Battle-tested butcher aspires to new life lit by love of ministry
It is just after 10 a.m. when a regular customer enters DJ’s Butcher Shop in Bloomfield.
Mike Guiliani stands behind the counter. In his hand is a sharp knife. On his face is the ever present smile his customers — most of whom know nothing of his past or planned future — have come to love.
The regular, a middle-aged white man, orders several cuts: Three pork chops bone-in, four bone-out, bacon, sausage, some chicken breasts.
As Mike slices, they chat about work, dinner plans and recipes. Then Mike wraps the order and hands it over.
“Saturday’s my last day,” he says, still smiling.
“Yeah,” says Mike, 31, of Center Township. “I’m entering the seminary.”
The customer blinks, unsure of how to respond.
“Well,” he says finally. “We’ll miss you.”
He takes his meat and leaves the store.
Mike continues to smile as the door closes.
“It says a lot when somebody trusts you to give them food that they’re going to give their families,” he says. “That’s one reason I enjoy this. It goes back to my childhood and the fact that my parents made sure we were home for dinner. Memories were made around that table.”
Mike loves being a butcher.
But he knew this job would be temporary.
He knew it just under five years ago, when he was 7,000 miles away and something happened that “shined a new light” on his path, he says.
“That was my epiphany.”
It was early 2012. Mike was stationed at a military base in Afghanistan near the Pakistan border. He was in the shower when he heard the first explosion.
“I thought it was a controlled det,” Mike recalls. “I waited a bit. Then I heard another. Then I heard another and another, so OK, this is the real deal. I got out of the shower, put my boxers on, put my shower shoes on, grabbed my weapon and ran to the bunker.”
He thought only of survival.
He did not think of his fellow soldiers, his nephews and nieces back home, his dog. He thought only of himself.
That bothered Mike. He had prepared for this moment. He had always thought of himself as someone who put others first, someone who would sacrifice his life to save yours.
But when the mortars went off, he ran.
“Everything I’d sworn was a priority in my life went out the window,” Mike says. “That night I was bunked down and I was laying there and thinking. I was so frustrated with myself because of how selfish I was. There was definitely shame. You’re training for months and months to have your boys’ backs, and then in that moment I did not live for anybody but myself. That was a prick to my pride. What the heck man? This is not who you are, this is not what you’re supposed to be…
“You hear stories of people that jump on grenades and stuff like that, and you pray and hope that you’d have that courage, too. But in that moment, I didn’t have that courage at all. That realization shined a new light on how much I needed a savior. That’s when the Gospel became priority. That’s when life really changed.”
That’s when he decided to become a priest.
First, Mike had to clean up his life.
The mortar attack came at the beginning of his tour, he says, and he learned from it. He became the soldier he had hoped to be. He was brave.
But he struggled to reconcile his faith with his role in the military.
He told himself: “My flesh hates these guys right now. But my heart cannot do it.”
The base, Mike recalls, was segregated: Americans soldiers on one side, local nationals on the other. Each side mostly kept to themselves — until Mike started visiting the locals. He would grab a Snickers and a Red Bull, walk over and tell anyone who would listen about Jesus. Most were receptive, he says. But not everyone appreciated his daily trips to the other side. In time, one of his superiors sat him down and told him to stop.
“Not out of disobedience to you,” he told the officer, “but out of my obedience” to God.
His talks with the Afghans were a way to “humanize that ethnicity,” Mike says, to teach himself that “the enemy is not those whole people.”
With that explanation, Mike says, his superior relented and the trips continued.
Mike’s tour ended in December 2012. He returned home to Beaver County.
He resumed ministry, focusing on at-risk youth, but he also struggled — with what he’d done in Afghanistan, and with a drug addiction that began with pain pills after he dislocated his hip at age 14 and turned into methamphetamine use back home.
“I had to go back to scripture and study King David and the things that occurred in David’s life because I had to learn and figure out how he handled it,” Mike says. “What you learn from David is that he never hesitated to cry to his father. He cried out. He never hesitated to get on his knees and cry out to his father, with no shame.
“That’s what it took. Just naked and unashamed and being in the house in my room with my head on the floor and I’m just crying out to my father: ‘I need help! I can’t do it alone.’ Eventually it humbled me to the point where I had to go get help.”
He entered rehab. He got counseling.
Today, Mike says, he is 21 months clean.
He is not yet a priest, but he is ready. Saturday was his last day at the butcher shop. Now he begins his studies in the Master of Divinity program at Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge. He hopes to become a priest in the Anglican tradition in four years,
“Everything I live for is to be that light,” he says. “That’s my goal. That’s what I try to do.”
He knows his path to priesthood is an unorthodox one. But he is done worrying that his past might be a distraction from the message he intends to spend his future preaching.
“Nothing we do can compromise what happened on Calvary,” he says.
As he speaks, he cannot help but smile.