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Starting Point

Why do I want to join this church?


I am 45 years old, have worked as a religious professional for 22 years in the Unitarian Universalist Association, and now I am about to join the Roman Catholic church. “No thinking person would do that,” I am told. No thinking woman would do that. But here I am -- an educated, powerful woman, who can do no other.

It is more than 13 years since my ordination as a minister. I have preached, married, buried, counseled, celebrated, taught and confirmed. I have, as a district middle judicatory executive, been charged with the well-being of 70 congregations, intervened in church conflicts, counseled seminarians and clergy, quadrupled budgets and offered blessings. I saw it -- and still see it -- as holy work, but not the work I am called to at this time.

My heart got stuck in the daily Mass, and I cannot leave. Some 15 months ago, I came through the doors of the Catholic church in spiritual crisis. My marriage had ended. My complicated life of being married to another minister had led to a train wreck of my personal, professional and faith life, and I couldn’t find God.

I felt the need to be with people praying but didn’t want to have to explain myself or my inevitable tears, so I went to a daily Mass. I didn’t know the first thing about a Mass. But that first day I knew I needed to learn the words, the prayers, the saints. I knew I had to see Advent and Lent, Christmas and Easter. I felt the need to see the year’s cycle unfold. I feel that I am hearing the stories of Jesus as if for the first time, though I’ve heard them my whole life. I feel that I am not to set this down for the security of my position, prestige or paycheck.

Why do I want to join this church? Because I have felt more prayed for than at any time in my life. The prayers are for the injured, the depressed, those with back pain, those addicted -- not me, and yet definitely me. Me as connected to everyone.

Why do I want to join this church? Because the saints and the examples of faithfulness are so real and compelling that they remind me to be faithful. I find myself wondering, “Who wrote that call to worship? Who combined these words so gently and beautifully? Who wrote that song? Who put these readings together for this day, just when I need them?”

Why do I want to join this church? Because the people come every day. Young and old, with babies and walkers, with business suits and rumpled T-shirts. They sing and say together, “Lord, hear our prayer,” and move with focus to the Eucharist. I stay in my pew and feel the currents of the air around me, created by the movement of their bodies, perhaps by the movement of the spirit.

Why do I want to join this church? Because in days of silent retreat I have felt more safe and held than ever in my life. Because I cannot pretend this did not happen and walk away.

I have just completed four months’ notice of my departure from the Unitarian Universalist ministry, and have fully entered a transition that feels like moving toward God. Even in the face of the sadness of leaving home, I feel pulled to the space, the geography of the Roman Catholic church.

Why do I want to join this church that “no thinking person” would join? It is true that I see contradictions and flaws. I do not understand why people are silenced for reaching out a hand of love. I believe Jesus also reached out with a radical love, and the dissonance created by such silencing is deafening.

I regret that women are not able to serve the church as priests. I wish I could simply transfer my ministerial credentials and preach. I suspect I would have some things to say.

But I have come to realize that waiting for a church without contradictions, a church of perfect justice and consistency, might keep me from the most important thing. The most important thing is to follow the call of Jesus, the call of God. I want to join this church that has brought me so close to that love, to the vision of justice and to a deep personal peace and joy.

Might I be wrong? Yes, of course. But then I will listen again, and try to sense the most important thing.

Patricia Carol, a church organization and conflict consultant, made her profession of faith in the Roman Catholic church Sept. 11.

National Catholic Reporter, November 12, 1999