October 15, 2018, was the day I knew this book had to happen. It was a Monday. I was sitting next to my wife, Estelle, on a bus headed for Split, Croatia. We were finishing an eight day pilgrimage (fancy Catholic word for “trip”) to a small village in Bosnia where some people claim they have been receiving messages from the Virgin Mary. I know, it sounds weird, but don’t freak out. We will cover this topic later. We were two thirds of the way through the three-hour trip when we all began to pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. As we prayed, something I cannot explain happened. I pulled out my phone and started typing into the Notes app. I turned to my wife and showed her the note I had just typed. The look on her face said, What the heck are you doing. We’re supposed to be praying? “This is the title of the book I am supposed to write,” I said to her. “The Convert’s Guide to Roman Catholicism: Your First Year in the Church.”
Her eyes widened and her jaw dropped. Estelle had been waiting and praying for months for God to speak to us, especially on this trip, which was almost over. The previous night, she had an incredible encounter with a priest during confession, which encouraged her to keep waiting and trusting in God. Could this be part of the answer? A week earlier we had arrived in Croatia. It was October 8, 2018, my one-year anniversary as a Roman Catholic.
Prior to my conversion, I had worked in full-time professional ministry for twenty-two years in various capacities and denominations. The last position I held was in a United Methodist Church, where I served as Pastor to Youth and Mission for six years. That title scratched the surface of what I actually did, but let’s just say I was the second in command at a relatively large and very busy church. I preached every other Sunday to around seven hundred people and every Wednesday night to a hundred or so students. I loved it. Youth ministry was what I was mostly known for in my twenties, but I had also done much in worship, missions, and camping. In ministry, I was a jack-of-all-trades. I could do a funeral service for someone in the morning and then take a dodgeball to the face a couple hours later at youth group. I also did a lot of fund-raising as well as preparing and leading our mission trips to Haiti. I had to be good at running lots of programs and dealing with all types of people. The position was very demanding, but also a lot of fun. I loved serving God and my church family.
I didn’t want to admit it growing up, but I was destined to be in ministry. My dad was a United Methodist pastor for forty years and the most formative moments of my life revolved around my faith. My parents never pushed me into ministry, but childhood experiences at church camp shaped who I would become. As a young adult, I felt the call to ministry and was offered a job as a youth pastor serving under my friend Craig. I had been to camp with Craig every summer since I was ten. Ministry became my world. Estelle and our three kids were not exactly the typical pastor’s family, but we loved the church. Being a youth pastor wasn’t just a job; it was our whole identity. When I left all of that behind to convert to Roman Catholicism, it left us with many unanswered questions.
How would we survive?
What could I possibly do at forty-four years old with a degree in religion?
Do I have any useful skills outside of ministry?
Does this mean Estelle will become Catholic?
How will she be affected?
What about the kids?
Would we force them to leave their church too?
How will our families deal with this?
What about our friends?
Most of our relationships are centered around church. How will these relationships be affected?
Where are we supposed to go to church now?
How should I go about telling people about this?
Do I have to become a Facebook Crusader? (This is what I call people who think social media is the best place to broadcast their theological insights and opinions.)
How will I respond when I am challenged by people who oppose my conversion?
Can I really make it as a Catholic?
What if I hate it?
What if I miss being a Protestant?
What if I can’t buy into everything the Church teaches?
What about my gifts for ministry?
Will I ever be useful to God if I can’t be a pastor anymore?
All of these questions, and more, had gone from being hypothetical to very real.
It had been over a year. Estelle had been convinced that surely by then something would have happened to give us direction. Undoubtedly, God would have spoken and told us what was next. Surely all of the questions would have worked themselves out by now. Some had. Some hadn’t. A year in, this is what I knew:
Converting to Catholicism was harder than I could’ve imagined.
Converting to Catholicism was more amazing than I could’ve imagined
We have learned a lot in our first year. Some things have been awesome. Some things have been disappointing. All of it has helped us grow. We want to share it with you. This book was written to help people do what we did, and although every story is unique, there are some general principles that can guide you and make the transition easier.
So if you’re up for an adventure and you can handle a down-to-earth, blunt smart-aleck, and sarcastic tour guide, welcome to your first year in the Catholic Church.