Father Rick Chunn likes to consider himself God's minister on wheels, rolling the Good Word onto the streets, across the ocean and to other offbeat places most clergymen refuse to tread.
Namely, Roman Catholic priests.
Pregnant and in love? Want to marry again despite a nasty divorce? Dreaming of a ceremony in some out-of-the-way place other than a church--say, in a park, on a boat or on top of a rock? Tired of those months-long premarital classes required by the Roman Catholic Church?
Well, then, Father Chunn is your man. He'll marry you, baptize you, confirm you, counsel you, bless you, offer your First Communion--even your last rites.
No questions asked.
Roman Catholic priests, however, are asking lots of questions. They say that Chunn is less priest than impostor. They don't like his ads that have run in both the telephone Yellow Pages and local newspapers: "Want a Catholic wedding, but turned down by the Roman Catholic Church? Call Father Rick Chunn."
But Chunn only smiles at their suspicions.
Trusty Thomas Bros. Guide in hand, he ventures from an El Segundo storefront church to administer his faith from Los Angeles to Palm Springs. Mostly, though, Chunn motors San Fernando Valley freeways, often on last-minute calls for a lost soul in need.
"God can bless anybody he wants," says the bespectacled 44-year-old priest. "Often, he doesn't wait around for everything to happen in a certain order as demanded by the Roman Catholic Church."
Chunn is one of two bishops of the little-known Celtic Catholic Church, a tiny denomination that claims just 300 followers and seven priests nationwide--five of them in Southern California.
Dressed in sober black attire and white collar, he looks like a man of the Roman Catholic Church, although he does not claim to be one. His demeanor is gentle, considered, priestly.
But Roman Catholic Church officials say Chunn is operating on a wing and a prayer--one of a host of religious wanna-bes preying on the public's lack of discrimination when it comes to a father-figure in a clerical uniform.
They say the ceremonies that Chunn performs aren't recognized by their church. Some even doubt the existence of Celtic Catholicism.
"I would defy anyone to find any reference to Celtic Catholicism in the Encyclopedia Britannica or any other major source," says Father Gregory Coiro, a spokesman for the Catholic Archdiocese in Los Angeles.
Added another Roman Catholic priest: "This man is a private operator abusing religion for his own financial gain."
While Chunn acknowledges that he "asks for a donation" to perform some services, he bristles at the suggestion he's any shyster.
"I'm a very poor person," says Chunn, who performs Sunday services in El Segundo that he says are attended by 50 people. "My wife and I live in a simple condominium in El Segundo. Many services I perform for free."
Religious scholars say Chunn is among a growing breed of holy men offering alternatives to mainstream religious practices.
John Crossley, a professor of theology at USC, says while he knows of no modern version of the church, Celtic Catholicism has its roots in 1530 when it stayed loyal to Rome when Henry VIII of England broke with the Roman Catholics to form his own church.
At the time, he said, there was a Celtic Catholic Church in Ireland, England and Scotland. "But as far as I know, nothing continued in the islands that differentiates itself in any way from the Roman Catholic Church."
Chunn, however, dates the roots of the church much earlier, saying Celtic Catholicism was started in the 3rd Century on the British Isles and has been practiced for 1,600 years in England, Scotland and Ireland before being brought to the United States 15 years ago.
Crossley pointed out that there are a number of churches worldwide that consider themselves Catholic and yet have no affiliation with Rome.
And since the state of California does not require licensing of clergymen, anyone can perform marriages and sign his name and church affiliation on the marriage license dotted line.
"There are priests out there who believe in all seven sacraments and do everything the Roman Catholic Church does," Crossley says. "The only thing that could be shady here is if this priest bills himself as a substitute for the Roman Catholic Church.
"I don't see any problem with his selling his services. Millions of priests do what he does, charge fees to marry and bury. Roman Catholic priests do as well. That's nothing new."
Chunn says the Roman Catholic Church sees his ministry as a threat.
"I got this anonymous call recently by a man who asked the most detailed questions--and I could just tell he was a Roman Catholic priest," he recalls.
"So when we hung up, I said 'Goodby, Father,' to which he responded: 'Goodby.' He was obviously a spy."
A former computer programmer, the 1971 graduate in linguistics from UC San Diego was raised without a religious affiliation but decided years ago that he wanted to enter the priesthood.