Monday, 21 August, 2000

I should have written in this journal a week ago. This has been a busy week with regard to my “conversion”, and I only hope that I can remember it all.

Last Monday, Cathy’s parents came to tea, and I took the opportunity to tell them of my decision. It wasn’t easy, but Cathy had said that her mother was asking if everything was alright now (the District President had told her that he was almost in daily contact with me, which was a bit of an exageration). When I finally did find the courage to tell them, and to tell them why, my mother-in-law's first reaction was sheer horror--not at what this might mean personally for Cathy, Maddy and I, but at the dogmatic question of authority.

“But they’re only men!” she repeated, again and again, in horror.

When I outlined the need I had personally to be able to know what it was I should believe in, ie. what the will of God is for his church, she responded: “But we can never know, that’s just it. We do what seems best to us and trust in God that we are going the right way.” If that is true, I said, then the only alternative for me would be atheism (at this point, my father-in-law pointed to himself, indicating that this was his chosen option!).

The choice for me was as clear as that: Catholicism or atheism. I had to raise the personal aspect (my mother-in-law seemed not to be able to get over her horror at the idea of me accepting the Catholic faith). I reassured her that this did not mean that I was leaving Cathy and Maddy, and told them about my efforts towards my annulment. Unfortunately, I had to leave early in this discussion for a meeting down at Casey, but it was a little more traumatic than I had expected.

Interesting to compare it to my own parents' reaction when I stopped in Pinnaroo on my way home from Synod. Mum had said “I always believed that there was right and wrong in the church, and that the pastors were supposed to be trained to follow and teach according to the rules, I just wish you didn’t have to become Catholic.” She and Dad, at least, could understand what my need for certain authority was. I don’t think that my mother-in-law could.

I commented about this to Cathy the next day, and we considered how much we have actually received from our parents of our understanding of faith.

The next day was Zone Pastors’ Conference. The District President attended, but spent most of the time he was there discussing the Eucharistic Hospitality issue. He went to great pains to show how carefully this would be applied, and all the hoops that would be necessary before jumping through them. I must say I felt a bit cynical, and commented afterwards that while I could imagine him and the Anglican Bishop of Ballarat being scrupulous in this regard, I could not imagine the other Lutheran presidents and (say) some Uniting Church moderators being so careful about the interpretation of the rule.

During the lunch break, I took up a discusion with Pastor DB. He had suggested that the Heidelberg Disputation be the topic of consideration next time, in particular the distinction between the theology of the cross and a theology of glory. I took up with him an issue that had been bothering me. Was it a theology of glory to desire a clear and certain line of authority in the church, whereby God’s word could be clearly and infallibly known? The answer, in his opinion, was “no”, since it was still required that such authoritative statements be received in faith; and that such authority was still excercised by sinful men (shades of my mother-in-law's objection?), under whom the authority of the church was still “hidden” rather than “manifest”. This was a good answer, it seemed to me.

Then we had the discussion regarding Synod. Pastors HP and GW tried to defend the Synod, and wondered why the two sides of the issue must be church divisive. We talked about the crisis of Authority in the church (some are still closing there eyes to this, but most now recognise it). And I asked a question, saying: “If anyone has an answer to this, they may have the power of changing my life. What authority does Synod have to determine the will of God, and where does it get its authority from?”. HP answered “Synod authorises Synod”, which was exactly the answer I had suspected, but did not want to hear. Pastor SP disappointed me in saying “What do we do when we no longer have a clear authority in the church? We just act--we sin ‘boldly and even more boldly believe in Christ’--and we trust in God’s grace.” This seemed to be my mother-in-law's model for ecclesiology, but I am not sure SP actually believes it.

Then after this rather disatisfying episode, I had an hour before meeting Cathy at Wattle Park Clinic for a pregancy checkup, so I went down to the District President in his office and told him that I was back at square one again, that I was applying for the annulment, and that I was hanging on by my fingernails to my faith as a Lutheran. I told him that I would be taking steps along the way to develop a process whereby I could be received into the Catholic Church--not that I had yet decided to (little white lie, there), but that I wanted all extraneous material out of the way so I could make my decision. He told me that he not only had the three of us (or four, including Marco) with a foot in Rome, but he was also facing five pastors in the Western districts and seven congregations who were threatening to leave the LCA. He says he is going to make a statement at the October Pastors’ Conferance. He also outlined his plan for working with the issue of Women’s Ordination--he wants to see that it never comes back to a Synod again unless the Pastors Conference is agreed on the matter.

To that end, I applied myself to preparing a document for my elders, with whom I am meeting this Thursday. After trying to explain issues to my Church Council on Thursday night, I decided that I needed to put some things down on paper--not hinting at my “Catholic solution”, but outlining the reasons for suspecting a crisis of authority in the church following this Synod. I sent copies to a large number of the brethren, and am surprised to see that it has sparked quite a healthy debate regarding church polity and authority and the legality of the debate at Synod etc.

I have also put in a lot of effort into writing my written statement for my annulment application. I have complete this today--it is a full 10 pages, but I am quite happy with it. I have offered it to Cathy to read, and she has said that she is interested, if I am willing to share it. I am nominating my oldest and closest friends, Pastor A., Pastor D. and his wife, G. and Pastor T (who was my pastor and celebrant at my first marriage) as witnesses. I have written a letter to T., which I will send soon, and I called D.'s wife on her mobile (D. in the United States)--and got her in Rundle Mall outside Myers! She is staying with her parents there in Adelaide. I asked her to be a witness also, because she knew both me and my first wife, and is not another “Rev.” on the list.

I rang the Tribunal and asked to speak to Fr Tony Kerin, the priest I saw the first time around. Unfortunately, I had to deal with the assistant, and she was very brusque, saying that I did not need another appointment, but just send the document in. I said I wanted to talk to Father Kerin about getting a dissolution for Cathy, since her first husband was not baptised. She said that Cathy had to come in and make an application for that herself. I tried to explain the situation, that I wanted to know what the process would be, but she was very adamant that I was not going to get an appointment to see Tony. So I have included a request in this regard in my covering letter to accompany the application.

The road ahead is still very long and winding. I can see the goal, but not how to get there. I have come to realise that it may be as much as two years before I can make the change (given that the annulment application itself may take 18 months). In fact, it is probably better that it does take this long, when I consider the fact that I am financially committed to paying of my car (still owing $11,000) and that I have 11 weeks of long service leave due to me in Nov 2002. Mum and Dad rang me on Sunday (they are travelling in outback WA at the moment) and wanted to know if I was still in the Lutheran Church. I said that it was likely to be a long drawn out process, so not to worry for some time yet.

I am reading an excellent book from P. (my source of all books Catholic--I accused him of being a “voyeur” the other day, with his room full of “pornography”--ie. he was looking lustfully from the outside without intention to enter into the committment, and meanwhile filling his shelves with books of Catholic theology!). This one is called “The Church and the Culture War” by Joyce Little, a Catholic female theologian. It is sheer brilliance, and, next to Ratzinger’s “Called to Communion”, is the one thing I have read in the last six months that has most made me want to affirm the Catholic faith.

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