Father Mick Lambeth continues to be completely awed by the countless ways in which he has experienced the loving hand of God in is life. Admittedly, there have been some very dark moments, and there was a time when he became disillusioned with his Catholic faith.

Even when he turned his back on God, however, “God was still there, he was with me,” Father Lambeth said, adding, it was a lesson learned and one for which he remains deeply grateful.

As he reflects on the double milestone he is observing in 2019 as a priest – the 25th anniversary of his ordination and his retirement from active ministry – Kenneth Michael Lambeth, who prefers to go by “Mick,” said his vocation to priesthood was inspired by his upbringing in a devout Catholic home and the example set by the pastor of his home parish in Dallas, Texas.

“He was filled with so much joy. I wanted that, too. I wanted to be like him,” Father Lambeth said.

In high school, thoughts of the priesthood diminished as his interests focused on studies, going to college and dating. In 1968, however, the 20-year-old experienced deep conflict when he was drafted into the U.S. Army but chose to enlist in the Navy, where he served four tours of duty in  Vietnam on the Naval Destroyer Ozbourn DD846. Along with experiencing four years filled with physical, emotional and spiritual challenges, his Catholic faith was further tested when it came to accepting changes in the Church that were promulgated by the Second Vatican Council. He was torn between the familiarity of the pre-Vatican II practices and the newness of the post-Vatican II years, which seemed radical in comparison.

“I didn’t know who I was as a Catholic. Everything was so different,” he said, noting that he was in Da Nang, Vietnam – “of all places” – when he attended his first Mass in the vernacular and the altar was turned around and the priest faced the people.

Learning Curve

Father Lambeth returned home in 1972, a time when public opinion was riding high against the war. Like fellow servicemen, he dealt with the hostility by turning inward and not talking about all he experienced.

After Vietnam, he went to work in new-store construction management for Neiman Marcus in Dallas and later for Lane Bryant in New York City, where he excelled and enjoyed accumulating wealth and the best of material goods. His military experience, meanwhile, was taking an emotional toll as he became increasingly dependent on alcohol and drugs to which he eventually needed to address with professional therapy. To this day, Father Lambeth is forthright when talking about the lifelong impact in dealing with addictions. “I am a recovering alcoholic and substance abuser,” he says with fervent honesty.

In the midst of being treated for his addictions and maintaining his career, Father Lambeth realized that he missed practicing his faith and having God in his life. To help him discern his feelings, he began meeting regularly with Father John Muthig, a priest acquaintance from the Diocese of Trenton. After three years, Father Lambeth clearly remembers the day and his reaction when Father Muthig revisited the idea of his becoming a priest.

“I was stunned,” he said. “After everything I had been through … my lifestyle … my addictions … I could no longer see myself becoming a priest. I didn’t feel worthy. I couldn’t see how I would be accepted for the priesthood,” Father Lambeth said. For every doubt he expressed, Father Muthig counteracted with assurance of his worthiness to be a priest.

Moving Forward

In 1987 at age 41, Father Lambeth began his service to the Church of Trenton. He traded in his plush lifestyle, designer business suits and home, for clerics and a regimented way of life and study in St. Mary’s Seminary and University, Baltimore, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in theology in 1989 and a master’s degree in 1993. Following his priestly ordination, he was parochial vicar in St. Catharine-St. Margaret, Spring Lake, and Epiphany, Brick, and pastor of Sacred Heart, Trenton, and Sts. Peter and Paul, Trenton, now part of Sacred Heart Parish. Since 2008, he was administrator and then pastor of St. Theresa, Little Egg Harbor, where he remained until his retirement. He also held diocesan appointments, including serving on the building commission; council of priests, and for eight years as director of vocations.

In retirement, Father Lambeth continues to reside in the Diocese, living in a private residence near St. Theresa Parish. He is happy to remain a presence in St. Theresa Parish and help Father John Large, the new administrator, with celebrating Masses.

“The parishioners have embraced me, and I am happy that I will still have an opportunity to be with them,” he said.

Hobbies he enjoys and plans to pursue in retirement include photography, writing and woodwork, working out at the gym and playing tennis.

“My priesthood has been a gift from God,” Father Lambeth said. “I have had a great experience in the Diocese of Trenton and being with people who love God. I’ve enjoyed being a part of that.”