My conversion story
This was originally posted in June 2011 on another blog, but I thought I’d post it here on my tumblr, too. Also, this is my 1000th post! =D
Although I am now Catholic, I wasn’t raised so. My parents were Lutherans, but they had stopped practising before my brother and I were born. Even though they no longer practised, however, they sent my brother and me to a Protestant elementary/jr. high school, to make sure we received a good education. Specifically, the school/church was Assemblies of God, an offshoot of the Pentecostal movement.
While there, I was educated in the faith, learning all about Jesus and the different Bible stories, but the faith never really meant much to me. I didn’t pray or read the Bible or go to church beyond what we did as part of school, although I did attend the church’s youth group. My faith was mostly social and intellectual, rather than real, experiential.
By the end of Jr. High, I had had almost no experience with Catholicism. I had heard a bit about it, but all I really knew was that Catholics had some pretty weird beliefs, like about Mary and the sacraments. Despite these weird beliefs, however, I was taught that because they believed in Christ, they were still Christians. So when I went to a Catholic high school, although I would have preferred a Protestant one, I was okay with it.
High school was thus my first real exposure to Catholicism. While at first my experiences confirmed my idea of Catholics as weird (I still remember the first time I saw people making the Sign of the Cross), as time went on, I came to see the beauty in Catholicism, and developed a deep respect for it and its traditions. I very briefly considered converting, but decided it was more trouble than it was worth, since either way I’d still be Christian. I made a number of both Protestant and Catholic friends, and often had discussions with them about faith. But still, my faith was not real. I still never went to church, or prayed, or read my Bible, or really particularly cared at all.
Then came college. College was a huge change for me because it was the first time I would be going to a public school. I would no longer be required to attend church as part of school, which thus far was pretty much the only time I went to church. If I didn’t do anything about that, I would stop going to church altogether, and what little I cared about the faith would be lost. So, I looked around for a Christian group to join. A few friends that were in my math class invited me out to one, and I started going out to that group’s Friday night services when I could.
Taking the initiative like that caused a change, however: for the first time, my faith began to be real for me. Although I still didn’t go to church on Sundays, I began to read the Bible, and even prayed on occasion. Towards the end of my freshman year, I joined a “small group” at that Christian group. Small groups consisted 3 or 4 people led by someone trained to lead the group (the “small group leader”, or sgl). The leader goes over some topic that’s been on their heart or that they’ve been studying lately. This group is also useful for keeping each other accountable in our Christian walks.
As part of this accountability, my sgl asked me one day in May 2009 if I would be joining them at their church on Sunday. I reluctantly agreed, not having any real reason not to other than wanting to sleep in, and not really wanting to get into a discussion over it. The church is about 15 miles north of campus (though rides are provided by the campus group), and the service started at 8am.
There were two parts to the service, two hours each. The first was a general service, with everyone gathered in one very large room (it was a megachurch). The second was a college-oriented one in the gym. I don’t remember much about either service, but there is one thing that I can never forget. At the beginning of the second service, they played a video in order to raise money to send a missionary to Italy. They gave statistics for the religions there. It started off by saying that it’s 90% Catholic, which made me happy, but confused me as to why this place would need a missionary. Similar statistics followed for Muslims and evangelicals (10% and <0.1%). Then came the kicker: because Italy was mostly Catholic, it was thus “the kingdom of the devil.”
I can’t describe how much this angered me. How dare they call other Christians that? Who do they think they are? I nearly got up and left, intending to spend the following two hours sitting outside. Not wanting to cause a scene, however, I remained, though I resolved to never attend that church again. When I returned to school after the service, and after I had cooled off a bit, I decided to start researching both Protestantism and Catholicism, trying to understand how that church could say such a thing against Catholics. I delved into Scripture, doctrines, and history, trying to get both sides of the story by reading both Protestant and Catholic sources. At this time, I discovered that the Protestant group I had joined was Calvinist, a group whose theology I had never really cared for, largely because of their views on predestination. However, I didn’t tell anyone about what I was doing, or about the questions that had begun to form in my mind.
The next Sunday, Pentecost 2009, in order to avoid going to that Calvinist church, I went home for the weekend and attended my Assemblies of God church for the first time in quite some time. Later that day, after returning to school, I also decided to go to the Catholic Newman Center just off campus for one of their night liturgies. This was the first time I had ever been to a Catholic mass of my own choice. I was again struck by the beauty of the Catholic liturgy, and the welcome that I found there (not that I didn’t feel welcome at Protestant churches). Several of my high school friends also attended that church, so it was easy for me to get situated there.
The following week, my sgl asked if I would be joining them again at church that Sunday, since I wasn’t going home that weekend. Remembering what had happened last time I went, I replied that I would not. He wanted to talk more about it, so we met up later in the week and I told him my reasons. The discussion essentially ended up with me defending Catholics as Christian, despite not entirely agreeing with them, while the leader tried to say that if I didn’t agree with them on certain points, then they weren’t really Christian. In the end, he gave me suggestions for looking for a new church (I decided not to tell him I was going to mass at the Newman Center). He told me about a non-denominational church within walking distance of campus, and I decided to attend that Sunday, though I again also attended mass at the Newman Center.
School ended after that, but that summer, I continued my research into Catholicism, though I didn’t attend church. My research had raised a number of questions with what I believed, and I felt like I couldn’t really go to church when I didn’t know what was going on with my own faith. I continued to keep my research from my friends, because I thought each side would be biased and tell me to join their denomination. For three months this research continued as I tried to examine every doctrine and practice, and every argument for or against it.
As I researched, two things began to happen. First, I began to realise just how beautiful Christianity really is. My faith began to mean something to me, and I started to be proud that I was Christian, and thankful for God’s gift of salvation. Second, as I examined all of the arguments and scriptures, the Protestant doctrines just didn’t make sense in light of the Scriptures. Their arguments just seemed to miss the point somehow, as if they didn’t quite understand the Catholicism they were arguing against, or the Scripture they were interpreting. Only the Catholic arguments seemed to adequately explain the Scriptural evidence. And so, I slowly began to be convinced of the truth of what the Catholic Church teaches over what I had been taught growing up.
This continued until, after much internal debate, on 11 August 2009, I finally made the decision to become Catholic. Having become convinced that the truth lay with the Catholic Church, there was not much else I could do. To continue as a Protestant would be to reject this truth.
However, considering that I would shortly be going back to school, I decided to wait before entering RCIA, lest I have to put it off until I came back the next summer. I told my parents my decision (though not the events leading up to it), and they were supportive, saying that I was old enough to make my own choices. After returning to college for my sophomore year, I told my Catholic friends, who were also extremely supportive, enrolled in RCIA at the Newman Center there, and was made to join choir by those same friends, who knew how much I like to sing. I became active in the Church, making many wonderful friends, and actually attended mass regularly. My faith grew like never before.
But there was a problem. What had caused me to begin my research was that my Calvinist friends and their church believed that Catholics weren’t saved. And now I was Catholic. I tried to avoid them at first, not very confident in what I believed, and I was worried about what they might say. But after a month or so, I decided that this meant too much to me; I would not be ashamed. And so I told them.
It went about as well as could be expected. Most didn’t understand why I converted, thinking I had left Christianity. Since they had little experience with Catholicism, I explained to them as best I could. The more I explained, however, the more I understood and the more confident I became. And the more I continue to research – and I still continue to research – the more sure I am, and the better I can explain it to them. I am still friends with them, and continue to go to that campus group (though not their church) when I can. While I don’t agree with them on everything, we do agree on much (more than they care to admit), and there are still things I can learn from their services.
My friends from my Assemblies of God church were much more understanding, though they, too, knew little of Catholicism. My youth pastor made it clear that she has nothing against Catholics, she just wanted to make sure that I knew what I was doing, and had a lot of questions for me.
I continued through RCIA, and my faith continued to grow as I became more active in the church. Then, finally, at the Easter Vigil mass, 3 April 2010, I was baptised, confirmed, and received first communion at the Newman Center. Since then, I have continued to be active in the church, even assisting in RCIA, and becoming a student leader. Though it isn’t always easy, every day I am thankful to God for leading me to His Church.
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