It’s no secret I love Jesus. I’ve never wanted that love of Christ to make people run for the hills. I always strive to meet people where they are, and sometimes they just aren’t even in the pew.
And that’s okay.
I grew up Protestant and I am deeply grateful to my parents for such a rich, varied and loving environment. We may have changed churches, a lot, but I can honestly say there isn’t a church around where I would feel out of place today. It’s largely due to that vast exposure of worship styles that opened my eyes to how others see Jesus.
Fortunately, I never heard an ill word about Catholics until I visited a non-denominational Bible church and a Baptist church in college. I was pretty much Switzerland when it came to Catholics. While their words deeply offended me (and I wasn’t even Catholic!), it opened my eyes to how important it is to treat other Christians, and people of other faiths, with respect and reverence.
My first of three baptisms (I know, but hey, at least I’m legit!) was in the Methodist church as an infant. For many years my parents served as MYF (Methodist Youth Fellowship) volunteers and we always had a steady stream of high school kids in our house. They made me feel like a rock star and I have such fabulous memories of that nursery where I spent many a morning and evening.
As with most Protestants, the preacher left and the church just wasn’t the same. Often, when the pastor leaves, many of the ministries change, the worship service changes, the sermons take on a different voice and the ideology gets shifted. There’s usually turnover when that happens and that’s what precipitated many of our moves. For a while, during my middle school years, we visited a different church every week to see if we could find the right fit.
In my late elementary years, we moved to the Nazarene church (baptism number two, this time dunking!). Pastor Chris was absolutely dynamite. It’s where my love of praise and worship music was born, where I witnessed fellow brothers and sisters in Christ speaking in tongues (that was wild) and where I learned how to sing the books of the Bible. We had to learn a different scripture every week and recite it to our Sunday school teachers. I could / can quote scripture like a boss because of it. It laid the foundation for me to really bask in God’s word.
In middle school, our church hopping led us to yet another place of worship after a pastor change and we found ourselves at the Disciples of Christ church (third and final baptism!). I had a pretty rocky seventh and eighth grade year. God was smart enough to place the pastor’s wife as my middle school counselor. I remember, vividly, the two of us driving to Mr. Burger to get a Dr Pepper one day so I could sort out just how low my self-esteem was because of a bully at school. Carol’s kind and gentle words still remain with me today. “God loves you, just the way you are, Kathryn. He will never leave you.”
Now, I’m crying.
In high school, we moved to a new town, but sought out the same denomination. It led me on mission trips to Mexico, provided me with deep and abiding friendships and supported me as I spread my wings in college. My core group of friends in high school were Mormon, RLDS (reorganized church of latter day saints), Catholic, Baptist, Assembly of God, Church of Christ, Disciples of Christ and non-denominational Bible church. All my life experiences had led me to each of those ladies and we are all still friends today. Isn’t God a good, good father? You see, we all worshiped the same God and I never forgot the lesson of meeting people – right where they are.
In college, it was Bible churches and Baptist churches for a long while. Then, Mr. Whitaker popped into the picture. He was Catholic, but I was more interested in the biceps, blue eyes and military uniform. He invited me to Mass one Sunday and I happily went, more out of curiosity than anything.
We dated for three and a half years. And for all that time, I would bounce between the Catholic, Baptist and non-denominational Bible churches. What a rich discovery of the faith. God sent an awesome friend into my life, a Polish Catholic. Becca and I became fast friends. I quizzed her incessantly. And, when Scott wasn’t around and I wanted to go to Mass, Becca always took me with her.
My entry into the Catholic church happened, mostly because I fell in love with the people I met and the sacredness of the liturgy. I’m not gonna lie, the fact that the Mass was so organized was deeply intriguing to me. Scott and I began talking marriage and ultimately faith came up in our discussions. I was 100% okay with raising our children Catholic. For me, it was just another church to join. At least back then. Scott was insistent that he wanted to remain Catholic.
He popped the question my senior year of college and we met shortly thereafter with his hometown priest to begin planning our summer wedding. Because there was only seven months of preparation, Fr. Phil asked if I wanted to join the church. I was hugely enthusiastic, but wanted to talk to my Protestant parents first. Thankfully, they were amenable and simply wanted “Scott and I to be happy.” I had already missed the cutoff to join RCIA (the Rite of Christian Initiation – a series of classes to learn about the history and traditions of the church). So, he asked me if I could say ‘yes’ to these three questions: 1) Are you free to join the church?, 2) Are you prepared to love Scott with your whole heart? and 3) Do you agree to raise your children Catholic? Then, he made me promise to attend RCIA classes when the time was right.
That was it. I call it my Pope Francis conversion.
I was confirmed an hour before my rehearsal dinner, in the church where we were married. That’s a whole other blog post. I was surrounded by my family, Scott’s family and my bridal party. Please, please ignore the fact that I was wearing shorts. Gah! It was simple and perfect and beautiful.
So, if you’re keeping up, that means my wedding was also my first communion. My first reconciliation/confession happened a few weeks later after we had moved to our new home in Ames, Iowa. I finally did join the RCIA class, three years later, when our neighbors asked us to serve as their sponsors and as their son’s Godparents.
And that’s your rest of the story. I recognize that my entrance into the church was unconventional. While I am a huge proponent of “following the rules” I’m deeply grateful for the grace bestowed upon me by Fr. Phil. He gently led me to the church, welcomed me and helped frame our early years of marriage with a deep and abiding faith. Scott has been a wonderful catechist. We used to spend the drive to church reciting prayers so those around me wouldn’t suspect I was an “undercover Catholic.” HA!!! The priests that prepared us for marriage were deeply understanding and supportive and we had the world’s best Sponsor Couple, the Barry’s, who prepared us with honest and helpful advice as we entered into the sacrament.
Someday, I’ll share just how profound all those little moments were. But know this. I am a better person, and a better Christian, because of the hospitality and faith of so many dear friends. I consider it one of life’s greatest privileges that I grew up with such a varied faith background and that God, in His great wisdom, allowed me to land in the Roman Catholic church.
What a gift. And Happy Easter, y’all!