Confessions of a Mega Church Pastor

I haven’t read a conversion story in a while, and this reminds me how much I like reading them. Even though we came from different backgrounds, the story feels familiar—Allen Hunt experienced that sense of “coming home” to the Church, much like I had, and this book explains how.

“As a Protestant, I had no idea what I was protesting.”

It takes a journey through a metaphorical house, describing what he found in the Church through its different rooms. I suppose it’s similar to Interior Castle in that sense, but more a basic introduction to the faith than growing deeper in it. Each room has its own theme: the dining room represents the Eucharist; the family cemetery is a reminder of the saints. “This house will take care of you,” he says, a reference to both his family home and the Church itself.

Though Dr. Hunt left the church he’d been pastoring—and the denomination all together—he remains respectful to his Protestant roots. He’ll gently call out when its teachings are wrong, but also offer the Catholic truth beside it. He often stresses the unity of the Church, that we’re to be “one holy, catholic, and apostolic church.”

“When your churches divide and split and find new ways to disagree on a daily basis, you become accustomed to a model based on group pride, epitomized by conflict, and then followed by division… You can always just find other Christians who believe like you do and begin your own congregation.”

I wish it had delved more into this division and his experience as a pastor. He doesn’t talk much about what it was like to leave, which I’d hoped for when picking it up. How does a mega-church pastor leave everything behind and become Catholic?

There are “real life helps” at the end, things you can do yourself to strengthen your own faith. This is where I learned about Dali’s Sacrament of the Last Supper (which I may prefer to Da Vinci’s now), and was inspired to read the Catechism cover-to-cover (one day!). They vary from small things you can do at home to pilgrimages overseas, but all things that can inspire a deeper connection to God—especially for a new Catholic.

Desires

I had this question posed to me months ago and have been mulling over it since: What do you really desire to do? I’m not talking “big picture,” though that’s a valid question, too. I mean the day-to-day. I mean when you end up sitting on the couch playing a mobile game for an hour. Or when Netflix asks if you’re still there during a series marathon. These are things we end up doing, but is that truly our desire?

There are plenty of things I desire to do: read more books, shut down electronics at night, spend time in prayer. So why don’t I do it? It’s not just laziness. I don’t want to be a sloth, even though that sometimes happens, and it’s often not intentional. But in not doing anything, I’m also acting on a desire—one that’s easier to fulfill. Not doing is as much a desire as doing. Picking up a book is acting on a desire, but so is not picking up that same book. Lately, despite the desire to do, I’m aware of acting more upon the desire to not do. Once you start sliding, that’s a tough hill to climb back up.

The question is, “Why?” It can’t just be human nature. It’s true that we naturally rebel against goodness, but there are also sparks of inspiration. It’s why we reach out to God, even when we don’t know we’re reaching to Him. It’s why we’re inspired to read that book, or say the rosary before bed. But desire doesn’t always lead to the act. I have rosary beads all around the apartment. I have books at my bedside, on my desk, and on the couch. The desire is there, but I often can’t follow through.

“I stretch out my hands to thee; my soul thirsts for thee like a parched land.”
—Psalm 143:6

I feel God knocking on the door. “Just let Me in,” He seems to say, but I don’t answer. It’s a constant inner struggle. I fear He’ll reprimand me or, perhaps worse, ask me to do something. Devotion is a nice idea, and maybe I’ll do it later. But I’m also tired of putting things off. I’m behind on my reading for the year, even though I’ve been working from home for most of it. What have I been doing with that time, if not reading, praying, or even cleaning the apartment? Why is the desire to do nothing so overpowering?

At least I’m aware that He’s knocking. When I’ve been stagnant too long, I examine what I’ve been doing for the past hour. Is it productive? Is it really what I desire to be doing? The answer is usually “no.” Sometimes, that’s motivation enough to start praying or read a book. (Those don’t even require getting up!) Even at rest, we’re to be connected to God. That’s the whole purpose of the Sabbath, after all, so I’m not just talking about doing things. Be a slothful lump, or rest in the presence of God? It should be an easy choice, but sometimes it’s not. But being more aware has helped. “Is this what you truly desire to be doing?” If not… get up, and do something else.

No Mask, No Service

It was a long journey through the desert (that is, “quarantine”) before we could return to Mass. I almost didn’t believe it when I received the email—it had been three months, a span that seems like nothing in retrospect, but also a time we barely remember happening. Real, live, public Mass had returned, though it was different than we were used to.

I jumped at the chance to get back, but some didn’t share my enthusiasm. I get it—many parishioners are older or have families, and what kid is going to sit still in a mask for an hour? I thought it would be strange returning to church after so long without, but it wasn’t. I’d seen everyone on livestream, even if they hadn’t seen me, so I forgot it had been months since our last conversation. The pews and the altar looked the same, though now with the lingering scent of disinfectant. We were told where to sit—six feet away from other church-goers—a request that wasn’t well-received with some who are used to their “usual” seat. It was an adjustment, but it was okay. It meant we were coming home; we could finally receive the Eucharist again, and I cried a little like I did those first few times after Confirmation.

Once before Mass, a couple police officers came in. I wasn’t paying too much attention, and I don’t think they were checking the place out, but it made me think. I thought of countries where Christian worship is forbidden. I thought of other religions that can’t worship openly. And I knew that worship services were being scrutinized; maybe they still are. I do know that we’re following the rules best we can.

I volunteered to be a church monitor. It’s like a socially-distant usher, leading people to the pews and reminding them to keep masks on. I’m honestly terrible at it. I don’t know why I always volunteer for things that require confrontation. It’s unlikely that any of the monitors particularly like it. It’s hard, and some people are unintentionally difficult (I have my favorite pew, too). But we’re doing this so we can be there.

If we childishly whine about it—even if that’s how I feel on the inside—we’ll make no progress. There are plenty of people who are whining, and their refusal to listen is causing the rest of us to sweat in masks during the hottest months of the year. I want to go back to church. I want to attend “coffee and community” afterward, trying to find the jelly Munchkins amid the boxes scattered around the room. I hate the phrase “new normal;” I want real normal. One day we’ll be there again. In the meantime, I’ll try to be confrontational and ask the man who never covers his nose to please put his mask back on.