Rebecca Hoekstra

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.

Finding truth

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.

  • rsf3612

    I entered the Episcopal Church on April 26, 1982. There, I was ordained and served for nearly 30 years. On May 25th, I ‘swam the Tiber’ and feel right at home.

    • Maria

      Welcome home, my brother.

      “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” St Augustine

  • marius

    nice to read it. God bless you!

    • Harold

      Thank you for this beautiful story of faith. I too was open to the Catholic Church by six years of liturgical worship with Anglicans (in Mozambique). Then when I visited a Catholic Church on Oct. 10, 2010, I was deeply moved by the Spirit of God. After RCIA, I was confirmed at Easter 2011.

  • immy

    thank you dear for joining uus

  • luran

    Welcome home! God bless you and your beautiful family.

  • MaryKay416

    Welcome home to the True Faith of Our Fathers, the Catholic Church. Congratulations on your journey to a sixth child. You’re so fortunate. God bless you & your family.

  • Harold Benghazi Koenig

    Ordained an Episcopal priest 12/17/1977. Swam the Tiber 12/26/94.

    Other than all the Catholics, this is awesome.

    (Kidding.)

  • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

    Wonderful story. Your line that you “pretty quickly realized that everything I had been taught about the Catholic Church was a lie” sticks out. I’m amazed how some protestants need to demonize Catholics in order to hold onto their members. It’s one thing if there are theological differences, but at least let’s all be honest about each other. Anyway God bless and welcome to our wonderful faith. And congratulations on you sixth!

  • tobatz

    Congratulations on your 6th baby! Welcome home!

  • Kimberly Gail

    Congratulations!! And I thought my journey of 5 years was long! :-) I, too, am a homeschooling mom and entered the Catholic Church this year at the Easter Vigil. I’m impressed that you’ll be teaching CCD this fall. I’m a little slow at getting planted, but trust I’ll find my place soon. Again, welcome, sista! ;-)

  • Munungii Wa Ikonya

    Welcome home. My Parish, Our Lady of Visitation (Nairobi, Kenya) has great choirs and fantastic faithful. Always full to the brim. Welcome to our church one day sis.

  • Caroline Moreschi

    Oh wow. I too am episcopalian and would consider myself Anglo catholic, some days more catholic than others. I adore my local church, but many of the things you said resonated with me. Thank you for your story!

  • Halliwell

    “The Episcopal church has no real, unified theology,” because they understand life is not absolute, nothing is absolute. But there is faith, unity and community. All the tangible things we experience in good humanity and not on conditional terms. Love in the Episcopal faith is unconditional. God’s love is proclaimed as unconditional, yet there are so many following Religions condemning people to rules that obstruct health and knowledge. Episcopalians want you to question your faith, they want you to gain all the knowledge you can. Faith is about trust, and other religions do not trust you enough that you will follow in their church if you broaden your knowledge with other subjects. I understand the conversion for those insecure in their faith. Episcopalians are Catholics without rules constantly telling them how to live. That is an unrealistic expectation if you truly want to be free, happy, and accepting spiritually. Catholicism offers service to people who cannot guide themselves to happiness. The Episcopal church offers service to those who have found themselves and what they deem to be right and offers guidance in how to treat people in a healthy way. Priests can be gay, married and have children, as all people are entitled to doing without others telling them they’re wrong. Why go to a religion who tells you what is right and wrong not based on how people feel and empirical behavior but from fear of not going to heaven?

  • Harold M. Frost, III, Ph.D.

    Thank you, Rebecca, for your testimony to your faith in God. With a nod to some of the comments posted before mine, I did not swim the Tiber but did walk over it on my way from inside the walls in Rome to the Vatican and St. Peter’s Basilica in the spring of 2003 on a solo trip of a lifetime to the world seat of the Catholic faith for a couple of weeks in a B&B on Via Gaeta. While I had no tour guide, could not speak Italian, took the subway only once, and used my guidebook only afterwards to find out where I HAD BEEN, miracles abounded. It’s my hope, then, that you and your family can someday make the trip, too. In my own case, my journey back home started out as Catholic (when baptized as an infant), veered away to the Episcopal Church after my parents divorced and Mom (with whom I stayed) then remarried without annulment, veered even further away when Mom and my step-father joined the Congregational Church (so that I did, too), and returned to the Catholic Church only in 1964 when at age 21 and finally in the age of my majority I was confirmed a Roman Catholic in the month before I married my present wife (a Catholic then). Our Golden Anniversary here in Vermont is in exactly one week’s time. Even so, most of the details of the tortuous path taken by me on my journey home to the Father through his Son and with the help of his mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, are left out of the preceding. Suffice it to say that the Lord knows how to save one of his own!