In the middle 1990s, Alex Jones was one of many African-American Protestant preachers in Detroit, the leader of a charismatic church he had founded in 1982. He was happily married, and he didn't particularly feel like he was on a spiritual quest. But a chance remark he heard during a debate stimulated him to begin learning about the beginnings of the Christian religion and its early forms of worship. After he did, his ministry began to change—much to the dismay of some church members. In 2000 Jones joined the Roman Catholic Church, soon bringing part of his congregation with him to a Catholic Church in Detroit. He issued a book about his experiences, No Price Too High, in 2005.
The youngest sibling in his family, Alex Jones was born in Detroit on September 19, 1941. His father, also named Alex, was a light-skinned who could pass for white, who worked at the Revere Copper and Brass Factory and wasn't religious. But his mother, Margaret, raised him in the Zion Congregational Church of God in Christ. In 1958 he attended a revival led by Mother Estella Boyd, was overcome by a strong sense of communication with God, collapsed on the floor, and began speaking in tongues. An indifferent student in high school, he attended Highland Park Junior College. "I started getting As and Bs in my classes and discovered that I wasn't a moron after all!" he wrote in No Price Too High. He moved on to Wayne State University, where he frequently read the Bible or books about religion at the library in his spare time. He graduated in 1965 with a degree in art education.
Jones began teaching art in the Detroit Public Schools the year he graduated, remaining employed there for 27 years. In 1966 he married Donna Camille, and the pair raised three children, Joseph, Benjamin, and Marc. Their northeast Detroit neighborhood deteriorated in the 1970s and 1980s, and several of their sons' friends were killed or injured in incidents of street violence. The major positive force in their lives was religion, but Jones was spiritually restless during this period of his life. From 1966 through 1974 he often toured the Midwest, preaching with Mother Estella Boyd. He and another young preacher opened a small storefront church at one point, but it went nowhere. In 1975 he was asked to become the pastor at his mother's church, Zion Congregational COGIC, and despite some tensions over changes he introduced, he nearly doubled the church's membership in the seven years he served as its leader.
It was an interest in evangelical, Bible-based theology, and in mixing those beliefs with the Pentecostal beliefs (Pentecostal worship involves manifestations of the Holy Spirit, such as speaking in tongues) of the Church of God in Christ, that led Jones to form a church of his own. Jones rejected what he called, in No Price Too High, "extreme forms of Pentecostal worship," pointing specifically to one service he attended where a man put his foot through a chair; he asked church leaders where one could find justification in Scripture for such activities, but was told he was reading too much. He opened Maranatha Christian Assembly in 1982, with about 20 families from his old church as his new congregation. The church grew, changed its name to Maranatha Christian Church, and settled into a hand- some building, a former Greek Orthodox church, on Oakman Boulevard in Detroit. Jones was able to leave his teaching job and devote himself to the church full-time.
By the 1990s, Jones was feeling burned out and contemplated returning to Wayne State to continue his education. But one day he happened to attend a debate between two writers, Protestant David Hunt and Catholic Karl Keating, about the nature of early Christianity. At one point Keating, referring to the early church fathers, asked (according to Judy Roberts of the National Catholic Register), "If something took place, who would you want to believe, those who saw it or those who came thousands of years later and told what happened?" Jones was impressed by the point and, after a time, began to read as much as he could about the beginnings of the Christian Church.
These readings led him to change the shape of Maranatha's services, at first as a kind of experiment, and they began to evolve more and more in the direction, Jones slowly realized, of Catholic worship. The Eucharist rite became central, for example. "We said all the prayers with all the rubrics of the Church, all the readings, the Eucharistic prayers. We did it all, and we did it with an African-American style," Jones told Roberts. He easily accepted Catholic teachings about purgatory, papal authority, and praying to saints, but the aspect of Catholicism that gave him the most trouble was the veneration and worship of Mary. Although attendance at Maranatha, which had reached a high of 200, began to drop off, Jones immersed himself more and more deeply in Catholic teachings. By mid-2000, attendance was down to about 80 worshippers.
The changes sparked strong protests among those close to Jones, including his wife and three sons. "We were taught that the Catholic Church was the great whore," Jones's niece Linda Stewart explained to Diane Morey Hanson in a Credo interview appearing on the Web site of filmmaker Stan Williams. "We were taught that the pope was the anti-Christ. Mary?—Mary?—no way! We had been happy and going along and just enjoying Jesus and then here he comes and throws this monkey wrench in. I was angry! And I thought, ‘You're crazy to think we are going to do this!’"
There was a component of African-American history to the strong reaction. "The only black institution African Americans own is church," Jones told Hanson. "When you give that up and go to a white-owned institution that is insensitive to the needs of black Americans, it's not easy." Nevertheless, he felt sure of his direction. "How can you say no to truth?" he asked Roberts. "I knew that I would lose everything and that in [some] circles I would never be accepted again, but I had no choice." Maranatha members fasted and prayed that Jones would see the error of his ways.
Jones began attending Masses and the liturgy of the hours—services held throughout the day by Catholic monks—at a local Dominican monastery. His wife and family, after study, joined him in his movement toward Catholicism, and they attended Easter services at St. Suzanne's Catholic Church on Detroit's west side in April of 2000. The following year Jones closed Maranatha, and 64 of its members (after a 39-19 vote in favor of the move by the adult members) accompanied him to predominantly white St. Suzanne's to become lay members there. Not all of the church's existing members welcomed the newcomers, and Jones was troubled by his mother's rejection of his new faith—she left to join the Pentecostal-oriented Perfecting Church pastored by Jones's cousin, gospel artist Marvin Winans.
At a Glance …
Born September 19, 1941, in Detroit, MI; married Donna Camille, 1966; children: Joseph, Benjamin, Marc. Education: Wayne State University, Detroit, BA, art education, 1965; Sacred Heart Seminary, Detroit, MA, Pastoral Studies, 2006. Religion: Roman Catholic.
Career: Detroit Public Schools, art teacher, 1965-92; preached in traveling mission of Mother Estella Boyd, 1966-74; Zion Congregational Church of God in Christ, pastor, 1975-82; Maranatha Christian Assembly (later Maranatha Christian Church), pastor, 1982-2000; Detroit archdiocese, Sign Me Up! Evangelization program, associate director, early 2000s; author, 2005; Catholic Church, ordained Permanent Deacon, 2005.
Addresses: Office—Alex & Donna Jones, 33228 W. 12 Mile Rd., #202, Farmington Hills, MI 48334. Web—http://deaconalexcjones.com.
Nevertheless, Jones grew in his new church. It was unclear whether the married Jones could become a priest, but he enrolled in the Master of Arts in Pastoral Studies program at Detroit's Sacred Heart Seminary and took a job with the Detroit archdiocese as associate director of an inner-city evangelization program called Sign Me Up! Jones was in demand as a speaker at conferences and parish missions for black Catholics and other Catholic organizations, and he traveled several times to Uganda and Ghana, where charismatic Catholic worship was growing rapidly. No Price Too High, which also included a section on Donna Jones's spiritual journey, was published by Ignatius Press in 2005, and on October 1 of that year he was ordained as a Permanent Deacon and was once again able to stand in front of a congregation and preach.
Jones, Alex, as told to Diane Hanson, No Price Too High, Ignatius, 2005.
Detroit Free Press, April 13, 2001.
"Black Pentecostal Church Votes to Become Catholic, by Diane Morey Hanson, Credo, June 19, 2000," Stan Williams,http://www.stanwilliams.com/Hanson.htm (October 1, 2007).
Deacon Alex C. Jones,http://deaconalexcjones.com (November 29, 2007).
"Former Minister Shares His Path to Catholicism," Milwaukee Catholic Herald,http://www.chnonline.org/2005-02-10/newsstory2.html (October 1, 2007).
Roberts, Judy, "Pastor and Flock Convert to Catholicism," http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/apologetics/ap0077.html (October 1, 2007).
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