I'm a convert to Catholicism. I was one of 73,405 adult baptisms in 2005. I was raised believing in God, but never going to church. I had some bad experiences with a "Southern Baptist" when I was in middle school. After those experiences, I wanted nothing to do with the Christian God. I've been Buddhist and Wiccan. I converted to Catholicism my freshman year in college directly from Wicca.
I was always deeply interested in religion. I remember meditating in the backyard when I was still in elementary school, trying to become one with everything. I always knew there was a God, I never questioned that. I knew there was a God and He (or She) loved me and cared about me. I would characterize my entire religious journey as looking for that God.
I was initially introduced to the Christian God as a hateful and vengeful God. My maternal grandfather was convinced that anyone who was not a heterosexual, white person who went to his particular church in southwestern MO was going to hell. I sent him a letter when I converted to Catholicism. He's probably still praying for my soul.
When I went to college, I was really alone for the first time in my life. I knew no one. I was three hours away from my family. I had the opportunity to redefine myself. I decided to flirt with Christianity just to prove that what my grandfather did to me no longer had any power over me. I wore a cross just to see how it felt. I read the Bible. I visited several nearby churches.
My Conversion StoryI went to the Catholic Newman Center because I had to do a paper on a religion I had no prior exposure to. I was surrounded by Catholics in my dorm building. All of the new friends I was making were Catholic or ex-Catholic. When I went to my first Mass, I had a pretty intense conversion experience. I felt completely at home there even though I didn't understand what was going on.
I was angry with God for calling me into the Catholic Church. What was a free-spirit like me doing joining the Catholic Church? I went on a walk with one of my ex-Catholic friends. He listed all of the things that was wrong in the Church and all of the issues that he disagreed with. I most remember his arguments about the Church being against abortion and the death penalty. He supported both.
That made me stop in my steps. What do you mean the Catholic Church is against abortion and the death penalty? My whole life, all of my family and friends were either for one or the other or both. I was the only weirdo who was against both! And now I find out that this 2000-year-old organization agreed with me and no one had ever bothered to tell me!!!!
That is what started my conversion. I was in RCIA for about a year and a half because I was a non-Christian convert. I would have been in RCIA longer, but I got close to an old man in the parish and they wanted me to get baptized while he was still alive to see it.
Not my baptism because none of my pics exist in digital form
I was baptized by full-immersion in an old, converted horse trough at the Catholic Newman Center. It was a lot like the gentleman in the picture above, except mine was by a Catholic priest, of course. I was baptized as part of a Sunday Mass. Third Sunday of Advent to be precise, which that year fell on December 12th, the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Why Do People Leave?
I cannot comment on my parish's retention rate since I have only been here for two years. I can, however, speak to my experience with former Catholics. Many of my friends are no longer active in the Church, although they used to be very active in our Newman Center.
While they all left for different reasons, there is one over-arching theme: We all got used to having a close church family in college. Our Newman Center was like our home away from home. Some of us even called the director "Mom." We did everything together. Many of us practically lived at the Center. Several of us even got our mail there.
Then we came out into the real world. I am yet to find a parish that is truly a family like our Newman Center was a family. True, we're all busy with our jobs and our biological families, but it would be nice to have a community again.
Many of my friends have left the Church because they don't feel at home here anymore. I can understand them completely. Before I was married, I did a lot of parish hopping in hopes of finding a close community again.
Do you have any ideas about how to build community? I think that building a community would go a long ways toward getting our 20 and 30-somethings back.
To read more reflections on Chapter One, head to Catholicmom.com. We're reading Forming Intentional Disciples by Sherry Weddell. It's a good book and it's never too late to join us!