My religious experiences growing up were eclectic.
Born and raised in a progressive Catholic church, I was baptized as a baby, had my First Communion in second grade, and was confirmed in high school. However, my parents didn’t teach us many of the Catholic “rules” such as not eating meat on Fridays during Lent. Hence my embarrassment years later when I ordered a burger on Ash Wednesday amongst a group of friends at St. Mary’s College!
Along with the Catholic upbringing, my parents were also involved for many years with an ecumenical Christian retreat called Cursillo. They grew close to many families from different denominations. The impact of these retreats and the relationships with all these people of different faith traditions was that our faith became a hybrid of doctrinal beliefs.
Another factor that shaped my Christian understanding was the several years of summer camp my siblings and I attended. Instead of sending us to the Catholic camp in our county, my mom signed us up for the non-denominational Triumphant Life Camp. Our counselors came from a Baptist college in central Oregon. This was where I was introduced to praise music and was encouraged to “give my life to Christ”. Even in my early teens, this seemed a little odd since I was already baptized. My Catholic friends and I had to deal with explaining that we didn’t worship Mary and respell other misconceptions of our religion. But, it wasn’t a big deal and as kids, we just loved being at camp with our friends!
When I met my husband, we shared a religion. As co-workers, even before we starting dating, we went to an Ash Wednesday service together. We also shared similar disillusionment with the Catholic church. Although we believed in the sacraments and loved the liturgy, many of the doctrinal aspects of the Catholic Church didn’t sit well with us. I remember leaving a mass one Sunday, fairly enraged, after a long homily focusing on praying for the repose of the souls of deceased loved ones. Basically, this means we’re praying for their time in purgatory to be lessened so they can fully enjoy peace with God in heaven. Purgatory was definitely something I couldn’t embrace. Isn’t God powerful enough to purify us because of Christ’s sacrifice and our baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection? I couldn’t subscribe to the idea that God had to put people through a purification process or that we were powerful to reduce the length of that process.
Dennis and I chose not to be married in the Catholic Church. We continued to practice Catholicism during our first few years of marriage (although I later learned that we were not supposed to be taking holy communion because of our unsanctioned marriage!) – but we often talked about whether we’d actually want to have our children baptized in the Catholic Church. It had become clear to me that my major disagreement with the doctrine was the issue of salvation through grace or works. The Catholic Church holds that both grace and our works are necessary for salvation (hence the need for purgatory to finish what our good works could not accomplish). From all of my experience with protestant Christianity, I believe that God’s grace through Christ’s death and resurrection is sufficient for salvation.
When Sienna was born, we dicussed baptism with our priest. Our choice for godmother was my sister, Sarah. During this process, we learned that Sarah could not be Sienna’s godmother because she was married – although not married within the Catholic Church. Apparently, our experience with a more progressive congregation growing up, meant that we’d missed the nuances of these rules. Turns out that godparents are supposed to have all the applicable sacraments. Since she was married outside of the church, she was technically disqualified. This was the last straw.
So, we embarked on a quest to find the right denomination for us. We knew that the liturgy and sacraments were most important, so we sought faiths that share the orthodox doctrine. For several months we attended St. Paul’s Episcopal Church near our home in Hillcrest. We met a lot of nice folks and my mom and I joined a group class on Simplicity, which was really interesting. In the end, it wasn’t the right fit for us, mostly because we found a much better one.
Sienna was about to start attending daycare so I began the hunt for a church preschool that was also a place we’d want to worship. The first and only school I visited was Grace Lutheran. It felt like coming home.
As soon as I met Pastor John, saw the beautiful sanctuary, and met the loving teachers I knew this was where we were meant to be. We studied up a bit on Lutheran doctrine and knew, for sure, that this would be our religion. I loved the beautiful simplicity of Luther’s doctrine of justification “by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone”. As my understanding of Lutheran doctrine has grown, my appreciation for it has only deepened.
Given all the faiths I have been exposed to, Lutheranism feels like the perfect blend. We have the ancient liturgy, the sacraments – where God pours out his grace for us, and the proper understanding of justification through Christ’s death and resurrection alone, without any meager attempts by me to manage my sin or improve my standing with God.
I feel richly blessed to belong to this church family.