Catholic again, after living in Camden

CAMDEN — For 10 years, Chris Haw has been a resident of Camden Houses, a community he founded in the Waterfront South area of the city near to Sacred Heart Church and School.

The husband, father, carpenter, potter, teacher and author is dedicated to helping Camden, having experienced its highs — seeing people come together to revitalize the city and help its residents — and lows. Like hearing gunshots just outside his door.

As he sees it, Camden is a city on the “intersection of entropy and rebirth.”

Haw’s new book, “From Willow Creek to Sacred Heart: Rekindling My Love For Catholicism,” chronicles his journey from the suburbs of Chicago as a youth, to his time now in Camden.

His previous book, co-authored with Shane Claiborne, was “Jesus for President,” published in 2008.

Baptized Catholic, Haw left the church in his youth, joining Willow Creek Community Church, an evangelical community, and eventually involved in the New Monasticism movement, a Protestant movement modeled on a monastic way of life.

After studying in Belize, protesting the war in Iraq and spending time in jail, Haw came to Camden and began “worshipping at Sacred Heart Catholic Church — first as a visitor, then as a friend, and finally as a committed Catholic,” he writes.

Along the way, Haw studied theology and sociology at Eastern University, St. David’s, Pa., and earned a master’s degree in theology and religious studies from Villanova.

“I was not argued into Catholicism; I first showed up to it as a Protestant partner and co-laborer in the fields of Camden,” he writes. “Along the way, through experience and study, I came to appreciate and even love it. This book is more of a self-criticism — a criticism of the ways my prejudices against Catholicism had blurred my vision — while showing how I risked a vulnerable openness to something I had previously written off.”

Worshipping at Sacred Heart, he found the “Catholic liturgy, and the Church history compelling.”

In the intentional community Haw currently lives in, he and his family — wife Cassie and son Simon — share groceries, transportation, and other resources with fellow members.

“We see each other as brothers and sisters, supporting each other, with a hopeful attitude” toward Camden, he said.

Since his arrival in Camden, Haw has been a teacher at Sacred Heart elementary school, and now performs contracting work in the area. He also teaches classes at Cabrini College, Radnor, Pa.

When explaining his conversion to Protestantism, and reversion back to Catholicism, Haw writes that he sees “the Catholic Church as a body whose problems are painfully obvious on the surface, but with gold embedded underneath. Conversely, the Protestantism I knew was pristinely appealing on the surface, yet I found that problems emerged once I dug below.”

Published by Ave Maria Press, Haw’s book can be found on his website, www.chris-haw.com It is also available through Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

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