The Deacon's Bench

There’s a renewed push in many parishes to lure back Catholics who have wandered away from the faith. And this item, about one deacon’s efforts, illustrates one move underway in Memphis:

Dressed in cream-colored robes, beneath a portrait of the crucifixion, Deacon Jack Conrad radiates religious devotion.

Assisting with a recent service at St. Ann Catholic Church, Conrad, 59, tenderly clasped a Bible to his chest, his eyes closed, with a peaceful smile across his face.

But not long ago, as a corporate executive for a manufacturing company, Conrad hadn’t darkened the door of a church for more than a decade.

As a boy, he had dipped into the teachings of the Catholic church with excitement.

A verbally abusive priest, however, and an overly generous tithe from his mother, which caused a rift between his parents, ultimately pushed him away.

“I’ve been hurt by the church,” Conrad said. “But with hurt there’s a call to reconcile.”

No major faith in the U.S. has experienced greater loss in numbers over the last few decades to people leaving than the Catholic Church.

Overall, nearly one-third of those who were raised Catholic have left the church, according to a study earlier this year by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

As concern for those who have strayed from the church takes on a greater priority among area parishes, Conrad has been recruited to tell his story to help others find their way back.

For the first time, local churches are joining together to appeal to former Catholics.

Along with St. Ann, the Church of the Nativity and St. Francis of Assisi are participating.

During the Gathering to Remember Novena, starting Jan. 29, meetings will be held on nine consecutive Thursday nights to allow people looking to return to share their good memories as well as their frustrations with the church.

“A lot of the times there are large misconceptions,” said Robert Marczynski, director of administration and stewardship at St. Ann.

For example, he said, “People think if they’ve been divorced they can’t participate in church. That’s not true.”

Continue at the link to find out how Deacon Conrad found his way back to the church.

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