Pentecostal pastor now a Catholic

JUDY TARJANYI

Alex Jones had been a Pentecostal minister for nearly 30 years, almost 20 of them as pastor of his own church, but when he was confirmed at St. Suzanneís Catholic Church in Detroit last year, he told the parish priest, "Iím home."


Mr. Jones, the former pastor of Maranatha Church in Detroit, became a Catholic with his wife, Donna, and 62 other members of the congregation he had started in 1982, culminating a several-year process that started with a study of the roots of the Christian church.

Since then, he has been leading a weekly Bible study at St. Suzanne's, studying for a master's degree at Detroit's Sacred Heart Seminary, and speaking at conferences, parish missions, and retreats.

Recently, he became associate director of the Sign Me Up evangelization project of the Archdiocese of Detroit and hopes to seek ordination as a deacon.

Mr. Jones, who will speak here next weekend at the 20th annual Toledo Catholic Charismatic Conference, views his move from Protestant Pentecostalism to Catholicism as a fulfillment and not a rejection of his past.

"I don't trash my past as a Protestant. I loved what I was and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It brought me to where I am today, but in coming to the Catholic Church, my past reaches fulfillment, because the Catholic Church is the fullness of the Christian faith."

Mr. Jones, 61, said he believes that the Catholic Church is the original church of Jesus Christ. He became curious about the genesis of the church after hearing a Catholic apologist speak during a debate on whether the church's origins were Protestant or Catholic.

As he started to read the church fathers, he began to share his findings with his 200-member congregation and eventually changed the church's worship service so that it resembled the Catholic Mass. Attendance declined, but Mr. Jones continued in his quest.

He and his wife began classes in the Catholic faith and on June 4, 2000, the remaining congregation members voted to join the Catholic Church.

Maranatha was closed and the building sold to another congregation.

Since becoming Catholic, Mr. Jones said he has been immersing himself in the faith. He listens to Gregorian Chant, prays the Rosary, and has developed a devotion to the Sacred Heart.

"There's so much to learn and the Catholic Church is so rich that I'll be learning the rest of my life."

He is saddened, though, that many Catholics do not know their own faith and its depths, richness, power, and mystery.

"Many cradle Catholics take their faith for granted. If you're born outside of the church and embraced another faith and then you come to understand the quality and authenticity of the Catholic faith and convert, it is more than life to you. You see the actual beauty of it."

Sister Lucy Abbey, pastoral associate at St. Suzanne's, said having Mr. Jones and other former Maranatha members in the parish has been both a blessing and a struggle.

"It's a blessing because they are very open and animated about their faith, about good worship and lively music, and their presence has given energy as well as voices in the choir to improving the liturgy and making it a real community worship experience."

She said, however, both the former Pentecostals and longtime Catholic parishioners have struggled with the change that has come about in the parish. "It's a struggle of appreciating something, but having to figure out how to welcome it and incorporate it. It's kind of like a marriage. You put two families together and both have to figure out how do we hang onto values, how do we blend, how do we respect values that maybe we didn't have before?"

Since converting to Catholicism, Mr. Jones said he has not had second thoughts about his decision even as a sexual abuse scandal has shaken the church, touching St. Suzanne's Parish as well. The parish pastor, the Rev. Dennis Duggan, agreed to step down in March after a sexual-abuse complaint was made against him. The priest remains on administrative leave while his case is being reviewed.

Without commenting specifically on the situation at St. Suzanne's, Mr. Jones said, "I was a pastor and I know scandals. Sin is an equal opportunity employer. It's everywhere. It's not just in the Catholic Church."

Mr. Jones said he thinks the sheer size of the Catholic Church and its prominence as a symbol of Christianity have directed attention at the church in its time of scandal.

"It's unfortunate and sad and it hurts a lot of people ... but the church is both human and divine. It's holy, yet it embraces in its breast sinners. It's more a hospital than a perfect kingdom, and unfortunately, there are many that need a lot of medicine."

As he talks with Catholics in his travels, Mr. Jones said most he meets view the church's problems as a necessary cleansing.

"Most I've been in contact with all over the country bemoan the scandal in the church, but they still love the church. The church has survived 2,000 years from bad popes to bad bishops. This is only a speed bump in our road to eternal destiny."

Mr. Jones said he came into the church with no agenda. "I came here to learn and to sit and to discover all the teachings of the church. While I'm here and my eyes are adjusting to the light, I see things I can contribute, too. One thing I can contribute is my passion for Christ, my love for Him, and seek to spread that to those around me."

Once he understood that the Catholic Church is the church of the scriptures, he said, he knew it had the authority to teach and that any difficulty he had with certain doctrinal or moral beliefs would require an adjustment on his part.

His wife had more of a struggle, he said, and initially they had some "humdinger arguments" about his interest in Catholicism. "As I started to explain why I was thinking about changing, she thought I was nuts or having a nervous breakdown. She said she could never accept Mary, praying to the saints, the classic things Protestants have trouble with."

Although he tried and failed to convert his wife, he said, "It was the Holy Spirit that converted her."

When he finally became Catholic, Mr. Jones said he felt that all of his wanderings were over. "Just about every convert to the church has that feeling of coming home. This is the big house and we've been living out in the yard in tents. So we folded our tent and came into the big house."

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Judy Tarjanyi. "Pentecostal pastor now a Catholic." The Blade (October 12, 2002).

This article reprinted with permission of The Blade, Toledo, Ohio.

THE AUTHOR

Judy Tarjanyi writes for The Toledo Blade.

Copyright © 2002 The Blade


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