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Conversion StoriesMethodist

Methodist from an Embryo – But Now Catholic

Molisa Derk
January 16, 2012 3 Comments

I was a Methodist from the time I was an embryo, which is my way of saying that my parents were Methodist and both sets of grandparents were Methodist. Although I don’t remember my father attending church regularly, my mother took me to Methodist Sunday School from the time I was very small. Unfortunately, she stopped regular church attendance when I was about eight, but continued to drive my grandmother and me to our small-town, Oklahoma church every Sunday. My only sibling, a brother, was from my mother’s first marriage, and raised Southern Baptist. However, he was sixteen years older than I, and joined the Navy when I was only two, so he was seldom at home.

For as far back as I can remember, I loved my little Methodist church! Although it was a somewhat small church by today’s standards, it had a lively children’s program. I was in the children’s choir, where I learned to read music. I went to Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, and as I grew older, church services. To me, church was a beautiful place with lovely stained glass windows; a place where everyone was smiling, happy, and always glad to see me.

My spiritual role model was my marvelous grandmother, who was (and I’m sure still is) on very close terms with the Almighty. This is the woman who, upon finding a lump in her breast, got down on her knees and prayed all night. The next day, the lump was gone. Although her income was very, very small, she tithed. She spent much time walking here and there in our little town visiting the “elderly,” though in some cases, those elderly were younger than she was. Her joy in the Lord was obvious. All of her grandchildren, including me, thought she was just marvelous. As a child, I was extremely fortunate to live only a block away from her, and I had permission to go to her house any time I wanted, which I did frequently.

Although Methodists generally baptize infants, my parents chose to not baptize me. At that time my church had confirmation classes in the fourth grade, but my parents did not allow me to go. My father said it was because he believed me to be too young to understand what would be discussed, and, therefore too young to make an informed decision. Since they did not have me baptized, and would not allow me to attend confirmation classes, this left me with the impression that they did not wholeheartedly approve of churchgoing in general, especially in light of the fact that they did not attend themselves.

Since I was a “bookworm” as a child (and I still am!), I was soon reading adult books. When I was twelve, I read The Robe by Lloyd C. Douglas and became convinced at a deeper level of the historical truth of the Gospels account. Yes, there really was a Jesus, and He really came back from the dead! I felt a new glow in my heart that had not been there before. I decided I needed to be baptized, but was hesitant to talk to my parents about it. I did talk to my grandmother, who took me to see our church’s minister. He talked to me for several minutes, and declared me “ready.” The next Sunday, I answered the altar call, and was baptized with my grandmother at my side. I did not tell my parents because I thought they would forbid it. However, when my mother came to pick me up after church, someone remarked to her how “proud” the church was of me. The jig was up!  I had to confess. Much to my surprise, she started crying, not because I had been baptized, but because I hadn’t told her. She told my father, but after that brief conversation in the car, neither my father nor mother ever said anything more to me about it.

I continued to go to church, and soon the Methodist youth group, also. When I was nineteen, I met a young man from another local Methodist church, who was the grandson of a Methodist minister. We married in 1972, and our son was born in 1976. We attended church regularly, and raised our son in the Methodist church and Sunday school. I was very active in the church, serving over the years in many different capacities: Sunday school teacher and superintendent, Vacation Bible School director, church treasurer, and many other committees and posts. I knew the Methodist practices, organization, and committee structure quite well.

During my college days, I attended a Southern Baptist school where I got a degree in mathematics. I began my career in computing by working in the college computer center as a student, and continued full time after graduation. In an environment where most of the students, faculty, and staff were Southern Baptist, I became familiar with Southern Baptist theology and practice, but remained firmly Methodist. Eventually, I decided that teaching was my calling, but I wanted to teach at the college level, which required graduate school. I obtained the necessary degrees, and got a job teaching computer science at a Methodist (what else?) college in Oklahoma.

After our son was grown and in college, some unforeseen events occurred that eventually led to the end of my marriage. After that, I moved to another community in Oklahoma, closer to my job, but stayed involved in the church. I joined a large Methodist church and became involved in their singles group, which included a Sunday class, an evening Bible study, and many other opportunities for fellowship and ministry. I loved the Methodist Church, and anticipated staying Methodist for the rest of my life. I told people that anyone that really understood what the Methodist Church was about would become Methodist. My mind and heart were firmly Methodist at this point, as this Church had been my entire life.

However, during 2004, several unhappy and stressful events occurred in my life. My mother got breast cancer at the age of 89, and had to have surgery. While it went well, I was her sole caregiver because, by that time, both my father and my brother had died. In addition, I discovered that the gentleman I had been dating for over a year was planning to move out of the country and my chances of seeing him regularly after that would be quite small. I did make one visit to see him. But soon after I returned home, my mother became very ill from a new health problem (not cancer), and was dead within a week. My son, by this time, was living and working in another state, and although he did come to help for a few days, he could not get extended time away from his job. Therefore, most of the arrangements and the time and stress of going through her things fell to me. About a week after the funeral, I received a terse email from my boyfriend saying goodbye since he had found someone new. At that time, some worrisome events occurred at the college where I worked, which made me seriously doubt that I could stay there until my retirement. I wondered how successful I could be in a job search at the age of 53. Then, one day, I came home and found my cat dead in my kitchen. That little cat had been my constant companion through my divorce, my son leaving for college, and my job problems, but now she was gone, too.

By the time Labor Day arrived, I was a basket case. The singles group had planned a Labor Day outing, so I went, but had a “meltdown” while I was there and had to be driven home. I did find a good Christian counselor, who was of some help, until I received the bill! After only three sessions, she told me she did not think I needed any more time with her. I wasn’t entirely convinced. However, my mental state did improve somewhat over the next several months.

Then, in the fall of 2005, other negative events occurred at work that triggered a return of my depression, which spiraled down even deeper. On top of this, I found myself with new financial problems. Strange thoughts and feelings took over my mind. As a computer scientist, I thought of myself as a rational person, but depression can steal all rationality away from anyone. I began to talk openly of suicide to my Bible study group. Of course, they were very concerned. On several occasions, they gathered around me and laid hands on me while they prayed. I probably should have sought professional help again, but in my depression, I thought I was beyond hope and help.

It was at about this time that I happened to see Have No Fear, a movie about John Paul II, on the television. Watching it, I got a strange sense of peace that had been absent from my life for a long time. It wasn’t from any theological discussion or anything similar — actually I don’t really know what it was about that movie that gave me peace. In any case, I wondered if the Catholic Church could help me.

At this point, I knew practically nothing about the Catholic Church. I had not been raised to think ill of the Catholic Church, although I had heard negative things from some of my Baptist friends. My sister-in-law and an aunt and uncle were Catholic, but I don’t remember any discussions about the Church in any respect. I knew that non-Catholics could not take communion if they visited, and I knew the guy in charge was the called Pope, but beyond that, I knew nothing. I had been inside a Catholic Church only once in my life, and that was for a funeral. In short, my mind was a totally blank slate when it came to the Church. All I knew what that there was something about that movie that comforted me.

In January of 2006, I decided I needed to visit a Catholic Church. I called the only person that I knew locally that was a Catholic, and asked if I could accompany her to Mass and, of course, she said yes. When I went, it was all very confusing. As a Protestant, I was accustomed to receiving a bulletin when I walked in the door outlining the order of worship, including hymn numbers, but I did not receive any such help. As I looked around, I did not see anyone consulting any kind of document during the service. It seemed to me that everyone had the order of worship memorized, and no one was inclined to tell me what was to happen next (of course, there were missals, but most Catholics don’t use them, and this parish was no exception). Also, the worship had many more small elements than a typical Methodist service, and included lots of standing, kneeling, bowing, sitting, various strange motions with the hands, recitations of a mysterious, memorized liturgy, etc. In short, I felt very much like an unwelcome outsider, bewildered and confused. If it had been up to me, I would have never gone back.

But, it seems, God had other plans.

During the service, although I had no idea what was happening, I tried to do what everyone else was doing – the standing, the kneeling, etc. – as well as I could, simply so I wouldn’t “stand out.” So, after the homily, and the offering, and some other stuff, there came a time when everyone was kneeling and some little boy at the front of the church was ringing a bell (which also seemed very strange to me), so I knelt, also.

At that moment, during the Eucharistic prayer, it was as if some giant, invisible hand reached into my mind and removed all of the bad thoughts and feelings that had been my constant companions for years. The change was instant and total. I was stunned.

As I went through the week, I continued to feel much better, though some of the bad thoughts and feelings did come back after a few days. So, I decided to go to the Catholic church again the next Sunday, for another “dose”, as it were. Although I still did not understand the service, when I was kneeling and the bells were rung, I got the same “healing” that I had received the previous week. Again, as the week passed, some of the depression returned, but not as much as the previous week.

This pattern continued for week after week after week. Every Sunday I received a healing. Every week I felt better than the week before. It seemed that God wanted me to continue to go to that Catholic church every week. I would occasionally go back to my Methodist services, but nothing happened there. I visited other Catholic churches in the area, but the healings did not happen in those churches, either. It had to be that particular Catholic church. I can say without a doubt that it was not the beautiful stained glass windows, because that parish had none.

After several months, I was feeling much, much better, and the healing turned out to be permanent. No longer did anything unusual happen in my mind during the blessing of the elements, I suppose it was because I no longer needed it. However, I had become convinced that God wanted me to go to the Catholic Church. Since I would be in the Catholic parish on Sunday morning instead of the Methodist church, I decided I had better join. I started RCIA classes in the fall of 2006 and was accepted into the church at the Easter Vigil Mass in 2007.

The reaction to this by my Protestant friends was quite varied! The most negative reaction I got was from a former Catholic, who was very unhappy, at least initially, but came around after she realized how much better I felt. As I went to RCIA, I continued to take part in the Methodist Bible study, and other Methodist singles group social activities. Initially, some members of the Bible study group were horrified with my decision to become Catholic, especially those who were raised in a Fundamentalist background. But, on the whole, most were happy for me. They saw that I was much happier, and as time went by, they saw that no horns sprouted from my head, and in other ways, I seemed to remain perfectly normal. I had stopped talking about suicide, and actually laughed and joked as I used to do. When the time came for me to be accepted into the Church, they took up a collection and purchased a Catholic Study Bible for me, which they all signed. Also, several of them attended the Easter Vigil Mass to support me. I was very touched by all of this.

Fortunately, my son and other family members were also quite supportive. The Catholics were overjoyed, and the others were just glad I was happier. My Methodist singles minister told me early in this process that I was following a “pillar of fire” as Moses did, and that I should keep doing it. She has been, and continues to be very supportive. I have kept in touch with her and send her Catholic CDs and literature from time to time.

My conversion seems to be unusual in respect that most of my study of Catholic doctrine came after my decision to become Catholic. During my RCIA classes, I found some of the Church doctrine puzzling, but there was none of it that I could not accept, even though I could not understand all of it. I must admit that I was more concerned about the Church rejecting me than me rejecting any Church doctrine. There seemed to be no reason for me to reject, for instance, the Assumption of Mary. In the first place, I was not present and had no evidentiary basis to reject it. Secondly, there were, after all, historical precedents for such an event (as the prophet Elijah was assumed in 2 Kings 2: 11). And, given the fondness of Catholics for relics, it would seem to me that the lack of relics of Mary is something of evidence that there were none.

In the fall of 2007, more negative news emerged at work, but I was able to deal with it in a calm manner and had no emotional relapse. I began applying for other work, and found a wonderful job in North Dakota, where I moved in 2008. I am now an active member of a Catholic parish here.

I continue to study and learn about the Faith. Over the last year, I have been in an apologetics class that has taught me the scriptural basis for many items of Catholic doctrine. Although I have been an avid Bible reader for many years, many Scriptures have been opened to me for the first time. Several of my Protestant friends emphasized to me that I would be discouraged from reading the Bible as a Catholic, but I have found just the opposite to be true. I was surprised to learn that the Catholic Church has three (four if you count singing the Psalm) Scripture readings every Sunday, where most Protestant churches have only one. I learned that there is indeed a scriptural basis for Purgatory, though before I had been told there was none. I learned there is solid scriptural basis for the Real Presence in the Eucharist, for the perpetual virginity of Mary, and many other doctrines. I believe it was an advantage to me that I had not been mentally “fighting” the Church, as other converts seem to relate. Since I had experiential, overwhelming, evidence that the Catholic Church was the place for me, I was in a frame of mind to accept rather than reject, so learning the scriptural and logical bases for doctrine was not a struggle for me at all.

The only area where I continue to struggle is in the formal culture and practices of the Church. I miss adult Sunday school. I miss the happy and upbeat music, and general jolly atmosphere of the Protestant church (I will never like Gregorian chants). The atmosphere in a Catholic church is supposed to be reverent, which is fine, but sometimes it can seem to me closer to gloomy. However, the richness of the Catholic Church has more than made up for these minor disappointments. In particular, I find the Church’s approach to the spiritual value of suffering to be of great comfort. I found Protestant theology to be of very little help in this area.

I would like to work towards trying to bridge the unneeded and hurtful walls that unfortunately exist between the Catholic world and the Protestant world. I think I was able to do a little of that while in Oklahoma, just by being myself around Protestants while being a Catholic. It breaks my heart to hear and read about how many Protestants who became Catholic lost many close ties with friends, families, and employers. Most of these are not necessary. The lay people on both sides may not be able to bring about a unity of name and organization in the Christian community, but we can certainly bring an end to the disunity of spirit. I have heard entirely too many anti-Catholic comments from Protestants, and unfortunately, too many anti-Protestant comments from Catholics. We have too many spiritual battles to be waged against the influences of the Enemy to waste our time fighting each other.

I still love the Methodist church, and visit my former Methodist congregations in Oklahoma when I have the chance. I pray that the faithful on both sides of the Protestant/Catholic chasm will find a way to be closer in spirit. In the meantime, the Catholic Church has obviously been and will continue to be an enormous blessing to me.

Molisa Derk

Molisa Derk is currently on the faculty of Dickinson State University, Dickinson, North Dakota, where she teaches computer science. She is especially interested in the effects of computing on modern life. Molisa is an active member of St. Patrick’s parish in Dickinson, and also plays in the community band. She has one child, a son, who is also in computing and lives with his wife in the Seattle area.

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