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From CBN Producer to Catholic Convert

Andrea Garrett
January 26, 2023 No Comments

I grew up in New England in a nominally Christian home. My father was a lapsed Catholic who married my mother, a lapsed Methodist.

In the Beginning, God…

When they began having children, my folks had us baptized in the Methodist Church. They thought we should have some basic Christian formation, so when we moved to a town without a Methodist congregation, they took us to the nearest mainline Protestant church, which was a United Church of Christ. They enrolled us in Sunday School and dropped us off on Sunday mornings, while attending church services only sporadically themselves.

When I was 14, our church youth group was invited to attend a week-long Christian summer camp run by Fundamentalist Christians. There they talked about a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and about praying the “sinner’s prayer,” things I’d never heard about. One evening, near the end of the week, they held a service where the Gospel message was explained in simple terms, and those of us who wanted to make a profession of faith were invited to come forward to the altar and pray to receive Jesus as our personal Lord and Savior and to be “born again.” I was one of the first ones on my feet and made my way to the front of the chapel where I asked God to forgive my sins and invited Jesus into my heart.

Some of my friends went forward, as well, and we all knew something important had happened. Back in our home church, the language of being “born again” and praying to receive Christ into our hearts were foreign concepts. My parents thought it was a phase and cautioned me not to go too overboard with my newfound religious zeal. Even the minister of our church was unenthusiastic, telling my friends and me that he didn’t go along with all that “born again stuff.” He encouraged us to continue attending church and our church’s youth fellowship, and that was the end of it.

It was the first time I realized there were big differences in what various Christian denominations believed and taught. It was puzzling, but as I would do for the next 30-plus years, I put any concerns about those differences to the back of my mind.

Despite the tepid response at home, a seed had been planted, and I wanted to know more about the saving faith I had received. I asked my parents for a Bible, and that Christmas they gave me a copy of The Living Bible, an easy-to-understand paraphrase translation. I read it daily and prayed that God would lead me to Christians who believed the things I had been taught at summer camp.

My prayers were answered several years later, when I went away to college and became involved in campus ministry. The students there were from various denominational churches, but the common thread was that each one had a moment in time when they repented of their sins, accepted Christ into their lives, and became born-again believers.

My faith grew and developed over the next few years. In the early 1980s, when Christian television exploded across new cable and satellite networks nationwide, I visited a cousin from Virginia who worked for The Christian Broadcasting Network. He encouraged me to apply for a job there. I did, and a few months later, I was hired. Since I had no television background, my first job was as an administrative assistant. However, within a couple of years, I had transitioned to a researcher, writer, and finally producer.

From New England to the Bible Belt

Moving from my small Massachusetts hometown to Virginia was a huge cultural shift. There were three churches in the town where I grew up: a Catholic Church, a United Church of Christ, and a Unitarian Church. In my new city of Virginia Beach, there were hundreds of churches from which to choose.

CBN is a non-denominational ministry, and the staff is made up of Christians from a variety of Christian traditions. My first few years with that ministry were spent church hopping, rarely staying at one church for more than a year. There were periods of time when I didn’t attend church at all, believing that I could function just fine in my faith on my own. I further justified my lapses in church attendance by telling myself that working at a ministry that has daily 30-minute chapel services for staff is plenty. Did I really need to attend church services each Sunday?

My church hopping and on-again-off-again church attendance ended when I met my future husband, Bill Garrett. Bill was raised Baptist but, like me, no longer had an allegiance to a particular denomination. After we married, we moved to a smaller town on the outskirts of the Hampton Roads area and settled in at a Reformed Presbyterian Church. For the first time in the more than ten years I had lived in Virginia, I joined this church with my husband, and we stayed there for almost 20 years.

Cracks in the Foundation

The foundation of my Evangelical Christian faith began to crack in the early 2000s. The Reformed Presbyterian Church we attended taught us to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. But it also taught things that were different from what I had learned at evangelical churches I had attended. All of them believed in sola Scriptura — that the Bible alone is the source of authority for Christian faith and practice. But how the Bible was interpreted differed from one denomination to another. Our Presbyterian denomination taught Calvinist doctrine, which (among other things) affirms that God has predestined some people to be saved and others to eternal damnation.

The doctrine of predestination, as Calvinists taught it, never sat well with me, and like other Protestant doctrines that I either didn’t fully understand or didn’t fully accept, I put this one on a shelf. I told myself there were so many good things about my church — the preaching was excellent, the music was contemporary, and I made good friends and had wonderful Chris- tian fellowship — that it didn’t really matter if there were a few doctrines I disagreed with or struggled to understand. I figured these differences couldn’t matter much to God either, since sincere Christians differed on many issues. Surely that meant these weren’t necessarily essential to one’s salvation. Since we all agreed on the core tenants of the faith, all would be well.

But the struggle intensified as time went on. The list of doctrines Christians couldn’t agree on was long and ever-growing, and that bothered me. Why did some Christians believe in baptizing infants, while others said baptism must be by full immersion when someone made a profession of faith in Christ, usually around the age of 12 or older?

There were also differences in what Christians believed about what baptism accomplishes. Is it a sacrament that washes away Original Sin? Does it save a person’s soul? Or is it merely an outward sign that a person’s sins have already been washed away?

Megachurch Madness

The megachurch trend exploded in the 2000s. According to Lifeway Research, by 2020 there were approximately 1,750 megachurches in the United States with a regular weekend at- tendance of 2,000 or more. Most of these churches are independent, non-denominational churches. For years, I watched the rise of megachurches with a mixture of fascination and unease. Some were “seeker-friendly” congregations that removed crosses and traded traditional pews for stadium seating to make Christianity feel more accessible and inviting. Others appealed to the consumer culture, touting rock-band style of worship, lobby coffee bars, or youth programs to draw in new members.

These megachurches tended to be personality-driven, led by charismatic pastors who became celebrities. The messages they preached seemed increasingly shallow with vague doctrines. These churches were run like businesses — consumer-driven entities with little moral, financial, or doctrinal accountability for the leadership.

Many friends and colleagues attended one of these large, non-denominational churches. When we would have conversations about the core beliefs of the Christian faith, I realized the doctrinal divide was growing increasingly wider. At my Christian workplace, we began to adhere to a “lowest common denominator” Christianity. Since there were so many different theologies floating around, we had to “agree to disagree” on an ever- growing number of doctrines.

Worship or Emotional Manipulation?

The church we attended for nearly two decades had a basic format that included announcements, an opening prayer, 20 minutes of “praise and worship,” followed by a 45- to 50-minute sermon, a closing prayer, and a final worship song. Most churches I visited followed this same basic format.

I remember worship leaders who would encourage the congregation to “enter into” God’s presence. Worship, in the contemporary Protestant church context, meant singing a series of contemporary Christian songs, usually beginning with an upbeat, exuberant one and ending with a slow, heart-stirring one.

I don’t know if it was deliberate or not, but over time this began to feel like the worst kind of emotional manipulation. Some Sundays I felt the emotion and the music made me feel closer to God. Other times, though, I felt nothing. I wondered why I couldn’t seem to consistently “enter into” God’s presence, and “feel” forgiven and spiritually restored.

It dawned on me that much of my Christian life had been built on emotionalism. When the feelings were present, it seemed that God was present. When the emotions weren’t there, it seemed God was not there, either.

Drawn to Liturgy

By 2015, I had begun investigating liturgical churches. I was intrigued by the rhythm and beauty of traditional, ancient forms of Christian worship and decided to visit a traditional Anglican Church that used an older form of the Book of Common Prayer, one published for the Episcopal Church in America in 1928. The prayers were beautiful, and I fell in love with the Anglican liturgy. At the time, I didn’t realize how very close the Anglican liturgy is to the Catholic liturgy. While I was gradually becoming more interested in exploring what Catholics believed, becoming one was still completely out of the question. I was a life-long Evangelical, and even though I did not consider myself particularly anti-Catholic, the Catholic Church seemed far too foreign. I still believed what I had been taught through the years: that Catholicism was filled with man-made traditions and that most Catholics probably were not saved. And while my Evangelical foundation was crumbling, Rome was still a bridge too far.

There was also my husband, Bill, to consider. He had lost interest in our Presbyterian church around the time I was transitioning out. However, his reasons were much different from mine. Throughout our marriage, Bill had attended church with me and had said and done all the “right” Christian things. But I came to realize his commitment was half-hearted, and when I began to struggle with Evangelical Christianity, it was easy for him to find excuses not to attend church at all.

When I found a home in traditional Anglicanism, Bill was happy for me and promised he would never stand in the way of my spiritual journey. My church was part of a small Anglican communion called The Anglican Catholic Church. Bill told me that, while he supported me in whatever church I wanted to be a part of, he said in no uncertain terms that I should never invite him to go to church with me because, as he said, “I will never enter a church that has the word ‘Catholic’ in its name.”

Bill and I had never been blessed with children, so there was no one else in our family to consider. If Bill was supportive of my spiritual exploration, that was good enough for me.

The Year of Cancer

In early 2017, I was diagnosed with an invasive and aggressive form of breast cancer. Treatment consisted of months of chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation. Halfway through my “year of cancer,” Bill and I decided to move forward with a dream we’d had when he retired a year earlier. We wanted to buy an RV and explore the country. A cancer diagnosis brings the brevity of life into sharp focus, so we thought, why put it off? By the middle of June, we had a shiny new motor home in our driveway.

A few weeks later, Bill asked me if the priest at my church would come out to our house and bless the RV. I was stunned by the request, but said I would ask and was sure he would say yes.

Fr. Rob Whitaker came out to our house a few weeks later and prayed over our RV, complete with incense and holy water. He also stayed for lunch and a visit, where he and Bill talked at length about the Anglican faith.

To my surprise, a few Sundays later, Bill told me he wanted to come to church with me. While I was happy to have him join me, I truly thought he would not like it at all, and it would cement his pre-conceived biases against liturgical worship.

Imagine my shock, then, when we left church and he said he enjoyed it. He came back the next week, and the next, and suddenly he was attending every week. Bill was the kind of guy who thoroughly researched things he was interested in, so he began delving into the history of the ancient Church. His research had him investigating both the Eastern Orthodox Churches and the Catholic Church, along with the Anglican Church.

Changing Theology

Unlike my slow crawl to understand certain theological truths, Bill grasped fundamental Catholic teachings with lightning speed. The first was his grasp of the Eucharist. He quickly and enthusiastically embraced belief in the Real Presence of Christ and what that meant for him personally and the Church.

The second major theological domino to fall was his life-long understanding of baptism. Bill was baptized at age 26 after making a profession of faith in Jesus Christ as a Baptist. He saw baptism as purely symbolic, something one did as an act of obedience after coming to faith. Our Reformed Presbyterian Church baptized infants, something Bill had never understood or supported, but Presbyterians don’t believe in baptismal regeneration or that baptism cleanses the infant from the stain of Original Sin. Through baptism, Presbyterians are receiving the child into the church to be “Covenant Children.” In the Reformed tradition, baptism replaces circumcision as a sign of faith and covenant with God.

However, as we studied together, we both concluded that baptism does cleanse us from Original Sin, and it does save us.

Within six months of attending the Anglican Catholic Church with me, Bill was pushing for both of us to be confirmed in the ACC. In June of 2018, we entered the church together.

We’re Not Protestant — But Are We Catholic?

While I had changed greatly over the years, I saw even bigger changes in Bill. He became a different person after entering the Anglican Catholic Church. He would tell me later that it was a true conversion experience — that he had never really known Christ as he now did. I saw it as a miracle. While Bill was content with Anglican tradition, I still felt pulled toward Rome.

While neither of us considered ourselves Protestants any longer, were we truly Catholic? The answer was complicated, and yet at the same time simple. Although we embraced many Catholic practices, we were not part of the one Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church of the Nicene Creed. I continued to feel a pull toward the Catholic Church and believed in my heart that, at some point, I would enter it. But since Bill was content to be an Anglican, it seemed now was not the time.

COVID Changes Everything

Our ACC congregation was tiny, but when COVID shut down in-person worship in early 2020, it was devastating. For several weeks, we met online via Zoom. Then, gradually, we transitioned to meeting in homes and live streaming the service on Facebook. By the end of 2020, however, our numbers had shrunk to just a handful of regular attendees, and we had serious concerns about the future of our church.

In September of 2020, I decided (with Bill’s blessing) to enroll in RCIA classes. I did so for two reasons. Although I had done a lot of personal study about the Catholic Church for several years, I wanted to take the classes to explore the faith more fully and to have lingering questions answered. The other reason was that I couldn’t escape the nagging feeling that things were about to change, and that our Anglican congregation might be forced to fold. I knew that taking RCIA classes didn’t obligate me to enter the Church at the end of the process, but I wanted to make sure I was ready if the Lord led me in that direction. While Bill did not want to join me at RCIA, he was also beginning to look more seriously at the Catholic Church. I had resolved most of my earlier objections to certain Catholic beliefs, but Bill still had some obstacles. Like many Protestants who are looking at the Catholic Church, the issues of the papacy and the role of Mary and the saints were Bill’s biggest hurdles.

By the beginning of March 2021, I had to put RCIA on hold. Bill’s 90-year-old mother, who was living with us at the time and declining in health, became very ill, and we began hospice care for her in our home. On March 21, she passed away. Around the same time that we were caring for his mother, Bill began feeling ill. His symptoms were non-specific, and he chalked them up to the stress of caring for his mother, an upended sleep and meal schedule, seasonal allergies, and a host of other benign causes. By the middle of May, however, it was clear that something was seriously wrong. A trip to the ER turned into a hospital stay for tests and a diagnosis of Stage IV cancer.

We were stunned. Presented with options, it quickly became clear that, barring a miracle, this was not going to end well. The cancer was terminal, and the doctors we consulted told us that treatment at this stage would only make Bill miserable, and might not extend his life by much, if at all.

We chose to trust God, bring Bill home, and enter hospice. In a surreal turn of events, the same hospice team that had cared for my mother-in-law less than three months earlier was now heading up the care for my dear husband.

“Peaceful and Pleasant”

Bill’s time in hospice care was brief — only ten days — but it was profound. When word of his condition went out, friends, clergy, neighbors, family, and former colleagues descended on our home to pray with Bill, to sing over him, to read Scripture to him, and to say good-bye. Bill was lucid and able to visit with everyone who came to see him, because he was not in pain and therefore refused any medication that might have made him unable to interact with his many visitors.

Our Anglican priest came and gave him the last rites. I’m not completely sure, but I believe Holy Communion was the last food and drink he consumed on earth. Two days before he passed, Bill looked at me and said, “I never would have thought that dying would be so peaceful and pleasant.” He died in my arms at peace and full of faith on June 3, 2021.

Gifts of Passage

When a loved one dies in friendship with God, our Lord gives us gifts, if we’re able to recognize them through our sorrow. God did not give us a lot of time from Bill’s diagnosis to his death, but He gave us enough time, and that was a gift. There was time to say the things that needed to be said, for wishes to be made known, and most of all, time for Bill to be ready to be ushered into His presence. Bill died full of faith, trusting in God’s mercy, grace, and goodness. The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes this as a “happy death.” And it was, thanks to peace.

I Enter the Church — and a Final Gift

It became clear that the COVID pandemic had changed our Anglican congregation permanently. That, coupled with the changes that occurred in my own life, convinced me that it was time for me to enter the Catholic Church, which I did on August 28, 2021. I could honestly say I accepted and affirmed the teachings of the Church, so I had no hesitation about becoming Catholic. But there were certain things I still didn’t fully understand. One of those things was Purgatory.

I had read several books about Purgatory, and it made sense that God might require further cleansing of our souls in an intermediate state of some kind, but I still wrestled with understanding of such a foreign concept. After Bill was gone, I prayed — asking God to help me with it. Was Bill experiencing Purgatory right now? Was he fully in God’s presence? I didn’t know.

A couple of months after I entered the Church, I was engaged in an email conversation with a colleague who is a cradle Catholic. He lives and works in another city, and while he and I had met several times while working together, he had never met Bill and knew nothing about our spiritual journey.

At the end of his email, he asked how I was doing and told me that he prayed for me and for Bill every day. I wrote back and quipped, “How Catholic of you to pray for the dead!” Then I explained that I had converted a few months earlier and appreciated that he was praying for Bill — something I was also doing.

He wrote back, congratulating me on entering the Church and said he hadn’t planned to tell me this, because he didn’t know how it would be received. He said that every day he prayed the Rosary, and when he did, he prayed that his father and grandparents, who had all passed away, would go to heaven. He also had begun praying for Bill during his Rosary prayers. He said that, one day, when he prayed for Bill, he had a strong sense, a “word” from the Lord, to use an Evangelical term, that “Bill is already there.” It was a final gift that gave me such peace.

Endings and New Beginnings

My journey home was long and circuitous. After years of searching, questioning, and church-hopping, I finally can say I am home. I’m thankful for my Evangelical background, which introduced me to Christ, instilled in me a passion for the Bible, and planted a love for God in my heart. I’m also grateful that, when I began searching for more, I found the Catholic Church.

Andrea Garrett

ANDREA GARRETT’S home parish is St. Mary of the Presentation in Suffolk, Virginia, where she is an active member of the Women’s Club and volunteers with the RCIA ministry. Since becoming Catholic, she’s developed an interest in Catholic apologetics and hopes to use her gifts as a writer and public speaker to help others to find their way home to the Catholic Church.

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