I am a pastor in a Connecticut congregation of the United Church of Christ. For the first forty five years of my life, I was an active Roman Catholic. For nine of those years, I served as a Permanent Deacon( clergyman) within the Catholic Church. In 1998, I made the decision to move away from Catholicism and to become a Protestant. Through the process of making this decision and living within both traditions, I have become deeply convinced that Catholics and Protestants need to engage in serious conversation and dialogue so that we can understand one another better! In my view, this area of ecumenical study and shared worship is one that has unfortunately been widely overlooked among Christian churches on the local level and the passion for it, present in the years after the Second Vatican Council ( 1962-1965), needs to be rekindled.

It is for this reason that I have written a recent book which examines Catholicism and Protestantism in relationship to each other. This book, entitled “Crossing the Street“, is intended for many possible uses. I envision it as a resource for anyone who is interested in exploring different traditions within Christianity, including those who are considering membership in a particular church. I expect it would be helpful in adult study groups, college classes and as a personal resource for those in a relationship with someone whose background is in a Christian tradition other than their own.

In this book, a work born out of both academic study and my own personal experience,  I contend that, for many reasons, it is important that Roman Catholics and Protestants come to a deeper understanding both of their own 'tradition of origin' as well as other Christian traditions. Many Protestant congregations, including my own, include in their membership those who were raised within the Catholic Church. A good number of married couples in which individuals come from different church backgrounds have to make decisions regarding religious affiliation both for themselves and for the children they will raise.

It is my view that local congregations must take seriously the importance of integrating serious ecumenical study into their church membership classes as well as other educational programming. As a pastor in the United Church of Christ, for example, I believe it is imperative that when someone considers membership in my church, he/she be exposed to a serious examination of where a UCC congregation would fit into the overall contemporary church scene. As a Protestant church, how are we different from Catholics? As a mainline church, how do we differ from more evangelical/fundamentalist congregations?

This kind of exploration, in my view, has often been little more than cursory. In fairness to the process of decision making, it is important that we teach accurate information about what distinguishes Protestant from Catholic faith and so on. As a Protestant clergyperson, I believe that I am obliged to utilize whatever resources are at my disposal to teach accurate information about Catholicism so as to assist people in their individual discernment process and to help people in relationship with each other to see the commonalities in each tradition.

Catholicism has often been presented by Protestants as monolithic in its approach. The clear distinction between a hierarchical church authority and a tradition which relies more on ' Bible and individual conscience' has often been highlighted. Current conflicts within Catholicism around the role of religious women ( nuns) and the dissenting written work of moral theologians exemplifies what has been fact for several centuries: that there is a PLURALISM of voices within the Catholic tradition. Current data indicates as well that on many significant contemporary church issues ( including contraception and same sex marriage) there is NO significant difference between what Catholics believe and how they act from that of their Protestant counterparts.

In “Crossing the Street,” I contend that there really is an ‘ecumenical center’ that unites both Protestants and Catholics, a set of faith assertions that can and should form a bond of unity. I am hopeful that this book may be a real source of dialogue and conversation. If you get a chance to read it, I would love to hear your reaction.  Please do not hesitate to be in touch with me at rpbksl@cox.net

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1 Comment

  1. Tracy Simmons

    Rev. LaRochelle, I’m so glad you’re part of the FAVS team! It’s good to see your name in print. Look forward to reading more of your articles.

    Peace,

    Tracy

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