job. “I could only speak church language,” he said. “And my skill set was all in the church!”

He also struggled with his choice. “He proposed to me three times, but took it back twice!” said Andy.

Jim said it took time for him to realize that he wasn’t leaving his faith or his ministry, but he was leaving the Catholic Church. “We wanted to be devoted to each other and the church – of course, that didn’t work out,” Andy explained.

Finally, on Jan. 26, 1985, the couple wed in Colorado. “It was as Catholic a wedding as it could be,” said Andy. “It was the happiest day of my life until my children were born.”

Before the wedding the couple chose an unusual solution to the name-change dilemma. They chose to combine their two last names. Jim Castro and Andy Lang became Jim and Andy CastroLang.

They returned to Bellevue where they’d both been working in a Catholic church, only to find they’d lost their jobs because they chose to marry.

The couple scrambled to make ends meet. Jim attended the Ron Bailey School of Broadcasting and found a job in radio, which he enjoyed.

Their daughter Brigid was born in 1987, followed by a son, Nick, in 1989. Adrift from the church they’d loved all their lives, the couple searched for a community of faith. They found a place of acceptance and belonging in the United Church of Christ.

They especially appreciated the denomination’s inclusiveness. “We both have a heart for the gay and lesbian community,” Andy said. “We know what it’s like to love someone dearly and be told it’s bad. We fell in love. We didn’t believe love could be bad or that God’s command to love one another knows boundaries.”

Jim’s ordination was transferred to the UCC in 1992. With the encouragement of her pastor, Andy left for seminary in San Francisco in 1995. Jim and the kids soon followed. Three years later she was ordained. “A dream a Catholic woman could never dream,” she said.

In 2002, Andy accepted the call to become pastor of Westminster Congregational UCC in Spokane. Jim serves as the pastor of First Congregational UCC in Colville. Their lives have come full circle – just as when they met, they are passionately serving God in a community of faith.

After 26 years of marriage, Jim said, “The struggling and the suffering sealed our covenant.”

Andy smiled at him and nodded. “When we married we lost our careers, futures, friends, and connections in the Roman Catholic Church and had to start over. But it has been worth it – every bit of it.”

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