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Howdy. We've moved from Cayce, but St. Elizabeth of South Rose Hill or Lizette de Waccamaw de Sud just don't do it for me.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Conversion Axiom--Discuss Amongst Yourselves

So, a few days ago (or just earlier today, if one counts the Octave of Easter as one day--thanks for the suggestion, Gashwin!), I posted a quote I'd read on conversions:

"...well-formed evangelicals/Protestants tend to become Catholic, whereas poorly formed Catholics tend to become evangelicals."
An e-friend (*) of Izzy's wondered to him:

...what happens to poorly-formed evangelicals and well-formed Catholics? Scientologists and even-better Catholics, respectively?
Izzy replied:

In my experience, I *think* it's been: poorly-formed evangelicals become Bart Ehrman or KKKlowns, whereas well-formed Catholics become Third-Order Franciscans and Opus Deians. But I could be overgeneralizing.
My turn to over-generalize--sticking with what I know.

I have known a number of former Catholics who ended up in evangelical churches. These folks seemed to have solid understandings of doctrine--I don't really know enough to comment on their Catholic formation. From those cradle Catholics I've known well, it seems that well-formed Catholics do tend to stay Catholic, but only after making some sort of deliberate, intentional step after their confirmation.

From what I can tell, this is true of so many believers. Well-formed believers tend to stay in the church (even if not the church of their childhoods.) No matter when you walked the aisle, jumped the pew, added an extra name--if it happened before adulthood, there comes a time when you have to re-adopt your Christian faith when you leave your parents' home. It has to become your own.

For me, this happened when I went away to college. Even at a Christian school, with Sunday church attendance mandatory, I still had to decide (1) to go to church & not to Winchell's, (2) where to go--easy--the closest Baptist church had the latest bus, plus donuts!, (3) to continue to go once I had other options (for me meant going to church once I moved to Dallas and began working nights.) Izzy and I, often more at Izzy's insistence since I was pretty tired working 11-7, were at church every Sunday.

My continued "formation" (a term I'd never heard until entering RCIA) in faith was facilitated by being in my pew, in the Sunday School discussion, in small accountability groups--first in the fundamentalist Bible church and then in the evangelical Presbyterian church. I got into that pew because my parents took me, because I rode with a kid in Youth Group, and later because Izzy was there.

The love of God and His word, the growth in understanding of church history, the hunger for the Eucharist as I came to believe that Christ was truly present, all of these were fostered in me while under the tutelage of the local church. Had I been infrequently taken to church as a child, poorly taught, whatever ... I cannot say how things might have turned out.

Before earlier today, I think I might have further commented on the "axiom" above with some degree of pride that my broad exposure to the truth was what shepherded me into the Church, etc.

All that changed at a retreat today.

One young participant, noting the >60% of participants, who were not cradle Catholics, asked what attracted people to Catholicism. Two huge themes emerged in answers to his questions: Love and the Eucharist. People were invited to church by friends, co-workers, others who cared about them. They felt loved and accepted--for who and what and where they were--and they were willing to return. Over time, they associated the Church and the Eucharist with the love they'd felt from God's people, and hungered to receive Christ's body in this midst of His body the Church. They had been raised in various Protestant Churches, or with no particular faith, or even in the Catholic Church. The decision to come to church, or come back to church, seemed to result from someone else's care for them.

So, I'd add as a corollary, based on today's discussions:

"...well-loved visitors tend to stick around and become believers and fostered believers tend to retain their faith, whereas poorly loved/ignored visitors or church members tend to disappear." **

Izzy & I get no credit for finding the church--soli Deo gratias!

(*) This guy, whom I'd love to meet, seems to have been separated from Izzy at birth. ;-)
(**) Duh!

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