Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of May 14, 2001
Former Lutherans tell how they came to be Catholics
There We Stood, Here We Stand: Eleven Lutherans Rediscover their Catholic Roots, by Timothy Drake. 1st Books Library: Salem, Ore. 182 pages. Paper cover.
Review by WAYNE HOLST
Special to the WCR
"Why become Catholic? To become more fully who I was as a Lutheran," writes Father Richard John Neuhaus, once a Lutheran pastor, now a Catholic priest in the foreword.
Frequently, a Church's greatest promoters are its converts. This is most certainly true of the 11 former Lutherans who author these essays on the Catholic "homecoming."
Timothy Drake, features correspondent for National Catholic Register, decided to write and edit this book because, in spite of the numerous "conversion" accounts in print, none that he knew of have been written about Lutherans becoming Catholics.
Making the transition can be a lonely difficult journey, says Drake. He hopes this book would serve as a resource for Lutherans contemplating a shift to Catholicism as well as for Catholics whose faith might be strengthened through reading about the passages of people who take the Catholic faith seriously.
Pastors, priests, seminarians, RCIA leaders and their students could all benefit from exposure to these oftentimes painful yet nonetheless fruitful narratives. Every writer, be they former pastors or laypersons, male or female, conservative or moderate, has a singular story to tell.
Struggle and doubt infuse many of their testimonies, but bitterness or resentment are not to be found here. All contributors are grateful for what they received in the Lutheran communion, yet each was intuitively led to find something more.
Neuhaus again: "I am immeasurably grateful for all the grace of God I knew and I shared as a Lutheran. Like them, I hope that my witness will contribute to a greater Christian unity by concentrating on the truth of Christ and his Church. Like them, by becoming a Catholic, I am more fully, and yet very differently, who I was as a Lutheran."
What prompted these people to convert? For some it was the Catholic liturgical or theological tradition. For others, the appeal was ecclesiology, the sacraments, piety and holiness. Some wrestled with the need to be "right" and wanted an "authentic" Church.
Others were dispirited about Lutheran ethical decisions regarding such issues as contraception or abortion. Several women pastor converts had to make a decision that cost them their Lutheran ordination. For many, it was the need for a strong, central system of authority, or magisterium, that influenced their choice.
What does this reviewer, a former Lutheran though not now a Catholic, think of this book? I applaud the depth of spirit and sincerity of quest reflected in each testimony.
There is an obvious unevenness of experience here. Some have been involved with their conversion process for several decades while others made recent decisions. Some ex-Lutherans come from a much more conservative background than I.
My Lutheranism was never so "confessional" or "culturebound." Their Lutheran assurances and challenges were never mine. I could not possibly know the trials faced by the women whose stories I found particularly poignant.
Perhaps one sentence from Pastor Jim Cope (formerly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) sums up my thought as I assess this book, though I am not in his place: "My struggle has been to find a way to answer (why I converted) that is gentle, reverent, and kind but at the same time is honest and bears witness to the fullness, beauty, goodness and truth which I have found in the Catholic Church."
In the end, this is a gentle, reverent and honest book, pointing to fullness, beauty, goodness and truth.
(Rev. Dr. Wayne Holst is a writer and instructor in religion and culture at the University of Calgary. A Lutheran pastor, missionary and Church executive for more than 20 years, he is now a member of St. David's United Church, Calgary.)