Skip to main content
Anglican & EpiscopalianConversion Stories

Blessed Through the Catholic Church

Bob Jepsen, D.Min.
December 3, 2012 One Comment

I was born and raised in Los Angeles, California. Growing up in the 1940s and 50s, I was blessed with a happy childhood in a loving family of four, including one older brother. My parents taught us the “old fashioned” values of honesty, goodness, kindness, and viewing all persons with respect. I was baptized as an infant in St. Augustine by-the-Sea Episcopal Church. The only religious instruction in our home was learning the Lord’s Prayer. My mother would say this prayer with me almost every night at bedtime. This is a very pleasant memory, as I somehow sensed that my mother possessed a deep belief in God. Even though our family attended Sunday worship services in the Episcopal Church on an inconsistent basis, the beauty of the liturgy, especially such favorite hymns as “Onward Christian Soldiers,” made a deep impression on me. As a sensitive little boy, I intuitively understood the spiritual reality of God the Father’s presence, although I could not have explained this.

At age fourteen, I was confirmed at St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Westwood. Looking back, it is not clear what motivated me to take this step. My parents did not encourage this decision, but they were supportive. Surely, it was influenced through the prayers of my mother, spoken in the quiet of her heart. I remember participating in some youth group activities in the parish; however, due to extreme shyness I chose to stop attending. Around the age of fifteen, my life became focused on surfing the beaches of the California coast. I loved the ocean and experienced much pleasure engaged with the waves. I completed high school, all the while working part-time.

Personal crisis and conversion

I continued my education at a local community college. My life was still centered on surfing. I had no goals or career plans for the future. When I was eighteen, I began a dating relationship, which led to a premature decision to get married when I was only nineteen. Unfortunately, there was no genuine love in the relationship. It became evident that we lacked the maturity — and faith in God — to enter into Holy Matrimony. The result was a mutual decision to obtain a divorce after less than two years of marriage. Despite the failure of the marriage, we were blessed with a wonderful baby boy,  named Bruce. By God’s grace and mercy, my former wife and I chose to maintain a friendship, forgive the past, and concentrate on loving Bruce and ensuring his well-being. Bruce continues to be a loving son, now married with two beautiful daughters, all of whom love the Lord. I thank God for His grace!

Immediately following my twenty-first birthday, I entered Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles, to undergo an elective surgery on my lower back in order to correct a congenital defect. I did not know at the time that Good Samaritan was an Episcopal hospital. What happened following the surgery would change my life in a way I could never have imagined! Because I was Episcopalian, at least in name, the hospital chaplain came to bring me communion at my bedside. I felt embarrassed since I really did not understand the meaning of partaking of the bread wafer and sipping the wine. Then the chaplain, an Episcopal priest, asked if I would like him to return later for a visit. Feeling trapped, I replied in the affirmative. Now I was really scared. What was he going to say to me?

An amazing miracle began to unfold. The surgeon had decided to put me in a body cast and keep me bed-bound for three months to ensure the healing of my lower back. During this time, the chaplain made frequent visits and brought me books to read which related the story of the Gospel, the great news of God’s love, in a manner I could understand. Without a doubt, God was drawing me to Himself. By the time I left the hospital, I believed that the God revealed in sacred Scripture was a loving Father who forgave all of my sin, because of the sacrificial love of Christ and His blood shed on the cross. Not only was my profound sense of guilt over a failed marriage removed, I began to experience freedom from old fears: a deep sense of feeling inferior and having to live without any sense of purpose. My future was filled with hope, because of my newfound faith.

Call to ordained ministry

Fully recovered from the back surgery, I started attending All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Beverly Hills. I was living in a new world. Now, worship came alive, because I knew God was there with me. This began the awe-inspiring journey we call the Christian life. I started reading the Bible for the first time. I enjoyed fellowship with other Christian friends. I even taught a second grade, Sunday school class, mustering every ounce of faith I could! At the same time, I returned to college and chose philosophy as my major. I was told this was the best preparation for seminary training. The “call” to become a priest in the Episcopal Church grew slowly, but surely. It was during a philosophy class in graduate school at UCLA that I received a certainty that I wanted to devote the rest of my life to showing and teaching people about the love of God, the one (and only) thing that changed my life. Anything less than this goal I knew would never bring genuine meaning and fulfillment. Six months later, I was accepted as a candidate for holy orders and began studies at Bloy Episcopal School of Theology in Los Angeles.

My seminary education provided a solid, orthodox theological foundation for future ministry. The dean of “Bloy House” reminded the students every year that at the center of our life together was the celebration of the holy Eucharist. In 1971, I was ordained as a deacon and then made a priest on March 18, 1972. I began serving as the associate pastor of St. George’s Episcopal Church, Laguna Hills, California. An exciting adventure of full-time ministry soon was flourishing.

Blessed through the Catholic Church

Growing up, I understood very little about the Roman Catholic Church. I remember attending Masses and weddings on certain special occasions in the lives of close relatives. The actions of the liturgy seemed quite foreign to me as a young, outside observer. My first real exposure to Catholicism came in seminary as we studied the Second Vatican Council. As Episcopalians, it became evident that our own liturgical renewal was being influenced by that of the Roman Church. As members of the worldwide Anglican Communion, we considered ourselves one of the authentic “branches” of the “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church,” which consisted of the Anglican, Catholic, and Orthodox Churches. Looking back over the past forty years, I am aware that I always viewed the Catholic Church with a respect for its deep roots and tradition traced directly to the Apostles. I sensed that whenever I heard teaching from Catholic priests and lay leaders, I was getting the truth from the authentic, oldest, and “original” church founded since the time of Christ. Somehow, there was recognition of genuine authority not found anywhere else.

At the time of my ordination, I was drawn into the exploding charismatic renewal. I began to attend renewal events in both the Episcopal and Catholic charismatic movements. As an Episcopal priest, I was invited to attend a Catholic men’s Cursillo, a Life in the Spirit seminar, and numerous workshops on the healing ministry sponsored by the renewal in the Catholic Church. Through each of these events, God was pouring out His Spirit upon me — and in me — bringing the blessings of inner healing and opening new doors of opportunity to minister to other people in the power of the Spirit. I must add, as well, that the Christ-like witness of so many men and women, humbly living out their Catholic Faith, made a very great and favorable impression on me.

Fast-forward about twenty years: circa 1995-96, someone suggested that I meet and talk with a Catholic priest, Fr. Ray Ryland. Fr. Ryland had been an Episcopal priest and was married with a family. At the time, Fr. Ryland was teaching at the University of San Diego. I wanted to meet this Catholic priest, because I was curious to learn how he became a priest as a married man. By this time I had married my wife, Meg, and had two sons. I learned of the Pastoral Provision, permitting married Anglican clergy the opportunity to apply for a special dispensation from the Pope, following being received into the Roman Catholic Church. In addition, Fr. Ryland gave me a number of books to help me in the discernment process to determine whether God was calling Meg and me into the Catholic Church. Studying these books led me toward a clearer conviction that the essential dogmas of the Catholic Church are grounded in the correct interpretation of Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition.

However, questions still remained, including a fierce wrestling in my soul and spirit regarding whether God was calling me to be in the Catholic Church, or remain outside of it. I have always sought to be where God was calling me and I clearly saw Him very active in the lives, healing, and renewal of many persons outside of the Catholic Church. My own sense of call in ministry was leading me into the missions (which Meg and I had considered the whole length of our marriage), as well as the healing ministry. I did seek spiritual direction from a Catholic priest as I was facing these options but at the time did not pursue entering into full communion with the Catholic Church.

Entering the Catholic Church

In many ways the concluding years of my ministry within the Anglican Church were among the most exciting and fruitful ones. In the year 2000, doors of opportunity began to open. I was able to travel to South America and Africa, where I did teaching, training, and equipping pastors and other leaders in how to pray for the sick in body, as well as those in need of emotional healing. It was a great privilege to minister in Brazil, Uganda, Peru, and Bolivia. My wife and I had the privilege of living and serving in Bolivia for two and a half years. This, too, was an important time in my movement toward the Catholic Church. Although I was living in a Catholic culture, it was a very poorly catechized one, with much intermingling of indigenous religion. Countering that was the evangelical culture, which had “intermingling” of its own misunderstandings of Catholicism, as well errors in doctrine, going back to the Reformation. Shortly before leaving Bolivia, the long-standing attraction for the richness and depth of the Catholic Church now came to the forefront of my thinking.

If asked to name the singularly most persistent factor of this attraction, the answer would be the holy Eucharist. As an Anglican priest, I held the belief that Christ is truly present in the sacrament of His Body and Blood. I have always held, as well, that the celebration of the holy Eucharist is intended to be the very center of our Christian lives and worship. However, through an in-depth study of the teaching of the Roman Catholic understanding of the “Real Presence,” including that of the earliest Fathers (theologians) of the Church, I came to acknowledge that my understanding of the sacrament did not embrace the full meaning of what it means for Jesus to be present in “Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity.” Through a great deal of reasoned reflection (especially prayer), the unique understanding of the Mass as a re-presentation of Christ’s sacrifice, the “Pascal Mystery” of His suffering, death, Resurrection, and Ascension, was revealed as the true meaning found in Sacred Scripture. For the first time, the words of Jesus in the “Bread of Life” discourse of St. John’s Gospel, chapter 6, came to life. My soul had been hungering for this “living Bread.” I felt Jesus was saying, “Come and worship Me in the Eucharist.” To partake of Holy Communion now as a Catholic is a continual source of strength, peace, forgiveness, and healing, which always draws me closer to the risen Lord.

The second most compelling “pull” toward Catholicism had to do with church government and authority. As a priest in the Episcopal Church in the United States, I witnessed the unfolding of an aggressive secularism infiltrating the life of the church, especially at the leadership level. Gradually, the biblical and orthodox beliefs and values of the Christian Faith, once delivered by the saints, were replaced with the diabolical ideologies of the current culture of death. Abortion, or so-called “reproductive rights,” replaced the Christian ethic of protection for the unborn and the preservation of the sanctity of life. Then, the decisive factor which led to the tearing apart of the fabric of the Anglican Communion worldwide took place when the leaders of the Episcopal denomination voted to ordain a priest living with a same sex partner. To the dismay of faithful followers of Christ everywhere, the Episcopal Church has helped lead the way to promote the radical and unholy agenda of so-called “gay marriage.” As an international communion, clearly absent during the development of these aberrations from the Faith was the existence of any ecclesiastical authority to guard and preserve these essential matters of sacred truth and morals. While many faithful Christians are refusing to cave into anti-Christian ideologies, only the Roman Catholic Church is speaking the truth clearly and authoritatively as the largest Christian institution in the world. Surely, Christ understood the absolute necessity of preserving and passing on the Gospel, by His Church, through the appointment of leaders given apostolic authority. The “keys” given to Peter in Matthew 16:19 unarguably demonstrate this passing on of authoritative leadership. Without the governing authority of the Pope and the Magisterium (all the bishops), the truth of the Gospel could well be annihilated.

In November of 2009, Pope Benedict XVI announced a most gracious and generous invitation to those of us in the Anglican Communion who were being called by the Holy Spirit to seriously consider coming home to the Roman Catholic Church. I read this announcement of the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus on my computer in Bolivia. Two months later my wife and I decided our mission in Bolivia was complete and we returned to Oregon. We both knew our first priority, besides finding a new home, was to explore the call to become fully Catholic.

As someone once told me, “You are a new, old Catholic,” referring to the many times and places that I have interacted with the Church and its people. Throughout my life, for example, I have attended countless retreats, mostly in Benedictine abbeys. Since seminary days I developed an attraction to the lives of the saints, the practice of contemplative prayer, and maintaining a life of daily prayer. Today, the fervent call to live a holy life is just as urgent as in any period of history.

Therefore, when we landed in Stayton, Oregon, in June of 2010, we began attending our hometown parish, Church of the Immaculate Conception. We enrolled in the RCIA course and on April 7, 2012, we became full members of the Catholic Church (my first marriage was annulled in the Archdiocese of Portland, Oregon). We have made many good friends, participate in a small church community, and worship with a Pontifical lay community on a regular basis. I have had the opportunity to teach a Lenten class on healing prayer and have led two retreats. My wife and I enjoy participating in some of the Masses in Spanish, as well as attending the lively Hispanic prayer group. We are waiting for what God has in store for us for the next chapter of ministry!

Bob Jepsen, D.Min.

Bob and his wife, Meg, are currently living in Stayton, Oregon, and attend the Church of the Immaculate Conception. They participate in various worship, fellowship, and ministry activities. Bob has three sons and two granddaughters.

Share via
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap