St. Joseph’s Academy’s 150th Anniversary Speaker Series continued on January 16 with best-selling author and nationally acclaimed speaker Dr. Allen Hunt. Dr. Hunt is the senior advisor at Dynamic Catholic Institute. His books include Confessions of a Mega-Church Pastor: How I Discovered the Hidden Treasures of the Catholic Church; Everybody Needs to Forgive Somebody; and Nine Words: A Bible Study to Help You Become the Best Version of Yourself.
Dr. Hunt began his professional life on Wall Street as a management consultant with Kurt Salmon Associates. On a cold New York morning as he dashed through the freezing rain to his office tower, he had to step over a homeless man huddled on a steam grate trying to get warm. Dr. Hunt was stopped in his tracks. In that moment of reflection, he heard the Holy Spirit whisper in his ear: “Allen, when are you going to stop serving yourself and start serving me?”
Dr. Hunt would leave the business world to become a pastor. He earned a master of divinity from Emory University and a doctorate in New Testament and ancient Christian origins from Yale University. He landed his dream job as senior pastor at a megachurch just outside of Atlanta, Mount Pisgah, one of the largest Methodist congregations in the country.
But a longing for more led him to yet another life-changing decision: On July 1, 2007, he stepped aside as senior pastor and, on January 6, 2008, converted to Catholicism. This was the culmination of a 15-year journey in which God led Dr. Hunt home to the Church.
Dr. Hunt told the story of Roger and Sally. Before the young couple married, Roger revealed that he had been briefly married and had a daughter, Valerie, whom he hadn’t seen since she was a baby. Roger felt a gaping hole in his life because part of his family was missing. When he and Sally had two daughters of their own, they told the girls about their half-sister. Roger’s life and family were incomplete, and he ached to be reunited with his missing child. “That’s what a father’s love does,” Dr. Hunt said. “A father’s love yearns for and treasures his children. … God’s love treasures his possessions and his children, every single one, because that’s the nature of God. Remember that famous passage from First John, where John says, ‘God is love.’ In other words, God can’t do anything other than love you. It’s His nature, His character, it defines Him in His essence. He loves you because you are one of His precious children.”
Dr. Hunt recounted the story of his own family’s trip to Disney World with their young daughters, Sarah Ann, then 6, and Griffin, 4, as well as both sets of grandparents. He emotionally described the moment when Griffin was separated from the family and the frantic, eight-minute search before they were reunited. “I’m beginning to panic,” Dr. Hunt recalled. “My little girl, who I love very much, is missing, and there’s nothing I can do about it.”
Twenty-plus years later, Dr. Hunt still refers to those agonizing moments as worst, most panic-laden eight minutes of his life. “The only thing that mattered to me was I had a daughter who was lost, and I was determined to find her,” he said. “A father’s love not only treasures, but a father’s love seeks and persists until it finds.”
Continuing his story of Roger and Sally, Dr. Hunt shared that they turned to a website that helps people find one another. After five months, Roger received a phone call informing him that Valerie had been found. Over several months of communication, Roger and Valerie planned to meet. Dr. Hunt was present at the moment of their reunion. “I don’t have adequate words to describe the power of that moment when the one who was lost comes home, when the one who was lost was restored to the family, when the one who was lost is found,” he said. “All I know is that the joy is unimaginable.”
Dr. Hunt said Jesus tells us that this is the kind of celebration that happens in heaven when lost children come home. “God made you in His image,” he said. “Think about it. The good, good Father spoke you into existence. He breathed the breath from His nostrils into yours to give you the breath life. You’re His. You belong to Him, and He will do anything to bring you home.”
Dr. Hunt said his overarching message was to remind those in attendance of a simple spiritual truth: You have no idea how much God loves you. “He not only formed you, He not only gives you the sacraments, He gave you his own son so that you would know how much He loves you and that you would be part of His fold and that you would love living in His family,” Dr. Hunt said. “ … Once you actually discover and embrace how much God loves you, it changes your life. You are forever made different.”
Following his talk, Dr. Hunt entertained questions from the student body.
Dr. Hunt and his wife, Anita, live in Atlanta. Their daughters are now married. The Hunts have four grandsons.
Mindy Brodhead Averitt
Photos by Jennifer M. Fontaine