Skip to comments.Pastor and Flock Become Catholics
Posted on 02/16/2004 11:55:27 AM PST by NYer
DETROIT When Detroit-born Alex Jones became a Pentecostal minister in 1972, there was little question among those who knew him that he was answering Gods call to preach.
Now, many of his friends and family have dismissed the 59-year-old pastor as an apostate for embracing the Catholic faith, closing the nondenominational church he organized in 1982, and taking part of his congregation with him.
At this years April 14 Easter Vigil, Jones, his wife, Donna, and 62 other former members of Detroits Maranatha Church, will be received into the Catholic Church during the Easter Vigil at St. Suzannes Parish here.
For Jones, becoming a Catholic will mark the end of a journey that began with the planting of a seed by Catholic apologist and Register columnist Karl Keating. It also will mean the beginning of a new way of life.
Jones first heard Keating, the founder of Catholic Answers, at a debate on whether the origins of the Christian church were Protestant or Catholic. At the close, Keating asked, If something took place, who would you want to believe, those who saw it or those who came thousands of years later and told what happened?
Good point, Jones thought, and tucked it away. Five years later, while he was reading about the church fathers, Keatings question resurfaced. Jones began a study of the Churchs beginnings, sharing his newfound knowledge with his congregation.
To illustrate what he was talking about, in the spring of 1998 he re-enacted an early worship service, never intending to alter his congregations worship style. But once I discovered the foundational truths and saw that Christianity was not the same as I was preaching, some fine-tuning needed to take place.
Soon, Maranatha Churchs Sunday service was looking more like a Catholic Mass with Pentecostal overtones. We said all the prayers with all the rubrics of the Church, all the readings, the Eucharistic prayers. We did it all, and we did it with an African-American style.
Not everyone liked the change, however, and the 200-member congregation began to dwindle.
Meanwhile, Jones contacted Detroits Sacred Heart Seminary and was referred to Steve Ray of Milan, Mich., whose conversion story is told in Crossing the Tiber.
I set up a lunch with him right away and we pretty much had lunch every month after that, said Ray. He introduced Jones to Dennis Walters, the catechist at Christ the King Parish in Ann Arbor, Mich. Walters began giving the Pentecostal pastor and his wife weekly instructions in March, 1999.
Eventually, Jones and his congregation arrived at a crossroads.
On June 4, the remaining adult members of Maranatha Church voted 39-19 to begin the process of becoming Catholic. In September, they began studies at St. Suzannes.
Maranatha closed for good in December. The congregation voted to give Jones severance pay and sell the building, a former Greek Orthodox church, to the First Tabernacle Church of God in Christ.
Father Dennis Duggan, St. Suzannes 53-year-old pastor, said the former Maranatha members and their pastor along with about 10 other candidates comprise the 750-member parishs largest-ever convert class.
Unity and Diversity
Although not all parishioners at predominantly white St. Suzannes have received the group warmly, Father Duggan, who also is white, said he considers the newcomers a gift and an answer to prayer.
What the Lord seems to have brought together in the two of us Alex and myself is two individuals who have a similar dream about diversity. Detroit is a particularly segregated kind of community, especially on Sunday morning, and here youve got two baptized believers who really believe we ought to be looking different.
Father Duggan hopes eventually to bring Jones onto the parish staff. Already, he has encouraged Jones to join him in teaching at a Wednesday night Bible service. And, he is working on adapting the music at Masses so that it better reflects the parishs new makeup.
The current European worship style at St. Suzannes has been the most difficult adjustment for the former Maranatha members, Jones said, because they had been accustomed to using contemporary music with the Catholic prayers and rituals.
The cultural adaptation is far more difficult than the theological adaptation, he said.
Jones said the four biggest problems Protestants have with Catholicism are teachings about Mary, purgatory, papal authority, and praying to saints. He resolved three of the four long ago, but struggled the most with Mary, finally accepting the teaching on her just because the church taught it.
It is so ingrained in Protestants that only God inhabits heaven and to pray to anyone else is idolatry. ... The culture had so placed in my heart that only the Trinity received prayer that it was difficult.
He is writing a paper on the appropriateness of venerating Mary for a class at Detroits Sacred Heart Seminary, where he is taking prerequisite courses for a masters degree in theology and pastoral studies. He also is writing a book for Ignatius Press and accepting speaking engagements through St. Joseph Communications, West Covina, Calif.
Jones, the father of three married sons and grandfather of six, is leaving the question of whether he becomes a priest up to the Church.
If the Church discerns that vocation, I will accept it. If not, I will accept that, too. Whatever the Church calls me to do, I will do.
Although he has given up his job, prestige, and the congregation he built to become Catholic, Jones said the hardest loss of all has been the family and friends who rejected him because of his decision.
To see those that have worshiped with and prayed with me for over 40 years walk away and have no contact with them is sad.
It was especially painful, he said, when his mother, who had helped him start Maranatha, left to go to Detroits Perfecting Church, where his cousin, gospel singer Marvin Winans, is the pastor.
Neither Winans nor the pastor of the church that bought Maranathas building would comment on Jones conversion.
Jones also is troubled that those he left behind do not understand his decision.
To them, I have apostasized into error. And thats painful for me because we all want to be looked at as being right and correct, but now you have the stigma of being mentally unbalanced, changeable, being looked at as though youve just walked away from God.
Jones said when his group was considering converting, prayer groups were formed to stop them. People fasted and prayed that God would stop us from making this terrible mistake. When we did it, it was as though we had died.
He said Catholics do not fully understand how many Protestants see their church. Theres this thin veneer of amicability, and below that there is great hostility.
But he remains convinced he is doing the right thing.
How can you say no to truth? I knew that I would lose everything and that in those circles I would never be accepted again, but I had no choice, he said.
It would be mortal sin for me to know what I know and not act on it. If I returned to my former life, I would be dishonest, untrustworthy, a man who saw truth, knew truth, and turned away from it, and I could just not do that.
If there is one thing that marks the faith journey of Alex Jones, it is his uncompromising commitment to the truth. In 1998, then Reverend Jones promised his congregation of some 200 souls, a real New Testament worship service. In thirty short days of reading the Fathers of the Church he came face-to-face with the Truth again. Like the night when he gave his life to Christ, Alex Jones had made another great discovery. He had found the Apostolic Church. Here, in the writings of other "Pentecostal Pastors" who had known and followed the apostles, was a Christianity he had never known; a liturgical and hierarchical Church where the center of worship was not just great preaching or even the movement of the Spirit, but the Eucharist. The Church founded by Jesus was a Sacramental Church. Going to the Scriptures, Alex found that they fell right in line with his new apostolic vision of the "Church of the upper room."
Alex looked off for a few seconds, choking back tears. On the night before he and his family were to be received into the church, he asked Fr. Dennis if it would be alright to receive "his Lord" on his knees. There wasn't a dry eye in the audience that night!
Hope you enjoy this beautiful story.
Scott Hahns The Lamb's Supper - The Mass as Heaven on Earth.
Foreword by Fr. Benedict Groeschel.
Part One - The Gift of the Mass
Hahn begins by describing the first mass he ever attended.
"There I stood, a man incognito, a Protestant minister in plainclothers, slipping into the back of a Catholic chapel in Milwaukee to witness my first Mass. Curiosity had driven me there, and I still didn't feel sure that it was healthy curiosity. Studying the writings of the earliest Christians, I'd found countless references to "the liturgy," "the Eucharist," "the sacrifice." For those first Christians, the Bible - the book I loved above all - was incomprehensible apart from the event that today's Catholics called "the Mass."
"I wanted to understand the early Christians; yet I'd had no experience of liturgy. So I persuaded myself to go and see, as a sort of academic exercise, but vowing all along that I would neither kneel nor take part in idolatry."
I took my seat in the shadows, in a pew at the very back of that basement chapel. Before me were a goodly number of worshipers, men and women of all ages. Their genuflections impressed me, as did their apparent concentration in prayer. Then a bell rang, and they all stood as the priest emerged from a door beside the altar.
Unsure of myself, I remained seated. For years, as an evangelical Calvinist, I'd been trained to believe that the Mass was the ultimate sacrilege a human could commit. The Mass, I had been taught, was a ritural that purported to "resacrifice Jesus Christ." So I would remain an observer. I would stay seated, with my Bible open beside me.
As the Mass moved on, however, something hit me. My Bible wasn't just beside me. It was before me - in the words of the Mass! One line was from Isaiah, another from Psalms, another from Paul. The experience was overwhelming. I wanted to stop everything and shout, "Hey, can I explain what's happening from Scripture? This is great!" Still, I maintained my observer status. I remained on the sidelines until I heard the priest pronounce the words of consecration: "This is My body . . . This is the cup of My blood."
Then I felt all my doubt drain away. As I saw the priest raise that white host, I felt a prayer surge from my heart in a whisper: "My Lord and my God. That's really you!"
I was what you might call a basket case from that point. I couldn't imagine a greater excitement than what those words had worked upon me. Yet the experience was intensified just a moment later, when I heard the congregation recite: "Lamb of God . . . Lamb of God . . . Lamb of God," and the priest respond, "This is the Lamb of God . . ." as he raised the host. In less than a minute, the phrase "Lamb of God" had rung out four times. From long years of studying the Bible, I immediately knew where I was. I was in the Book of Revelation, where Jesus is called the Lamb no less than twenty-eight times in twenty-two chapters. I was at the marriage feast that John describes at the end of that very last book of the Bible. I was before the throne of heaven, where Jesus is hailed forever as the Lamb. I wasn't ready for this, though - I was at Mass!
To quote John Cardinal Newman: "To be steeped in history is to cease to be Protestant."
Kneeling for Communion is one of the things I still miss even after 30 years.
Chalcedon sets forth that the divine and human natures of Christ exist "without confusion, without change, without division, without separation."
The Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation as I understand it have the bread actually becoming or taking on the substance of Christ's flesh (which is obviously an aspect of His fully human nature).
What I don't understand is how Christ's flesh can be in two places at once, both sitting on the throne and in the substance of the Eucharist in any number of churches at any particular time.
Again, I am asking this sincerely because I have yet to be given a reasonable explanation for this, especially in light of the definition set forth in Chalcedon.
In our new parish (--where the pastor is getting to know me. ;^) --) there is an ancient aboriginal woman who receives the Lord directly upon her tongue (standing as demanded by the pastor) and then she steps up to where the altar rail was and drops quietly to her knees.
Our family and others now join her in this practice, and by e-mail the word is beginning to spread to other places. So I pass this on to you in America.
Keywords "am" and "is".
This is where it tells us that when we take communion, it IS the body of Christ. In at least three other places, Jesus tells us to do this in remembrence of Him, but this passage is key in that he leaves no doubt as to what we are doing when we take communion. It IS his body.
As to how he does this wouldn't you agree that God is capable of anything at all, the least of such being in two places at the same time?
That takes guts.
That's why the Eucharist is called a "mystery." The miracle of the Loaves and Fishes was a sign of what was to come in the Eucharist: Jesus really feeds us, with His Body and Blood.