I was born third of four boys to a family in Wisconsin; though most of my life growing up and starting my own family was spent just over the border in Minnesota. My father’s grandfather had emigrated from Namur, Belgium just after the American Civil War and joined America’s largest Belgian-American community in Door County, Wisconsin. My mother’s side had been in the U.S. much longer, descending from Scots-Irish ancestors. My grandfather, who died when my father was just 17, had married outside the Catholic Faith in about 1910 to a German-Lutheran woman; hence our part of the family was raised in the German-Lutheran faith, and our step-grandfather pastored a German-Lutheran church in northern Wisconsin for half a century.
It has been said that life is a journey and not a destination. For close to fifty years I followed a spiritual path that was shaped in and through the Anglican Communion. Choirboy, altar boy, priest, secretary to the Diocesan Synod, Franciscan friar, confessor to bishops, and chaplain at the 1998 Lambeth Conference, I have seen it all in Anglicanism.
I was in the newsstand of a Miami bus terminal, my saddle oxfords a bit scuffed and my uniform crumpled after a steamy day of classes, when I spotted something that utterly horrified me. It was not an X-rated magazine, but something much worse: a book called “Why I Am Not a Christian” by Bertrand Russell.
I was born on April 15, 1952 in Columbus, OH, the first of 2 children, into a family that did not practice any religious faith. We moved every couple of years, as my dad advanced his career as a professor. Christmas and Easter were celebrated as secular holidays. In fact there seemed to be an outright opposition in my household to anything to do with God, Jesus, the Bible, or church.
I was born and raised in the small town of Huntsville, about 60 miles north of Houston, Texas. I was not brought up in a particularly Christian household. My mother had attended Sunday worship services in various faith traditions throughout her childhood, all stemming from Calvinistic theology with an evangelical twist. My father was a disfellowshipped Jehovah’s Witness, who rarely spoke of any sort of faith. So, as one could imagine, I grew up in a rather secular household with some moral standards, but no moral lawgiver.
I had not considered the Catholic Church as an option. From my perspective, Catholicism was not “normal” Christianity. It seemed very strict and ritualistic, with too much pomp and ceremony. It seemed too formal, rather than “Spirit led.” … After some thought, I had to admit that my opinions were based upon mere glimpses into the Church and that I actually knew very little about Catholicism.
I was raised in the Methodist faith in a small town in North Carolina. The only Catholic Church in town was a block away from my house and a large brick home which served as a convent was just around the corner. I would often see the nuns, dressed in their habits, walking to the Catholic school which adjoined the church. Whenever I saw them I felt a great sense of respect. I considered them to be very holy, although, I knew nothing about the Catholic faith.
My departure from God began in my teen years as I started to have serious doubts about my compatibility with the Baptist church and stopped attending at the age of 16. This rebellion then evolved to me declaring that I was an agnostic in college and later spending years as a workaholic who was too busy for God. A familiar tale, perhaps?
I read more on the histories of various denominations and competing theologies and, in the process, my eyes were opened to the fundamental fallacy of the doctrine of sola scriptura, the idea that the Bible alone is the sole authority for Christian belief. As I later discovered, so many people who end up becoming Catholic realized that the belief that all Christian teachings must be found in the Bible is not itself taught in the Bible!
Ruth: That Good Friday, I carefully took out white construction paper and the big, thick crayons that normally were reserved for my coloring books. Slowly, and very deliberately, I drew three crosses, the middle one in red. I don’t know how long I sat there, but I remember talking to Jesus in my own child-like way. That is my first memory of prayer or any understanding, however rudimentary, of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross for the sins of the world. I was a preschooler, not yet attending kindergarten, but this memory is still so vivid and detailed that it doesn’t seem that almost fifty years have passed.