ONDBEAT: Reflecting on that first December when Jesus came to town

This past Monday marking my 15th anniversary at the Beacon brings a wealth of nostalgia and memories, if only I could remember them.

Just what was that first December here like many moons ago? How have times changed over the past 1.5 decades? Did Sunset Beach ever get that bridge built?

Appropriately enough for this time of the year, I have a Christmas story to share.

The good thing about being in the newspaper business is our collection of bound and dated books containing prior copies of the Beacon commemorating previous events, politics and people in the news to reference and recall.

All I had to do to spark old times was tiptoe my walker down Memory Lane, aka the Beacon “library” hallway, and journey back to Dec. 25, 2003, the date of the issue marking my first official fulltime weekly schtick here with the Beacon.

Browsing that noteworthy Christmas Day edition, that’s when it hit me. That was the week Jesus came to town.

That was the day former Beacon editor Ben Carlson told me he’d just received a tip that a bearded, robed man who looked like Jesus had been seen at “St. Brendan’s” and to go look into it. It was one of my first Beacon assignments and investigations.

“St. Brendan’s” is what people loosely call the local Catholic church on U.S. 17 in Shallotte. But current Beacon editor Jackie Torok, who goes there, staunchly corrects that: To be succinct, it’s St. Brendan the Navigator Roman Catholic Church.

That’s where Jesus arrived during a funeral Mass that Monday morning 15 years ago. Father Patrick O’Connor deemed it somewhat miraculous in the midst of the somber time of mourning.

After being alerted by a parishioner, O’Connor responded, “Well, we’d better go talk to him in case it is Jesus.”

After meeting with the longhaired stranger who strolled barefoot into the church on a dull December day, O’Conner realized he had seen the man, who went by the traveling moniker “James Joseph,” on a national newscast a few years earlier.

He was described as a roaming preacher, an itinerant minister who didn’t want people to think he was Jesus but rather taking on the mantle and message of Jesus’ simple lifestyle — a journey of faith with no shoes, no possessions and no money. He would accept none of these things from anyone, either, not even food unless it was a meal shared with others.

But he tried to attend a church service every day. That’s how he wound up at St. Brendan the Navigator Roman Catholic Church.

At that time James Joseph and his attention-drawing ministry had been traveling the country for 12 years. At last update last year in Ohio, he was still doing his schtick, spreading his example and messages about God and faith with people he met along the way.

In an interview with a Toledo TV station, Joseph, aka “Jesus guy,” had spread the gospel in 20 countries and 47 states during the past 26 years. He was still going around barefoot in his simple white robe.

It’s still an inspirational story to be mindful about this season.

You never know when Jesus is going to walk in the door.

Laura Lewis is a staff writer for the Beacon. Reach her at 754-6890 or llewis@brunswickbeacon.com.