October 10, 2007

Finding Rome

My conversion to Catholicism isn't particularly spectacular, though I suppose it did involve a fair amount of kicking and screaming on my part.

To go back to the beginning though, I was raised in the Worldwide Church of God. We went to church on Saturday, didn't eat unclean foods, kept the Old Testament Holy Days and never, ever celebrated pagan holidays like Christmas and Easter.

When I went to college, I didn't go to church much at all. I went to an Episcopal school and attended services with friends on campus once in a while, but I never really seriously considered the Episcopal church a possibility. The services were pretty, but that was about all. During college, I briefly dated one or two Catholic boys, but neither was very serious about their religion and when I considered it, I didn't think marrying them was a real possibility because one thing I would never be was Catholic.

My senior year of college, I met this really cute guy, who happened to be the son of former missionaries just back from 10 years preaching in Taiwan. Sometimes I went to church with him, but more often if we talked about religion at all, it was to argue. I'd pretty much turned into an agnostic, at least in practice. I didn't go to church any where and didn't know quite what to believe any more. But God was working on me, bringing me back to religion.

In the Worldwide Church of God, one did not get baptized until adulthood (not some undefined age of reason, but actual adulthood). So I had not ever been baptized at all. Finally, after many discussions, conversations, fights and whatnot, my father-in-law-to-be (that cute guy I'd met in my senior year and I now being engaged) convinced me that I needed to be baptized -- and so in 1997 I finally became a Christian.

My husband and I married shortly thereafter and years of faithful and happy attendance of church services and Bible studies followed. I was not particularly disgruntled at any time with our Church. There were a few teachings with which I never quite agreed, but I have always believed in the authority of the Church and so I followed the doctrines despite some questions. I believed we were part of the Lord's true church.

Then the rug started getting yanked out from under my feet. My husband began a study of church history, doctrine and just about every other subject he could get his hands on. He started ordering all sorts of books at the library, which I would pick up, hand to him and say, "You can read these, though I have no idea why you'd want to. But I'm not becoming Catholic." It's not usually a good idea to state categorically what you are not going to do when it comes to God.

My husband started shoving books at me. His first try was giving me Chesterton's Orthodoxy when I was 9 months pregnant. That didn't go over so well. So he tried again. He gave me Facing East: A Pilgrim's Journey into the Mysteries of Orthodoxy by Frederica Mathewes-Green. The beauty of the ancient church, which the author describes in great detail started working on me. I read more. I thought and pondered and prayed about what I was learning.

I was discovering that early Christians believed in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. I was realizing that the Bible hadn't always been there in a compiled form, which made Sola Scriptura almost an impossibility. I considered all the early Saints who went to their deaths for a religion that I had been taught they were responsible for paganizing and apostatizing. I was amazed to discover that early Protestants like Luther believed in the perpetual virginity of Mary and prayers to Saints.

Things started to make sense, but at the same time nothing made sense. What about everything I'd always been taught and always believed? Where was the church I'd been following to be found in history? Why was the church that was the "pillar and ground of the Truth" "the light on the hill" the church "against which the gates of Hell could not prevail" so invisible for 1500+ years?

I was mad. Mad at my husband for ruining my life which was going along a path I knew and was doing just fine on. Oddly enough I did not have a very difficult time accepting the Magisterium (I'd always believed the Church had teaching authority over me). I didn't have too much trouble with Mary and the saints (I can go into that at another time). One of the most difficult things for me to accept was the teaching on birth control. When I was pregnant with my fourth child, I told myself and the world I was done having babies. I'd done my fair share and now I was going to have to go through it all again? No thanks!

But you can't always get what you want, can you? One night as I lay awake crying and furious, a small voice ran through my head. It sang the words to a song we often sang in church:

Have Thine own way, Lord! Have Thine own way!
Thou art the Potter, I am the clay.
Mold me and make me after Thy will,
While I am waiting, yielded and still.

Was it honest of me to sing that in church when I wanted my own way? I wanted a family under my own terms. I wanted church under my own terms.

After that night I could no longer really object very much, though I kept trying. I read everything I could get my hands on, but we all still kept on going to our old church. It became obvious to us and to some of our close church friends that we wouldn't be there much longer, but how to make that leap?

We finally found a way when we met a lovely man who had once been a preacher in our church and had since, some years before, converted to Catholicism with his family. He invited us to attend mass with him one Sunday. Once we went, I told my husband I couldn't go back. There was no return. We dodged questions for a few weeks about where we were and then wrote a letter explaining to our Elders why, although we loved and respected our former congregation, we were not coming back.

We also had to tell family members, which wasn't too fun, as one might expect. In the end it was done though. We still love the people we left behind, but we couldn't be happier about the life ahead of us in the Catholic church.


Wow, what a story. I was curious, but often feel that a religious journey is something rather private so I was hesitant to ask. As for me, I grew up thinking I was Catholic, even did my first communion and related catechism courses... only to find out we were Presbyterians and that I was baptized a Nazarene. Not sure what that makes me since I really like both the Presbyterians and the Catholics. However, I am raising Squink in the Catholic church.

Posted by: blair at October 10, 2007 07:44 PM

Thankee, Jordana! I can think of certain members of my own family who would do very well to read this post.

Posted by: Robbo the Llama Butcher at October 11, 2007 10:28 AM

That hymn was always a favorite in the community in which I was reared. That, and my mother's favorite, Just as I Am, which I think was always the invitation hymn at Billy Graham crusades.

Obviously this story resonates strongly with me. I know the shock of discovering that "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom", i.e. that having what I want because I think that's how it's supposed to be... well, that might not actually be The Way.

Posted by: Patricia Tryon at October 11, 2007 10:27 PM

I dunno - I think it's pretty spectacular, especially when you think about the position the Catholic Church holds in the minds of many Protestants (cf. Kennedy, John Fitzgerald -- election of)

I'm now most curious about your husband's desire to do this, which seems to have been the trigger for your search. Plus that WWCoG is the first I've heard of (other than Seventh Day Adventists) who are Christians practicing like Jews.

As I said the last time, it's a little different compared to Judaism; these spiritual journeys are just not as common. Good luck with it, and I hope you've found the right spiritual place.

Posted by: skinnydan at October 12, 2007 07:25 AM

I think it's very brave to enter into Catholicism, especially when you live in the middle of the bible belt. Don't fret the birth control thing too much. Many contemporary catholics practice what they call Natural Family Planning http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NFP in which they only make love during the part of her cycle when she is least likely to conceive.

In my opinion there is no moral difference between this and other forms of birth control since in the end all of them aim to deliberately avoid pregnancy but if NFP can ease both your anxiety about becoming pregnant again AND help you feel more sincere in the practice of your faith, I'd say hop on.

Posted by: A at October 13, 2007 12:01 PM

Thank you for being transparent in sharing your journey. I'm staunchly Presbyterian (don't "staunch" and "Presbyterian" fit well together?) Yet, I know that God has His sheep in other folds. May God continue to bless you and yours.

Posted by: TulipGirl at October 13, 2007 06:34 PM

You describe the last year so calmly and with such beauty. It's amazing to think how much your family has absorbed.

Posted by: Meredith at October 13, 2007 08:09 PM

Catholicism a pit-stop on the highway to Episcopalianism, right? As Selimovic put it, "The circle is not round". Glad to see you are still blogging. I'll be down on the Domain for Croom's retirement celebration in a few weeks. Maybe you guys are going? Anyway, I hope you and your family are doing well. Drop me a line sometime if you guys are still in N'ville. Cheers...

Posted by: David Royal at October 15, 2007 05:52 AM

Jordana: Congratulations on your homecoming. I encourage you to study Natural Family Planning, which is not considered by the Magisterium to be sinful if done for appropriate reasons. (And no, despite some people's objections, it is not the same as birth control.)

Tulip Girl: I was a staunch Presbyterian once myself. We make the best Catholics...

Posted by: Christine at October 18, 2007 11:44 AM

Thanks for writing this - it was interesting. By struggling with the words hopefully it will help strengthen your faith. May you continue to draw closer to the Lord and all that He has in store for you.

WWCoG should not be confused with Church of God. I have heard of the former, and while I can appreciate what they're trying to do they run the risk of legalism getting in the way of worship.

Posted by: MarcV at October 19, 2007 10:51 AM