Thursday, July 8, 2010

On Becoming Catholic, Part One: Baptist Beginnings

I'm finally almost finished with my conversion story, to be published here in three parts. Here is Part One. I'll post parts two and three soon. Thanks for your patience!

"Take, eat; this is my body, broken for you."

"This cup is the new covenant in my blood."

These were the words spoken by the pastor during the Holy Communion service, held once every few months in the Baptist church where I grew up. As a youngster, I had a hard time understanding the significance of this ceremony. From the Bible stories I learned at home and in Sunday School, I had a vague recollection of the Last Supper, and knew it must have something to do with that, but I didn't quite know why we commemorated this event with such formality. I remember whispering questions to my mother: "What's that little white square?" "It's a piece of cracker." "Why can't I have some grape juice, too?" "When you're older and understand this better, you can." Later I learned that the crackers and grape juice represented the bread and wine that Jesus gave his disciples, and that it pointed to His body and blood that He sacrificed on the Cross for our sins. This is what I needed to believe in, I was told, in order to become a full member of our church, and to be allowed to participate in communion services. If I believed that Jesus the Son of God died for my sins on the Cross and rose from the dead, if I asked Him to come into my heart, and dedicated my life to serving Him, I could officially become a Christian and be baptized.

My parents started bringing me to church before I was born. My mother often tells
the story of the four women who were pregnant at the same time, and how everyone in the church liked to try and guess which baby would be born first (I was the second). My parents read Bible stories to my brother and me, and encouraged both of us to read the Bible on our own when we were old enough. We were in Sunday School and church every week, and we were all very involved in other church activities--the choir, Vacation Bible School, and every Wednesday night we attended the church dinners (these were a good excuse to hang out with our friends). I had a solid foundation in the Christian faith, and I am grateful to my parents, ministers, and Sunday School teachers for teaching me about Christ and His love for me.

When I was ten, I decided I wanted to be a Christian. By that time, I had a pretty good understanding of the Paschal Mystery (the suffering and death of Jesus, His resurrection on the third day, and His ascension into Heaven--although I never heard this term "Paschal Mystery" until I became Catholic), and I was beginning to feel an appreciation for all that God had done for me. I wanted to give something back. (I've learned, of course, that love isn't a "feeling," and being a Christian is more about a decision to follow Christ, and this is not always easy!) I also knew that there was something very special about receiving Communion, and I wanted to be a part of that as well. I was encouraged by my parents to talk with my minister about this, and they made a series of appointments for me to meet with him on a regular basis. He gave me a copy of C.S. Lewis' The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and we discussed the book during our meetings. This really helped me to better understand what Christ was like because it was easy for me to identify with the children's relationship with Aslan the Lion and his unconditional love for them. We talked about Aslan's Christ-like qualities: his willingness to trade his own life for someone else's--specifically Edmund, who had betrayed him--and his rising from the dead the next morning. He also had me read a book that he himself had written on the subject; I'll never forget the title: How to Be A Christian, Happy and Successful. It was a small paperback, bright red with a big yellow smiley face on
the cover. I don't remember the details of the book, but I recall that it was a helpful, easy read. During our meetings, we talked about the books and what it means to be a Christian--I remember that he was very open to any questions that I had, and he asked me questions as well, to make sure I understood what accepting Jesus was all about. Then one Sunday during the Invitation Hymn (the last hymn of the Sunday worship service, when people who wanted to turn their lives over to Jesus were invited to come to the front and speak with the minister) I mustered up the courage and made my way up the aisle. It helped that my friend Brenda decided to make her Profession of Faith at the same time. A few weeks later, Brenda and I donned white garments, entered our church's Baptistry (it always reminded me of a giant bathtub) and were baptized before the congregation. I'll never forget the words of the minister: "Sharon, Who is Jesus?" I replied, "Jesus is my Lord." Rev. A then immersed me in the warm water saying, "I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen."

This was my first step in my journey into the Catholic Church, even though I didn't know it at the time.

In Part Two, I'll talk about growing in my Christian faith and becomig closer to God as a Baptist Christian; and how as I began to learn about Catholicism, I began to ask and ponder questions of faith that I hadn't thought about before.

UPDATE: Part 2 posted, click here!>>>>>


  1. Thanks for posting! I look forward to reading the rest of it. I too am a convert (from evangelical Christianity, in my case) who was received into the Church last year. We celebrated the "Lord's Supper" once a month there and I remember being confused about whether it mattered at all. We wouldn't let our children participate in it, and yet, we ourselves did not understand whether it held much significance since it formed such a fleeting part of the "worship experience." Even then, for myself, anyway, there was a suspicion that it was infinitely important and my first words to my husband the very first time we went there (my first church service as a Christian) were "When's communion?" Interesting to look back and see those fragmented experiences that ultimately pointed to the truth.

  2. I am looking forward to reading the rest of this, Sharon. For those of us raised Catholic, it is always so reaffirming to hear a conversion story. Thanks for sharing!

  3. I was raised Baptist and converted to Catholicism in college. I find myself to be an anomaly and its really refreshing to stumble across your story. Looking forward to reading the rest:)

  4. "Rev. A then immersed me in the warm water saying, 'I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.'

    This was my first step in my journey into the Catholic Church, even though I didn't know it at the time."

    This is shaping up to be a very good conversion story (I mean one that is very well presented; all conversion stories are good as such!). This last part I especially liked, because it's a point which is too often forgotten amongst Catholics (especially those of us who were "born" into the faith). This is a nice reminder that Baptism means the first step into the Church, that it is much more akin to birth than, say, spiritual inoculation (which is how too many Catholics treat it when baptizing their children). I'm looking forward to part 2!


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