Friday, April 13, 2007


This is not my regular Blog. This blog was created to post an account of my journey from being a Protestant Minister to being a Catholic.

The account is not necessarily chronological, but it is deliberately ordered. I hope the order I have chosen will help it all make sense.

NOTE: You need to read the posts from earliest to latest to read them in order.

You can simply START HERE and click the link I have placed on the bottom of each post to go to the next post in order.



April, 2007

I apologise to you, dear reader, for the length and garbled nature of this record of my journey. I am painfully aware that many key facts and events have been left out of this version. Some by design and some because they simply don't exist in written form.

Some day I will get around to typing up an account of my journey from a Brethren congregation in the country, through a short stint with an Assemblies of God Pentecostal group, a year of despair inspired by John Calvin to be finally baptised as a Lutheran at the age of 20.

Our experiences since becoming Catholic are another story. The only part that is relevant to this account is that the Lutheran authorities continued to harass me in various ways over the next five years, culminating (please God) in issuing legal summons and debt collectors demanding (and refusing to negotiate) that I 'repay' a significant amount money for my seminary training. Only the charity of some Catholic friends saved us from bankruptcy.

Our respective families are talking to us again now, but most of my Lutheran friends have not spoken to me since the call I informed them I was resigning to become Catholic. Out of 65 Lutheran pastors I have records of a meaningful and regular interaction with before my resignation, only 2 still talk freely with me on occasion. Some others have approached me with questions now and then, on the condition of anonymity. They are afraid to ask the questions openly. There are some extraordinary individuals still asking tough questions within the Lutheran community in Australia and I tip my hat to them. May God guide them home soon!

There is much more I could say, but I will leave this account of our journey with this comment. I never dreamed of becoming a Catholic, it was the last thing I wanted. Seriously! Since becoming a Catholic I have been at peace in mind, body and soul in a way I never felt before. For all it's flaws, nuts, heretics, sinners, enthusiasts and idiots (including me) ... Christ is the head of this house! This glorious, cracked, flawed and complex Church is the only true home for me. I hope you can join us, if you're not already here.

Next?: I'm done here. You can read my regular blog HERE.

Catholicism in the Wild

I have just finished wiping up the kitchen floor after your latest adventure. It would distract me too much to describe it here, suffice to say it involved noodles, grated cheese, an apple and a green crayon. They say green stuff is good for you don't they?

So, what happened next?

That first day I was welcomed by some friendly yet wary Centacare - Marriage Education staff who were obviously wondering what they could do with this strange person. The only Lutherans they had met in the past had been marrying a Catholic person and preparing for a marriage in a Catholic Church. Not quite the same deal as an ex-Minister I guess. After being shown around the office by three different people I was relieved when they gave me some data entry work to do. After a frustrating hour wrestling with their antiquated database, I politely asked if they were attached to the current form of the database, or if I could make some adjustments to speed up my data entry. After I assured them I would save a backup copy of the old database they agreed. Two days later they were so profuse in their praise for the new system,it was almost embarrassing.

(For the boffins out there, I'm no programmer. I simply took Access and gave them some simple workable forms which gave them access to their common inquiries with one or two mouse clicks. I have done much more complex things since, but this achievement still ranks highest for pure impact on my workplace :))

I was moved onto the admin team for an upcoming national conference and worked on the technical side of the organisation. Sitting in on those meetings was an education for a new Catholic let me tell you! It was a joint venture between Centacare and a secular counselling organisation. The theory was that the bulk of the conference featured keynote speakers and workshops focused on the secular professional skills of relationship counselors, while the Catholics were rewarded for their greater than 50% financial and 100% administrative support for the conference by way of a 'Catholic' half day preceding the conference.

Between one keynote speaker advocating abortion, divorce and euthanasia, another giving practical masturbation tips, and workshops including a specialist session on 'Sero-discordant couples' (counselling tips for when one homosexual has aids and his male partner does not), I can't say what I found more amazing. What surprised me was not so much the blatant disregard for Church teaching, nor the almost universal ignorance that they were doing so, but my own lack of concern.

I couldn't understand my own reaction! Such concentrated error would have sent me into a tail spin only a year earlier, so why was I so calm (if a little sad for them and their future contacts) about this monumental rejection of Christian teaching? I realised that, for the first time ever I was completely sure that these people did not represent Christ's teaching, and that it wasn't up to me to prove that! Even when a religious sister gave an astoundingly horrid interpretation of the account of the disciples on the road to Emmaus, I sat watching calmly. I was sad for her and for those listening, but I felt no compulsion to leap up and shout the defence of the Bible or Church teaching. Not that I did this much before, but I always had to fight the compulsion!

I realised I was peaceful in that nothing I could say or do could make the truth any more true than it already is! In those days I actually felt a heady thrill at being so completely secure in the truth of the faith. I still feel it now. I now hold two different roles involved in upholding and teaching the faith in Scripture and of Marriage and the Family, but I am free to do so now out of love for the people I interact with, and not in a kind of desperate attempt to convince myself of the 'truth' I am arguing for.

As I said to one Lutheran pastor who accused me of fleeing from the hard problems, "Running away from the problems? The Catholic Church has many more false teachers and nuts than any Protestant group I know. The difference isn't that the problems aren't there, nor that the hard questions are not being asked. The difference is that Catholics have the answers!"

Next: Epilogue

In Between Worlds

June 23, 2002

Life has been no less eventful since I last wrote. I have simply lacked the motivation to write. Or perhaps I lacked the sense of anything definite to write about. I write this in the lounge room of our rented house a few suburbs away from my old parish. Over a year has passed since I preached my last sermon, packed our bags and left the parish manse to move here 3 days later.

The most profound change has been a deep and lasting peace about our lives in faith since we became Catholics. Another very important change has been our newest family member! The newest little addition to the family has certainly stirred things up a lot, even before he or she is born, the baby has been causing all kinds of trouble. We can't wait to meet him or her! :) In a very real sense this baby is an incarnation of the decision to be Catholic, to be open to all that God wants for us in life, love and family.

So what has happened? The six weeks after my resignation were extremely difficult in many ways. The congregation knew we were leaving to become Catholic so they kept asking themselves, "Was everything he taught us Catholic, or Lutheran?" When I was asked this question I always answered "Everything I taught in this parish was 100% Lutheran, and 100% Catholic." It was true. I can look back on my sermons, classes and writing and be confident that I never taught anything I wasn't convinced was consistent with the Church Fathers, nor did I teach anything that went beyond the boundaries of my authority as a Lutheran minister.

Some parishioners doubted that the Eucharist I presided over in that interim were 'valid' in a Lutheran sense since I obviously didn't believe they were valid. Senior Lutheran theologians were quick to reassure the congregations that, according to Lutheran teaching, since I carried out the rites according to the Lutheran rubric that it was 'valid'.

I attempted to listen carefully to all the hurts, anger and complaints of my parishioners. I was surprised at how many of them assumed it was all about them, or at least all about that parish. Most were angry at me for abandoning them. I had been the first young man in that parish for some time and, if the parishioners words are anything to go by, had brought a sense of hope and excitement to the parish. Numbers were rising, people were feeling more excited about being a Lutheran. Some were even bravely adopting Luther's recommendation to cross themselves in private prayer and even *gasp* in the Church! Now they felt as if they had been taken for a ride. I heard what they said, and I could understand why they were feeling that way. Unfortunately I could not answer all their questions clearly and fully. While still acting as a Lutheran minister, my relationship with them was one based on trust that I fulfill my vow to teach only what the Lutheran Church of Australia teaches. It would have been a betrayal of that position of trust to use my position as spiritual authority in the Lutheran Church to attempt to undermine their faith in that organisation's teachings.

Besides these considerations, The presidents had explicitly forbidden me to speak about my questions and concerns with the Lutheran teachings, or about Catholicism, with any Lutheran. I honoured their demand while I was serving out my time as a Lutheran minister, in spite of the fact it meant passing up many opportunities to defend myself against unjust accusations.

When the news of my resignation became public I was faced with abusive e-mails, anonymous angry phone calls, heated accusations from strangers and old classmates and friends, even threats of violence against myself, my wife and children. After a particularly horrid caller reduced my wife to tears, I begged the District President to intervene in some way. He said he could understand the people's hurt, and that he felt some himself, but he would do what he could. What he did do was print a description of my resignation which suggested that the two of us resigning from the ministry at that time had done so in an underhand and deceitful manner, without bringing our questions to those who could have answered them. He didn't actually print the questions of course. The unofficial version passed by word of mouth was much worse.

The Catholic priest who had provided quiet moral support when we needed it through the whole process suddenly came into his own. He put up the Bond money for the rental property, arranged several key white goods for us from the local Catholic seconds shop, and made sure we were looked after in other ways too. All of this without any expectation that we attend his parish! (We had moved into a neighbouring suburb.)

I had applied for several jobs but had been knocked back. It was only on the Friday before the Sunday I finished up that a man who I had never met (or written to) called to say I had an interview on Monday morning at Centacare (Catholic Family Services). When I sounded surprised, he said it had been arranged by the Archbishop the day before. We moved our things into this much smaller house from Monday to Wednesday and I went to the interview on Thursday. I had no idea what to expect but they were kind enough. After some time it became clear that I was well qualified in areas that the Archbishop had advised I not take on at this early stage. Very wise, I thought at the time, to protect a hurting young ex-pastor from the rigors of Catholic teaching and theology. Although the real concern was probably to protect Catholic teaching and theology from a hurting young ex- pastor!

In any case I was given a job starting the following Monday as an administrative assistant to the Marriage Education Team. I went home to tell my wife and you children that we would eat the following week after all. We spent our last $16 on fish and chips for dinner on Friday evening and ate packaged noodles and powdered soup on the weekend. You children thought it was a fine change! Thank God for you! You have kept me sane, I am sure, by constantly reminding me that I am loved, that what I say and do is important because I am your father, and that the best thing I can do for you is act with love and integrity. Thank God for you!

Next: Catholicism in the Wild

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Misunderstandings and Misinformation

The Lutheran Church of Australia demands at least three months notice for a resignation of a pastor. I had negotiated this down to six weeks, but I still had to act as a pastor for six weeks, and preside over five more invalid Eucharistic ceremonies.

Over the next few weeks I exhausted myself getting around to every single person who asked me to talk to them about my leaving. I cannot recall everything I said during those long personal exchanges save that I took great pains not to share anything that might undermine their faith or say anything I would not have said as a faithful Pastor of the Lutheran Church of Australia.

I believe I did everything I could to be as gentle and understanding to my people, hearing their anger and hurt without attempting to justify myself. While I still wore the mantle of a Lutheran pastor I was resolved to be faithful to my vows to the last day of my pastorate.

Where there was anger and hurt, I accepted blame. Where there was confusion, I attempted to answer directly from the Lutheran Confessions, or by referring people to other reliable pastors for pastoral care. Where people asked for my personal reasons I answered that I was no longer convinced of the Lutheran position and so I felt it was not honest to continue. I constantly and gently assured every parishioner that I had never knowingly taught anything that was not clearly taught by the Lutheran Church of Australia.

Although this was a painful and exhausting time, dealing with the pastoral issues created by my resignation distracted me from the real pain of conversion for a time.

About this time the district president printed a series of comments about myself and the other pastor who had resigned. The comments were to the effect that I had acted deceitfully and behind his back in seeking entry into the Catholic Church, and had rejected help offered for psychological issues.

Ironically I later discovered that when he had met with the Archbishop to ask him to 'call off' his priests, the Archbishop had given a guarantee that no priest would come seeking contact with Lutheran ministers, but said 'if they come knocking' they would find his door open. The district president then reported this discussion to us as "[The Archbishop] says the Catholic door is closed to you until you are finished with the Lutheran process."

I wrote to the district president asking him to clarify his comments in light of several hundred e-mails I had sent and received, records of hundreds of phone calls and other correspondence showing that I had been up-front and open about my questions until specifically told to be more discrete by himself.

The reply I got was a brief and terse phone call suggesting that I not push the matter while they were still considering what to do about my car loan and seminary loans.

Next: In Between Worlds

After the Announcement

It is now Monday morning after the announcement. I slept well after getting the previous scribble down. Before that I was thrashing about unable to sleep. It’s about 8AM and all is quiet in our home.

I’m taking some time now to reflect on the reactions of people I have told so far. Dr’s Fisher, Flemming and Fr Greg all respected the bravery of the step. Until Thursday I had rejected the tag of bravery, but now I can only say that, if bravery is to stand before gut wrenching fear and do what must be done in cold blood, this was the bravest thing I have done yet.

Fr Greg has offered money and pastoral support, Fr Flemming has called us constantly and visited us where possible. Fr Fisher has upheld the integrity of the Church, even defending the Lutherans, while still going into bat for us when it counted. Nicholas and Mary Tonti-Filipini have been available and excellent friends when we so desperately needed friends.

My two best Lutheran friends (laymen) have been constant in their support and camaraderie no matter what their personal opinions.

My mother in law has been a rock. She has openly displayed frustration, hurt, sadness, angst and despair, but she has never wavered in her expression of unconditional love for us. She did suggest reading the entire Scriptures through three times before making any decision.

My father in law has taken it pretty hard. He has expressed his anger in a number of ways, calling me a number of unpleasant names, refusing to listen to my gentle attempts at explanation, and telling my wife she is “killing him” by going along with me. I can understand his hurt and his reaction but this doesn’t make it any easier to deal with, especially for my wife.

My sister in law, who lives with us, has been invaluable as the only woman my wife feels has understood and empathised with her. She has been a rock in many emotional ways for my wife, and for both of us by helping with the children and the upkeep of the house. She does not understand the reasons but has been close enough to see the hurt and angst and has been able to be a support. Thank God for her.

My darling wife deserves a whole book to acclaim her behaviour and bravery during this period. Our marriage has grown much stronger by constant reflection, sharing and shared tears. We have come to this point together. She has sought answers as much as she was able and attempted to relate to all the issues. In her efforts to think through the questions, I think she has surpassed the ability of many pastors I know without the benefit any of their training and experience. She is, by far, the most dedicated, practical, intelligent, Godly and beautiful person I know. I am immensely proud to call her my wife!

Next: Misunderstandings and Misinformation

Telling Our Friends and Family

We informed the few Catholics we knew and they were very supportive. Not that we should have been surprised by that, they had been gentle and careful the whole journey and had conducted themselves with great integrity. No pressure was put on us at any point by Catholics, and some Catholics had defended Lutheran doctrine more ably than any Lutheran I know.

I used the few days between Thursday and Sunday to call those I wanted to tell with my own mouth. My classmates and mentors, my family and friends were shocked and I have not heard from many of them since that call.

On Sunday I had to announce it to my two congregations. During the announcements, after the whole service, I read from a prepared statement. I choked on the words at the first service, then greeted them with tears at my normal station at the door after the service. Only a few were openly sorry to hear the news, most were shocked and had no words, a significant minority were openly hostile.

I somehow composed myself (with much prayer begging God for help) and fronted up for the second service.

The reaction at both places was as if I had contracted a terminal disease.

The second (and larger) congregation were particularly teary and some even struggled to say anything at all. I can still see every one of the procession of anguished faces, some unable to speak, others babbling through tears, still others pleading that I reconsider. We had many approach us with disappointment we had not shared our doubt with them before. I tried to explain why this would have been impossible but they need time for this to sink in. One lady will need much, much more talk time to work it through.

We went to lunch at a good friend and parishioner’s house and were bombarded with questions and theological challenges from a guest (also a good man) which didn’t help the situation. I answered them all as carefully and politely as I could. While he admitted to being stumped by my questions, he remained firmly convinced I was wrong.

I got back to my office to find a parishioner had drawn up a sketchy two year plan for my ‘working through’ the issue (similar to Dr Stolz’s plan). I pointed out the similarities with the plans already presented to me, but this fellow is determined to convince me to stay.

On top of such a hard day I played indoor soccer that night (and won 9-1 by the way) and returned home to celebrate a friend’s birthday as per previous arrangement.

Once again, the constant visits and calls from Fr Greg Pritchard, Fr Anthony Fisher and Fr John Flemming have been our strength and sole consolation in this hard time. We look forward to lunching with Nick and Mary (an excellent catholic couple) tomorrow.

I am so thoroughly exhausted, yet feel at peace within myself for the first time in the last year. I love my wife, my son, my daughter and I love that very soon I will receive communion for the first time.

Hold a seat for me at the table, I’m coming home!

Next: After the Announcement