15-Year Journey Led Allen Hunt To Become Catholic
Published: March 27, 2008
Allen Hunt, a former Methodist minister, hosts a talk show on Atlanta radio station WSB AM 750. It blends faith with contemporary issues. On this particular day, March 12, from his Roswell studio, Hunt is filling in for the Rick and Scott Show on radio station WOOD in Grand Rapids, Mich. (Photo by Michael Alexander)
ALPHARETTA—A year ago, Allen Hunt was standing in front of the congregation of Mount Pisgah United Methodist Church where he’d been pastor for eight years, leading the 7,000-member church in its worship, with a full orchestra and choir.
Today, Hunt stands in front of a soundboard, microphone and five-line telephone board taking calls from across the country at his new full-time gig. He swapped the pulpit for the airwaves at WSB Radio (AM 750) at the “intersection of real life and faith.”
The 44-year-old also finds himself on Sundays in the pews at Mary Our Queen Church, Norcross. He is one of the newest members of the Catholic Church in the Atlanta Archdiocese.
“I’m home and glad to be home. I have a deep, deep sense of interior peace,” said Hunt about joining the church. “It’s where God wants me to be. I have no doubt.”
His entry into the church is a sign of the movement among religious traditions in the United States. More than one in four Americans change religious affiliations from their childhood. Close to 3 percent of adults in the United States became Catholic after being raised in another faith or in no faith at all, according to a 2007 survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, while about 7.5 percent of adult Catholics have also changed churches or lapsed.
While the Easter season is the customary time for new Catholics to receive the sacraments of initiation, Hunt entered on the feast of the Epiphany in January.
His reception at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Atlanta completed a journey for Hunt.
“It was definitely things percolating in me over those 15 years,” he said.
Hunt was raised in the mountains of North Carolina and later lived in Florida, where his father worked as a business manager at a Methodist college and his mother taught college-level math. He is married to Anita Hunt, whom he met at Mercer College in Macon and who is the director of children’s ministry at Mount Pisgah, and they have two teenaged daughters. He attended the Candler School of Theology at Emory University.
“We’ve had lots of good conversations around the house,” he said about his faith decision.
Seeds Of Faith
It was 1991 in Connecticut at Yale University that he befriended a Dominican priest, Father Steven Boguslawski. Both were working on doctorates in New Testament history.
Father Steven, who now heads the Dominican House of Studies at Catholic University of America and is executive director of the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center in Washington, D.C., recalled giving the Southerner a lift from class to Hunt’s home and instantly making a connection with the young family.
“We all just kind of hit it off,” he said, speaking from Washington, D.C. “He’s a man of tremendous faith,” he said about Hunt.
Seeds, in the form of seemingly random meetings with Catholics, took root. As a Protestant, Hunt was intrigued by a visit with Father Steven to a convent of cloistered nuns for Lenten reflections. He was one of few non-ordained men to meet with the women who spend their days in prayer away from society.
“It was a really, really special gift to see that,” he said.
Or the time he was hospitalized in a strange city and was visited by a priest who wanted to ensure he could get back to his family for TLC.
“All these things planted seeds,” Hunt said.
A class tour of Rome along with Father Steven showed Hunt the picture of the global Catholic Church.
His exploration of the faith also introduced him to Catholic doctrine. As Hunt wrote in his blog: “Finally, I have always struggled with the idea I call ‘doctrine by democracy.’ I simply struggle with the concept that we Protestants vote on certain things to decide what is true.”
And Hunt was attracted to the Catholic belief in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.
“When my heart changed on that, I pretty much had to become Catholic,” he said.
Also he said it “grieves my heart” that there are 30,000 branches of Christianity in America.
“I believe that continuing division and debate over essentials provides a poor witness to the world about our Christian unity in the one Lord,” he wrote in his blog.
When Hunt made up his mind to pursue becoming Catholic last year, he met with Msgr. Henry Gracz, pastor of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Atlanta, for conversations, one clergyman to another. He also talked with Father David Dye, a former Episcopal priest who became a Catholic, to glean how the Mount Pisgah congregation might react. Father Dye administers Mary Our Queen Church where Hunt is now a parishioner.
The journey for Hunt climaxed on the January day at the downtown Shrine.
“It was overwhelming,” Hunt said about the Mass, where he was confirmed and received the Eucharist and where people placed their hands on him in prayer. “It was basically, welcome home.”
For his part, Father Steven was stirred by the experience, which he came to Atlanta to witness.
“It was deeply moving. I had trouble professing the Creed. I could barely speak at moments,” the Dominican said.
Faith On The Radio
Back in the radio studio, Hunt is talking with a caller from Wisconsin about home schooling after a California court ruled parents teaching children at home need certification.
Hunt does not look back. Simply put, during 20 years of his life, God led him to be a pastor. Now, the journey leads him to the radio show.
“This is my calling. Now I see myself as a missionary,” he said.
Two years after the radio show got a try-out in Florida and was picked up by WSB, Hunt’s studio fills a suite of offices on Holcomb Bridge Road in Roswell. The library outside the tidy studio is an eclectic mix. Classics lean beside today’s best sellers, from Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle” and the New Oxford Annotated Bible to “The Da Vinci Code” and “The Idiot’s Guide to Kabbalah.”
His syndicated Saturday and Sunday radio show draws listeners nationwide with an estimated 150,000 listeners at 16 stations in nine states. His show is heard from the Canadian border to the plains of Texas. The show’s podcasts are downloaded 6,000 times a month from 2,000 a year ago.
The Allen Hunt Show is purposely not marketed for faith-based stations. Hunt said he doesn’t want the callers or the show to be seen as a niche program. He said some 84 percent of Americans believe faith is an important part of life, and his show is the only one focused on exploring faith and life. The airwaves are saturated with politics, but not on faith issues, he said.
Hunt considers his show as similar to St. Paul’s adventure in the Acts of the Apostles when the evangelist goes to the hilltop meeting place in Athens and has a dialogue with the thinkers and philosophers.
“We see ourselves going into the marketplace of ideas in the culture,” Hunt said.
Hunt had to unlearn some habits. Radio isn’t preaching, a one-way conversation. “It’s like having 2,000 one-on-one conversations. It’s very intimate. If it comes across as a sermon, it won’t work,” he said.
On some shows, he brings insight from his past life. For instance, Hunt said over the airwaves that he is one of few radio hosts who can talk with knowledge about being a pastor when the news hit about presidential hopeful Barack Obama’s former spiritual leader and his controversial preaching.
“It works because it’s different. People want to talk about faith, but they are often squeamish. We give them permission to do that,” he said.