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Former St. Petersburg Episcopal priest says 'Thank God for marijuana' (w/video)

Published Mar. 5, 2015

ST. PETERSBURG — The bishop was not amused.

Not with the video of one of his priests — complete with clerical collar — advocating gratitude for marijuana.

"Now, thanking God for weed might feel a little awkward at first," says the Rev. Chris Schuller — a former rector at St. Thomas' Episcopal Church in the Snell Isle neighborhood — in the short video that's punctuated with the reggae rhythms of Bob Marley.

"Thanking God is going to feel so much better than throwing stones at people who are already stoned," he says.

But Bishop Dabney Smith, head of the Episcopal Diocese of Southwest Florida, which includes St. Petersburg, "was very disturbed by the video," spokesman Garland Pollard said.

"In this age of social media, we have two hats that we wear in the world, and we need to think of how we present ourselves. And the clergy is held to a higher standard."

It might not matter.

A few days ago, Schuller posted to Facebook that he had decided to leave the Episcopal Church and planned to "minister outside of its boundaries."

"This is a video in which viewers — both believers and non-believers alike — are lovingly invited to judge less and love more," Schuller said in an email to the Tampa Bay Times.

"It's a message of faith resting in a fun visual context,'' he said. "One bit of art imitating life is that the Pastor Chris character in the video and I are both light drinkers and don't use marijuana at all."

Pollard said that although Schuller now lives in Venice, Calif., in the Diocese of Los Angeles, he remains under the jurisdiction of the Florida bishop. Schuller's departure from the Episcopal Church is not yet official, Pollard said.

Schuller, who will be 56 soon, is used to controversy. Soon after he arrived at St. Thomas' in 2007, he caused a stir by dismissing the church's longtime music director. Two years later, he removed Marion Fleming, a retired circuit judge and wife of the former rector, the Rev. Peter Fleming, from her volunteer position.

He left the parish in 2011 with plans to write movies and short scripts with a spiritual message. In a January Facebook post, he said that he and a friend planned to start a website. Now up, it's called hashtaghallelujah.com, which notes that the goal is to "Make Faith Fun."

Schuller urged friends to check out the Thank God for Marijuana video, which is now on the site.

"We're just not going to get to that one love, if we judge our brothers and sisters on something as minor as how they relax on a Friday evening," he says in the video.

"So let's practice non-judgment. Let's go with gratitude and not attitude."

Cue to Bob Marley's One Love and the dancing priest.

Contact Waveney Ann Moore at wmoore@tampabay.com.

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