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Caitlin Kennell Kim, seminary grad, baby wrangler, ordinary radical, writes about the life of a convert in the Catholic Church and explores how faith and everyday life intersect.

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October 15th, 2012

Conversion

 
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Both of my parents believe in God. I can’t say much more about what they believe because religious beliefs are so idiosyncratic and personal and tangled up in who a person is deep down in their marrow it seems presumptuous to try to articulate any but one’s own. Also, to be perfectly frank, my parents very seldom shared these beliefs with me. We did not go to church. We did not pray as a family. We did not read the Bible. I had the freedom to discover God on my own. And even though there were times when I wanted to go to church and I wanted to learn more about the Christian God cryptically entwined in the pages of the Bible my mother had received as a child, I am thankful for this. I am thankful for the freedom to feel that God is mine to know… mine to discover.

And then high school happened. Like any self-respecting American teenager, I set out to rebel against the mores of my parents… my once-hippie, liberal parents. I started attending a Pentecostal church with a friend. I joined an Evangelical Bible study club at school. It made my mother crazy. To her credit, she never forbade it. She asked me questions about what I was learning and what I believed. She listened. And eventually I stopped going. I had come to love Jesus, but the conservative, charismatic Protestantism of my Christian beginnings left me feeling bewildered.

I had come to the heart of the church that had loved me and supported me and nurtured me and saw that it was not my heart.

College ushered in a renewed interest in finding a Christian community to call my own — a community where I made sense. The chaplain at Wilson, the small women’s college I attended, was young, female, progressive and feisty. Through her I was introduced to a world of theology that centered on social justice, wholeness and community as ways of following Jesus. I began to attend a Presbyterian church in town, which, after my Pentecostal introduction to Christian worship, seemed downright liturgical. I grew to love the order and preaching and hymnody of that church. With the encouragement of my chaplain, I began to discern a call to ordained ministry. I wanted to share the God I discovered — the God of goodness, justice and love. I thought the pulpit was the way God was calling me to do that. The first time I told my mother that I wanted to go to seminary we were sitting on a porch swing together at Wilson. I think my mother, in all of her blessed good-intentioned globalism, had hoped my burgeoning interest in spirituality would come to fruition in my becoming some sort of radical Buddhist nun with a shaved head and a penchant for civil disobedience. Instead I was going to seminary. To be a pastor. She was dumbfounded.

Seminary wasn’t exactly what I thought it would be. It was not a safe place. It was not a place where I could comfortably hold on to the things I knew for sure. Thank God for that. It was challenging and heartbreaking and life-giving. I learned the Bible as an academic discipline. I learned the history of the Christian tradition. I had the opportunity to shadow a pastor I admired. Part of my education required that I encounter the father of Reformed/Presbyterian theology, John Calvin. As I studied his magnum opus, Institutes of Christian Religion, I delved deep into the theology of my tradition. I had come to the heart of the church that had loved me and supported me and nurtured me and saw that it was not my heart. In the midst of my ordination exams, I had to leave. And leaving was honest, but it was hell.

Mass was embodied and sensual. Mass was ancient. Mass filled me up inside. Mass felt like home. It contained something like magic, only better.

During this time of grappling with my faith, the unthinkable happened: I fell in love. I fell disastrously in love. I fell the kind of in love that makes you forget to eat. When I met him in the laundry room at seminary, I knew right away that I was going to marry him. And I did. Six months later. The certitude I felt about our relationship made my total lack of certitude about my faith and my vocation painfully obvious. When my soon-to-be husband and I debated theology (because that’s what seminarians in love do… it’s awesomely geeky), he — a brilliant theologian-in-progress and a candidate in the RCIA — would uphold the Catholic position, and I — a professional Protestant with all the right answers — would take up the cause of the Reformation. In the context of this playful back and forth, it occurred to me that I didn’t really believe the position I was defending. In fact, his position seemed much closer to what I actually believed. I started attending the RCIA with him. I attended Mass on Saturday nights before taking the train in the morning to preach in a Protestant pulpit. At Mass I learned to worship God in gesture and genuflection. Mass was embodied and sensual. Mass was ancient. Mass filled me up inside. Mass felt like home. It contained something like magic, only better. Mass was the place I could go to find the Bread of Life … the Eucharist. And I hungered for it. Desperately.

After two years in the RCIA, I came into the Catholic Church. Here I remain in this Church — my Church — where holiness is possible, where I worship with my whole self, where I find my fierce and radiant Queen, where I am called to constant transformation, where I seek help and consolation in the Communion of Saints, where I receive Jesus in the Eucharist and he fills me up with all that is good and holy so I can go out into the world and be about the business of Love. This is the spiritual home my parents gave me the freedom to seek. This is what I have found — after working and praying and searching and, in the process, leaving something of a mess in my wake — in the Catholic Church. Thanks be to God.

 
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The Author : Caitlin Kennell Kim
Caitlin Kennell Kim is a full-time baby wrangler, writer, and ponderer of all things theological. She earned her Masters of Divinity in Pastoral Ministry and Theology from Union Theological Seminary in New York City. She currently lives in Northeast Ohio with her husband and their four small children.
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Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • Sr Elizabeth

    Thank you Caitlin for a beautifully insightful, inspiring and well-written piece! I can also really relate to you as having being brought up a Protestant, Catholic at school, gone through a lot of religious/spiritual searching, then came back to the Catholic Church, theology degree and become a Sister. I appreciate how in your conversion story you haven’t belittled the Protestant faith at all, just stated what you have found to be true in the Catholic. It is always a delicate matter converting and remaining open to dialogue and gratitude for our God-given differences. God bless!

  • Andy

    Very interesting article but when you say things like ‘ fierce and radiant queen’ I realise that even tho I love the Catholic Church and have been going to mass for years there’s still a part or my heart that seems destined to always be Protestant…. No offence intended.

  • Gretchen

    Well done dear one.

  • Caitlin Kennell Kim

    Hi, Abiga! Thanks for sharing this. I’ll offer my daily rosary for them today. Please pray for me too. God bless you!

  • Abiga

    You have given me hope,tonight. Hope for my son and daughter’s conversion. I love my Lord Jesus, so very much.My greatest wish is for my children and grandchildren to fall in love with Jesus. Great conversion story. Thanks for sharing . Please pray for them. their names are: Soraya, Abby, Erick, Jonah and Juliette. Blessings.

  • Abiga

    You have given me hope,tonight. Hope for my son and daughter’s conversion. I love my Lord Jesus, so very much.My greatest wish is for my children and grandchildren to fall in love with Jesus. Great conversion story. Thanks for sharing . Please pray for them. their names are: Soraya, Abby, Erick, Jonah and Juliette. Blessings.

  • Caitlin Kennell Kim

    Thanks for your thoughts and blessings, y’all! Rachel, great question. It’s one I ask myself frequently. I came into the Catholic Church because I believe it to be the sanctuary of all that is good and true and beautiful. And even though I struggle intensely with the teaching on women’s ordination, I could not belong to any other church. Deep down in my bones and with all of me, I am Catholic. I couldn’t forsake everything I’ve gained for the one thing I lost. In terms of still feeling called to be a pastor, no… not really. So much of a pastor’s work is administrative and that’s just not where my gifts and interests lie. At the risk of stirring up controversy,I would love to perform the ministry of a deacon… preaching, baptizing, witnessing marriages, visiting the poor, sick, and imprisoned… when my little ones are grown. I pray that one day my Church will embrace women’s entrance into the permanent diaconate. St. Phoebe and all you other holy deaconesses of the early Church, pray for us!

  • Rachel DB

    I wonder if you still feel called to the ministry of being a pastor. In your post it sounded like you didn’t necessarily believe what you were preaching, but it sounds like you still have a firey passion for being a pastor and using your knowledge, and now your inner feelings as well, to share with others. It is interesting to me, then, that you converted to a faith that does not allow women to fulfill those specific roles. If you still feel called to this, how do you reconcile the both-and world of Catholicism?

  • Roaming Catholic

    I can really relate to certain pieces of your conversion story – especially what you (and I) discovered in the Mass and the Eucharist, as well as being in RCIA for two years before finally taking the plunge!

  • John and Kay Paz

    What a great unfolding of the lord working and you listening and growing. Thank you for your story.

  • Elizabeth

    This is terrific. I love your writing.

  • http://Google Melinda Burgess

    What an inspiring piece. The writing was superb, clear, and insightful. I sincerely appreciate the author’s honesty in sharing her complex spiritual journey.

  • Doug Kennell

    I always trusted your decisions. You were and always will be a special being and I know that God loves you!

  • Rosemary

    What an inspiring story. I love how God opens up the paths in our lives by which we find him. What you say about the freedom to seek God struck me. As a cradle Catholic I come from a different perpective. I feel like my parents gave me the freedom to seek God too in a different way, as well as giving me God’s family I cannot leave. I have alway loved the fact that the Church is my family, come what may. Family is forever. Thanks for this, Caitlin, my sister. :)

  • Mahri

    Beautiful. Thank you, Caitlin

  • James Leo Oliver

    God bless you!

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