How did you decide between Catholicism and Protestantism?
April 13, 2014 7:15 PM   Subscribe

If you converted from Catholicism to a Protestant denomination (or vice versa), what swayed you?

I'm in my mid 20s, was raised Catholic, and fell away from my faith after college. My faith in God has always been strong, but my prayer life has never been structured. I care deeply about ethical issues, but not so much about technicalities when it comes to religion. I like the idea of belonging to a faith with a rich intellectual tradition (i.e. Catholicism), but the lack of a sense of community bothers me. The demographic at is mostly elderly and married where I'm located, so that might have something to do with it.
posted by sunnychef88 to Religion & Philosophy (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I've known people to have left Catholicism for Anglicanism, particularly where there are socially liberal congregations with a high Church (more Catholic-style) manner. Anglicanism is closer to Catholocism than most Protestant denominations.

That said, how much community there might be depends very much on the individual parish. Some might have a strong sense of community, some might not.

For Jewish people I know, they will "Shul-shop" - that is, visit different synagogues to find one that feels right for them. If what you are looking for is more about the community of the church than the specific doctrine or liturgy, actively visiting congregations may be the only way to find out what they are like.
posted by jb at 7:39 PM on April 13, 2014 [3 favorites]

My mother left the Catholic church when I was a toddler because my dad wouldn't go. He wasn't raised in the religion and, being a very well educated man, he questioned everything. They settled comfortably in a Methodist church.

Old school Methodist (not contemporary) and Lutheran churches will give you some of the ritual that you are used to.

It is a good idea to church shop. It takes at least 3 visits, usually, to know for sure.
posted by myselfasme at 7:58 PM on April 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Raised catholic. Dropped out of faith practice during college because I disliked the priest at the campus church. Moved. Tried many cathoic churches. Never felt at home. Went to an elca Lutheran church with my husband, immediately felt embraced. Stayed for years. Moved home, retuned to catholic parish because it's home.

I feel like church is a lot like school - the teacher/pastor makes a huge difference, and you get out what you put in. It's ok to church shop.
posted by dpx.mfx at 8:00 PM on April 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

I guess there are two ways forward. One is to simply church shop and see where you end up. You can probably save yourself some time by doing a bit of research on the denominations that have congregations nearby. (Do you need communion every week? That'll eliminate a bunch.)

The other is to really look at the question in your title. I'm an ex-Catholic and spend a lot of time flirting with religion and I've spent a lot of time reading about Christianity. At the end of the day, I do have theological opinions that probably aren't going to change and that takes huge swaths of Protestantism off the table for me. I sometimes feel like conversion is appropriative and I feel weird about the whole idea. And some part of me still believes that line in the Nicene Creed about "one holy, catholic and apostolic church" (and thinks the Church is that church), even after something like 15 years of non-religion. Otherwise I might be an Anglican by now. Instead I'm waiting with my wishy-washy atheism to maybe reopen negotiations with the Catholic Church one day (but that'll have to wait until I move--I'm in a stupidly conservative archdiocese).
posted by hoyland at 8:38 PM on April 13, 2014

You might stop in at some campus Christian meetings.
posted by notned at 9:22 PM on April 13, 2014

Notned - I did join the Christians on campus for a couple of semesters. Now that I'm in my mid 20s and looking to head to grad school soon, the campus ministry crowd of 18-21 year olds seems very young. They use a lot of student preachers. Not quite what I'm looking for, but thank you for the suggestion!
posted by sunnychef88 at 9:47 PM on April 13, 2014

What about blogs? Rachel Held Evans has long bloglists of faith bloggers, and if you think of them as extended conversations about faith, you'll see where you find yourself reading more often. I didn't know much about Catholics before I converted to Orthodoxy, and make an effort to read them and find myself arguing with half of what they say, while I argue with only about a third of the Orthodox writers...

Your question startles me somewhat because I went where my church is. I was raised Anglican and quickly left as soon as I could, and then in my twenties, visited at an Orthodox church where my husband was interviewing the priest for a book, asked when the next service was and that was that. The theology matters in some ways, if you feel strongly about some parts of it - Mary is a good way to see where theology differs sharply between denominations.

Community is also about how much you connect to people over time. The really welcoming and embracing churches to newcomers are often - not always, but often enough to be more than cultural - churches built on growing in numbers. There can be an intense pressure to make the appearance of connections there through contact and control, and without room for conflict so that you go from being very warmly embraced to being thrust out into the cold if you break some rule.

I would not have guessed that the people I pray for and with most closely at church would be those people who are so different from me, nearly a decade ago. I agree that the local priest/vicar/pastor makes the most difference, but don't look at demographics alone for a church.

I don't think you should church shop without a stronger reason. If you're moving into a new area and have several similar churches, or if you have serious theological differences or harassment - but church is not immediate. It's a relationship that builds up over time as you get to know people, as you become more familiar with services and local traditions, and as you begin to contribute back. Much more like changing schools than shops.
posted by viggorlijah at 1:13 AM on April 14, 2014

Definately shop around, both for a church and a congregation that suit you.

I was raised Protestant (in the relatively non-denominational setting of US military chapels); when searching for a church as an adult, I wanted a denomination that agreed with my social beliefs (things like ordination/equality of women) while also having a worship style that suited me. And yes, there is quite a wide range of churches under that 'Protestant' tag: they range from Anglican congregations that are almost indistinguishable from Catholicism to the Quakers to the Amish or Unitarians or whoever. (For example, I chose a Presbyterian church, but there are •serious• differences between the Presbyterian Church in America and the Presbyterian Church USA!)

Anyway, you need to first do broad research to find a denomination that suits you, then try attending a few of those churches several times each to find a congregation you can feel welcome and at-home in.
posted by easily confused at 2:32 AM on April 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you converted from Catholicism to a Protestant denomination (or vice versa), what swayed you?

Ultimately? A re-examination of the Catholic Church's particular claims about herself (alone and via the RCIA program) and a decision that they were true. This happened about 14 years ago, after a long absence from childhood Catholicism followed by a few years in the United Methodist Church.

Seconding a look at campus groups in your area.

You might also call the local diocesan and parish offices to see what the small-group landscape is like in your area. If you're not finding what you seek, put out the word. Chances are very good that there others in the same boat. Perhaps you have a charism for starting groups! A church that has a thriving, active youth program will generally have follow-on programs for college-age and beyond, so you can use that as a barometer too.
posted by jquinby at 4:24 AM on April 14, 2014

Maybe do what my son did. He's Orthodox now. From what I found when I researched it, lots of younger people are investigating the Orthodox church and finding it to their liking.

Definitely a sense of community, from what he tells me. He started out at a Greek Orthodox church but when he moved to Houston he and his wife went to an Antiochian Orthodox congregation. They seem happy with it.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:55 AM on April 14, 2014

nthing church-shopping, both within Catholic churches and elsewhere. Two personal stories --

When we were living in Chicago, the Catholic church in our neighborhood just didn't feel right to me. Liturgically (mostly the music), but also some social quirks. Making a slightly longer drive to the church on the other side of town (uh...suburb?) made a huge difference for me.

Last summer, my family and I did a bit of church-shopping locally, focusing on non-Catholic options. This most recent bout was triggered by LGBT-related issues and spousal griping. Long and short of it is, the church-shopping and reflection made me realize that the Catholic church (for all its shortcomings) is too deeply embedded in my psyche. And also, the realization that edicts or statements from Rome or the USCCB or a local ordinary did not necessarily reflect the attitudes of the parishioners. For now, at least, I've found a way to reconcile those dissonances, and I think a lot of that has been from finding enough acceptance (and a community) within the two churches I attend. (And that's a long story.)

The demographic at is mostly elderly and married where I'm located

Yeah, I get that. Not every Catholic parish or community is a cookie-cutter franchise. FWIW, "mostly elderly or married with kids" aptly describes one of the churches I'm active in; but the other community is made up mostly of gay men and is worlds different, socially. Size matters, too -- the realities of a parish of a few thousand families and a $40,000 monthly mortgage payment are a lot different than a community of a few hundred.

Just as there are Catholic churches that offer the Tridentine mass (LATIN!), there are others that offer music that would fit in with Christian rock / praise & worship. And there's different doctrinal emphases being preached from place to place, too.

I think for me there was a lot of interaction between the doctrinal and community stuff, combined with my own upbringing. It took me a while to untangle everything, but at the end of the day, I felt comfortable staying where I was; the forces pushing me away weren't as great as I had initially feared or thought.
posted by QuantumMeruit at 8:20 AM on April 14, 2014

It was pretty much entirely for theological reasons. I just didn't believe any of the distinctive things Catholics believe, and wasn't comfortable practicing as though I did.

For the record, as a Protestant, I still struggle with feeling connected to my church community. Evangelical Protestant congregations are usually very close (for better and for worse) but mainstream Protestant churches aren't necessarily any better at community building than Catholic ones. In my experience.
posted by gerstle at 1:16 PM on April 14, 2014

I'm not a Christian - but I have often thought that if I were I'd be a Lutheran or something similar. It seems to me that there's more beauty in a minimalist and 'pure' approach to faith than the gaudy idolatory and pomp and circumstance surrounding Catholicism and Anglicanism. Why would you want to detract from God with all that stuff?
posted by Henners91 at 3:35 AM on April 19, 2014

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