For many different reasons, some non-Catholics are interested in exploring our faith. They might be engaged to a Catholic or are married to one for decades. They may have joined many churches but never found their true home. Their church might be interesting, engaging and even fun – but somehow leaves them spiritually unfed. Their church might be embracing secular beliefs, man’s will, theological relativism, political correctness and “tolerance,” “non-discrimination,” and “non-judgmental acceptance” of sinful acts. There are many reasons.
Yet, in this early stage of their inquiry – the amount of time people are willing to invest in learning the Catholic faith is limited. That is not unreasonable. Except in rare cases, they have heard all sorts of myths – not to mention the mainstream media’s relentless anti-Catholic message. It is amazing that people overcome all that and look anyway!
What can interested, but as yet uncommitted, folks read that would advance their journey to deeper study? The Catechism is great, but too big for this job. Pamphlets summarizing our beliefs, without explaining why, could do more harm than good.
I believe that conversion stories uniquely fill this role. In them, people can follow the journeys of others just like themselves who have already traveled this path. They can relate to the internal and external struggles, the questions and even the doubts. The stories also give a glimpse of the joy of discovery and peace of finally coming home.
One such story is presented in Allen Hunt’s new book Confessions of a Mega Church Pastor. Allen is no typical convert (is there really such a thing?). He was a United Methodist pastor here in Atlanta. Not just any pastor, but the senior pastor – the force behind Mount Pisgah. It is one of the largest Methodist congregations in the world with 15,000 members. Academically, Allen’s credentials include a Yale Ph.D. in New Testament and Ancient Christian Origins.
What motivates such a successful, educated, highly respected, deeply loved Protestant pastor at the peek of his career to leave it all behind and become a Catholic layperson? Without giving away the story, it is basically the same reason many Protestant clergy before him have given… so succinctly summarized:
To be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant.
Blessed John Henry Newman
Cardinal and Catholic Convert
At the time (January, 2008) Allen wrote the following to his friend, Methodist bishop Lindsey Davis:
I am relinquishing my status as an ordained United Methodist pastor in the North Georgia Conference. This deeply personal decision reflects my sense that God has called me to serve in a new mission role. Moreover, I believe that God has led me to a new spiritual home in the Catholic Church, so I have made provision to be received as a member into that Church.
Allen subtitles the book with “How I Discovered the Hidden Treasures of the Catholic Church.” In it, he uses the metaphor of rooms in a house and the words of owner and builder to his son – “this house will take care of you.”
Allen’s background and situation is much different than mine, but I was struck by the many conclusions we shared. I guess that while every story is unique, there remains much that will resonate with interested readers.
The book ends with a series of 3 option suggestions in several areas. Allen does not say if he personally did all of them, but I was surprised by how many I had. Even some of the unusual ones (e.g. visiting other parishes in your diocese for Mass – I am up to 33 so far). Good stuff!
I recommend the book as a wonderful introduction to the one Church Jesus founded, the fullness of our faith and where Protestantism falls short of that fullness. It is very readable, interesting and personal.
These days, Allen has a widely syndicated daily talk radio show. His motto is “it’s not about right or left, it’s about right or wrong.” How Catholic is that?! The show has been recognized as one of the country’s top 100 (#37) talk radio shows. See Allen’s website for more information.