Tuesday, July 17, 2012

My Conversion Story - Part 1

My beautiful home church
I still love visiting, lots of memories
I was raised in a conservative Presbyterian Church in the midwest US.  That church not too long ago celebrated it's 140th anniversary, so it is an old church (by US standards).  They were originally a stand alone church affiliated with the United Presbyterian denomination.  When I was a child the members of my church did not like the direction the UPC denomination was heading.*  Plus, there was a legal issue over property rights as the UPC denomination requested all the individual churches to sign over their church properties to them.  My home church members then voted to leave and become free standing again.  A long court battle with the UPC ensued over the church building itself, which the members eventually won.  Around the time I became a teenager the members voted to join another denomination, the Presbyterian Church of America (PCA).  It was a difficult decision to make as most, if not all, of the members remembered the court battle with the last denomination the church had joined.  This meant we would have 12 sister churches in our local area (called a Presbytery), which would come to mean a lot more to me later since this is how I would meet my future husband.

All of this is just background info for those who know something about the history and theology of these different groups.  I recall the transition into the PCA, for our church, was not a incredibly smooth one.  The biggest problem seemed to be the ordination of women.  When we were stand alone and/or part of the UPC our church would elect women as deacons.  In the Presbyterian Church, you have the pastor or reverend or minister, and he is responsible for the spiritual care of the congregation.  You then have the elders, who are elected by the membership every so many years.  They meet once a month to discuss church matters, assist the pastor in his duties, help the congregation elect a new pastor if needed, etc...  Elders are very respected in the church and community.  Usually, once someone is elected an elder they are always considered an elder even if they are not currently serving on the board.  They are the backbone of the church.  You then have the deacons, who are also elected by the membership and serve for a term that lasts so many years, until the next election.  They are responsible for handling the financial issues of the church.  They work closely with the elders and handle more of the day to day dealings of the church.  Except for the pastor, these positions are not paid positions, they are volunteer lay men and women who sacrifice their time and talent for the good of the entire church.  All of the above people would be elected and then we would have a special Sunday morning service where there would be a laying on of hands and prayers, what is called an ordination (what Catholics might see as a consecration), of these people to their duties.  When our church joined the PCA, they had a rule against the ordination of women.  This created problems because our church did ordinate women, and it tended to be that women served as deacons.  My own mother had been ordained as a deacon at one point.  The PCA always had men serving as pastors, elders, and deacons and had a separate role for women as deaconesses, who were also elected but not ordained.  Many felt this regulated women to second class citizens in the church and felt like a slap in the face to the women who had faithfully served as deacons in the past and present and had done a wonderful job.  After much debating the church finally voted to join the PCA, which it is a member of to this day.  For those of you who grew up in more liturgical churches the idea of everything being put up for a vote can seem odd.  It means that the majority rules and the authority in the church rests with the membership and those that they elect.  This is how the Presbyterian church operates, and of course like all democracies the decisions made can be good or bad, depending on the will and goals of the people doing the voting.  All members are asked to be informed, seriously consider the issues and to pray to the Holy Spirit for guidance before casting their vote.  In this way the congregation asks the Holy Spirit to lead, guide and protect the church from error.

When I was born my family did not regularly attend a church.  My mom had been raised in the above church (since it was right down the street from her home and she lived next door to the pastor and his family).  My dad had been raised a Southern Baptist, his uncle in fact was a preacher from the next small town over (he was also a coal miner, the church was small and couldn't afford his salary so he did both).  Mom and dad were married in the Presbyterian church by my dad's uncle (who would later marry me and my husband in that same church)!  The Presbyterian church practices infant baptisms but look at it more as a dedication and not something that is necessary for salvation.  The Baptist church does not practice infant baptisms but it is regarded much more seriously because they believe it is required for salvation.  My parents decided to not have me baptized as an infant and wait until I joined the church, as in the Baptist tradition.  The infant baptism issue is something that my husband and I continue to discuss and disagree on to this day.  I did a separate post about infant baptism here.

Mt. Tabor, the junior girls' cabin at church camp
As I grew closer to school age my parents (my mom in particular) decided to become more involved in church.  She wanted me to attend Sunday School to learn about God and how to be a good christian.  I have our next door neighbors to thank for my mom's decision to start attending the church of her youth.  My mom also became more involved, going to worship services and volunteering to teach Sunday School and help with Christmas pageants and Vacation Bible School.  My dad would attend with us but he never would join the membership of the church.  He maintained he was always going to be a Southern Baptist (my mom maintained that he didn't want to be elected to anything)!  I was a good Presbyterian kid who went to Sunday School and worship every Sunday morning.  I memorized bible verses, put offering in the plate, performed in Christmas pageants and other musical events the children's ministry put on.  I attended VBS and later on went to church camp for a week every summer with other kids from our larger Presbytery (how I first met my future husband's family, as he has a younger brother who is my age).  Most of my church camp summers were spent at the Methodist camp, Doug & I both have fond memories of attending that camp as kids.  In case you're wondering, I didn't attend a Methodist church (although Doug's mom was raised Methodist and his grandparents remained in the church their whole lives).  Our Presbytery would rent the Methodist camp for a week, we're a very ecumenical group!  In fact, in my small hometown all the churches would get together to run one summer VBS program.  The same is done for Easter sunrise services.  The churches would take turns hosting and it moved around every year.  As a child this was a really neat experience, to get to go to my friends' churches as a guest.  By the end of a week of VBS you felt very comfortable in that church.  It made all the area churches feel a bit like home.  As a Catholic, I get the same type of feeling when visiting another Catholic Church.  Although I may have never stepped foot in that particular church they still share so many things, they all have a tabernacle and an altar, they all celebrate the Eucharist, and they all use the exact same readings from the bible.  I know that the bible readings are going to be the same there as in the Catholic Church I attend at home, even if they're on another continent or in a different language!

When I was in grade school I went to stay with a friend in another town because they were having their annual festival and the carnival rides were there.  Her church also happened to be doing VBS that same week so I went along with her and had an experience there that would change my worldview.  More on that in my next entry...

Conversion Story - Part 2

* I am writing on things as I saw or remember as a child and young adult in the way I perceived them, I'm sure there was more going on than I remember or wrote about here on my blog.


  1. Amy, I'm in suspense. Don't wait too long to post the rest of the story!

    1. I need to get back to writing it! I've been so busy getting the new year homeschooling on track that I've been neglecting my poor blog. Promise to work on that next.

      I'm also in the middle of reading your 2nd handmaid book and I can hardly put it down. I love your writing, please keep working on your next one!