My Journey from the Episcopal Church to the Catholic Church
By Rebecca Hoekstra
I grew up Protestant: nondenominational and later Baptist. I was in church every week and my parents were committed to reading the Bible to us at home. When I was 19, a friend and I decided to go to L’Abri in England for 6 months, mostly because we wanted to travel. L’Abri is a Christian study center founded by Francis Schaeffer and was a great place for me to try to figure out what I thought about God. I didn’t delve too deeply into theology, but my time there definitely strengthened my faith, making it more that just a gift from my parents, but something I actually chose to believe for myself as an adult.
When I was in England, I started attending the Anglican church across the street from L’Abri. I had never encountered liturgy before and found it a thing of great beauty. When I came home, even though I enrolled in a Baptist college, I started visiting Episcopal churches (the American version of the Anglican church) simply because I loved their beauty, beauty in both the church design and the liturgy. My first date with my future husband, Duane, was to hear J.I. Packer speak at an Episcopal church in Dallas. Packer is an Anglican, but very popular with Evangelicals for his book Knowing God. We started attending that same Episcopal church and were married there about eight months later.
It’s hard to explain the beauty of liturgical worship to anyone who has not experienced it, but it is amazing and awe-inspiring. The liturgy is Trinitarian and reverent; the music is majestic with a full organ, beautiful hymns, and chanted Psalms. We fell in love with much more that just each other in the Episcopal church and were confirmed about six months after our wedding.
Within the Episcopal church there are a couple different liturgical styles, referred to as “low church” and “high church.” Low church would probably still feel “high” to most Protestants, but has a much more Protestant feel to it than high church. High church is also called Anglo-Catholic and has “smells and bells;” it might be the closest thing to heaven on earth I had ever experienced.
Four years after we were married we had our first child and he was baptized at the same church in which we were married. About a year later, though, we went to another Episcopal church in the Dallas diocese to hear Thomas Howard, the brother of Elisabeth Elliot and a convert to the Catholic Church. This church called itself Anglo-Catholic and had the most beautiful liturgy I have ever attended — even to this point.
Backtrack a bit to about a year after our wedding when my best friend from the Baptist college started dating a guy who was considering becoming Catholic. Without even realizing it, I had a lot of normal, American, southern, Bible Belt prejudices against Catholics and was actually concerned for her salvation. Thus, I started reading the Catholic books she would loan me and pretty quickly realized that everything I had been taught about the Catholic Church was a lie: the Church didn’t go astray after the Ascension of Jesus, only to have the gospel recovered at the Reformation.
I read everything I could get my hands on about Church history, the writings of the Church Fathers, and writings from other Catholics who love their Faith and explain it well. It didn’t take much to convince me of the historic truth of the Catholic Church. I already loved God and His Word, the Holy Scriptures, but now I also loved the Catholic Church. One of the things that spoke to me the most was the Church’s position on the sanctity of life (the only church to be 100% pro-life) and it didn’t take me long to realize She was right about everything else.
I already had a true understanding of the sacraments, i.e., baptismal regeneration and transubstantiation, from my years in the Episcopal church, but once I realized that the tenants of faith alone and Scripture alone were neither biblical nor ever taught by the Church, any resistance I had to the Catholic Church fell away. At that point, I really wanted to become Catholic, but our Anglo-Catholic church was really in my way. We were Anglo-Catholic and had all the Catholic doctrine without really being Catholic, so it was easy to stay and feel like I was “close enough.” Especially since Duane enjoyed being Anglican and didn’t feel as strong of a pull as I did to the Catholic Church.
The dignity of human life
We moved from Dallas to Chicago in 2008, and never really found a new church. We attended a Lutheran church for about a year, where our fourth child was baptized, and later drove about 80 miles to a small Episcopal church, but nothing felt right. In 2010, after an unexpected, 18-week miscarriage, I had a bit of a breakdown and basically begged Duane to get me back home to Dallas. We returned to Dallas and went back to our Anglo-Catholic church, but it never really felt like home again. I started realizing how the theology — or lack thereof — in the Episcopal church was finally having a negative impact on me.
The Episcopal church has no real, unified theology. Sure, there are the thirty-nine articles, but they are not binding upon individual Anglicans and I did not even believe many of them since I was Anglo-Catholic (and those articles are pretty Protestant). Within the Episcopal church there can be women priests and bishops, gay priests and bishops, financial support for abortion, etc. While some people sit around wringing their hands at this progressiveness, nothing changes because there isn’t the infrastructure to protect truth. Only one Church has that and it was the Church I wanted to be in.
Our fifth child was born in Dallas and it was really hard going to a very pro-contraceptive church while pursing God’s calling for us to be open to life. Pretty much everyone except the young priest who baptized her thought we were crazy to have more than two children and were either politely unsupportive or overtly mocked us. To this date, a Baptist friend who gave me a baby shower after our oldest was born has been my only baby shower. Not that I needed things, it just would have been nice to have others celebrating the gift of life with us.
Although I loved being back with my family and friends in Dallas, it was hard because my husband was still working in Chicago and commuting as often as he could and, as mentioned, I was becoming disillusioned with our church. In 2012, we finally decided it would be best for us to move back to Chicago. I told my husband that if we did, I would be becoming Catholic, something that had been on my heart for almost twelve years at that point. I enrolled in RCIA and was received into the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil of 2013. I love the teaching of the Catholic Church and I love it when people are actually happy for me when I announce another baby (number six is expected around Christmas 2013)! Thank you, God, for bringing me home!
Our two oldest boys, Calvin 9 and Patrick 8, were also received into the Catholic Church and confirmed with me at the Easter Vigil and all the children are in CCD classes. Duane has not converted, but he faithfully attends Mass with our family and I’m blessed to have his respect and support at every step of my journey.
Rebecca Hoekstra is a busy, homeschooling mom of five, soon to be six. She lives in the Northwest Indiana area, near Chicago, and loves reading, cooking and spending time with her family. She is involved in her local parish, St. Augusta, in Lake Village, IN, where she will teach CCD classes in the fall.