Wednesday, May 14, 2008

My Conversion Story

I am very grateful for my Catholic school education. While I was going through it, I wasn’t very happy about it, but I must say, it made me question. It made me question EVERYTHING – but I didn’t get enough answers. At least answers that satisfied me. I was also very doctrine-oriented. I needed a belief system, but one that made sense to me.
I can look back now and see there were some very special moments in my young life that led to my conversion to the true gospel of Jesus Christ. I had to go through a rebellion period and a refining period to make the conversion more sweet.
When I was in school I thought about becoming a nun – and probably for all the wrong reasons. I was in 7th grade and didn’t know what my future would hold. I knew nuns, and I knew what would be expected of me. I loved the Lord and I wanted to serve Him. I also wanted to be taken care of and feel secure. I was sure the convent would be the thing for me.
In 8th grade I had an extraordinary teacher. Her name was Sister Francis Maureen. She was the best teacher our class ever had. She was different from all the other nuns. She was nice. She was fun. She was understanding.
I remember one day in religion class she gave us all her take on “hell.” She said, “Imagine never seeing the face of God. That is hell. Not fire and brimstone, but never being able to dwell with God.”
That enlightenment changed my views and my Catholic fear of God. She portrayed God as being so loving and so good that to not ever see him would be the worst thing that could happen to anyone. It gave me a great deal to ponder.
I heard, years later, that Sister Francis left the convent. I don’t know where she is, or even what her real name is, but I hope the missionaries found her. She is so ready to receive the true gospel!
In 9th grade I went to public high school and attended CCD classes (I still don’t know what CCD stands for), a Sunday school for ‘publics.’ It was held on a school night and everyone in the class rested their heads on the desks and didn’t participate. Everyone except for me. It was a night of question and rejoinder with the priest and me. Just me. Everyone else had their heads on the desks.
One night I asked him (I can’t remember his name. Something Italian – oh, yeah – Father Vedino) why Catholics had to have so many kids. (I was the oldest of 8.) Some heads popped up...
He just said, “I know you’re probably upset because you don’t have two cars or a color TV.”
I raised my hand. I said, “We have two cars and a color TV. Why do we have to have so many kids?” More heads popped up.
I had questions about the Trinity (three persons in one God – do you mean three people are the same God or is it a Godhead with three people in it? You can’t mean three people are the same person, can you?)
– and baptism of babies (but if they die without baptism, it’s not their fault! How could God keep them out of heaven? They’re just babies?)
– I just didn’t ‘get’ limbo (What about Moses and even St. Joseph? They weren’t going to heaven?)
– or purgatory (I have to say how many prayers?)
– or confession (though it greatly improved my multiplication skills – if I was disobedient three times a day for seven days, that’s 21 times a week, and it’s been two weeks since my last confession....oh, I’m still mathematically challenged....)
– and I wanted the concept of hell fully explained.
The pat answer, “Have faith,” was given in one too many rejoinders for me. I finally convinced my dad (not an easy task) that I had had 8 years of Catholic school and I didn’t need to go to CCD class. I can’t believe he let me quit. I really can’t! I thought he would punish me for even thinking such a thing, but he let me quit.
I always wondered if maybe Father Vedino asked my dad not to bring me anymore because I was asking too many dad just seemed too easy.

Fast forward to my year spent in Boulder, Colorado.
While living there I attended a Catholic church. It was a nice church and the people were not judgmental. My first visit there was on a Sunday during a bike ride. I was in shorts and a T-shirt and was pretty grimy, but I wanted to go to church and I just happened to find it while riding a bike (I didn’t have a car and borrowed the bike). I walked in and they asked me to escort the ‘offering;’ that is, in those days, to take the chalices up to the priest (I don’t know if they still do that).
I thought, wow, if they accept me all grimy and sweaty from a bike ride, this is the church for me. I started attending regularly and was a faithful member of the choir there. I played my guitar. I even attended the Chicano Mass every once in awhile. It was all in Spanish and the communion hosts were tortillas.
One night at choir rehearsal I was asked to come to an activity (LDS would call it a Fireside). That Friday night I attended and it was a slide show about the changes that had taken place in the Catholic Church since the time of Christ. It told of how the primitive saints met in caves, how Constantine deemed Christianity the religion of the Roman Empire, the Dark Ages, the Renaissance, and so on, up to the present day 1970s. It showed how the alters changed from having the priests’ backs turned from the congregation to having the priest turn around to the congregation, guitar Masses, regular people giving out the communion hosts. It told of all the changes made since the primitive church and how the church accommodated modern times.
The church accommodated the times. The church changed as the times changed.
The only thing was, I realized that not only did the alters change, but much of the doctrine as well.
What that slide show did was make me realize it was now not the same church as was established by Jesus Christ while He was on the earth.
I remember sitting there, being touched by the Spirit, and knowing right then and there – I was unconverted from the Catholic Church. I left that night and never went back. I was 19.

Thus began my quest for the real true church.
Thus was my dilemma.
If the true church is founded by Jesus Christ, and it wasn’t the Catholic Church anymore, and all the other Christian churches came from the Catholic Church, then there could be no true church on the earth. It had to be founded by Jesus Christ – not Luther, not Calvin, not Wesley, not Knox, not Russell, etc.
It was my dark period.
However, I decided to investigate other churches and, at least, glean what I could from them and incorporate the good that I found from other churches into my life.
I investigated Judaism (although I tried not to, I found out I believed too much that Jesus Christ was the Son of God), Buddhism (I became a vegetarian and pondered on the idea of reincarnation), astrology, Tarot cards, parapsychology, and I even decided to do some more reading about the Catholic Church, just to be sure about my decision to leave it (I was sure).
Ironically, while living in Boulder, I met my first Mormons. I remember how happy they were and how well-adjusted they seemed. They loved their families, while I had fled to Colorado to escape mine.
When I got married, I told my husband that I didn’t want to have children until I found a church I was happy with and could raise our children in. He said, “Fine. Find a church and we’ll join it.”
I said, “I remember when I was in Boulder I met Mormons and they were really happy and they loved their parents. I want our kids to love us like that.” (Seeds were planted in Colorado.)
We lived in Telford, Pennsylvania. I figured I could maybe write to the Mormon Church in Salt Lake City and they could send me a brochure or something. Surely there was no Mormon Church in Small-town, Pennsylvania.
Well, I procrastinated and never did write to the church.
Two weeks went by after that conversation when two young men in suits, white shirts and ties knocked on my door. They introduced themselves by saying, “We are missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”
Living in Boulder, I knew what the real name for the Mormon Church was. I asked, “Who sent you? Did my husband write to you?”
They looked at each other and shrugged, “No, we’re just knocking on doors to see if anyone is interested in learning about the true gospel of Jesus Christ.”


It turned out there was a Telford branch that met two blocks away from our house!
Once I started studying with the Elders, I was told that if someone has the desire to know about the true gospel of Jesus Christ, it cannot be kept from them. I have since met others whose doors were knocked on after praying about wanting to know which church to join. I didn’t even pray! I just happened to say, off the cuff....
When we finally set a date to study, I remember shaking their hands and saying, “I’m not interested in joining your church. I’m just studying about churches – as a hobby.” (They just looked at each other and probably laughed all the way to the font!) I had no idea that a “true church” could exist.
The Elders taught me about a “restored” church. I had never thought about that!!!! I was so happy to know that Jesus Christ loved us all so much that he restored His church to the earth through a new prophet, Joseph Smith. I eagerly waited for every lesson. I even asked the Elders if they could come every day!! They said ‘no’ but gave me homework every week which I treated like a college course. I read, took notes, etc.
My question to them, “Why do Mormons [Catholics] have so many kids?” was directed to Moses in the Pearl of Great Price. It was the Pearl of Great Price that converted me. (I didn’t read the Book of Mormon until a year or so after my baptism.)
Every week I would read and write down questions in a notebook and the Elders would diligently answer my questions – every one! – and showed me in the scriptures where the answers could be found. I never once heard, "Have faith."
At the first lesson they showed a film strip of a man who died and was greeted in heaven by all his friends and family that went before him in death to a spirit world. I had just read the book “Life After Life” and I saw the similarities of those who had died and come back to life. They told the same story. I asked if that’s what they truly believed and they said ‘yes.’
It felt right to me. It’s like my recollection of spiritual things had been reawakened.
When they finally asked me to be baptized, I said, well, I believe it and all, but why do I have to be baptized? If I say I believe, that should be good enough.
Elder Poulson put his hand on my shoulder and gently said, “Sister Knight, even Jesus was baptized.”

I have to digress somewhat in my story to add a little bit about what was going on in my life at that time.
I was a singer in a band. Ken and I had talked about having a family, but I told him I didn’t want to be a pregnant singer in a rock and roll band. That, and not having a religion....
I started studying with the Elders in January 1981. In February, my band unexpectedly decided to break up.
It was as if Heavenly Father was looking down on me and saying, “Oh, you want to have a family? Hmmm...the band is in the way? Hmmmm...You need a religion?”

By March 1981 I was ready for the water.
Ken wasn’t.
He hadn’t even studied with the missionaries. They were over every week for dinner but Ken never asked to study the lessons. I reminded him he told me to find a religion to join and I did.
I told him I wanted to be baptized.
FORTUNATELY, the Pennsylvania Philadelphia Mission President would not allow one spouse to be baptized without the other spouse. I can see the wisdom in that approach. I know now that if I was baptized without Ken, I would have been inactive in no time at all.
Luckily, Ken saw how much I wanted to join this church. He decided to study with the next set of Elders who came to our area. Over the course of the summer of 1981, I found him trying out the Word of Wisdom and trying to accept the concept of tithing – his two biggest sources of contention. When his friends got together, drinking and smoking was always part of it. I noticed (but never said anything) that he would tap the root beer keg and not the beer keg at parties. I noticed he stopped smoking. He wasn’t ready to give up coffee, but he was trying to cut down. (He actually had his last cup the day before his baptism – something that probably wouldn’t fly today.)
In the beginning of October 1981 I was growing impatient and Elder Poulson was getting ready to go home in December. In those days, Elders could go back to former areas to baptize their converts. I wanted Elder Poulson to baptize me. In fact, I said I wouldn’t get baptized if Elder Poulson couldn’t do it, that’s how adamant I was about it. (I didn’t realize then what a sorry convert I was....)
One night, before the Elders came over to teach Ken, I told him I was going out and not staying for the lessons. I told him I was going to be baptized. No pressure on him. I understood if he did not believe, but I did and if I didn’t get baptized, I would regret it for the rest of my life.
I think he saw that it was hard for me to see him go through the lessons over and over and getting nowhere. When I came back that night, he had set a date for baptism with the Elders! October 25, 1981.
I will let him tell you about his own conversion, but he told me he saw how much I believed in this church and that it would come between us if he didn’t accept it as well, or at least try to. That showed a lot of wisdom on his part.

Now we had to tell our parents.

My parents were strict Catholics, although my mother was a convert. She accepted my decision to leave the church, but my father could not accept it. I knew it would be hard for him, especially since I knew that Catholics believe if you are not Catholic, you cannot go to heaven. It is a mortal sin to leave the church. That means you are damned to hell. That must have broken my father’s heart.
He sat out in the foyer during the baptism. At least he came to the church. One of our members, Ken Sherwood, dear old Ken, sat out in the foyer with him. He was a tad older than my father and my dad always got along with and respected the elderly. I was grateful to Ken for sitting in the foyer with my dad to talk to him and keep him company and not judge.
I knew my father would see the ‘fruits’ of our conversion to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I believe he did and we were able to do his temple work some years later after his death. I even had a spiritual confirmation that he accepted the work done for him. It was a happy day for me to know that my father was smiling down on me from heaven.
Ken’s parents, though they weren’t particularly thrilled with our decision, were glad we both joined the same church. His mother said it wasn’t good for spouses/parents to belong to different churches. I heartily agree. Even though his father never accepted the teachings of our church, but agreed to disagree, his sister was baptized in 1991 on my birthday, and his mother was baptized in 1999, the same day as Tim when he was 8 years old. What a great day for our family that was!
At our baptism at the Jarrettown meetinghouse, we were told from the start that there was no hot water. It was the end of October. I really hated cold water!
When I entered the waters of baptism, I realized everyone must have been teasing me. The water was like warm bath water. It was so warm that I was flushed!
Another couple was baptized at the same time and that sister and I were changing in the dressing room. She was shivering so hard I thought her teeth would chatter right out of her head. She said she couldn’t believe how cold the water was. My face was still flushed and I said, “The water was warm!” She looked at me like I was crazy.
I realized later I was totally enveloped by the Holy Spirit. I felt the warmth of the Spirit and it melted me and gave me comfort and peace. I felt SO good! I felt like love had poured over me like warm syrup on pancakes.
Our journey in the true church of Jesus Christ had begun.

I am so grateful to our Savior, Jesus Christ, for restoring His true church to the earth. What a concept! I was able to join the same church that was set up on the earth by the Savior. Can you imagine how happy I was to know that the church was restored?!
I testify that Joseph Smith is the prophet of the restoration and I am so grateful that he questioned, like I did, about a true church, then had the COURAGE to help the Lord establish it in these times. I am ever grateful for all his sacrifices and the sacrifices of the early saints who helped bring the church to fruition in modern times.
I testify that the Book of Mormon was given through revelation to Joseph Smith. I have read it many times and have received my testimony in my heart and in the very depths of my soul. I was thankful that our modern-day prophet, the late Gordon B. Hinckley, challenged us to read it again in 2005. I know he was and is a true prophet of God. I love him so much. I now know our current prophet, Thomas S. Monson, is a true prophet. I have a testimony of that, too.
I also know that my Heavenly Father loves me. I have had so many spiritual experiences that testify to me of His love for me... and I love Him. And I say these things in the name of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

I challenge all to read the Book of Mormon, study with the missionaries, and be converted by the Spirit.

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1 Nephi 1: 1, 3

...therefore I make a record of my proceedings in my days.
And I know that the record which I make is true; and I make it with mine own hand; and I make it according to my knowledge.