When I was five years old life fell apart for my parents. My mother suffered a complete psychotic break, consequential to the combination of a genetic susceptibility to psychosis and unrelenting stress. For the next three years she remained in a state mental institution while my father did his best to keep the family of four small children intact even as he became an unemployed victim of the United States’ longest labor strike in history. Extended family and church community friends were instrumental in stepping into the gap on our behalf, a fact which has shaped my own perspective on the importance of human connection and caring. Although my mother made somewhat of a miraculous recovery from her illness after submitting to electroshock therapy and returned to her maternal and domestic duties at full capacity for the next 27 years, economic hardship seemed to dog my parents perpetually. Compared to the more middleclass people in our community, we made do with many fewer of the luxuries that were becoming more common for homes in the 50’s and 60’s. Yet I do not remember ever feeling deprived or bitter about this. It just made me determined to be as self-sufficient as possible in the face of knowing the difficulty my parents faced in raising their ever-expanding family. And of course, much of the load of helping with childcare and domestic chores fell to my lot.
I was raised in a small Dutch farming community in Wisconsin. My religious tutelage was in the Reformed Church in America, Heidelberg Catechism. I always have been and remain profoundly grateful for the solid foundation of faith that nurturance provided me. Our catechetical training was consistent and our family’s attendance at weekly worship was a foregone expectation. As I grew into my teens I became very active in the church youth group and held various leadership positions in that group. One potent memory is of the day when, in my senior year of high school as the president of the youth group, I was expected to preach the sermon at a Sunday evening service. Apparently it had an impressive effect on many people, surprised to hear such words from a “girl.” After the evening was over, the pastor called me into his study and said, “Those were mighty powerful words. You ought to consider becoming a missionary.” Of course, in 1966 the only professional call open to women in the Reformed Church would have been the mission field; who would have thought of female ordination? Nevertheless, although I knew I had no interest in the mission field as he spoke of it, it sparked my first awareness that God had some kind of call to ministry on my life.
High school itself was an exercise in over-achievement, as I now view it. It was very important to me to maintain academic excellence and to participate in extra-curricular activities of a varied nature: student government, journalism, band and choir, and honor societies for academic achievement. I graduated as the salutatorian of the class of 1966 and in my address to the crowd utilized the words of the classic “Prayer of St. Francis” as a lifestyle challenge to those present. I look back on that now and notice how deeply Franciscan theology has affected my spiritual journey, finding it remarkable that such should have commenced in me even as I was immersed in Reformed doctrine.
After high school, I went off to the University of Wisconsin and at the age of 20 married a young man from my hometown, also a student. College days set me on to a path that can best be called a search for identity. Although I had been strongly encouraged to pursue my writing and had my own personal interest vested in psychology and sociology, I was also mentally trapped in the conventional pre-feminist movement expectation that somehow, these were not “practical” pursuits and that I should instead be shaping vocational preparation to fit my husband’s future goals. He intended to become a physician, so I set myself on to the path of becoming a physical therapist. This course was steeped in hard sciences with little room left over for exploration of the humanities or creative interests. I found myself sinking into a deep depression. After three years of this study, I suffered a herniated lumbar disc, which was good cause to remove myself from the program and instead enjoy the job as a photographer that had fallen into my lap. I loved dabbling in this creativity and I felt good about earning a solid wage since my husband was by now completely involved with medical school. But as Bob approached his last year of training, I considered that to leave the University of Wisconsin without a degree would be to have wasted three years of my life, so I reapplied and was readmitted to the P.T. school. However, the back condition returned within short order, so although I graduated with the B.S. in Physical Medicine, I did not subsequently pursue the internship and licensing, at last acknowledging that medicine was my husband’s vocation and not mine. Several years later I underwent a lumbar laminectomy for this condition and have been fortunate to have had no subsequent problems.
Upon arriving at the University from our small, conservative hometown, we initially worshipped in the security of a little Christian Reformed chapel, keeping ourselves fairly remote from the 60’s social issues and “God-is-dead” philosophies swirling all about us. But two years later, I found myself engaged in a serious re-examination of my faith life. I became aware that a deadness was settling inside me, a routine practice of religious life and pursuit of meaningless goals that drew me into a deep depression and a wrestling with God. The outcome of that wrestling was the realization that though as a teenager I had given assent to the affirmation that Jesus is Lord, I had never been personally challenged to declare, “Jesus is MY Lord.” I could no longer ride on the coattails of many generations of Dutch Calvinism. The Holy Spirit called me to a deep commitment to listen to and live out the call of Christ, whatever that call might be.
And so my feet were placed on a new path. I began to consider that the Reformed view of the faith, valid though it was, might be a limited perspective of God and God’s relationship with humankind. Bob and I ventured into a little different experience of worship, completing our time in Madison sharing the fellowship of a Baptist congregation. In Milwaukee for the next 3 years, we were edified by the ministry of the non-denominational Elmbrook Church. Then we had one year hearing the Body Life teaching of Ray Stedman at the interdenominational Peninsula Bible Church of Stanford, CA. Finally, upon settling in a small town in northern California in 1977, we were drawn into the charismatic friendliness of a Foursquare Church. Gently but consistently pressing us beyond our comfort zones, God had broadened our experience of the many ways in which God is understood and worshipped. Yet, at the same time I had now been (albeit unconsciously) almost as narrowly redefined by the conservative, evangelical perspective as I had previously been defined by my Reformed Calvinism.
Interwoven into the fabric of these college years was the commencing of what was to become a 15-year battle with anorexia and bulimia. The foundation for this was laid in my chubby childhood and my father’s comments about it, but the genesis of the anorexia lay with a comment made to me by my husband in the days of our college courtship. I recognize now that it was symptomatic of a need to be perfect enough in the eyes of significant men in order to gain their approval, which never seemed to be expressed in a way I could receive it. But healing did come, in a way that proved to be important in my spiritual formation. I will describe this shortly.
Life continued over the next 10 years. In 1973, we left Madison and moved to Milwaukee, Wis., where my husband commenced his anesthesia residency. Although I worked in several medically related jobs over the next several years (as a medical assistant and as a phlebotomist), we were ready to start a family. Given the fact that we had not conceived our own child as we’d anticipated, we decided to go forward with the adoption of a 2-year-old Vietnamese boy in 1974. We had held the ideal of someday adopting children as well as having our own, and in the social turmoil of the Viet Nam era, we felt that we might contribute some sort of redemptive action by taking in this war-born child. Little did we know the challenges he would bring in the future.
In 1976, Bob was offered an opportunity to do a year of specialty anesthesia fellowship at Stanford so we packed our belongings into our orange Volkswagen van and embarked on a great cross-country adventure. Two months after our arrival there, our first daughter was born. The year in the San Francisco Bay area, while it drew us to prefer the West Coast lifestyle over a return to the Midwest, also convinced us that we didn’t want to live or raise a family in a large metropolitan area, nor did Bob feel a good fit with academic medicine. Upon an invitation to consider a position in the remote California Humboldt County, we visited there and were enticed by the simple lifestyle and friendly people, so there we settled for the next 19 years. Our family expanded to 6 children. Two more sons and another daughter were born to us and we adopted another son from the Philippines. Tim came to us at the age of 5 with an extensive unrepaired cleft palate, so he had many developmental challenges to face, which became challenges of compassion and patience for the rest of the family, too.
As we homeschooled this family of children who manifested a diversity of physical, emotional, and intellectual needs, I began extension studies with Fuller Seminary. This came about as acquiescence to the continual prodding of a friend I had met early in our move to Humboldt County. David and his wife hosted a small, in-home church that we attended and he also took extension courses from Fuller Seminary. Almost from the first he began to tell me that I too should be taking seminary courses, but I just couldn’t engage with the possibilities… until one day he found the hook that caught me. Richard Foster, whose book Celebration of Discipline had impacted me strongly when it was published in 1978, was going to be giving a two-week intensive course on the Pasadena campus. The only hitch was that in order to take the class I would have to be accepted into the Seminary. So I made application, was accepted, and thus commenced what would become a 15 year journey through MA/Theology and M.Div. studies.
My participation in and Foster’s presentation of that class were instrumental in instigating the next movement in my journey. For the first time, I was introduced to readings ancient as well as new, longings for God echoing my own that emanated from a much broader spectrum of believers than I’d ever known existed. But beyond the specific class content, an even more significant healing took place for me. Prior to his classes each evening, Dr. Foster offered prayer ministry for any needs the students might bring. After a week of wrestling with my secretive bulimia, the pain and frustration it was causing me, and my inability to overcome it, I went to this prayer session and confessed my concern. Foster said little; he simply and compassionately placed his hands over my head and prayed quietly. I literally felt an electric current flowing between his hands and my head and I knew God had healed me. Nevertheless, Foster sent me away with these wise words: “Now go WALK in your healing.” In the subsequent years, I have learned what that means and have been able to encourage others with this story. Even though through a powerful touch of healing God may minister to us, still the habits of many years are hard to break. It requires our participation with God’s healing, our choice on a momentary or daily basis, to walk in that healing.
Some years later in 1991, I was further influenced by Foster as he presented the Renovare’ concept at a conference in Pasadena. The vision of a mighty rushing river of God’s people as all of their traditions once again merged to become a force for witness and worship, challenged me to the core and fanned into flame the desire that unity be fully restored in the Body of Christ. “I pray for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” John 17:20-21. This vision has become iconic for my life in ministry.
In tandem with these events, I had an experience that brought me back full circle to my dormant intrigue with Roman Catholics. An Episcopalian friend asked to serve as my sponsor for a Cursillo weekend. Always open to renewal and curious about this weekend retreat, I gladly accepted the invitation. This particular Cursillo community was unique in that while it was founded on the worship structure of Catholic/ Episcopal liturgical tradition, it had evolved into an ecumenical offering that welcomed participants of all Christian faith expressions. For the first time in my life, I actually experienced the celebration of the Eucharist and found it deeply moving as well as a complete expression of worship. I also was the recipient of the love of Christ poured out so freely and joyfully through Catholic as well as Protestant brothers and sisters that I could hardly receive it. Grace, which had been a theological concept for all of my years, began to be understood for the first time as a living, ever-present reality in which the Christian’s life is totally immersed- joy unspeakable and full of glory, despite any particular circumstances of the moment.
That weekend planted in me the spark of desire to see unity restored among the people of God. I began to work with the Cursillo community as part of the teams that presented weekends to others. I facilitated the planting of several Renovare’ groups incorporating evangelicals, Catholics and Episcopalians. Then in 1992, while I was undergoing treatment for my first encounter with breast cancer, I was asked to present the Cursillo weekend talk on “Grace.” Developing that talk was pivotal. I saw clearly how sacramental and incarnational I understood grace to be, not compartmentalized as a religious aspect of my life, but as an interwoven part of every moment: worship or work, study or play, eating or sleeping, sickness or health.
During this same period of time (1989-1991), a very intelligent and respected friend of ours from the Foursquare Church decided with his wife to return to the Roman Catholic Church into which he had been baptized as a child. We were stunned. Steve did not feel compelled to justify their decision other than to say that he sensed that the Catholic experience of the Eucharist was a vital and missing source of spiritual strength in his life, and that he knew without doubt that his own knowledge of the Scriptures was a gift for which Catholics were hungering. After hearing my talk on “grace”, and knowing my Reformed background, Steve and Deborah came to me with a set of tapes that they said might be of interest in filling the recuperative time after my chemo treatments. They did not press them on me or attempt to defend the teaching; they just gave them to me.
The tapes were the story of the conversion of Scott Hahn, formerly a militantly anti-Catholic, ordained Presbyterian minister. His witness intrigued me greatly, but still I was not in the place of desiring to upset the whole evangelical foundation in which I had diligently reared our children. In 1993, I finished my M.A. at Fuller and continued my associate pastoral ministry with the non-denominational church we then attended. For some time the pastor, who was also a participant in the Cursillo community, and I had been discussing what was missing in our experience of worship. Though this was a contemporary and somewhat charismatic ministry, we both had a sense that the ritual and the majesty and the eucharistic experience of liturgical traditions held a key to the missing elements. One day in 1995, the pastor handed me a book that had been given to him by a Catholic friend. He said, “Would you review this and tell me what you think? I haven’t time to read it.” The book was “Evangelical is Not Enough,” by Thomas Howard. Reading this book forced me to admit that what I believed in my heart and had always intellectually believed in embryonic form WAS indeed more Catholic than Protestant. But how could God ask me to do such a thing as actually become a Catholic? It was crazy! Once again the thought process was shelved.
Along with the physical, intellectual and spiritual challenges I personally faced during that period of time came family challenges. Our Vietnamese son, upon commencing his pre-adolescent years, began to manifest classic symptoms of the “unbonded child.” Tapping into his residual early childhood experiences, unresolved anger and inability to trust authority, behaviors of thievery, lying and outright violence surfaced. Over the years of his teens our family endured significant chaos in the wake of his socially destructive actions. Ultimately he ended up in jail, fathered an out-of-wedlock child who died, and basically rejected connection with our family. It was an incredibly stressful time for all of us, but fortunately the other children seem to have weathered these stresses and moved on into their adult lives without undue resentment. In contrast, our Philippino son has always been emotionally healthy and socially well-adjusted. We are grateful that at this point in his life, all five feet/100 pounds of him is extremely proud of his ability to drive an 18-wheeler on cross country trucking jobs.
In addition to these immediate family challenges, my mother’s latent propensity to emotional disturbance reappeared in 1983, when she was 55 years old. Although I was living on the West Coast, the old family dynamic of dependence on the oldest daughter resurfaced. I found myself making trips back to Wisconsin to support my father, who was left again with children to parent. Four of them still lived at home as teens or young adults. My father gamely made the best of this situation and remained completely supportive of my mother, whose health never fully returned. Ironically, five years later, just as the youngest graduated from high school, my father died of a sudden heart attack at the age of 63, leaving me with the task of settling the estate and making arrangements for my mother’s continued care. Subsequently other local siblings assumed primary care for our mother, who died ten years later in 1998, still in the mental institution.
In early 1996, an unexpected “call” set our entire family on a new path. Completely unsolicited, a professional acquaintance of my husband telephoned one night to ask if there was any possibility that he would consider relocating his practice to McMinnville, OR. What has unfolded since is a continuing story of experiencing God in newer and deeper ways. Our children, several of who were still in elementary or high school at the time, cheerfully took on the challenge of uprooting themselves from their childhood home. In Oregon, they discovered a much broader horizon of possibilities for their future. After completing secondary education at a Mennonite school, two of them went on to graduate from Wheaton College and two of them obtained bachelor’s degrees at George Fox University, both evangelical schools of high repute.
Right after our move I became aware of a 2-year program in spiritual direction training that was being offered at the Shalom Prayer Center, a Benedictine monastery in Mt. Angel. There I found a widely ecumenical group of soulmates who desired to know God deeply and to walk with others on their searching journey for The Divine. One of the women I met on retreat at Shalom told me about the spiritual direction certificate program at Western Evangelical Seminary and suggested that as an evangelical, I might like to explore that perspective also. As I did, it became clear to me that with some focused work, I would be able to accomplish what had not been possible as a Fuller extension student: I would be able to complete the M.Div. and be fully prepared for ministry in a Protestant setting. Perhaps I was subconsciously thinking, “And THAT, once and for all, will settle this question of identity. I WILL be an evangelical Protestant!”
And so, I spent several years at WES, taking spiritual formation classes, language courses, preaching classes and pastoral administration classes. I did a year of internship with the Newberg Friends’ Church, and offered my services to the developing staff at the Evangelical Covenant Church of which we were members. I was looking ahead to the possibility of someday serving one of these communities with the pastoral gifts God had placed within me.
But my intrigue with the Mass and the Eucharist remained. I often went to the early Sunday Mass and then to evangelical worship services and the contrast between them became clearer. In the Mass, the Catholic community consistently and simply ritualizes what is essential for Christian faith and worship, and then sends the people out to live it in daily life.
I began to read more attentively the conversion stories of significant thinkers who had found their faith home in the Catholic tradition. I read books of Catholic apologetics, which referenced both the Bible and the Catholic catechism. Reconsidering church history from the perspective of Catholics, I had to acquiesce to the fact that church history did not begin in 1517, and Luther and Calvin were not the fathers of the Church. Seeing everything through my Protestant worldview glasses, I had glossed over this historical truth even through all my seminary classes. The basic Catholic Eucharistic Mass, with its similarities to Jewish synagogue worship (continuity with the worship of God’s chosen people through ages before) originated in the very early days of Christianity. Is this early Catholicism what is described in Acts 2:42? “They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”
Most importantly for me, I also looked at the passages that are used in reference to communion/ Eucharist and saw that there was no way around Jesus’ mysterious teaching, “This IS my body, this IS my blood.” Sola scriptura, the Reformers’ founding cry, was actually nowhere found in scripture. Instead I became newly aware of the passages that validate the balancing principles of authority to be found in Scripture, Church authority, and the teaching tradition of the elders.
Despite my increasing hunger to participate in the sacrament of Eucharist, I was still withholding any assent that my developed appreciation for the Catholic Church might require actually becoming a Catholic. How could I possibly upset the expectations of myself, seminary professors, family members and church leaders by doing such a thing? Perhaps I was simply broadening my ecumenical understanding so that I could better serve the cause of breaking down walls of misunderstanding and promoting the cause of Christian unity. But what WAS I going to do then, with all my seminary training? Many people asked, and I had no solid answer within me, much less for them. I considered the Episcopal Church, but that did not draw me with comparable intensity despite the fact that it offered a place of ordained ministry for women.
August of 1999 brought an event that was a mixed bag of sorrow and rejoicing. Our Vietnamese son had remained in Eureka with his wife, son and stepdaughter when we moved to Oregon. Although subsequent to his marriage we had reestablished some basic contact with him, relations were still strained in the light of his inability to settle into a self-sustaining and stable lifestyle or to yield his longstanding grudges against life in general. We ordinarily heard from him only when he was making some plea for money. In early August, however, we received a call from his distraught wife, who told us that he had been taken to the hospital with severe breathing problems and she just didn’t have a clue what to do. He had been having ongoing respiratory symptoms over the previous year, which had been brushed aside as psychosomatic by the public health clinic he went to. In recent weeks these problems had been exacerbated by neurological symptoms and now he appeared to be in a life-threatening situation.
We immediately drove down to California to find him on a respirator and unable to talk, although he communicated his fear with his eyes. When I asked if I could pray for him, he nodded and I offered a quiet prayer. The next morning when I came to see him, he had been weaned from the respirator and with difficulty but a sense of urgency told me that he had had an amazing experience the night before. He said he found himself on a line, one side of which was very dark and the other very light. He said he knew he had to choose.
It was apparent to me that in this mystical experience he had chosen LIGHT, for over the next ten days, which was all he had left on this earth, Matthew was a changed person. He was airlifted to San Francisco where his condition was diagnosed as Churg-Strauss syndrome, a rare autoimmune disorder that had basically destroyed vital body systems within a year’s time. During the time I was graced to spend with him and his wife, years of fractured relationship were restored. I saw in him the trusting, innocent child he had never been able to be since his early days in Saigon’s war zone. We never spoke of evangelical necessities like repentance and the sinner’s prayer and the like, for these had become toxic words for him. But I saw him at peace and I saw him communicating with people with gratitude and genuine love, which allowed me to release him to the Other Side of life with a sense of grace and completion. His wife and children moved up to Oregon, making it possible for us to keep his loved ones in our family circle.
But I have no doubt, in retrospect, that Matthew’s death compelled me to think with more urgency about the need to recognize and move on in fulfilling my own life purpose. So with all of this experience and the questions about theology and life call roiling about inside me, I came to the last semester of my M.Div. work.
Several significant movements of the Spirit in November and December of that year finally convinced me of the direction to which God was calling me. I attended a weekend workshop, “Living Life Out of Call,” which challenged us to listen carefully to that inner voice that was speaking, to consider the cost of both following the call, and the cost of NOT following the call. I had long sensed what the call was, but had not been willing to consider these costs. Now I knew I must, for the Spirit was whispering in my heart, “Until you can in faith be obedient to this call, you will not know what work I have planned for you to participate in.” It was my decision.
Graduation day came. Dr. Tom Johnson, the dean of our evangelical seminary, addressed the graduates, speaking of his own new impressions of the importance of an incarnational life. He challenged us to go out and live a sacramental life with a sacramental ministry. Those words seemed to be directed specifically at me, with a deeper meaning that only God and I knew.
The next day was Sunday. I sat in church and listened to our evangelical pastor preach a sermon based on the nativity experience of Joseph, a man called by God to participate in a task that seemed both socially absurd and personally frightening. Wedding teenaged Mary in her pregnant condition was likely to result in ridicule and censure. Why upset the status quo? But the angel said, “Do not be afraid, because what is conceived in Mary is of the Holy Spirit.” The pastor challenged us to think what God might be calling us to do that might seem frightening and misunderstood, with no guarantees. Would we respond in trust that what God had conceived in our lives was of the Holy Spirit? I was stunned. I went to the restroom to mop up my tears and when I came back into the sanctuary, the congregation was singing, “Trust and Obey.”
What else could I do?
Over the next ten months I carefully moved towards finalizing this step of obedience. Following the counsel of a good friend who has had to overcome many fears in his own life, I faced my fears “one conversation at a time,” talking it over with my husband and family, trusted friends, Covenant pastor, and the parish priest in McMinnville. This required addressing my worst fear, conflict, in major ways. Yet I remained convinced of the call. On October 8, 2000 I shared my first Eucharist with the Catholic community of believers. The song sung during that communion time seemed a message just for me: “Do not be afraid, I am with you; I have called you each by name. Come and follow me; I will lead you home. I love you, and you are mine.”
Since joining the Catholic communion, a most amazing peace has settled in my soul, despite the fact that inevitable turmoil has followed in the wake of this decision. I have a new courage to face into the reality of these conflicts, to maintain the stand I have taken even while doing my best to honor the positions which other people I love and respect choose to maintain.
Looking back, what I see about my journey is that it has been primarily a response to a seed of faith rather than a required capitulation to intellectual proof of the historical and doctrinal validity of the Catholic faith. By this I mean that God’s grace planted within me a seed of faith that was willing to follow the Spirit into unknown, intellectually unacceptable territory; then, finding a responsive heart, it was God’s grace that gradually grew me into an intellectual understanding and acceptance of this faith challenge. Isn’t this very similar to the initial faith response which any person must make from the heart before he or she begins to comprehend the entirety of what Scripture teaches regarding the Christian life? I believe that these faith “conversions” are not limited to a one-time experience, but are a continuing part of our spiritual stories. We turn and turn and turn again in response to the voice of the Spirit calling us deeper into God-experience. My story happens to include the conversion to Catholicism, but I don’t expect that every person’s story will be the same as mine. One’s story-writing belongs to each individual, inspired by the movement of God within that soul.
I am still growing into areas of Catholic tradition which seem a mystery to my Protestant conceptual grid. But I am at rest with what has not yet been given me to understand, knowing in my deepest place of “knowing” that I have found my true home of faith expression in the Catholic Church. For me, it is like having been the Prodigal who wandered far afield with the resources of the Father in her pocket, trying to find the best of all possible worship worlds, only to have exhausted the resources and to have come home to the place of simple love, simple grace, simple faith, simple prayer, simple worship, all in the context of a community that exists worldwide and has been there since the ascension of Christ and the coming of the Spirit.
Although I thought my conversion to the Catholic communion would be met with scorn and rejection by the seminary professors that had encouraged me to press on to ordained ministry, I found them remarkably receptive. Their words of response to my revelation of conversion indicated that they knew I listened carefully to discern God’s direction and so they could trust me with following what I heard. In fact, subsequently I was invited to continue doing spiritual direction for other seminary students and in 2000-2001 I was asked to teach several courses in the spiritual formation department.
As I completed the teaching of that seminary course in spring 2001, another challenge came my way. After nine years, once again I faced the specter of breast cancer, this time with a more threatening diagnosis. It required the aggressive treatment of chemo, followed by mastectomy and then another round of chemo. Unlike the first treatment, this time I lost all my hair, all my eyebrows, my fingernails… and I learned that I do in fact have a faith so deep that it allows me to look with humor upon these physical attributes of self to find the true self within. Another ten years of life have passed and I am in better health than ever. I am so grateful that my prayers to see all of my children graduated from high school were answered … and then college graduation… and all of them married… and new life in dearly beloved grandchildren. Each day is a gift with graces abounding!
It is now more than ten years since my “conversion” to the Catholic Church. In hindsight, I have come to understand in a new way the experience that Apostle Paul had as Luke describes it in Acts 16. Acts 16:6-10 Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. …During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, "Come over to Macedonia and help us." After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them. I thought my M.Div. might lead me to serve in a Quaker Church or a Covenant Church… but the Spirit prevented me from engaging there and instead caused me to hear the invitation of Roman Catholics. “Come on over and help us…” It is truly astounding to see what God does when we respond to the call. Not limited to typical lay service of lectoring, Eucharistic ministry and bringing communion to the sick, the work that unfolded for me in the context of the Catholic Church since my confirmation has included teaching the Scriptures to men and women in study groups, teaching teens in confirmation classes and then serving for 2 ½ years as a pastoral associate for several small, rural communities that have no resident priest.
2006, however, was spent in relative silence and solitude. Keeping close companionship with a trusted spiritual director and a personal counselor, I stepped away from active professional ministry to listen to the Spirit, whom I sensed was preparing me for the recognition of a new assignment- one which would require discernment and courage in large measure. A valuable piece that emerged from that time is that my call is to be a “bridge”- a person who makes connections and fosters unity where misunderstandings have brought separation. As 2007 began, I noticed a convergence of events and relationships that seemed significant in some way. In March of 2007, the significance was given a name and a potential direction when a woman I knew in our mutual roles as spiritual directors divulged her journey towards ordination within the Roman Catholic Women Priests movement. The response that leapt to life inside me was the same irresistible certainty I remember feeling with God’s invitation to become a Catholic. And the question was the same: Would I trust and obey?
As this story continues to unfold, it more and more deeply affirms what has always been known within. God has prepared me for a ministry of service to people that teaches and demonstrates Christ’s call to works of justice, mediates grace sacramentally and brings reconciliation, all in the context of an active-contemplative prayer life. I now freely articulate this deep knowing as a vocation to ordained priesthood, even as I recognize the personal risk involved in joining other men and women who challenge the status quo of the Church whose authority we acknowledged when we joined the Catholic communion.
In June of 2008, I was ordained in apostolic order to the deaconate of the Roman Catholic Church. I was ordained to the priesthood under the auspices of Roman CatholicWomenPriests on May 30, 2009. Although the “official” Church does not yet recognize the ordination of women, along with others I will continue to minister sacramentally, seeking renewal of the Church for 21st century Christianity.
Update: May of 2011. This adventure continues to unfold in amazing ways. Shortly after my ordination to the deaconate, a United Methodist Church pastor in our community met with me to affirm my story and the sense of call he perceived in it. His own congregation had recently joined with an Evangelical Lutheran Church in town to create a new ministry called McMinnville Cooperative Ministries. Their vision for ecumenical relationship and justice ministries fit the vision of RomanCatholicWomenPriests so well that he offered us “sanctuary” ( a safe place) within their own facilities.
So our little group of faithful followers, who soon identified themselves corporately as Lumen Christi, began to meet regularly for Eucharistic celebrations. Eventually I was invited more deeply into pastoral relationship with the staff of this Cooperative Ministry as they welcomed my offer to lead spiritual formation groups and provide spiritual direction for individuals. Today, Lumen Christi enjoys a companionable and mutually supportive relationship with this community of Christians as they reach out into the McMinnville area with a theologically progressive, social justice oriented approach to faith life.