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Kyrie Eleison – Lord Have Mercy

Deacon Dale Pollard
January 25, 2024 No Comments

The title of my story is taken from the Penitential Rite of the Mass. It sums up accurately my relationship with the Lord as I’ve traveled this path into full communion with the Catholic Church and strained to listen to where the Holy Spirit was directing me. “Lord, have mercy,” is a note of gratitude to the Lord for His merciful goodness and direction, teaching me how to listen.

As the opening line of the Rule of St. Benedict states, “Listen carefully, my son, to the master’s instructions, and attend to them with the ear of your heart.” I’m writing this on the Memorial of St. Benedict, a fitting time to reflect and be thankful. So get ready for “lift-off” as my journey home into the fullness of the faith and service in the Catholic Church takes flight.

The Early Years

I was born in 1957, at the dawn of the “space-age,” when the Russian satellite Sputnik set the Space Race in motion between the United States and the Soviet Union. Just south of Seattle, WA, where my brother, sister, and I were born, my father was employed as a Boeing engineer working in Space and Defense. This meant he worked on many projects related to Cold War issues and directly on the Saturn V main stage rocket, which eventually sent Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins to the moon and safely home. Because of my father’s work, we moved wherever Boeing sent us — from Seattle to Huntsville, back to Seattle, down to Cape Canaveral and Cocoa Beach, and then back to Seattle for good. My childhood was shaped by NASA and Boeing, interest in beauty and the arts, and the great outdoors. This background would help shape an unexpected pilgrimage into a strange, yet beautiful, world of grace, love, and wonder for me as an ex-Evangelical Protestant pastor, for my wife Diane, and our two teenage girls.

My memories of church life during my early childhood, mostly at a small Missouri Synod Lutheran Church in Huntsville, AL, are vague but important memories of loving people who treated both my siblings and my mother with kindness. (My father rarely attended.) My mother did a good job giving us a knowledge of God’s existence and basic Christian morality formed from the Ten Commandments. Flannel graphics were a favorite of mine, especially before Sunday school classes began depicting rocket launches and safe re-entry instead of religious principles. One significant event from this time occurred on a Sunday after church, as I was watching a weekly program on a Christian television station. I remember this episode had to do with a family tragedy, and as I watched the program, the thought ran through my mind that, as an adult, I would like to be helping families with hardships and challenges. This experience still guides me.

As I grew older and began high school, my family’s involvement in church waned. I became enthralled with the NFL and Sunday football. In short, we soon became “Christmas and Easter Christians” and neglected church life in general. If I had to describe where I was in my spiritual life at that time, I would say that I was a believer in God but didn’t see how God could be interested in my life. I did believe Jesus was the Son of God, but I had no concept of what that meant or why it mattered. As for the Holy Spirit, somehow, He was part of this, but how, I had no clue. In fact, my life after high school was rather confused and unguided. I had no idea where I was going or how to formulate a plan to get anywhere. Boeing and engineering didn’t interest me; working at Boeing in any capacity didn’t interest me; a career in business didn’t interest me either.

For the first time in my life, I began to search for a purpose, a deeper meaning in life, and goals to pursue. College sounded like it could help provide an answer to these questions, so I effectively rolled the dice and wound up at Western Washington University in Bellingham, WA. I had no idea what I was going to study, but I was drawn to psychology and sociology.

Ora et Labora — Prayer and Work

In 1978, I arrived at Western Washington University in Bellingham, WA, just south of the Canadian border and north of Seattle, in the afterglow of the “Jesus Movement” of the late 60s and early 70s. I quickly became involved in campus ministry, previously unaware that such a thing even existed on college campuses. In the dormitories were numerous posters recruiting students to any number of secular and religious group meetings. One of those was for Campus Crusade for Christ, which I visited and became involved in for a short time with a friend I met on the crew team. Here I was introduced to the Four Spiritual Laws, and even helped my teammate lead people to Christ. One day, this same friend asked if I had ever visited a monastery. I had not, so he invited me to visit a Benedictine Abbey, just across the border in Mission, British Columbia, Canada, named Westminster Abbey. Here, I was introduced to a new world of beauty, peace, and prayer which would begin my long journey deeper into Jesus’ heart and eventually into the Catholic Church.

The beauty of the monastery was stunning. Overlooking the Fraser River, with a north side view of Mt. Baker in Washington State, bald eagles flying overhead, and big timber all around, the impact of this first visit still remains with me many years later.

In fact, I have visited this monastery many times over the years and have brought groups up for retreats and study. Yet it was the beauty and artistry of one of the monks’ works displayed in the chapel and around the monastery that focused my attention on God’s creativity through human genius. The monk’s name was Father Dunstan Massey, OSB, and he was quite well known as an artist around the Fraser River Valley. He specialized in concrete reliefs and frescos, and his artistry speaks to me of God’s wonder. Indeed, his work was his prayer.

Father Dunstan, the grandeur of creation, and other encounters with God through beauty became a gentle path deeper into His love and compassion, which would prove to be of immense consolation in the storms of life to come. The Benedictine Rule would become a huge influence on my life. St. Benedict’s 12 Steps of Humility and their impact on the shaping of the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous became patterns within the development of my ministry over the years. The Benedictine motto, “Ora et Labora” (prayer and work), is a simple and profound way to live and learn a life of prayer and devotion “one day at a time.”

I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and learned that, while I had become a good listener and loved to minister on the streets, in jails, and occasionally on campus, this was not the most employable degree. As a result, I spent a year doing carpentry with a friend. After this time, I was invited to intern with an Assemblies of God campus ministry (Chi Alpha) with the hope of being equipped enough to pioneer a campus group on a college campus that had a supporting church nearby desiring a new chapter. We studied from well-known works of Protestant Evangelical theologians, occasionally mixed with an Anglican and, very rarely, a Catholic spiritual perspective. We conducted street dramas, traveled to different parts of the western United States to help other campus ministries, led small groups, raised our own funds, and generally became confident that we could pioneer a campus group anywhere we were called. Soon, I would indeed be called upon to begin a new campus ministry, but I needed a partner to go on this adventure with me. Diane would become that partner.

Diane and I met when we were both college students. I didn’t know her well in those years, but during this year of internship, our relationship began to flower. I admired her faith in Jesus, her prayer life, and her willingness to step out of her comfort zone in teaching, street ministry/drama, and planning outreach. Of course, I also thought she was cute.

At the end of our internship year, we were teamed up to start a campus group in Kearney, Nebraska at what was then known as Kearney State College. We set out on a cross-country adventure to another culture amidst the cornfields and hog farms of south-central Nebraska, right along the Platte River. Here, our relationship would be tried in the difficult circumstances of a new culture, an unfamiliar land with intense winters and springs, and of a longing for the big timber, mountains, and flowing water of the Pacific Northwest. Despite the difficulties, our two years spent in Nebraska were fruitful. The campus ministry grew, and Diane and I grew closer. We were engaged in Kearney. Then we said good-bye to our Nebraska friends and headed back to the Evergreen State to start our new life as a married couple.

During our time in Nebraska, we had become acquainted with many campus pastors from different denominations, all of whom were very helpful to us. What Diane and I quickly discovered, however, was that our internship in campus ministry fell short in equipping us to converse with them in matters of church history, theology, and much of pastoral ministry. As a result, I desired to go to seminary and learn about these different subjects. We needed to earn money for that to happen, though, so off we went to Alaska and Yukon to drive tour buses in the Great White North for two seasons before I took the plunge into seminary.

I began my studies at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, an interdenominational seminary begun by two Anglican Professors from England — J.I. Packer and James Houston. This was a marvelous place to learn (and I must say that many themes introduced to us here eventually found their fulfillment in the Catholic Church). Over a four-year period, we learned about Church History, Christian Spirituality, Systematic Theology, Preaching, Pastoral Care, Greek, Hebrew, and most important to our journey, the Early Church Fathers and beauty. The Early Church Fathers introduced to us an intriguing world of commitment to the Eucharist, prayer, and tradition, aspects of the Church we would later come to understand in a truly Catholic perspective instead of a curious, but still Protestant, worldview. All this we received as God’s gifts in our lives. It was a wonderful time of reception — a time of filling.

Memento Mori — Remember that You Will Die

As I worked toward the completion of my Master’s Degree in Theological Studies, I concentrated on Pastoral Care and Family Ministries. At this time, I was working in an addiction recovery center for adults and teens, helping families deal with recovery issues and treatment plans. Diane was working at a local nursing home and caring for a neglected population of elderly people. After graduation from seminary, I was eventually hired as an associate pastor with a large, local Assemblies of God church which functioned more like an Evangelical community church. This was the same church that sponsored the college campus group where Diane and I had interned. It was quite familiar to us and was an honor to serve on staff. My duties included running counseling services and recovery groups, developing internships in pastoral care, expanding our local food pantry into a food bank, and partnering with community services in the county to help families. I enjoyed this work and felt called to care for people in distress. However, during the 16 years I worked at the church, there were three experiences, all having to do with personal trauma and loss, which drew us into a search for consolation and care which only the Catholic Church was able to provide.

The first of these experiences was the discovery of our infertility as a couple. Anyone who has been part of this journey knows what a loss and burden it can be for a couple totally open to children and wanting to raise a family. In this struggle, we found there really was nowhere we could turn to find comfort or solace. We knew of no groups, no people to talk with, and no support. We were alone, and our church had no resources to help us. Diane and I spent five years praying for God’s direction amid this suffering. Were we to have children? Should we utilize artificial means to conceive? Is adoption for us? Where and how do we proceed with adoption? How are children to be part of our lives? These questions drove us deeper into prayer and into intense listening for God’s guidance.

The Lord did indeed guide us and grant us comfort during these difficult years. We came to the firm conviction that the Lord wanted us to pursue adoption overseas in China. We were in the early wave of North Americans adopting Chinese orphans. Due to the one-child policy instituted by the Communist government, many “unwanted” female babies were either aborted, victims of infanticide, or sent to crowded orphanages where they were cared for as well as they could be by the staff. Describing the adventures of this adoption experience would require an additional story; suffice it to say we traveled to China without a child and two weeks later came back with our eight-month-old daughter, Amy. Two years later, we would head to Vladivostok, Russia, to adopt our youngest daughter, Anna, also eight months old. As we settled into life as a new family of four, we were surprised that the pain of infertility was overwhelmed by the joy of adopting our children. Every family is a miracle; ours is no exception.

As the years passed, we nurtured our family and our ministry, building a community of care and outreach in the church. In time, the mission of the church became obscured, and growing a church in numbers became the top priority. In the midst of this change, the second of three losses occurred in our lives — the sudden death of my mother due to cancer. She was the hub of the family, and her death brought about profound changes in my extended family. This was a time of confusion and deep grief. Coupled with the changes in the church, we found ourselves longing once again for solace and community, but found none. We were searching intently for a deeper meaning and purpose of the people of God and church worship.

This search steered me into a doctoral program in urban leadership and spiritual formation at Bakke Graduate University (based in Seattle at the time, now based in Dallas). In this program, we learned more about the spirituality and leadership of serving the needs of the poor in urban settings, of creating communities of care and outreach, and of diving into the mystery and majesty of human interaction in the act of ministering care in God’s compassion. I would often pray in the St. Ignatius chapel at Seattle University and found this space compelling, drawing me toward beauty and prayer. Here, I discovered many more contemporary Catholic authors and people who became heroes to me. Diane and I were also drawn to Celtic Catholic spirituality and the “thin places” of the world, those places where heaven and earth are thinly veiled to one another. We had no idea that this would be the perfect description of the Catholic Mass, but the journey was beginning to take on new dimensions for us. It was also here that I came across a wonderful quote from G.K. Chesterton in his masterpiece, Orthodoxy, giving us insight to the Christian life.

“Christianity satisfies suddenly and perfectly man’s ancestral instinct for being the right way up; satisfies it supremely in this; that by its creed joy becomes something gigantic and sadness something special and small.… Joy, which is the small publicity of the pagan, is the gigantic secret of the Christian.” (G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, Hodder & Stoughton, London, 1996. p. 239.)

In 2007, I graduated with a Doctor of Ministry in Transformation Leadership and Spiritual Formation and soon after discerned that my time at the Assemblies of God church was coming to an end. Through a series of many staff changes and circumstances, Diane and I knew that our hearts were being pulled somewhere else, though where that would be, we did not know. We knew our view of the Communion service was changing, that the Lord was somehow present in ways we couldn’t articulate.

Our view of Mary was changing also. We knew that Protestants didn’t understand her or her role in salvation history. They could not help us answer the question of what her role was, and what our relationship with her ought to be. We knew it had to be more than a casual appreciation for her at Christmas.

One final issue that we could not resolve was the issue of authority. With so many opinions about Holy Scripture, what or whom were we to trust, and why should we trust them?

I resigned my position, which for a career pastor can be devastating, with the loss of income, an uncertain future, the disappearance of community and friends, and vanishing support networks. This was the third of the losses that would send us into a “desert wandering” for five years, until one Christmas Eve when our world was turned upside down.

My family loves Christmas. As part of our Christmas tradition, we would attend a Christmas Eve service somewhere in the county. Diane thought we needed a new experience of Christmas Eve as a family, so in her wisdom and attentiveness to the Holy Spirit, she suggested we attend Children’s Mass at Sacred Heart Parish, just up the hill from the church where I used to be employed. This sounded like a good idea to me, since I had been in the parish church occasionally to pray and look at the beauty of the sanctuary, statues, and candles. So, off we went to Children’s Mass. We had no idea what to expect, but knew the kids would be cute, Christmas carols would be sung, and hopefully English (and very little Latin) would be spoken. We were right! The kids were cute, Christmas carols that we knew were sung, everything in the church was decorated beautifully, and very little Latin was used. We were stunned!

We left that Mass wondering what the Lord was doing. While there, my eyes became fixed on the crucifix in the front of the church. It seemed that Jesus was speaking directly to me, saying that He knew the pains and sorrows of humanity, and more than that, the pains and sorrows my family and I had endured. He was saying that here, in the Mass, in the Catholic Church, our search for deeper meaning and purpose would find its answers. Here, Mary would be our Blessed Mother. Here, living water would finally quench our thirst.

We stayed away from the church, and from Mass, for two weeks trying to sort it out. We were a bit numb, but Diane and I were convinced that God was ushering us into full communion with the Catholic Church. We asked the girls if they desired to attend with us, and even if they desired to explore the possibility of becoming Catholic; they were game to try. So that we could become better prepared for this further adventure, we felt the need to find out more about the Church, if we could. We went to our local Barnes & Noble and found a book which became incredibly helpful to us, Catholicism for Dummies. We still refer to this book from time to time! Eventually, we were introduced to the parish priest. We invited him over to our house to pepper him with questions, attended RCIA, and prepared to enter the Church at the Easter Vigil in 2012.

Entering into full communion with the Church has been an oasis for us. Our journey has not been so much a wrestling with doctrine and tradition as it has been discovering where consolation, beauty, and joy manifest Jesus’ love on earth in the most deeply personal and authentic way. We have been overwhelmed by Jesus’ Real Presence in the Eucharist, the love of our Triune God and our Blessed Mother, and the wonder and beauty of the Church unfolding before us.

Why enter the Church in this time of trial and scandal? Perhaps it was precisely because of these wounds that the Lord led us here, to help tend to a Church that needs renewal, strength, and care.

A few years after our entrance into the Church, I started inquiring into the Diaconate upon the encouragement of our parish staff, not knowing what that entailed. It was a whole new world of potential pastoral involvement, and I wasn’t quite sure if I was up to the challenge. I told Diane, my wife, that unless someone approached me at coffee and donuts after Mass, I would forgo the honor. As I sat enjoying my donut and coffee after Mass, our parish priest made a beeline to me, telling me I needed to apply. I felt this was the Lord’s prompting! So I applied, was interviewed, along with Diane, and entered the formation process, which was quite challenging on every level.

In the second year of formation, we were graced with attending a Coming Home Network retreat at the Archbishop Brunett Retreat Center in Federal Way, WA, which was our home for formation throughout the years. The retreat was wonderful and life-giving, thanks to Jim Anderson, Ken Hensley, and Monsignor Steenson! On December 19, 2020, in the middle of the COVID pandemic, I was ordained a permanent deacon of the Catholic Church. It had been quite a journey!

In the years since my ordination, I have been impressed with the immense prayerfulness of God’s people and gained a growing love of the saints, especially St. Joseph and our Blessed Mother. I am filled with wonder as I serve the Mass and am thankful for the Divine Office, praying for the profound needs of the Church worldwide. I have also become a regular follower of On the Journey with Matt, Ken, and Kenny on the CHNetwork website, finding their insights helpful in the challenges of the diaconate.

Greater than those challenges, though, the diaconate has brought me fulfillment. Along with preparing and preaching homilies at Mass, it is one of my joys to pray for those who have died and to help those who struggle with loss to find a way home. My current role offers many opportunities to minister to bereaved families and pray for the souls of the dead as they are committed to God’s good earth, one of the corporal acts of mercy. This work brings me back to St. Benedict. One of the disciplines of the Benedictine Rule is to remember that we all will die, Memento Mori. It is not a morbid preoccupation with death, but a daily discipline to remind ourselves that our lives are short and need to be filled by the Holy Spirit with virtue, humility, and fortitude — the love of God.

Blessings to you on your own journey home! Kyrie Eleison!

Deacon Dale Pollard

Rev. Mr. Dale Pollard is a deacon in the Archdiocese of Seattle. He and his wife Diane are grateful parents and grandparents, serving at their home parish of Sacred Heart Church in Bellingham, WA, as well as ministering to the isolated, bereaved, and vulnerable of their community.

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