In the spring and summer of 1984, I was a relatively young, relatively underpaid television reporter in Rapid City, South Dakota. I had just come out of my first serious relationship, and I was searching for something. A new co-worker, who was Catholic was leaving to attend a Sunday Mass, and for some reason, I asked if I could go with him.
At the time, there were several things that attracted me to Catholicism. First, it had been the faith of my family before I was born. Second, the structure and the ritual were appealing and comforting. I knew, in passing, the rector of the local cathedral, having interviewed him on several occasions. In addition, our sports director was also Catholic and as nice a man as I have ever met to this day. It was, in a religious sense, a perfect storm.
The more I learned, the more I was attracted to Catholicism. So, in the fall of 1984, I began attending weekly classes with an eye toward conversion the following Easter. Formally known as the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA), a six-month period that culminates in joining the Church during the Easter Vigil Mass. In my case, the ceremony included a second step as I was formally baptized at the age of 28.
My mother was, to put it mildly, stunned. Her first words to me upon my arrival home for a visit were, “While you’re here, don’t preach.” She later said she thought I might end up a Unitarian but never imagined I’d become Catholic.
Back in Rapid City, I dove headlong into the Catholic experience, becoming a lector, helping with taking the weekly collection, going to the weekly coffee and donuts gatherings after Mass. If I had stayed in Rapid City, I might still be doing many of those same things today.
However, less than a year after becoming Catholic, I found myself moving south, to Alexandria, Louisiana. My church experience here was different. While most of the people were friendly, I never really felt like I fit in, either here or in Lafayette, where I moved seven months later. The sense of family I had felt in those first heady months after becoming Catholic was gone.
After spending two years in Louisiana, the time had come to move again. I hadn’t fit in and hadn’t made many friends, being a bit more reserved than many in Louisiana or in television are. So I moved back north, to Kalispell, Montana to take a job as an announcer with a Christian radio station. The general manager introduced me to his pastor and got me involved with the singles group in his church. I attended Sunday services, but something felt wrong about it. I was used to the Catholic Communion, and the way it was conducted in this church felt like a pale imitation to me. So I began attending Mass again, though I felt out of place here as well. It seemed I still lacked a spiritual home.
One year after I moved to Kalispell, I moved again, back to Lafayette, Louisiana. After a few months, I took a job in Huntsville, Alabama and looked again for a church to call home. After a few attempts, I settled on a Catholic church in a nearby suburb. I again dove in, becoming a lector and joining the choir for 5:30 Mass. I also joined the singles group, where I met my future wife.
After a few years, by which time we had a son of our own, my wife and I moved to Illinois, where we both struggled to some extent to find our place spiritually. Five years after moving to Illinois, we moved again, following the advice of Horace Greeley and moving west, to Idaho. Although we met nice people in both Illinois and Idaho, we struggled to find a place to call our spiritual home.
In writing this, I’ve come to the conclusion that I joined each church not so much to find God but to find a sense of family, of belonging. At the same time, I wasn’t really sure what I believed. I was sure I believed in God. But whose? My answers to those questions didn’t being to form for another few years and might never have formed if not for a particular birthday gift from a friend.