ZANESVILLE, Ohio, OCT. 8, 2003 (Zenit.org).- Every year, about 100 clergy from dozens of denominations make a step toward the Catholic Church by contacting the Coming Home Network International.
The network, which has 800-some clergy members who have converted or are still discerning their conversion, connects those inquirers with others from the same background who have converted to Catholicism, and provides them with prayerful, moral and sometimes financial support.
Marcus Grodi, who was a Congregationalist and Presbyterian pastor before coming into the Catholic Church in 1992, established the network the year after he converted and still serves as its executive director and president.
Grodi also is the author of "How Firm a Foundation" (Coming Home Resources), a fiction book about a pastor struggling in search of truth. He is also the host of an EWTN show about conversion experiences called "Journeys Home."
Q: What is the Coming Home Network, and why was it formed?
Grodi: It is a nonprofit lay apostolate started in 1993 primarily to assist Protestant clergy and their families, as well as Protestant laity, in coming home to the Catholic Church.
The need for this "network" of fellowship and assistance rose out of my own experience, as well as that of other clergy converts, who felt very much alone on our journeys, leaving behind our vocations and livelihood as Protestant clergy.
We felt alone for many reasons: None of our lifelong Protestant friends, family or co-workers could appreciate why we might be willing to give up everything to become, of all things, Roman Catholic. And because of the narrow focus of our Protestant lives and work, we knew few Catholics, lay or clergy.
Besides, most of the Catholics we approached, lay or clergy, did not know how to help us. Too many claimed that, "Since Vatican II, a Protestant doesn't need to convert. Just stay where you are. Don't make an unnecessary mess of your life. Don't abandon your ministry."
Actually, the most difficult struggle for most Protestant clergy inquirers is within the immediate family: spouses who do not understand and are not supportive of their husbands' willingness to put their families in jeopardy.
The Coming Home Network International's charism is to stand beside Protestant inquirers. We are not here to inordinately push, pull or prod them home, though we do believe -- like John Henry Cardinal Newman -- that there is but one flock and that our separated brethren should come home.
Our staff and extensive Helpers Network of volunteers is always available to them by phone, mail, e-mail, or if possible, in person to answer their questions and provide whatever resources are necessary to help them home.
Q: What are the typical convert's needs and how does your organization meet them?
Grodi: The initial need of most of the clergy and laity who contact us is for a supportive friend who can understand from personal experience the trauma they may be experiencing as a result of discovering their need to become Roman Catholic.
For many of these men, and sometimes women, clergy, the last thing they had ever considered is becoming Catholic. But then, usually through a variety of sources -- personal crisis, scriptural study, readings of the early Church Fathers, the witness of a convert, Catholic television, radio or Internet -- their hearts are touched and the foundations of their presumably stable Protestant faith and lives are rocked. They call us because they feel they have nowhere else to go.
Because of our large database of converts, lay and clergy, from more than 60 different denominations and traditions, we are able to link them up with a convert who has come into the Catholic Church from the inquirer's own specific Christian background. We also have a large selection of carefully chosen books and resources that we can give them to help answer their specific questions about the Catholic faith, many issued by our publishing house, Coming Home Resources.
Because the clergy are abandoning their vocations and livelihood, we provide counseling as well as contacts to help them find ways to support their families as well as use their ministerial gifts. If they face financial setbacks because of their conversion, we have a financial assistance fund to meet their short-term needs.
We also stand as their advocates to their local dioceses and bishops if they are called to pursue the priesthood.
Q: What are the greatest challenges unique to Protestant clergy who convert to Catholicism?
Grodi: The unique struggle for clergy revolves around their calling and ordination as Protestant clergy. All of their lives, all of their self-understanding, centers in their heartfelt and confirmed calling to the ministry. Their livelihood is built on this. For many, conversion requires being willing to give up everything that they are, everything that they have accomplished or had hoped to accomplish for Christ.
I remember my 6-year-old son crying in my arms when he realized that I would never be a pastor again, for he had always seen me, with a son's pride, up there, up front, leading the people. Upon conversion I was unemployed with no certain future. I will say that, in my case, God never skipped a beat in providing opportunities to serve him and to support my family.
We started the Coming Home Network to make sure that future clergy converts, especially couples, had a supportive network to give them confidence and hope for the journey.
Perhaps the most important way we help all these people is through our prayers. Our extensive membership of more than 16,000 people are encouraged to present the needs of our clergy inquirers and their families, as well as lay converts, before the Blessed Sacrament at least one hour per month.
Q: From where have you received the most converts over the last 10 years?
Grodi: To memory, most of our inquirers come from the mainline Protestant denominations, such as Anglican or Episcopal, Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist or Lutheran. But what is unique about the conversions we have seen over the past 10 years is that clergy are also coming home from more than 60 different Protestant and non-Catholic traditions.
Q: What can the Church do to support lay and clergy converts?
Grodi: Prayer, of course, is the most important thing, since all conversions, no what the immediate cause, come about through grace.
Also, we need to explore more ways to be better stewards of the gifts, training and experience of these men and women. Too often these converts, who once were very active and successful in a variety if Protestant ministries, come into the Church only to find themselves unutilized and sometimes feeling unwanted.
They, of course, are not all called to pursue the priesthood, but many of them have great riches to share in the areas of youth and young adult apostolates, catechesis, Bible studies, counseling, parish administration, evangelization and stewardship.