“I want to thank Andrew Cole for giving me permission to share his Home Run, Conversion Story, with all our God Blog visitors. Andrew, welcome Home, Buddy!” – Jo.
I was raised in the Freewill Baptist faith. My parents met in a Baptist church in Gate City, Virginia, and were married in it some years later. I learned a love of the Scriptures and of the importance of faith in the life of a Christian and how even in the direst of circumstances the love of God was always with me. I have tremendous respect for the Baptist faith and owe it a great deal, but the time came in life when I had to make a decision for myself and I have chosen another path.
This divergence came through a long process, one that had many bumps in the road. I first came to a place of extreme interest and learning. This stage was wonderful, and full of new discoveries. This was followed by a period of doubt and uncertainty. I remember vividly when this phase passed. It was November 1st 2009, All Saints Day. I stepped into the church and colored light was streaming in through the stained glass windows. An overwhelming sense of acceptance and belonging came into my soul and I knew no matter what happened, I was making the right decision. After my period of doubt ended my faith was even stronger, and I was more determined to complete the journey I had begun.
My journey into Catholicism began rather innocuously. Cable prices had gone up and my mother was looking at other options for television. She decided upon Dish Network and it was installed. I was impressed with the selection of channels and soon discovered a network called EWTN which stands for Eternal Word Television Network. This is a television network that was founded by a nun named Mother Angelica and has a variety of programs aimed at a Catholic audience. They broadcast a daily Mass, and have programs with teaching on the Catechism (the “rule book” of the Catholic Church), and other shows that are of interest to Catholics. I found the Mass dull, and to this day have never watched an entire one on EWTN. I didn’t understand the language because a large portion of the daily mass is in Latin, and the kneeling and chanting was foreign to me, much less the bells and incense.
As I said the Mass didn’t particularly appeal to me, but there was a program called “The Journey Home” that fascinated me. This program has people who have converted from other faith traditions to Catholicism tell their story. I watched “The Journey Home” and a few other programs, but never gave much thought to anything that was mentioned on the air.
Christmas Eve, I decided that I wanted to go to a Christmas church service. I looked online to see what churches were having services and saw that the Catholic Church in town, St. Dominic, was having a midnight Mass. I already thought that the Mass was terribly dull from what I had seen on television, but I wanted to celebrate Christmas in a less commercialized way so I decided to go. I left a party at my maternal grandmother’s house around 8:30 and waited at home until around 11:00.
I stepped into the church and nothing struck me as particularly foreign. There were a few statues and a large crucifix in the middle of the church. The crucifix was different than I was expecting as it portrayed a risen Christ instead of a suffering Christ, but that was the most unusual thing I saw. There were carols that were sung around 11:30 and at midnight the Mass began.
I was afraid that my previous impressions had been right. We stood, sang, prayed, sat, stood, sang, sat, and then something remarkable happened. I had always grown bored before the Liturgy of the Eucharist began when I watched the Mass on EWTN, and so I had never seen or heard what I experienced that evening. Everyone in the church was quiet, reverent, they kneeled, but I remained sitting. The priest was saying some prayers and I knew that they were going to have communion. Then the priest held up a wafer and said words that have changed my life “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, happy are those who are called to his supper.” Something struck me deep in my soul, and a light radiated from the wafer that the priest was holding, and I knew what he said was the truth. Communion ended and the priest ended the Mass. I was leaving the church, shaken by what I had experienced, when I shook hands with one of the deacons and told him he had a beautiful church, and he told me I was welcome back.
At this time I was a member of a small church called Mt. Nebo Baptist Church. The church was having problems and I was growing restless with the way it was being run, but I still felt obligated to go because I had had a conversion experience there about two years prior. I kept reading about Catholicism, and found the more I read the more I agreed. I disagreed with what I perceived as undue veneration to the Blessed Virgin Mary and an obsession with the Pope, but on the whole I found that it made a great deal of sense. I decided to meet with the pastor of St. Dominic, but changed my mind at the last minute.
I kept reading and studying and I could not get the experience I had had at Christmas out of my mind so I decided to go to a program called RCIA which stands for Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults. I went on Ash Wednesday, and was run off by a discussion of how a leap year would affect the length of Lent, as well as the whole rubbing ashes on their forehead thing.
At the same time Mt. Nebo was continuing its downward spiral, and I felt it was becoming just an exercise in futility. The final straw came when I was called down in front of the congregation because I had an opinion which the pastor did not share. I left that church and started RCIA classes again on the Wednesday before Easter. I was hooked. The conversations were lively, and the people were intelligent and had opinions that they were able to defend logically. It was extremely stimulating.
I went to the Easter Vigil that Saturday evening and was struck with the beauty of the rituals and traditions that were being presented in front of me. The invocation of the Communion of Saints was particularly touching. I knew that I had to be a part of this, and over the course of the next year I took part in several rites and rituals, including being dismissed at the liturgy of the Eucharist every Sunday. That last part was particularly painful because that was why I wanted to be Catholic, but part of that is being obedient to the teachings of the Church and so I did it.
This past Easter I became a member of the Catholic Church. I received Confirmation and First Holy Communion and watched many of my friends that I had made over the past year receive Baptism. My first Communion was the most profound experience of my life. I was the third one in line, and when I came to the altar the priest said “Andrew, this is the Body of Christ.” Tears came into my eyes and I said “Amen.” I then went to the deacon who was holding the chalice who said “The Blood of Christ.” Again I said “Amen.”. My hands were shaking and I was afraid I would spill the chalice, but I managed to drink and hand it back to him. I returned to my pew and knelt overcome with emotion. Tears were running down my face and I was truly thankful that God had allowed me to become a part of His Church.
My journey was long, and there were many times of doubt along the way. I have followed my heart, and I can truly say I have never been happier in my life. The road ahead is winding, and I don’t know where it may lead me, but faith is a journey not a destination, and one that is well worth the taking.