From the beginning of our marriage, finding a church that seemed right was a struggle. We visited church after church and spent significant time in prayer on the issue. This was not what we had planned. I had always expected to quickly settle down in the “perfect church” home, but we just could not find it.
At times, we wondered whether we were just being too picky. Kimberly had been raised in a denomination very similar to the Nazarene Church in which I was raised, but we never could discover a church home where we both felt a continued sense of belonging or purpose. For me, the issue of reverence became more and more important.
I just could not accept a church service that came across more as entertainment than worship. From Lutheran and Baptist to Episcopal, we visited more denominations than we could count.
The Episcopal Church—A False Start
After years of searching, we discovered the Episcopal Church in Salem, Oregon. The minister at that time was a gifted preacher, and we felt that perhaps we had finally found where we belonged. We soon became involved in various ministries through the church. All was proceeding very well until the Episcopal Church of the USA decided to ordain an openly gay man as bishop. The Episcopal Church took this low road in August of 2003, and we soon realized that we could not stay within a denomination that took this grievous misstep. It made an especially deep impression when the church leadership asserted that the Holy Spirit had led them to this decision. Many of us came to a different conclusion.
So, much to our frustration, our “church shopping” began anew. Then, it happened. One morning we just decided to attend a Catholic Mass. We had been driving past this particular church in our neighborhood for years, but we had never taken the time to visit. The plan was to just to make a quick stop, then continue our church quest. To our surprise, however, we were blown away by the Mass. It was beautiful, and the message from the priest was powerful and filled with deep meaning for us.
We weren’t quite ready to admit that this was where we belonged, however, so after attending an early Mass we took the kids in tow and visited a Free Methodist service across town. After just having attended the beautiful Mass, the anti-Catholic sermon there made me all but storm out of the church. My wife recalls sitting on our back porch later that day and being so miserable that the thought of starting her own church actually passed through her mind. She was stunned when she realized how destructive this line of thinking could have been. Soon, we both began to seriously consider converting to the Catholic Church.
The first part of our spiritual journey was all about being led to the Catholic Church. The next part of our spiritual awakening concerned more of a deep study of Scripture, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and the writings of the church fathers. My father-in-law, John Collier, also was a major help to us at this point. John Collier is the fine artist and sculptor who created the Catholic Memorial at Ground Zero in New York City. John was able to answer many of our questions and concerns regarding the Catholic Church. When a question stumped him, he would even put us into contact with priests or others who could answer our many concerns. After a time, we were surprised to realize that all of our stumbling blocks had been removed, and that many issues that we thought were insurmountable turned out to be simple differences in vocabulary or new perspectives. Whether through John or our RCIA program, God encircled us with knowledgeable people to answer those troubling questions.
Out of the Basement
In conversations with skeptical Protestants, I often explain the Catholic perspective this way. Their tradition is like an artist's canvas, which contains all the necessary artistic elements in the foreground. The background, however, lies bare of color or shape, simply white canvas awaiting the painter's brush. The Catholic Church, on the other hand, is a canvas of rich and vibrant colors, which seem to leap from the painting. Other Christians could be so enriched if they caught sight of the second painting and drank in its rich meaning, a perfect dovetailing of faith and reason. May God open all our friends’ eyes to this great beauty. As John Collier recently described this fullness of faith, “it was as if I had been worshiping in the basement all my life and got to move into the sanctuary.”
Our departure from the Protestant tradition was a reflection of God’s leading hand and presence within our lives. It was less a conversion than it was enrichment and a blessing from God to see the beautiful complexity of our faith. Each spiritual step we took prepared us in some new way for our ultimate destination of the Catholic Church. As my wife and I recently sat beside my dying grandmother in a hospital room overlooking the bright tapestry of autumn colors spread out below, I was comforted by the fact that we serve the same God and Savior, Jesus Christ. Still, I am thankful to have come home to the fullness found only within the Catholic Church.
I am reminded of my first confession and a mysteriously fragrant breeze. (Later, I learned that scents and gardens have long been associated with some of the most powerful conversion stories—e.g. Saint Augustine recalled being drawn to God again in the quiet solitude of his garden.) Upon exiting the confessional, this inexplicable cool breeze of a pine forest brushed by my face, and I knew that this was God’s wonderful way of welcoming me to his Church that teaches reverence and honor for God at every turn. It’s good to finally be home.
A longer version of Karl’s conversion story appeared in Catholic Answers' This Rock.
Don’t miss Six Pivotal Points in Coming Home, which continues Karl's conversion story.
Karl Bjorn Erickson lives in Salem, Oregon, with his wife and two children. He has written two children’s books, Tristan’s Travels and Toupee Mice. He is one of the founding members of the Catholic Writers’ Guild. His website is www.karlerickson.com.