I grew up Baptist - and all that encompasses: Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide, church on Sunday, devotions in the morning, prayer before bed, and memorizing Scripture. I grew up with my faith wavering at times, especially during the high school years, and went on to attend a small, Baptist college, where I had a moment where I "rededicated" my life to Christ. It was here that I started dating my husband, who is a passionate man with a love for theology and discussion. We were Calvinists and defended all the Baptist teachings. I will always be grateful for my upbringing; I was taught to value Scripture and have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I was surrounded by people who loved the Lord and desired to share His love with others.
Once married, Nick and I attended the local Baptist Church for several years where we were involved in the AWANA program. It was here that our journey began. We started to be frustrated with church. It seemed that church was "good" if there was a sermon packed with knowledge and we learned a lot, and "fruitlesss" if the sermon wasn't very good. Looking back, I realize that when you attend a church without liturgy, everything focuses on the sermon, pastor, and how we feel during worship. We were frustrated with ourselves, we wanted to enjoy church and worship God; we didn't want to be critical. After much prayer, we decided to leave and find a church that better suited us.
This brings me to the second phase of our journey: searching. This was a very difficult year for us, as we attended a new church almost every weekend. Saturday night, we would get out the directory, and look for a church that we test out the next day. Although this was an emotionally draining time, as we both wanted to be settled in a church, it was a very important time in our lives. We were forced to ask questions: What is church? What is the purpose of church? What makes church "good" and "bad"? As we evaluated churches and ourselves, our answers to these questions gradually changed. We realized that church was not about what we intellectually learned during the sermon and what emotions we had during singing, but that we were going to ascribe worship to God through liturgy. We were to be giving ourselves to God in a way that is greater than what we learned or felt. We shouldn't sit back as a critical audience with our coffees and consume, we were to participate in something larger than us. It shouldn't matter if we didn't like the sermon or not. It wasn't about us; it was about worshipping Christ by participating in liturgy with a community of believers. It took a long time to come to this conclusion.
During this time, we were reading, studying, and discussing all of these issues with friends who were going through the same things we were. We had friends who entered into the Reformed world, Anglican world, and some converted to Catholicism. We settled at a very conservative Episcopal Church, which was run by a priest who had Anglo-Catholic inclinations. During the four years that we were here, our reading and studying continued. We were introduced to liturgy, prayers to the Saints and Mary, the Daily Office, the liturgical calendar, Church history that finally made sense through Apostolic Succession, and really a "Catholic" spirituality.
Our first two daughters were baptized at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, much to the dismay of our families. It was here that a large pillar from our Protestant upbringing was struck down. The doctrine of Sola Scriptura, Bible alone, is the key to Baptist theology. Suddenly, we found ourselves in a Church that believed in infant baptism and we had always been taught "believer's baptism" once a person is old enough to make the decision on their own. This struck both Nick and I at a very personal level as we anxiously awaited the arrival of our first born. We turned to the Bible for answers, and the issue of baptism isn't clear. Both sides have valid arguments using Scripture for why they are right. The Bible, standing alone, wasn't sufficient. The pillar of Sola Scriptura had fallen, and we were left with relying on Tradition or our own individual interpretation of what we thought Scripture was trying to say.
As we attended St. Mary's, Nick was devouring book after book on Church history, and the Catholic Church. He is a history, literature, philosophy, and theology teacher so these issues struck right at the heart of his daily work. Finally, my husband's twin brother and best friend became Catholic. We both had to answer the question of "why are you NOT Catholic?"
I think of this as the last "landmark" in our journey - answering that piercing question - why are you not Catholic? We were living a Catholic life, just void of the Papal Authority and the Eucharist. Due to a move, we were attending an Anglo-Catholic Church that believes in all the Church teaches except for the authority of the Pope. They believe in all seven sacraments and celebrate a beautiful and ancient liturgy. I had read through the catechism several times and didn't disagree with anything in there. All the dominoes of "Catholic problems" had fallen: Mary, prayers to the Saints, Eucharist, infant baptism, etc. The last and final question for us both was the question of authority. Does the Pope have authority? More importantly, do I have to submit to the authority of the Catholic Church? We were both coming to realize that we were still living in the Protestant world of picking and choosing what you want to believe and do with your life. The individual was still the authority.
I'll never forget the moment I decided to become Catholic. I was pregnant with my third child, and had recently moved, meaning a switch in pediatricians. As I was transferring all of our medical information to the new office, I was confronted with the controversial issue of immunizations. There sure are a lot of opinions and dogmatic people on both sides of the issue! My girls were both about half-immunized. I was doing quite a bit of research to decide what we were going to do, when I googled "Christian perspective on immunizations." Nothing good came up. Frustrated, I changed it to "Catholic perspective on immunizations." I was transferred to an article from the Pontifical Academy for Life that was extremely helpful in considering the morality of vaccinating your child. This was ten times more helpful than anything that I had found. It listed the vaccines that are made from aborted fetuses, and talked about the ethical decisions a parent must make, protecting the greater good of society, protecting our children, and protecting the unborn. It didn't give an exact answer; it gave a framework with which to think about the issue. It was practical, nuanced, thoughtful, and right. I was driving to the YMCA, thinking about all of my research, and chuckled to myself, and literally thought, "Those Catholics, they got it right again. They're always right." Then, "Whoa! They're always right." Tears came to my eyes, and it was at that moment, I knew I had been moved by grace to come home to the Catholic Church.
I told my husband that night that I was ready to become Catholic. This was at an extremely hard time in our lives. We had just moved to a new town where he was starting a job at a Reformed school, teaching history and theology, and I was pregnant with our third child. We both knew that if we became Catholic, it would mean he would lose his job and we would have to move again. My husband wasn't quite ready, and for him as the provider our family, becoming Catholic meant a lot more than just joining the Church, it meant losing his livelihood with three young children. It wasn't long after I had made up my mind; he decided he was ready too. After resigning in the spring, we were jobless for a short time before God opened the doors to another teaching job at a little Catholic school where we used to live.
Looking back, I am amazed at the eight-year journey God took us on to find his Church. It has been painful, we have lost friends who no longer want anything to do with us because of our faith, and it is very difficult for our families who feel that we have betrayed them and the faith of our childhood. As we adjust to these new relationships, I am thankful that I have the wisdom and guidance of Mother Church, the prayers of the Saints and Mary, and the grace given by the Sacraments. Gloria in excelsis Deo.
Read more of Katie's story and her ongoing journey towards deeper conversion at her blog "Mother Moved By Grace"