This is the short version of the story of my conversion to Catholic Christianity together with my wife Judith and our three sons.
My father was born in San Francisco
Mother had a tumor from the age of eighteen, and became terminally ill with
cancer early in her marriage. When she was carrying my younger brother
My parents were both raised Protestant. However when I was little, they were Unitarians. The Unitarians reject the Trinity. My father said that in the Unitarian Church, each man makes his own creed. I took him seriously, and spent the first half of my life, until I was around thirty, searching for the meaning of life, so that I would know what to believe. I have spent the second half of my life immersed in Christianity.
My father taught me to think for myself, but at the same time he made it clear
that thinking people do not become Christians. He believed that Christians
indoctrinate children when they are young. When my mother died, my father put
my brother and me in an orphanage, to keep us away from Christian relatives or
I went on a National Merit Scholarship
Back in California I lived for three years across the street from the San Francisco Zen Center, where a Soto Zen Buddhist priest from Japan taught Americans the traditional sitting meditation. I liked the serenity. It was however physically impossible for me to sit for long periods because of a childhood injury, and I could not undergo training in zen. The experience of finding life in an old tradition prepared me to look at Christianity for the first time.
I met my wife Judith
My brother is today a Buddhist priest, a past president of the San Francisco Zen Center. He is also a well-known author of cookbooks.
My conversion to Christianity began
I was attracted to Christianity, but I was afraid to commit myself to something
I did not understand, and I wanted to study it carefully.
I was converted reading the Gospel of Mark in Greek. The ancient language
made me feel close to Jesus, and I began to admire and trust him. Setting aside my
hesitation, I was baptized in an Episcopal church at the Easter Vigil
During my second year at the Episcopal seminary, one of the professors took me by the arm and said, "The faculty think you should be ordained." Acting on their advice, I did a third year of study for a Divinity degree. Some people took offense because I had entered the seminary before I was a candidate for ordination. When the faculty awarded me a top preaching prize at graduation, the alumni association held an emergency meeting during dessert at the banquet, to add more money to the alumni preaching prize.
Having two years to wait for ordination, I answered an advertisement in the
bishop's newsletter, and worked in a peace education program of the Episcopal
Diocese of California (San Francisco). Because of the political passions aroused by
the Vietnam War, I made more enemies in the Episcopal Church. At the end of the
two years, the bishop told me no parish would employ me, and sent me for career
counseling. I went to graduate school
Over the years I have often returned to ponder the questions that my ordination raises. I think the reason I was ordained when I could not work in the diocese, was that I had entered the peace program in good faith at the bishop's invitation. The more interesting question is God's purpose. What was my call?
I was called to serve the Lord Jesus by being ordained, a call that was ratified by a diocese and a bishop of the Episcopal Church, for whatever that is worth. Jesus does not always call to a career however, but sometimes he says, "Follow me." It does not seem unreasonable to me to think that this latter call, which was good enough for some of his disciples, is also my call. If that is so, then there is always a question of where the Lord will lead in the future.
My career in the Episcopal Church never recovered from its bad start. I was
briefly in charge of a congregation in the small town of Weaverville, where as a
young convert, I was a poor match for retired Episcopalians. The Episcopal
bishop of Northern California put me there
Since most Episcopalians like their worship in good taste, and do not like
religious enthusiasm, my eager preaching offended important people in the
congregation. They thought I was young --
It was impossible for me to obtain another position in the Episcopal Church,
and I needed a way to support my family.
The college declared bankruptcy
My wife and two younger boys and I lived that year in the city of Guiyang in southwest China. We had no opportunity to go to church, and we discovered how much we missed communion. A visit to the (patriotic) Catholic Church in our city made a deep impression on us. While we were in China my father died.
Upon our return from China, we began attending the Catholic Church where we
live. The parish priest confirmed us at the Easter Vigil
When I learned about the Pastoral Provision, I spoke to the bishop of the diocese where we live. That began a ten-year discussion that ended in the diocese saying no, last year. They have never done it before, and I suppose my case is too unusual to be the first one.I turn sixty this week, and I have begun to think about what I will do when I retire from teaching. Only two ideas have come to mind. One is that I will write, and the other is that God may have a place for me to serve as a priest, that I do not know about yet.
This is the end of the short version of our conversion story.
There is a long version, with notes
To the Table of Contents of our conversion story
To the Home Page of A Brief Guide to Eternity
Send comments or questions to Dwite