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Church of ChristConversion Stories

Sectarian to Sacramental

Jim Barnett
November 6, 2018 No Comments

For as long as I can remember, I have always been involved in church. Growing up, my family was in church every time the doors were open: for Sunday services, weddings, funerals, revivals, and church camp every summer as well. My Dad was a pastor in the Christian Church/Church of Christ denomination, that evolved out of the Restoration Movement started by the father-son team of Thomas and Alexander Campbell, as well as Barton W. Stone and many others. (In this denomination, which was begun to “restore the ancient order of things,” there are three major splinter groups that grew out of what originally was a unity movement.) Preaching and music were a big part of our family life. I played the piano and sang all throughout my childhood, and although I no longer play the piano, I still love to sing!

I hate to admit this, but I was very sectarian and narrow minded back then, thinking that anyone who was outside the fold of our own denomination was doomed to hell. I considered the Catholic Church to be the greatest of offenders. However, I do remember at age seventeen, watching the funeral Mass of Pope John Paul I in 1978 with great interest and curiosity. I even took notes! Though I understood nothing about the Mass, I was intrigued. Today, I wonder if any seeds were planted in my soul then, only to germinate fourteen years later.

Being a preacher’s kid had its pluses and minuses. We lived in northeastern Kentucky, in a rural village of about fifty people. The closest town with a grocery store was fifteen miles away, in a town with a population of 3,500. The nearest “big” city was Lexington, sixty miles away. Because everyone in my village knew me, being scrutinized and getting in trouble as a preacher’s kid was frequent!

What did I want to do as my life’s vocation? I wanted to preach and evangelize … although to what degree, I wasn’t sure. From a very early age, I had always wanted to be involved in church ministry in some capacity, so I enrolled in 1979 at Kentucky Christian College in Grayson, Kentucky. My dad had graduated from there in 1954 and served for thirty-seven years at the small country church in our village, Grange City, from 1951 until he passed away in 1988. He also served at another tiny country church in Hillsboro, Kentucky for about the same length of time. These two churches alternated preaching services every other Sunday.

In 1984, I graduated from KCC (now Kentucky Christian University) and moved to St. Louis with the intent of going to graduate school, getting a Master’s degree to further my education and possibly enter teaching in some capacity. Shortly after moving to St. Louis, I entered the business world and started working, while doing a little preaching on the side. As work took over, my aspirations for graduate school faded, and my preaching ministry was not as prominent as it had once been. Though I still preached from time to time and would always be involved in church, making a living took precedence in my life at this time.

In 1984, exactly one month to the day after moving to St. Louis, I attended the National Convention of the Little People of America that was held there. It was at this convention where I met my wife-to-be, Carol. She is the love of my life who was — and still is — a cradle Catholic, thanks be to God! In retrospect, I can see how God was working here.

Shortly after meeting Carol, from 1984 to 1986, I was strongly encouraged to break off my relationship with her simply because she was Catholic. Sadly, I broke her heart, and this is something I’m now embarrassed to admit. By 1986, I knew I still loved her and wanted to spend the rest of my life with her. We reunited; she said “Yes,” and I said “Oh yes!” After we got back together, my mom and dad came to know and love Carol in a genuine, strong, affectionate way — as did the others in my family. We were married in 1987 in Carol’s home parish. At our wedding Mass, my parents sat in the front row, most happy because their son was happy.

I do believe God had a hand in bringing us together, because Carol and I are both “Little People,” which means we have Achondroplasia Dwarfism with a height of 4′5″ or smaller. Before we met, we had both always thought that a relationship with someone and marriage weren’t in our future — that we would have to settle for the single life. (Carol, our three daughters, and I are all of short stature. Our son, whom we adopted, is of average height.) Besides companionship, family, and all that goes with marriage, I truly believe that, by God’s grace, He used Carol to bring me into the fullness of truth, which would eventually lead me to enter the Catholic Church. Shortly after we were married in 1987 until 1988, I continued to work in the business world, while continuing to preach, sing, work with young people, etc. All this time, Carol remained ever faithful to the Church and regularly attended Mass. Despite our theological differences, she never wavered, thanks be to God.

From 1988 to 1992, during the years we had our children, I went through a spiritual desert, like the children of Israel traveling to the Promised Land. I attended many different denominations, always seeking but never finding. In hindsight, I see that the Lord was preparing me for entry into the Catholic Church, but I didn’t realize it at the time. Though I searched for spiritual fulfillment, I was never satisfied. All in God’s timing. It was only when I found the Church and received Jesus’ Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Eucharist that my hunger was satisfied. I had longed for the Manna from Heaven!

Our oldest daughter, Ashley, was born in 1988. Then we experienced the pain of a miscarriage in 1989 and the death of our infant daughter, Samantha, in 1990. Samantha lived just 19 hours after birth. Our daughter Gracey was born in 1991, followed by Katey in 1993. Daniel became our son at age seven, in 2011. He is now 16 years old. All of our children were baptized, confirmed, and raised in the Catholic Church even before I converted. They continue to be active in the faith. After Daniel came to live with us, he entered the Church as well.

My bride, Carol (who is still my bride after 31 years), remained and still remains very strong in her Catholic Faith. Through her example and many prayers — and the prayers and example of her “Mother Teresa” style sweet Mama — I humbly entered God’s Church, the Roman Catholic Church, on April 18, 1992. I was home!

I realized the errors in my previous theological studies, my false conclusions that were typical of most non-Catholics, and my tainted, pre-conceived ideas about biblical interpretations. As Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen once said, “There are not a hundred people in America who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions of people who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church — which is, of course, quite a different thing.”

Unfortunately, I was among those millions at one time.

While going through my conversion period, I thought to myself, when Jesus said in Matthew 16:18 that the gates of hell will not overcome the church, then that’s what He meant.

As the old saying goes, “He said it. He meant it. Therefore I believe it.” How could 20,000 to 30,000 different churches/denominations, all claiming to be truth, withstand the argument when Jesus said, “I will build my Church.” He didn’t establish many different church “brands,” He established one Church that has carried forward ad infinitum.

The unity that Jesus prayed for in John 17:21 was nowhere to be found in splintered Christianity, and the one Faith in Ephesians 4:5–6 was certainly not found in thousands of groups that said they had the truth. I said, “Who is their authority? Who had the final say? Which of these so-called authorities was correct, others preach completely different stories? There is no continuity. All can’t be right.”

People say, “But the Church did this or that!” I share the following illustration, regarding this very thing:

People say we have problems in the Church. We do. This is not abnormal, nothing new, nothing insurmountable. The Catholic Church is a divine institution. It is perfect, perpetual. It is run, however, by imperfect people. The Catholic Church is like a house: When you build a new house there are no flaws. After wear and tear, caused by people living in it, if something needs repair, you don’t burn down the house and build a new one. That’s financial suicide. No, you repair the parts that need repair and continue living in the house. The basic structure and foundation remain. The same is true with the Church. If something needs repair, you don’t burn down the Church and build a new one. That’s spiritual suicide. We have councils, etc. to fix things. Burn down the Church? No! That results in denominationalism. The Church has already been built by Jesus Himself. It will never be overcome!

As Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers says, “We’re not a denomination, but ‘The Common Denominator’!”

So with all the different “flavors” or “brands” of churches out there, I was completely turned off. It is then I saw the Catholic Church, established in AD 33 — not the 1500’s, 1600’s, 1700’s, 1800’s or even all of the new “startups” of today. Where were all those Protestant churches before the 1500’s? Nowhere. The Catholic Church was there from day one and will be there until the end of time.

I’m all in — hook, line and sinker! I bought the whole complete package. It was and is the food I had so longed for during my spiritual “desert” time. There is no retreat in God’s Church and God’s Army. No turning back. We must march onward, conquering Satan and his entourage.

“Little children, you are of God, and have overcome them (the spirits who follow antichrist); for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” (1 John 4:4).

Present Day: Due to health problems, I have been living in a nursing home since May, 2015. However, this is not my life’s final chapter. With God’s help, I hope to continue rigorous physical therapy, to lose weight, and by early 2020 to return to living with my wife Carol and our children Gracey, Katey, and Daniel, who are still living at home. Our oldest daughter, Ashley, no longer lives at home. After seven years as a Catholic youth minister in Bloomington, Indiana, she moved in August 2018 to Seattle, Washington to begin her formation as a Religious Sister in the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity (SOLT) community.

When I get back home, I do not intend to remain idle. I wish to dedicate my efforts to the field of evangelism and apologetics, all within the confines of the Church and her teachings. There is so much work to be done in bringing people into the Church all over the world, especially here in the United States. People are hungry for food that gives eternal satisfaction. Only Jesus in the Eucharist and the Church can fulfill this hunger:

I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.” The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me (John 6:51–57).

Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Matthew 9:37–38)

God, give us men and women to “take it up a notch” and evangelize. Let us always be praying for men and women to answer the call to holiness, especially to the priesthood and religious life.

For my remaining time in the nursing home, I pray and hope to be a blessing to my fellow Catholic brothers and sisters here, as well as to non-Catholics. I desire only to mirror Jesus so they can draw closer to Him and His Church.

On July 5, 1970, I found Jesus, and on April 18, 1992 (Easter Vigil), I found His Church. Praise be to God! Thank you Jesus!

Jim Barnett

Jim Barnett was received into full communion with the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil on April 18, 1992.

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