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Conversion StoriesPresbyterian & Reformed

My 500-Year Journey from Scotland to Rome

Don McLane
April 13, 2023 No Comments

My journey into the Catholic Church begins with the long line of McLanes who were Presbyterian ordained pastors and elders, extending from the Reformation until today. Most recently, both my grandparents and parents were Presbyterian missionaries. Eventually, the Eucharist drew me into the Anglican Church, where I served as a priest for 30 years. But as much as I love my parents and grandparents (my father was my best friend), the Bible and the Catholic Magisterium drew me into the Catholic Church.

Roll Over, Beethoven!

To my parents and grandparents, I say, “I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world” (Romans 1:8). For 41 years, my grandfather was principal and later president of the Presbyterian PanAmerican School in Kingsville, Texas, for students from Latin America. The Lord blessed me generously with godly and loving parents and two wonderful sisters. My father was a seminary professor and evangelist in Brazil, where my younger sister and I were born. When I needed a series of surgeries, my parents returned to the USA for my medical care, where my father served and built Presbyterian churches throughout Texas. My heart is so thankful that our family, while not perfect, was a place where my sisters and I experienced the joy of living in a faith-filled home. Living in the manse (the Presbyterian name for a rectory or parsonage) near the church meant that church was the center of our lives. I loved Jesus as a boy and was sometimes asked to lead the devotions on our Boy Scout campouts. Even though I knew God’s love from childhood, when I left home, I also left the church. Jesus said, “It is harder for a PK (preachers’ kid) to enter heaven than other people.” Okay, maybe I’m taking translation liberties here, but you get the point. I didn’t reject my faith, but was simply no longer interested in it, since I had lost my personal relationship with Jesus. My clarinet became my world; I hoped that someday I would play in a symphony orchestra. At the conclusion of my first year of studying under Richard Picar, principal clarinetist (first chair) with the Houston Symphony, I was required to perform for a panel of the Symphony’s top instrumentalists. I practiced for hundreds of hours for a full year to be reviewed by the finest of professional musicians. No pressure there! I was, in St. Paul’s words, “in much fear and trembling,” but also in awe of performing for these accomplished musicians. My joy knew no bounds as they enthusiastically encouraged me to continue studying music.

A Seed Must Die Before It Can Grow

Coming home from college, I found that my girlfriend of four years had suddenly eloped with a man she had only recently met. I knew then that there is no such thing as a true friend — you are on your own! So it seemed.

So, I partied every night with a different girl, going to the famous dance halls in central Texas. I drank until I passed out and blew out my car’s engine. I could not deal with this rejection and decided I needed more than alcohol and partying to ease my pain. I was ready to move on to drugs.

Returning to college, the first suitemate I met had longer hair than mine and had been heavily into drugs, which led me to believe I would have no problem getting whatever I wanted from him. However, I was shocked when I found out that he and one other of my new suitemates were newborn Christians. They had both flunked out of college, both were drafted to serve in Vietnam, but then both had come to know Jesus. They read to me from Romans 10:9–10 “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in our heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” My third roommate, Ken, was a close friend and fellow musician, even more accomplished than I was. He was raised Catholic but had, like me, left his church. Yet when asked, Ken, too, confessed Jesus as his Lord and Savior.

I still had no interest in religion; that was my father’s thing. But I had to decide. Was I a Christian? If so, why couldn’t I say His name? This was the height of the Jesus Movement, and I was not sure about these Jesus freaks, as we called them. But if I openly confessed Jesus as Lord, they would at least leave me alone. I wanted the joy and peace they had, but did not want to be a religious fanatic.

However, my heart was so hurt and lonely that I knew I needed something more to ease my pain than what I was trying. Now, even my friend Ken had become one of them—another “Jesus Freak.” So I confessed that I do believe in Jesus as my Lord. The moment I said His name, I was filled with overflowing peace, knowing that all my sins were forgiven, and I was filled with joy that I had finally found the Friend who would never abandon me. Ironic, isn’t it? The one guy I thought could supply me with drugs ended up giving me Jesus!

On Sunday I attended the Presbyterian church and knew that the Lord was present in His Bride—the church. The next day, I shared with the pastor the details of my conversion just days before. He asked me to speak to the congregation the following Sunday to tell of coming back to faith and the church. Though I had long hair and didn’t look like them, they received me with open arms and loving hearts. All I did was tell my story of coming to Christ. This congregation had an Altar Call at the end of every service. A 16-year-old girl with long hair and beads, who had related to this hippy looking PK who had found Jesus, came forward.

One thing I had never witnessed in my childhood in the Presbyterian Church was any kind of emotion. But this girl was weeping profoundly. Soon, a woman in the choir also began weeping, along with most of the choir. Then some in the congregation began weeping. I had no idea what was going on. After church, the pastor explained to me that this girl’s father was an atheist and philosophy professor and had convinced his daughter that God does not exist. She had attended confirmation classes for a couple of years but would not join the church. The pastor had visited with her more than once about the reality of faith in Jesus, but she resisted.

So, what was all the crying about? Her mother sang in the choir and was overjoyed to tears when she saw her precious daughter publicly professing her faith in Jesus as her Lord and Savior. The rest of the choir, then some in the congregation, also wept for joy. God used the fumbling words of a new believer who could neither quote much Scripture nor articulate the depths of the faith to touch another soul who so desperately needed to know the Friend who would never leave her.

This was the peak of the Charismatic Movement, and many of my friends were encouraging me to ask for the Baptism in the Holy Spirit. Having already been baptized in water by my father, I was interested, but I did not believe that I was spiritual enough nor had enough faith to receive this blessing. They then invited me to visit Abundant Life Pentecostal Church in Pasadena, Texas. I went out of curiosity. In the middle of the service, just as the pastor was about to begin his sermon, two young men my age, wearing my same dress code—jeans, sandals, long hair, etc.—approached me and asked if I would like to receive the Baptism in the Holy Spirit. I did, but I did not want to interrupt the service, so I followed them back to one of the classrooms. They listened to my reasons for not having yet received this baptism. They simply told me that they were going to praise the Lord and worship Him, reassuring me that we were all going to trust on faith that I would receive this blessing, then walk in the assurance that I was filled with the Holy Spirit, whether there was any outward manifestation or not. They began to praise God in English and then ever so joyfully in a heavenly language. I realized their focus was on God and not on me, which set me free to praise Jesus with all my heart in English. And then it happened. I burst forth in a heavenly language, praising God with more than my rational words could express.

It would be many years later, in seminary, before I would more fully understand the Baptism in the Holy Spirit. Professor Rod Whitacre explained in his commentary on John, when Jesus breathed on the disciples to receive the Holy Spirit in John 20, we see the conception of the Church. Later, after Jesus had returned to the Father, at the sending of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, we see the birth of the church.

David du Plessis, the well known and respected Pentecostal pastor, was invited to attend Vatican II as an observer. When some of the Cardinals asked him if he thought Catholics had the Holy Spirit, he lovingly explained. “If you have Jesus, you have the Father and the Holy Spirit as well.”

Rev. du Plessis went on to explain: “If you drink a glass of water, you have water in you. But when you are emersed in water by diving into a fast-flowing stream, the water now has you. The water will carry you along by the Spirit of God to go wherever He calls you to go.”

Some of my classmates and I started a contemporary music group known as Life, Fresh and New. We sang in both Protestant and Catholic churches, coffee houses, prison units, etc., and finally acquired our own coffee house, known as The Open Door, in Huntsville, Texas. We discovered the Episcopal Church of The Redeemer in Houston and fell in love with the charismatic worship, the Spirit-filled music, and most importantly the Holy Eucharist.

From the Driver’s Seat to the Altar

I had changed my major from music to psychology, as I had planned to become a Presbyterian pastor but had reservations and did not move forward. After marriage to Glenna (the sweetest girl with the sweetest voice on earth, who was also a Lutheran who had come to a personal relationship with Jesus and was one of our featured vocalists and song writers), we moved to Colorado to explore joining an Episcopal Christian Community made up of both married and single parishioners. We did not move into the Community, but stayed in Colorado Springs, where I drove a city bus for 10 years. Then I again heard God’s call to be an Episcopal priest. By now, we had been blessed with five children, but lost three of them prematurely. Our son Bryan and our daughter Curren are truly our greatest blessings.

The Lord blessed me abundantly again as I attended the newest Episcopal seminary, Trinity School for Ministry in Pittsburgh, which was based on Psalm 119:105: “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.” Yet even in seminary, I struggled with the validity of the sacraments, especially infant baptism. The call to priesthood was still strong, so I prayed and felt that the Lord was gently tapping me on the shoulder, asking: “You know that Catholics, Orthodox, Presbyterians, Methodist, and Lutherans, etc., all practice infant baptism. Are you sure you alone and your Bible alone have all truth?” I was humbled and had to admit that I did not possess all truth and proper interpretation of Sacred Scripture, so I decided to be ordained but still felt uncomfortable, especially with the sacrament of infant baptism.

A few weeks after ordination, as a priest at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in San Antonio, it was my turn to conduct the baptisms. I could not refuse my rector and so reluctantly obeyed. I baptized twin infant boys named James and Gregory. My heart was overflowing with the presence of the Lord, because a few years earlier our first-born twin sons died prematurely, whose names were James and Gregory! The Lord is so patient with us. He knew I needed that clear sign that He was indeed in the sacraments, and that they are valid and necessary. I went on to serve churches in San Antonio, Seattle, and finally in Dallas. Life was good, and I loved being a priest, even though it was more challenging than I could have ever imagined. Pray for our priests! They need our love and prayerful support more than we realize!

Nowhere to Run to, Nowhere to Hide

Protestant churches were changing, and I became unsettled in my spirit, not knowing where to go. I just wanted to love and follow Jesus!

Step number one of my conversion to Rome came from the Bible itself. The Gospel readings each week began to challenge the foundation of the Reformation doctrines, in which salvation is based on grace alone, faith alone, and Scripture alone. The words of Jesus and other New Testament writers do not teach these principles. The word “if ” appears 141 times in the Gospels. In so many of these “if ” statements, Jesus is calling us to follow him with action, behavior, etc.

One of many examples that spoke of more than just “saying a sinner’s prayer and your salvation is now complete” is found in Matthew 6:14–15: “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

Then I realized that neither the words “grace alone” nor “scripture alone” appear together even once in the Bible. And the only time the words “faith alone” appear together are in the Book of James, teaching us that “…a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.” The oldest member of the last Anglican Church I served, who had taught the men’s Bible study for over a third of a century, summed up this issue by saying; “We are not saved by faith alone, nor by works alone, but by “faith that works.” This humble farmer with no formal education had an all-encompassing understanding of Scripture that helped lead me home to Rome. There are many more biblical examples of Jesus calling us to live out our faith.

Then I thought about marriage. A wedding is a one-time event, but a marriage must be lived out over a lifetime of committed love and service. I am so thankful to God for the Presbyterians, Baptists, Pentecostals, and Anglicans who guided me through each step of my journey, but now I see that knowing Jesus is a lifetime journey of faith lived out in words and works.

Step number two of my coming home to Rome came as I discovered the Magisterium: the teaching order of bishops and popes throughout time. The role of a bishop is to defend the faith, as the Apostle Jude tells us. Truth is to be received, handed down, taught, and lived out in faith. The Bible is true because it is inspired by God. The early Catholic Fathers of the first four centuries, the whole Magisterium, discerned which books were inspired, that make up our New Testament, and now the descendants of those Fathers, again the Magisterium, defend these biblical truths.

In the Middle Ages, some of the leaders of the Catholic Church had become corrupt in behavior, bringing about the need for reform. But now I observed that, during the last 500 years, through repentance of bad behavior, through wise decisions of councils, and through guidance of truly faithful popes and bishops led by the Holy Spirit, the very Church which had needed reforming was today more faithful to the Bible and the Creeds than the Protestant churches that were busy changing beliefs and behavior.

Anglicans consider themselves to be both Protestant and reformed Catholics. We were taught that our bishops were in apostolic succession from St. Peter via the bishops of the Church of England. But while the Catholic Magisterium was defending the faith, our Anglican bishops were changing it. All that is needed to change beliefs concerning faith and morals is to take a vote. One example was the vote taken to bless the killing of unwanted babies. This vote gave approval to a massive genocide which has killed over 60 million babies just in the USA—over 10 times the number of Jews that were killed in World War II. We could not live with this horrible practice.

I led our congregation out of the national Episcopal Church into the US branch of the Anglican Church. We thought this was a safe place to find home from unbiblical changes. However, we found that, even there, each bishop can teach and practice the faith any way he or she chooses. One bishop can teach there are two sacraments and another that there are seven. One bishop can ordain women, and other bishops who disagree choose to do nothing about that practice. I saw individualism taking over what I had thought was a unified church. There was simply no authority to hold bishops accountable to defend the faith and maintain the Church’s unity. Jesus had prayed for His church to be one. I wanted to be a part of the one, holy, apostolic Church.

My Journey to Rome

I had been drawn to the Catholic Church for years but was still not completely sure that it was biblically faithful. Would the Catholic Church disappoint us as the Protestant church had? One well-known Protestant historian stated that the Catholic Church will soon declare Mary to be a fourth member of the Trinity—which we now know will never happen—but his statement at that time left me lost. I did not know where home was for a Christian who just wanted to love and follow Jesus faithfully and truthfully.

Then God spoke again to me through Sacred Scripture: John 6:66–69; “After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” I still didn’t know where home was, but I trusted Jesus to lead me. I also admired St. Peter for his solid faith in following Jesus, and I had a burning in my heart to be a part of the biblical New Testament Church that Peter then led.

Many people are drawn to the Catholic Church through reading the Church Fathers and Church history. But I am a tactile person who needs to see and touch historical and holy sites.

In 2018, I received a generous clergy sabbatical grant. We went on a long journey across Europe to visit the foundations of our faith, beginning in Edinburgh, Scotland, at St. Giles Cathedral, where John Knox had preached, to help form the Church of Scotland (Presbyterian Church). It was a moving experience to see the actual pulpit he used to light the fires of the Scottish Reformation. During the foundational years of the Scottish Church, a person had to be interviewed by the Elders to decide if you were truly living a holy life. If so, you were given a Communion Token, which would admit you to partake of communion. We still have a Communion Token with the McLane Pastor’s name on it.

Moving on to England, we visited Canterbury Cathedral to see the home of the Anglican Church and Lambeth Palace, the residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury, head of the Anglican Communion. I was sad to learn how few English citizens knew anything about their own native church. I asked a police officer for directions to Lambeth Palace, where the Anglican Archbishop lives. He did not know—yet we were standing in front of it. There are now more Catholics worshiping in England than Anglicans!

Our journey ended in Italy, first in Venice, to see the tomb of St. Mark the Evangelist, one of the four Gospel writers, at St. Mark’s Cathedral. Then we traveled to holy sites around Italy to visit the shrines of some of the great saints, such St. Francis of Assisi, St. Margarita (Rita) and St. Pio of Petrelcina (“Padre Pio”). Our seven-week journey culminated in Rome, at the Vatican. On our first day, we experienced the joy of seeing Pope Francis up close in St. Peter’s Square. We stayed in a monastery across the street from the Vatican and spent time exploring every area of the Vatican for several days. The last day of our pilgrimage culminated in taking the Scavi Tour in the excavations under the altar of St. Peter’s Basilica to see the actual bones of St. Peter. This moving experience confirmed to me that I had found the biblical New Testament Church I had longed to know.

I knew I was called to be Catholic, but had a sad heart over leaving my much-loved McLane heritage, because I have such love and respect for my parents, grandparents, and so many other relatives. McLean (McLane) pastors and elders helped to form the Church of Scotland.

And then it dawned on me! While in Scotland, we had journeyed to the Isle of Mull to visit the McLean (Duart) Castle, still occupied by members of the McLean Clan. After that, we had traveled to the small Isle of Iona, where St. Columba brought the Christian Faith to Scotland in 563 AD. This Irish monk converted most of pagan Scotland and northern England.

Fast forward almost a thousand years. The Iona Augustinian Order nunnery and chapel were in ruins. In the 15th century, on the eve of the Reformation, the now wealthy McLean Clan gave generously to help restore this most holy Island.

It was then that I had this awesome revelation: I had seen here the Church of my devout Catholic ancestors a century before the Reformation. Today, of the 560 tall stone crosses that had been erected on Iona as prayer stations, only three remain: St. John’s, St. Martin’s, and the McLean cross. Most of the nuns’ graves over the centuries are lost to time, but one of the few remaining is that of a remarkable prioress, Anna MacLean.

Scott and Kimberly Hahn’s book title, Rome Sweet Home, has a double meaning for me. In entering into full communion with the Catholic Church, I have come home to my spiritual home — to the Church Jesus founded on the Apostles and Martyrs. But I have also come home to my ancestral home, the church of my McLean heritage.

Our son married a wonderful woman who has a delightful six-year-old boy. We were blessed recently with the birth of our first grandchild. This precious boy will carry on the McLane name. Thank you, Mom and Dad, and Grandad and Nana, for living and passing on to us the faith you had been given. But now, after reforming itself for the last 500 years, the Catholic Church is once again home to the McLanes.

Don McLane

Don McLane is a former Anglican priest who, along with his wife Glenna, are both involved in music at Holy Redeemer Catholic Church in Aledo, TX, under the leadership of Monsignor Publius Xuereb. Don is also involved in the Kairos Prison Ministry and loves speaking to parishes, men’s and women’s groups, teens, etc., and with individuals about his conversion to the Catholic Church.

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