Welcome To My Life As A Catholic-Adjacent Protestant
Intentional steps never really guide someone’s faith or spiritual journey. Of course, like me, one can convince themselves that walking in Jesus’ footsteps was all their idea. Divine guidance and intervention can only be credited for giving this Protestant an appreciation for the Catholic perspective. Seeing myself only as one of Jesus’ followers gave me the spiritual clarity to do so.
While some boundaries are necessary, this United Church of Christ social justice minister questions the value of denominational boundaries. Putting a religious open border policy in place lets me experience the Trinity’s divinity on Catholic and Protestant spaces. Catholic spaces, at times, provided me the best space for intimately experiencing the Divine.
Spending Time At Mother’s House
Ironically, a spiritual retreat sponsored by St. John United Church of Christ in Freeport, Ill. provided my first profound Catholic experience at a pivotal moment. Most Holy Rosary of the Order Preacher’s Motherhouse at Sinsinawa Mound hosted the retreat. What ended as a transformational experience began tenuously, I was entering a strange, new world. But the Divine provided comfort and opened my heart — including a call to ordained ministry.
Strolling past rows of Sisters at eternal rest inspired me to accept God’s call on my life. Headstones served as monuments to those willing to serve. They sacrificed and answered the call. Why couldn’t I?
That’s when my questioning the border between Catholicism and Protestantism began. Those questions came with me to Chicago Theological Seminary. Catholic and Protestant scholars and theologians can deluge with all the reasons for the demarcation. Martin Luther groupies can probably offer, at least, 99 reasons. Those reasons and rationales, however, are grounded in denominational doctrine and polity. Following Jesus’ requires neither.
Jesus showed us creating a just world for all was more important than doctrine. Doctrine has often derailed justice. Denominational doctrine and polity have justified and sustained homophobia, racism, sexism, slavery, and xenophobia. The Catholic Church has never had an African pope, while the Disciples of Christ (Christian Church) can boast being the only U.S. Protestant denomination led by a Black woman. Yet, all denominations struggle to confront justice issues. Sharing these struggles stresses U.S. Catholics and Protestants aren’t that different.
Jesus never struggled with whether to confront injustice. He only struggled with the purveyors of injustice. So, Catholics and Protestants following Jesus rather than doctrine appeals to me. Divine intervention has continued bringing Catholics within my orbit. After graduating from seminary in May 2016, serving as United Church of Christ’s United Justice & Peace Policy Fellow in Washington, D.C. was my first ministry assignment. Coming to D.C. immersed me in Catholic culture in a myriad of ways. Joining an interfaith coalition gifted me with Catholic colleagues.
They included colleagues from organizations, including Franciscan Action Network and NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, helped me see social justice through another lens. The opportunity to stand alongside Sister Simone Campbell to speak out against threats to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the danger of the then-proposed tax bill, in Summer 2017, were amazing educational and transformative experiences.
Naive stereotypes about Catholics — learned in my childhood conservative evangelical church — melted away. Not all Catholics have compounds in Hyannisport. And, Black Catholics do exist. Oh, and, liberal Catholics aren’t unicorns. Rooming in Paul Magno’s rowhouse provided a Catholic Worker Movement crash course. Paul regaled me with stories about fighting alongside Fathers Philip and Daniel Berrigan. Other stories also brought his mentor — late Georgetown University professor, Father Richard “Dick” McSorley — alive. Paul, Father McSorley, and the Fathers Berrigan helped pave the way for my social justice journey.
Paul, a 2019 Pax Christi Peacekeeper of the Year Awardee, earned that recognition, in part, for being a Plowshares 8 member. Father Phil Berrigan organized the action that included pouring blood on and damaging a Pershing II missile in Orlando, Fla. in 1984. Paul for three years in prison for his efforts. Participating in the action got three years in prison. It’s safe to say prison was more intense than my being Capitol Police lockup after a Summer 2017 healthcare protest on Capitol Hill.
Gaining Acceptance & Family
So, Catholic colleagues and friends accepted me at work and at home. But, I wasn’t certain a Catholic church sanctuary would be welcoming. Would a Black queer Protestant be welcome? God works in mysterious ways. Now, my Irish Catholic boyfriend and I attend Dignity Washington Mass every week. So, I was welcomed into Dignity’s orbit. Sadly, my fellow Dignity Washington and DignityUSA members have been rendered invisible to the Catholic Church. Their disenfranchisement makes me thankful for my imperfect, but Open & Affirming denomination.
My faith requires me to follow in Jesus’ footsteps. He never ignored anyone who crossed his path. Taking the latter to heart makes forging a bitheological relationship possible. Doctrine, polity, and politically-motivated leaders have divided us.
Those boundaries and divisions have led to death and destruction. Following a peace-motivated leader, Jesus, should be our sole goal. The duality has reinforced a reality that denominations and doctrine can obscure — we’re all God’s children.