My Conversion Story – Part One

This is something I wrote up in the fall of 2015, just as we were entering RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults).  A lot of my story assumes some detailed doctrinal underpinnings which are provided in my husband’s version of the story – see here for that.

My story begins, fittingly, with my baptism.  My mother had me baptized at a local Lutheran church when I was only a few months old, and though the seed that was planted that day did not begin to sprout until much later, I have long been grateful to her for that gift which she gave me, among so many others, when I was too young to understand.

The rest of my childhood was spent, though, away from any church at all.  It was not until 15 years later that, through the influence of Christian friends from school, I began to have an interest in spiritual matters.  During that time, I began to attend a small and close-knit United Methodist church; around then, I also gave my life to Christ in the context of a Christian contemporary music concert. I took my conversion seriously, and began to read the Bible, pray, attend church and youth functions, and I reformed quite a lot in terms of my language and associations.  I grew in love for God, and also for His church as I had encountered it.  The little Methodist church where my new faith was nourished was a warm and caring place that I have always remembered with the greatest affection.

As my teen years passed, I grew to think that I would like to serve full time in the church, as a pastor, which was deemed appropriate in the context of the UMC.  With this goal in mind, I was off to Wheaton College in Illinois, majoring in Biblical Studies.  I threw myself into my studies and into college life with vigor, and this was to lead me to the beginning of many twists in the road that had, until then, seemed rather straightforward.

The first kink was to come when my studies of the Bible led me to believe that, as a woman, I was, unquestionably, not called to serve the church in a pastoral capacity.  I was slow to accept this, and confused as to what my next step should be, since in my first semester of my freshman year, my entire reason for being there had already been undercut.  I lost a scholarship for students studying for ministry in the United Methodist Church, and I was haunted by a feeling that I had let down my home church.

I had not yet recovered from this blow when another was to come.  Coming as I did from a very insulated church environment, being thrown together with every conceivable stripe of evangelical Christian was something of a shock.  Doctrinal positions that I had accepted from my tradition without question now came under fire, more from fellow students than from my classes – one student in particular.

Mark was the guy who sat behind me in my Greek class at Wheaton.  The story of how we got to know one another, began dating and eventually married is a tale for another time, but I think that it was around that time that he was discovering the Reformed churches and Calvinistic doctrines.  As we became friends and more, he challenged my Wesleyan ideas and Arminian theology.  In the beginning, I was passionately against Calvinism; our debate carried into summer vacation and is logged with many pages of emails exchanged during that time.  This was a drawn-out process, but in the end, I became a 5 point Calvinist.  It was a new beginning, and a major transition, in my church life.  If I had let down my home church by backing out of the ministry, now I was abandoning them altogether.  This was quite painful to me, though it was only a shadow of the exit that I did not yet know lay in my future.

That turning point in 1997 led us to a long period of membership in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, which we joined when we moved to Utah in 2000. When we joined the OPC, we were Calvinistic evangelicals; over time and with much study, we became more particularly Presbyterian in our beliefs, particularly regarding worship and church government.  Our studies led us to become very conservative, eventually more so than the OPC itself, as we attempted to practice sola scriptura to the best of our ability.  This was accomplished in total peace for 12 years.  But then, in 2012, we came to some doctrinal conclusions that were to signal the end of peace in our church life for a long while to come.

At this time, we (Mark led the way on this, I tracked along with the process) began to think that the way American Presbyterian churches function is not consistent with Presbyterian church government. We started trying to figure out how to be more consistent Presbyterians; this led us to want to transfer our formal membership to a different denomination from the OPC, while remaining in fellowship at our OPC church, since the denomination we chose (The Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland, for both doctrinal and historical reasons) has no local congregation in Utah.  The doctrinal issues here are complicated, and can be found explained nicely in Mark’s story.

That didn’t go well.   There were some long, grueling months of conflict, and then, in the end, we were banned from sacraments, membership, and church property.  Our views were seen as a danger to the church, which was the last thing we wanted, but was perhaps in a sense true.  Once a person begins to really try to really, really practice sola sciptura…well, Rome may be on the horizon.

At that time, we began attending another local Presbyterian church, which took us in kindly even knowing our strange story.  I am grateful for the months that we spent there; we needed safe harbor in a storm, and they provided a place of encouragement in a time that, for me, was marked by loss, rejection, and uncertainty.  We continued to work toward membership in the FPCS, which was challenging – even before a new crisis began.  

Five months after our dramatic departure from the OPC, our son Timothy was born.   In the pursuit of access to baptism for him, we contacted the FPCS church in Texas to find out how to work toward that event.  An elder there suggested that we’d not be able to access the sacraments unless we agreed to give up all fiction reading and writing, all movie and TV watching, and most music.  This is not a universal opinion in the FPCS, and I don’t know what would have happened if we had pursued it beyond that particular kirk-session.  We did know that we were unwilling to cut off such a huge part of the image of God in human creativity, as we see it, and we were left feeling that something had gone very, very wrong.  Apparently, there was no church in the world that we could join.  

 This quandary led both of us, independently of one another and before we got a chance to further pursue the fiction question with the FPCS, to begin to question whether sola scriptura is actually true.  I had never seriously considered that as a possibility before, but now…I didn’t know for sure where our mistake was, but I was certain we had made one.  To find it, I went backwards.  Where had we gone wrong?  I retraced all our steps, all the thoughts that got us here:

1) We got to the FPCS because we rejected the latitudinarian and semi-congregationalist attitudes of most modern American Presbyterian churches, including the OPC. (I don’t want to try to define those terms here, but for more info, again, see Mark’s post.)  Assuming, as I was at the time, sola scriptura, I could not find a problem with this.  To be a consistent Presbyterian, from what I could see one had to reject those two errors.

2) And so I went further back.  Maybe we shouldn’t have been Presbyterian at all?  I re-evaluated the question of church government – Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Congregationalist…but didn’t take long to conclude that that was not our mistake.

3) Further back still…what is the next split up from there?  Should we even be Protestants?  Does sola scriptura even work?  Look at the mess the Protestant churches are in.  Look where it landed us!

And so, I was already thinking it when Mark bought Catholicism up to me one evening; we had tried to be consistent sola scripturists and it just led us into absurdity, first getting thrown out of the OPC for being too Presbyterian, and then being, at least practically, barred from the sacraments with the FPCS as well. I began to find the arguments for the Catholic position over against sola scriptura really compelling.  I read a lot while I was laying around with Timothy in those early days, recovering from his birth; here are two articles that I found very persuasive.  I like Jimmy Akin; he used to be Reformed and is now a Catholic apologist, so he speaks my language. 

The second one is painfully long, but perceptive.  It was key in changing my mind and really spoke to where I was, having recently experienced the bitter fruits of private judgement in matters of doctrine.

It’s been quite a road.  I cried the first night we talked about it, I just felt so lost, like a boat cut from its moorings, adrift.  Having been hard core Scottish Presbyterian for so long, it was bewildering, frightening. But a lot of my previous issues with Catholicism are not what I thought they were, and most were based on sola scriptura.  Once that came down, many things simply fell into place without much fuss.  At the time I am writing this – soon to enter RCIA – there are days, plenty of them, when I both rejoice at what we have found and grieve what we have lost, days when I miss those friends whom I love and still consider brothers and sisters, but who I know no longer think the same of me. There are plenty of days too when the culture shock is a bit much, and I know it will just take time.   

But as we have gone through this, I am just falling in love with the Catholic Church, as well as with our local parish.  I am finding a soundness, health and wholeness here that I never fully realized was missing before.  It’s been a winding road, but I can look back and see God’s providence guiding us at every turn that just didn’t make sense at the time.  He has brought our entire family through together, and I could not be more grateful to be coming home at last. 

Part Two: A Reflection After the Easter Vigil

2 thoughts on “My Conversion Story – Part One”

Leave a Reply