I was raised in a great Catholic family. There were eight of us kids and our parents made sure we were brought up to revere and worship God. We prayed at meals and Sundays were days of rest. We worked hard during the week and attended church each weekend and went to catechism classes. I can still remember the times in church when my brother and I would start to giggle because of something we found funny, only to feel a quick tap to the back of the head from one of our parents. Church was a place of reverence and awe. Even though going to Mass was mandatory in our family, I always felt a need or desire to be there. Many of my friends were Catholic and attended catechism with me. I was often reminded not to question, just believe, so I did — for the most part. But like many kids, by the time I reached my teen years, my faith was becoming less important to me.
Through my high school years, I was very involved in athletics and started dating a young, beautiful blond-haired Methodist girl named Dawn who later became my wife. She would often accompany me to Mass on Saturday night. Dawn would later in our marriage tell me that my faith in God was one of things that attracted her to me. Don’t take this wrong — I was by no means a saint — I had my issues and struggles, but I never lost sight that there was a God who loved me and cared for me. I also knew I had better not forget Him, for I heard He had a place for the “bad” kids and I did not want to go there!
I graduated from high school in 1977 and went to college. Even while at college I knew it was important to attend Mass, so I always did, even though I would go out and party with my friends afterwards. Dawn and I continued to date on and off throughout those years as well.
In March of 1980 I finally settled down (a little) and married Dawn. Since she was raised Methodist, we got married in her Methodist church with approval of the Catholic Church. My priest had taught the Pre-Cana classes we attended and was also present during the wedding.
Life was good. Dawn was beginning classes to become Catholic and we both had decided that we wanted to have children right away. So, in God’s timing we had our first born the following February: a son, Trinity Douglas. Life was still pretty good — for me — but not necessarily with us. You see, my wife and son needed a father and a husband, but they were stuck with a young farmer who was hardly ever around. Soon the struggles in our marriage started and it wasn’t too long before the word “divorce” started to be spoken.
Now, neither of us came from separated homes and we both knew divorce was wrong. So, we struggled, mostly between each other. Not many people knew we were having problems. During this time, Dawn and I had some very close friends who had become born again Christians. She would periodically get together with them and pray together. Eventually, as she began to share with them some of our marital struggles, they started praying for me and asking God to change me.
And He did. Through a period of several months I started to question my faith and practices. Was I just going through the motions or was I really living the life God wanted me to live? I knew arguing with my wife and being a selfish married man wasn’t right. So, I agreed to listen to a series of tapes one of my wife’s friends had. The guy on the tape was humorous and had lived quite a life. But as he got to the end of his story, he made a comment about giving Jesus a chance in your life to change you. I probably listened to this story dozens of times, and then finally in October of 1981, God answered their prayers. As I was in the field waiting for the combine to come and unload the grain in my wagon, I stepped out of the tractor and walked in the field. As I looked up in the sky, seeing the stars and the beauty, I was struck with the need for God to help me in my marriage, for I really desired for it to be better. That night, like no other night, I believe God really heard my heart and saw the brokenness. He saw that I really wanted to change. He reached down and changed my mind and my heart. That night when I went home to read my Bible (I would read it periodically) and it was like I had never read it before. I understood in a personal way what I read. It was like He took my mind and opened it up so I could understand His Word.
When we went to Mass the next Saturday, as I heard the readings it was like I had never heard them before. I remember looking around and thinking to myself that the priest is reading from the Bible. Did anyone else hear this?
Shortly thereafter we were invited by some friends to attend a Bible Study on Sunday nights at a local evangelical church. We went and the fellowship was great; we were learning and growing in our new love of God. We continued to go to the Catholic Church for a time but then through a variety of events we eventually left the Catholic Church, not because of anything theological, but at that time we just thought church was church and it didn’t matter which one you attended as long as you were growing closer to God. We started attending the Evangelical Christian church full-time where we were taught the Scriptures regularly and the fellowship with other friends was wonderful. The pastor of the church was very dynamic and knew the Scriptures well. He took an interest in us and offered to personally help us learn the Scriptures better. The one thing I did notice about the pastor was his dislike for the Catholic Church and its teachings. I just excused it because I was pretty sure that there were many Catholics who loved God and not all of them could be going to hell.
Following our conversion to follow Christ, we were surprised by the number of people who gathered around us to encourage us in our newfound love of God, but to counter this we were also confronted with many close friends and family members who were not pleased with this new direction. They were skeptical, fearful, and even somewhat hurt that we had made what they considered to be a foolish decision. Many accused us of being led astray by some religious foolishness or fad. But we knew better. We believed, at that time, that God had done a work in us to restore our marriage and to prepare us for some good work in the future.
In 1982, with the economy in a downfall and after some religious discussions with family members, (I was recklessly zealous for God), I decided to go find new employment. So, in July of 1982, I left the family farm and was hired by an automotive manufacturer in Belmond, Iowa.
The next years were good years. We were blessed with another child; our daughter Tatum Renee was born to us in December of 1982. We had a wonderful church that we were very involved in, a good job, and great friends who were helping us mature in our faith. The pastor of our new church in Belmond had also taken a liking to us and was discipling me in my faith. We were very involved in ministry work, teaching high school classes and I was elected to be an elder.
In 1984 I also began speaking at local youth groups and occasionally filling in for pastors on vacation at local churches giving sermons.
In the spring of 1989, we decided to move back to Britt where we could be closer to our original church and friends. We were involved in several prayer groups and continued in our spiritual growth. I was voted to be an elder in our church along with teaching the high school Sunday school.
Over the next 15 years, I was given many opportunities to share my faith and accepted every chance I was given. I spoke at youth events, church services, youth groups — wherever I could. It was great. I continued to look at my workplace as a ministry where I could show Christ through my actions in the way I treated others.
In 1995 I decided to expand my ministry options. I decided to do whatever I could to encourage young men to live for Christ, and what better way than to coach them in athletics? So, I went back to school and received my “coaching authorization,” which would allow me to coach all Jr. High and High School sports. My desire was to show young men that they could live out their faith through their participation in sports. I loved coaching and soon it became one of my favorite ways of living out my faith in front of others. The kids enjoyed the sports; I enjoyed the coaching; and I believe God opened many doors for me over the next 10 years to share my faith with kids. I would continue to allow God to use me as He saw fit.
In late 2004 my wife had graduated from Radiography School and had just accepted a position at a local hospital. So, we moved to Mason City for her to be close to her work. It was also at this time that I was approached by our church leadership about a position as a full-time associate pastor working with youth and small groups in the community. This would be quite a change for us. So, we prayed about this for some time and eventually we decided I would leave my professional position and go into the ministry full-time on April 1, 2005.
I was excited and God was extremely good to us. Eventually Dawn gave up her full-time position at the hospital and took an on-call position so we moved back to Britt and continued doing full-time ministry work. God was giving us a great opportunity to learn and spend time in His Word for deeper study and reflection.
Through God’s grace, the ministry blossomed and through some creative networking within our community, we started to see some great ecumenical activities begin. Everyone seemed excited about what was happening. God was using us to bring churches together and the kids in the community were being ministered to as well. We were building some great relationships with many of the young people we had ministered to in youth groups. Life was great and comfortable — until one afternoon in late 2008.
I was preparing a message on unity. As I studied, I couldn’t help but question why there were so many Christian denominations in the world — almost 33,000 at the time and over 8,000 in the USA alone. As I studied, I started reading more about the Protestant Reformation and began understanding more as to why this happened. But then I asked why has it not stopped happening: why do we continue to add new churches all the time and could this really be what God wanted? I remember Jesus praying in John 17 that He wanted them to be one. So, my next question was if anybody can start a church, by what authority is it formed? I am a firm believer that the Bible is God’s inerrant Word, but I am also very aware that we as independent Christians like to believe as we choose and, if we don’t like one way, we move on to another. Can this be right, or is there some solid foundation we should be holding near to and letting other issues, as Paul calls them disputable, fall by the wayside to not divide? So, I decided to go back in history and see what the church was like for the first 1000 years. So, for the next one and a half years, I began to look back in history.
I was reminded that for the first 1054 years Christianity was undivided. Even though there may have been a few minor differences, it was still one. I also found that there were some significant doctrinal statements as to what the early Church looked like and what it professed. I was drawn to early Church teachings and documents and spent much time studying the Didache (The Teachings of the Apostles) and reading about some of the early Church Fathers like Augustine, Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, Justin Martyr, and Irenaeus of Lyons. Most of these men gave their very lives for what they believed. As I read through the Creed, I was reminded that this was the document written to affirm what a Christian believed. So, I asked, why did my church not profess the Creed?
I continued this path of study and soon found many other groups branching off after the Reformation simply because someone with a following believed something different — so they started a new church. (I was reminded quickly in the Book of Jude verse 19 that many will come to divide). Could this really be what God desired: more division and less unity?
The path I was on then took me to my next question: who decides truth? I continued reading about what the early Church believed, practiced, and taught. What I found was that they all believed much of the same doctrinal teachings, which caused me to study even harder to prove that they must have been wrong. But how could they be? They were 1000 to 1500 years closer to the time of Christ than I. So maybe I was wrong? And if I was wrong then what I was teaching others might also be wrong. By what authority was I teaching others? The answer was simple — by my own interpretation of Scripture or by the interpretation of someone I agreed with. That started to scare me because in the Book of James it says that those who teach will be judged more strictly (James 3:1). That’s the last thing I needed — to be judged more strictly!
I have always been very open about my views on Christianity — that Christ is the binding force that unites all believers. I have always encouraged others to grow in their faith and that if they search deep enough and hard enough that God would reveal Himself to them. Then one Saturday night I woke up and I went downstairs to watch TV because I could not sleep. As I was scrolling through the stations, I came across a station called EWTN. Now all I knew of EWTN was that it was a Catholic station that seemed to always have a little nun on it talking. But this night I saw something different. The man on the show was Catholic who used to be a Protestant pastor. I had never heard of such a thing: a Protestant pastor becoming Catholic! He was on a show called The Journey Home. I sat and listened and what I heard him talk about was exactly what I was wrestling with. At the end of the show they mentioned several books to read. One of those books was Scott Hahn’s book Rome Sweet Home so I ordered it and read it with my wife. I was in trouble.
Every year as a pastor we were given one week of spiritual enrichment. In June of 2010 my wife and I decided to use our spiritual enrichment week and travel to Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio. I had heard of this university on television and it was said that it was academically excellent and passionately Catholic. I also wanted to speak with someone who at one time was also a Protestant pastor but had now become Catholic. I had questions. So, we went and for three days we were able to witness a “passion” we had never seen before in this type of setting. Catholics were worshipping as we do in our church and crying out to God to intervene in this world and in their lives. We spent an evening with Dr. John Bergsma and his family asking question after question. He and his wife listened intently and responded to each question graciously. At the end of the evening, I asked John a simple question. I asked, “if I am a Christian now, then why should I become Catholic?” His answer struck me deep as he responded “because of the Eucharist.”
As we drove back towards home, we knew that God was opening our eyes to something new and different: a Catholic Church that we had not seen before — but were we ready for it?
Several months went by after our trip to Steubenville. I continued to study about the Eucharist and its true meaning. In my research of the Eucharist and especially after reading John 6 many times over, I came to believe that communion is not just a social gathering of members with symbols remembering Christ shedding of His Blood for us, but an event by which the elements of wine and bread actually become the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus and we need to eat this Body to have eternal life. Paul in his Letter to the Corinthians writes that this is a participation in the Body and Blood of Christ (1 Cor 10:16). So what do I do? I loved my role in our community as an associate pastor. God was using me, and yet I knew I was not doing communion correctly. I hesitated.
Then one August day as I was riding my bike through town, it was like a voice whispered to me “you love your work more than me.” I stopped my bike right there on the street. Because the answer I came up with was “yes” I did. I was convinced that the Eucharist was an essential part of Christianity, and yet I was not pursuing it. When Jesus was once asked, “what is the greatest commandment” He responded, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matt 22:36-38). Did I love God with all my heart?
I continued to study and ask God to help me understand. I did not want to get in the way of what He desired and if that meant taking me from what I love doing, then take it. I loved my work. I had the freedom to do things that no one else has had and I was trusted and had built a great reputation. But if I was getting in the way and not doing what God wanted me to do, then He would have to open a door for me. And He did. In early September I was approached by a friend and offered an opportunity to interview for a position outside the ministry. I interviewed several times for the position and after several weeks was offered the job.
So in late September of 2010, I wrote a letter to the leadership of the church that said I was walking away from a wonderful ministry because “my pride” had skewed my obeying of God’s call for me (I did not mention I was investigating the Catholic Church because I feared rejection. I guess I had a little St. Peter in me and was afraid). All were surprised and saddened, as was I.
On October 18th of 2010 I preached my last sermon and resigned my role as associate pastor and decided to again let God be God and direct me.
We still lived in our community, but I rented a place closer to my new job, which was about 2 hours away. I continued to read the Scriptures and picked up a copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church to study. One night I wanted to spend some time in prayer, so I went into a Catholic church to pray. (Catholic churches have always been my favorite places to pray and think. I had written many sermons while sitting in a Catholic church over the past five and a half years as an associate pastor.) On the way out, I ran into the priest of the parish. He had been recently assigned to this parish and it just so happened that he was the priest back in the church we attended prior to leaving the faith in 1981 and he had been at our home prior to us leaving the Catholic Church.
We became close with Father Tom Flanagan. I spent many nights questioning him about the faith, and he patiently answered my questions.
Dawn had started RCIA classes earlier in 2010 because she wanted to know more about the Catholic Faith. She was learning the truth of the Faith, and I continued studying. I had not yet committed to becoming Catholic again, but Dawn had. I knew that once I committed there would be no turning back. I could not become Catholic and have dreams of being a pastor.
Then in January of 2011, the church we had been attending for 30 years contacted me about some rumors they were hearing. So, I met with the senior pastor and eventually I was asked not to return due to the conflict it may cause. I agreed.
One door shut but another opened. I continued to study and eventually all my questions were answered. So, on March 25th of 2011, I went to confession and joined in full union with the Church and my wife was received in April 2011 at the Easter Vigil.
Since that time, we have been involved in our parish wherever they would want to use us and over the past six years we have been the RCIA coordinators for the six parishes in our cluster. We attend a Bible study and minister to whomever we can. We take our relationship with Christ and His Church very seriously and believe that God has called us to be His hands and feet to all around us.
Dawn and I believe God has called all of us to be in fellowship with Him, His Son Jesus Christ, and His Church. May He move in your hearts so that you too would be drawn to His Church — the truth, beauty, depth, and history it offers but mostly through the graces given in the sacraments.