“Late have I loved you, Beauty so ancient and new.”— St. Augustine, Confessions, Book X, 27, 38.
I was born in 1957, at the dawn of the “space age,” when the Russian satellite Sputnik set the “space race” in motion between the United States and the Soviet Union. My father, mother, brother, and I lived just south of Seattle, WA. My father was employed as a space and defense engineer at Boeing. His work involved Cold War issues and the Saturn V main-stage rocket, which eventually sent Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins to the moon and back. Boeing sent us to various places around the country: to Huntsville, AL, back to Seattle, down to Cape Canaveral and Cocoa Beach, FL, then back to Seattle for good. My childhood was shaped by NASA and Boeing, a developing interest in beauty and the arts, and the great outdoors of the American west. This background would prepare me for a career as an Evangelical Protestant pastor — and for a later unexpected pilgrimage with my wife, Diane, and two teenage girls, a pilgrimage that took us into a strange, yet beautiful world of grace, love, and wonder.
My memories of church life during my early childhood, mostly at a small Missouri Synod Lutheran Church in Huntsville, AL, are vague but important images of loving people treating both my siblings and my mother with kindness. My father rarely, if ever, attended. My mother did a good job in giving us all a knowledge of God’s existence and basic Christian morality — the do’s and don’ts of life formed from the Ten Commandments. One especially significant event from this time occurred one Sunday after church. I was watching a program on a Christian television station. This particular episode had to do with a family tragedy, and as I watched, the thought ran through my mind that, when I grew up, I wanted to help families with hardships and challenges. This event guides me still.
As I grew older and entered high school, my family’s involvement in church waned, and I became enthralled by the NFL and Sunday football. In short, we became “Christmas and Easter Christians,” neglecting church life in general. If I had to describe where I was at that time with regard to religion, I would say I was a believer in God, but didn’t see how God was interested in my life. I did believe that Jesus was the Son of God, but I had no concept of what that meant or why it should matter. As for the Holy Spirit, somehow He was part of this — but how, I had no clue.
My life after high school was confused and unguided. I had no idea of where I was going or how to formulate a plan to get there. Engineering didn’t interest me; working at Boeing in any capacity didn’t interest me; getting into business didn’t interest me, either. For the first time in my life, I began to search for a purpose, deeper meanings to life, and goals to pursue. College sounded like it might help with these questions, so I effectively rolled the dice and wound up at Western Washington University in Bellingham, WA. What was I going to study? I didn’t know, but I was attracted to psychology and sociology.
Before entering college, I worked for a time in Tacoma, WA. There, through a series of events, I came to a profound faith in Jesus in a small Baptist community. It reminded me somewhat of the church I had attended in Alabama, because the people were friendly and genuinely cared for me. I professed my faith in Jesus and was baptized in front of the congregation in a flowing white robe. Bible studies, Bill Gothard seminars, and service to the community through that church built up my young faith. I read all that C.S. Lewis had to offer, bought Keith Green, John Michael Talbot, and Second Chapter of Acts albums. I was well equipped, so I thought, for my new life in Christ. After a time, and influenced by friends, I left that small church for a more “hip” Evangelical gathering where people, mostly young adults, sang, danced, and proclaimed the goodness of God in a more contemporary style. I soon left for college, convinced I might be the only Christian on campus, but I was determined to fight for my faith, no matter the hostile environment.
I arrived at Western Washington University just south of the Canadian border in Bellingham, WA, in 1978. The times were the afterglow of the “Jesus Movement” of the late 60s and early 70s. Surprised that there was no real opposition to my religious inclinations, I quickly became involved in campus ministry — something which I was totally unaware even existed on college campuses. In the dorm rooms was a plethora of posters recruiting students to any number of secular and religious group meetings. One of those was Campus Crusade for Christ, which I visited and became involved in for a short time with a friend I met on the crew team. Here, I was introduced to the Four Spiritual Laws and helped my crew buddy lead people to Christ. One day, my teammate asked if I had ever visited a monastery. Of course, I had not, so he invited me to visit a Benedictine Abbey just across the border in Mission, B.C., Canada, named Westminster Abbey. This is where a new world of beauty, peace, and prayer was introduced to me, which began a long journey deeper into Jesus’ heart, and, eventually, into the Catholic Church.
The beauty of that monastery is stunning. Overlooking the Fraser River, with a north side view of Mt. Baker in Washington State, bald eagles flying overhead, and big timber all around, the impact of this first visit remains with me all these years later. I have revisited this monastery many times over the years and have brought groups up for retreats and study. I became acquainted with the Benedictine history and Rule, encapsulated in their motto, ora et labora — “pray and work.”
But it was the beauty and artistry of one of the monks, which was displayed in the chapel and around the monastery, that focused my attention on God’s creativity through human genius. The monk’s name is Father Dunstan Massey, OSB, and he is well known as an artist around the Fraser River Valley area. He specializes in concrete reliefs and frescos, and even now his artistry speaks to me of God’s wonder. Fr. Dunstan is still creating, at age 94, in ways that resonate in my soul. Indeed, his work is prayer.
This divine beauty reminds me of the last class I took in college. It was a summer class on The Art of Listening to Music. Needless to say, it was not a difficult class but one of my assignments was to describe a great work of art. I chose the Pietà, by Michelangelo. Though vaguely aware of the statue, I had not really studied it in depth. I was at a loss to describe how a human being could produce such a masterpiece. But I knew God had guided this sculpture, and that God speaks to us intensely through beauty. Father Dunstan, Michelangelo, the grandeur of creation, and other encounters with God through beauty formed for me a gentle path deeper into His love and compassion. These glimpses of the divine would prove to be an immense consolation in future storms of life.
I graduated college with a BA in Psychology and learned that not only was I a good listener and loved to minister on the streets, in jails, and occasionally on campus, but that a BA in psychology was not the most employable degree. After a year of carpentry with a friend, I was invited to intern with an Assembly of God campus ministry, Chi Alpha, in the hope of being equipped enough through the experience to pioneer a campus group at a college somewhere in the United States, provided there was a supporting church that desired to form a new group. We studied from well-known works of Protestant Evangelical theologians, occasionally mixed with an Anglican and, rarely, a Catholic spiritual perspective. We conducted street dramas, traveled to different parts of the western United States to help other campus ministries, led small groups, raised our own funds, and generally became confident that we could pioneer a campus group anywhere, if called upon. I was indeed called upon to begin a new campus ministry, but I needed a partner for this adventure.
Diane and I had met when we were college students. I didn’t know her well during our time as students, but in this year of internship, our relationship began to flower. I admired her faith in Jesus, her prayer life, her willingness to step out of her comfort zone in teaching, street ministry, and drama, and planning outreach. In fact, at the end of the year, we were teamed up to start a campus group in Kearney, NE, at what was then known as Kearney State College. We set out on a cross-country adventure to another culture amidst the cornfields and hog farms of south-central Nebraska, along the Platte River. Here, our relationship was tried in the difficult circumstances of a new culture, of an unfamiliar land with intense winters and springs, and of a yearning for the big timber, mountains, and water of the Pacific Northwest.
In spite of the difficulties, the two years we spent in Nebraska were fruitful. The campus ministry grew, and Diane and I grew closer. We were engaged in Kearney. Then we said goodbye to our Nebraska friends and headed back to the Evergreen State to start our new life as a married couple.
While in Nebraska, we had become acquainted with many campus pastors from different denominations, all of whom were helpful to us. What Diane and I discovered, however, is that our internship fell far short of being adequate in conversing with these other campus ministers in Church history, theology, and many topics having to do with pastoral ministry. I desired to go to seminary to learn about these different areas of knowledge. But we needed to earn money to do this, so off we went to Alaska and Yukon to drive tour buses in the Great White North for two seasons.
We then enrolled at Regent College in Vancouver, BC, an interdenominational seminary founded by two Anglican professors from England, J.I. Packer and James Houston. This is a marvelous place to learn, and many of the themes introduced to us there found their fulfillment in the Catholic Church. Over a four-year span, we learned about Church history, Christian spirituality, systematic theology, preaching, pastoral care, the Greek and Hebrew languages, and — most important to our journey — the early Church Fathers and beauty. The early Church Fathers introduced us to an intriguing world of commitment to the Eucharist and tradition, two aspects of the Church which we would later come to understand in a truly Catholic perspective, instead of our then curious, but still Protestant worldview. Beauty and artistry are stressed at Regent College, with many artists displaying their paintings, reciting poetry, performing dances, or playing compositions before contemplative audiences. All this we received as God’s gift in our lives. It was a wonderful time of reception, a time of fulfillment.
As I worked toward completion of my Master’s degree in Theological Studies, I concentrated on pastoral care and family ministries. At this time, I was working in an addiction recovery center for adults and teens, helping families deal with recovery issues and treatment plans. Diane, meanwhile, was working at a local nursing home, giving care to a neglected population of elderly people. After graduation, I was eventually hired as an associate pastor at a local large Assembly of God church, which functioned more like an Evangelical Community church. This is the same church that sponsored the college campus group with which Diane and I had interned. We were familiar with it, and it was an honor to serve on staff. My duties were to run counseling services, recovery groups, develop internships in pastoral care, expand our local food pantry into a Food Bank, and partner with community services in the county to help families. I enjoyed this work immensely, since (as God had intimated to me years earlier with that childhood insight) I felt called to care for people in distress. However, during the sixteen years I worked at the church, there were three experiences, all having to do with personal trauma and loss, which drew us into a search for consolation and care which only the Catholic Church was able to provide.
The first of these was the discovery that we were infertile. Anyone who has faced this issue in his own life knows what a loss and burden it can be for a couple totally open to children and wanting to raise a family. We quickly found out that there was nowhere we could turn to find comfort or solace. There were no groups, no people to talk with, no support. We were alone, and the church had no resources to help us. Diane and I spent five years praying for God’s direction in this devastation. Were we to have children or not? Should we utilize artificial means to conceive? Was adoption for us? Where and how were we to proceed with adoption? How were children to be part of our lives? These questions drove us deeper into prayer and into intense listening for the Lord’s guidance.
The Lord did indeed guide us and grant us comfort during those difficult years. We came to the firm conviction that the Lord wanted us to adopt, and that we were to pursue adoption overseas in China. We were in the early wave of North Americans adopting Chinese orphans.
Due to the one-child policy instituted by the Communist government, many “unwanted” female babies were either aborted, were victims of infanticide, or were sent to crowded makeshift orphanages. Describing the adventures of this adoption experience is beyond the scope of this account. Suffice it to say that we traveled to China without a child and two weeks later came back with our 8-month-old daughter Amy. Two years later, we would travel to Vladivostok, Russia, adopt our younger daughter, Anna (also eight months old), travel across the vast geography of Russia to Moscow, then overnight in Copenhagen, and finally back to Seattle and home. In spite of our diverse origins, we have a truly “nuclear family.” We were surprised that the pain of infertility was overwhelmed by the joy of adopting our children. Every family is a miracle; ours is no exception.
As the years passed, we nurtured our family and our ministry, building a community of caring and outreach through the church. In time, the mission of the church became obscured, and growing a church in numbers became the top priority of the ministers. In the midst of this change, the second of our three losses occurred. This was the sudden death of my mother, due to cancer. She had been the “hub” of the family, and her death brought about profound changes in our extended family relationships. This was a time of confusion and deep grief; another time when we sought solace from the community we served in but found none.
My understanding of pastoral ministry meant that, as a pastor, you went into the depths of people’s pain and misery, not taking it on, but traveling as a friend, a guide. I was to discover at this time that not all pastors think the same about this. A few helped — some really tried — but in the end, we were again alone. Coupled with the changes in the congregation’s goals, we found ourselves searching intently for a deeper meaning and purpose of the people of God and church worship.
This search steered me into a doctoral program in urban leadership and spiritual formation at Bakke Graduate University, at that time based in Seattle, WA, subsequently moving to Dallas, TX. In that environment, we learned more of the spirituality and leadership of serving the needs of the poor in urban settings, of creating communities of caring and outreach, and of diving into the mystery and majesty of human interaction and by ministering God’s compassion. I would often pray in the St. Ignatius chapel at Seattle University and found this quiet place compelling, drawing me toward beauty and prayer. Here, I discovered many contemporary Catholic authors and others who became heroes to me. Diane and I were also drawn to Celtic Catholic spirituality and the “thin places” of the world, those places where heaven and earth are thinly veiled to one another. We had no idea that this would be a perfect description of the Catholic Mass, but the journey was beginning to take on new dimensions for us. In addition, I came across a wonde ful quote from G.K. Chesterton in his masterpiece, Orthodoxy, that provided us a new insight into the Christian life:
Christianity satisfies suddenly and perfectly man’s ancestral instinct for being the right way up; satisfies it supremely in this; that by its creed joy becomes something gigantic and sadness something special and small …. Joy, which is the small publicity of the pagan, is the gigantic secret of the Christian.
Chesterton’s influence, as well as that of many other authors, primarily Catholic, would shape my ministry of care to the community. One of those avenues of caring would become a ministry to the community to address loss and grief, named Lamentation. This ministry to the bereaved has helped many to travel the long road of sorrow, which can be an isolating journey if not experienced within a loving community that grows in wisdom and joy.
In 2007, I graduated with a Doctor of Ministry degree in Transformation Leadership and Spiritual Formation, and soon afterward discerned that my time at the Assembly of God church was coming to an end. Through a series of staff changes and awkward circumstances, Diane and I knew that our hearts were being pulled somewhere else — where else, we did not know — although we did know that our view of the communion service was changing, that the Lord was somehow present in it in ways we couldn’t articulate.
Our view of Mary was changing, too. We knew that Protestants don’t understand her or her role in salvation history. What is her role and what is our relationship with her? It has to be more than a casual appreciation for her at Christmas. And one final issue that we could not resolve. What about the issue of authority? With so many opinions about Holy Scripture, whose opinion are we to trust, and why should we trust it?
I resigned my position, which for a career pastor, can be devastating: loss of income, uncertain future, community and friends disappearing, and support networks vanishing. This was the third of the losses that would send us into a “desert wandering” for five years, until one Christmas Eve, when our world was turned upside down.
My family loves Christmas. As part of our Christmas tradition, we attend a Christmas Eve Service somewhere in the coun- ty. Diane thought we needed a new experience of Christmas Eve as a family, so in her wisdom and attentiveness to the Holy Spirit, she suggested we attend the Children’s Mass at Sacred Heart Parish, just up the hill from the church where I used to be employed. This sounded like a good idea to me, since I had been in that parish church occasionally to pray and look at the beauty of the sanctuary, the statues, and candles. So off we went to the Children’s Mass. We had no idea what to expect, but we knew the kids would be cute, Christmas carols would be sung, and hopefully English would be spoken, with very little Latin. We were right: the kids were cute, Christmas carols that we knew were sung, everything in the church was decorated beautifully, and very little Latin was used. We were stunned!
We left that Mass wondering what the Lord was doing to us. While there, my eyes had become fixed on the crucifix in the front of the church. It seemed that Jesus was speaking directly to me, saying that He knew the pains and sorrows of humanity, of myself and my family. That here, in the Mass, in the Catholic Church, my search for deeper meaning and purpose would find its answer. That here, Mary would be our Blessed Mother. Here, living water would finally quench our thirst.
We stayed away from church, and from Mass, for two weeks, trying to sort it out. We were a bit numb, but Diane and I were convinced that God was ushering us into full communion with the Catholic Church. We asked the girls if they were inspired to attend with us, and even, perhaps, to explore the possibility of becoming Catholic. They were game to try. Meanwhile, we need- ed to find out more about the Church, so that we could become better prepared for this further adventure, so we headed over to our local Barnes and Noble and found a book which became incredibly helpful to us, Catholicism for Dummies. We still refer to this book from time to time.
When we were better informed and more sure of our direction, we were introduced to the parish priest. We invited him to our house to pepper him with questions. Then we attended RCIA (the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults, instruction for those considering becoming Catholic) and prepared to enter into the Church at Easter Vigil, 2012.
Entering into full communion has been an oasis for us, quenching our thirst for God and providing us strength for the remainder of our lives. Our journey has been not so much a wrestling with doctrine and tradition as it has been discovering where consolation, beauty, and joy manifest Jesus’ love on earth, in the most deeply personal and authentic way. We have been overwhelmed by Jesus’ Real Presence in the Eucharist, by the love of our Triune God and our Blessed Mother, and by the wonder and beauty of the Church unfolding before us. Why enter into the Church in this time of internal trial and scandal? Perhaps it was because of these very wounds that the Lord has brought us here: to help tend a Church that needs renewal, strength, and care. What does the Lord have for us in the future? In the uncertainties and mysteries of life, we are learning to trust in the joy and beauty of Christ’s embrace. As St. Brendan, a sixth century Irish Monk and evangelist, prayed:
Lord, I will trust You, help me to journey beyond the familiar and into the unknown.
Give me the faith to leave old ways and break fresh ground with You.
Christ of the mysteries, can I trust You to be stronger than each storm in me?
Do I still yearn for Your glory to lighten on me?
I will show others the care You’ve given me.
I determine amidst all uncertainty always to trust.
I choose to live beyond regret, and let You recreate my life.
I believe You will make a way for me and provide for me, if only I trust You and obey.
I will trust in the darkness and know that my times are still in Your hand.
I will believe You for my future, chapter by chapter, until all the story is written.