My life changed in 1992 when I walked into the Abbey church of Westminster in London England. I had only come to hear the choir sing at 5:00 PM. I thought it was going to be a public performance much like I'm told the Tabernacle Choir does on occasion. I never expected to be at a worship service called "Evensong". The choir was most beautiful and the scriptures and psalms they sang touched me very deeply. It caused me to look into Christianity with a fresh perspective. I began to read everything I could about Christianity from earliest times through the end of the Roman Empire, the Dark Ages, the Middle Ages, the Reformation, and from then to our own day and time. I also read the Qur'an.
I spent five weeks in London over a three year period. I started each day at St. Paul's before work and would go to Evensong after work whenever I could. (I would later discover that Evensong was a communal prayer service derived from the more ancient Liturgy of the Hours.) I spent each weekend visiting and praying in various churches, including, Winchester, Salisbury, Canterbury, Bath, and of course the Abbey church and St. Paul's.
Through this experience, I became spiritually awaken, more so than at any time in my life, including when I was a full-time missionary. It was in this state of heighten spiritual awareness that I became cognizant of disharmony within the faith of my youth and of my family from as early as June 1840 in Ontario, NY and June 1848 in Burrowash, Derbyshire, England. I had had a spiritual experience, one that wasn't supposed to have happened outside of the church, and yet, there in England, in the land of my forefathers I had become alive spiritually.
In the midst of studying the Old and New Testaments and the writings of early Christian authors, I was asked to be the Gospel Doctrine teacher for the Old Testament class (an adult Sunday School class that meets each Sunday). For the next two years, I spent 20 hours or more each week getting ready for my 45 minute lesson. It was during this time that I began to write down the questions that appear on this site which arose as I prepared my lessons. (FYI: Callings in the LDS church are not based on experience or qualifications. I was not qualified to teach anyone about the Bible and was very much concerned about my ability to teach the Old Testament. This was, however, a perfect calling for me. I was studying the Bible everyday anyway and I have found that I learn a lot more when I have to explain a subject to someone else. I believe that God had a hand in helping me to be called as the Gospel Doctrine teacher).
I tried to use the Joseph Smith Inspired version of the Bible in my lessons and purchased a full copy
of the translation from the RLDS church that my home teacher had recommended to me.
(As you may know, the LDS only have a portion of this "inspired translation" in the marginal notes and sections in the "new" scriptures). I was very disappointed with this work and stopped using
it when I found one example where Joseph Smith "translated" the word "contemn" into the sound alike word "condemn" showing no understanding of the original word or context. Psalm 10:11 in the KJV uses the word "contemn" which means to treat or think of with contempt. Joseph Smith "translated" this word into "condemn" which sounds like "contemn" but has a different and a less specific meaning including to judge, to convict, to take property from, and to declare unfit for service. In this verse, the Psalmist is saying that the wicked have contempt for God or despise God not that the wicked condemn God. (The Hebrew verb [na'ats] that the KJV translators rendered as "contemn" also could have been translated as to spurn, to despise, or to abhor but not to condemn). Joseph Smith's work on the Psalms in general was very disappointing, missing the essence of the poetic nature of these verses, replacing poetic structures with doctrinal commentary (e.g., Psalm 11:1-5, 14:1-5, 17:9, 82:2, 125:1). The "New Translation" appears to be more the work of an editor rather than the work of a translator.
During this period of searching, study, and prayer, I was very much influenced by a BYU religion class handout that told us that there were only two churches, the LDS church and the Catholic Church.
For your reference I have included the memorable quote that was in that handout:
Orson F. Whitney, Saturday Night Thoughts, p.64
Many years ago there came to Salt Lake City a learned doctor of divinity, a member of the Roman Catholic Church. I became well acquainted with him, and we conversed freely and frankly. A great scholar, with perhaps a dozen, languages at his tongue's end, he seemed to know all about theology, law, literature, science and philosophy, and was never weary of displaying his vast erudition. One day he said to me: "You Mormons are all ignoramuses. You don't even know the strength of your own position. It is so strong that there is only one other tenable in the whole Christian world, and that is the position of the Catholic Church. The issue is between Catholicism and Mormonism. If we are right, you are wrong; if you are right, we are wrong; and that's all there is to it. The Protestants haven't a leg to stand on. If we are wrong, they are wrong with us, for they were a part of us and went out from us; while if we are right, they are apostates whom we cut off long ago. If we really have, as we claim, the apostolic succession from St. Peter, there was no need for Joseph Smith and Mormonism; but if we have not that succession, then such a man as Joseph Smith was necessary, and Mormonism's attitude is the only consistent one. It is either the perpetuation of the Gospel from ancient times, or the restoration of the Gospel in latter days." My reply to this clear and concise statement was as follows: "I agree with you, Doctor, in nearly all that you have said, but don't deceive yourself with the notion that we "Mormons" are not aware of the strength of our position. We are better aware of it than anyone else. We have not all been to college; we cannot all speak the dead languages; we may be 'ignoramuses,' as you say; but we know we are right, and we know you are wrong." I was just as frank with him as he had been with me.
Knowing that we were right, and knowing that they were wrong worked for me for many years until I had this spiritual experience that caused me to question if we were really right. Believing that there was only one way to go and that the two choices before me had been made clear by Elder Whitney, I continued my studies as I prepared for my Gospel Doctrine classes. What became very clear to me was that something was wrong with what I had been taught as a child. I began to believe that Christ's Church had not been taken from the Earth, that we were not living in the last days, and that I was the first member of my family in many generations to see this.
As I worshipped in the medieval churches of England in 1992 and 1993 it occurred to me that the Church of England had only built St. Paul's and that there was an even greater Christian tradition that had preceded the Church of England from which the Church of England's faith traditions and forms of worship were based.
I read the Confessions of St. Augustine in 1993 while I was yet
unaware that I was on a major journey of faith. I wept as I read
this book, which touched my soul very deeply. Let me share just
a few of the quotes that stood out for me...
"To whom am I narrating all this? Not to thee, O my God, but to
my own kind in thy presence--to that small part of the human race
who may chance to come upon these writings. And to what end? That
I and all who read them may understand what depths there are from
which we are to cry unto thee."
(Book 2, chapter 3)
"Nor did I ever have enough in those days of the wondrous sweetness
of meditating on the depth of thy counsels concerning the salvation
of the human race. How freely did I weep in thy hymns and canticles;
how deeply was I moved by the voices of thy sweet-speaking Church!
The voices flowed into my ears; and the truth was poured forth
into my heart, where the tide of my devotion overflowed, and my
tears ran down, and I was happy in all these things."
(Book 9, chapter 6)
"Late have I loved thee, O Beauty ever ancient ever new, late have
I loved thee. For see, thou wast within and I was without, and
I sought thee out there. Unlovely, I rushed heedlessly among the
lovely things thou hast made. Thou wast with me, but I was not with
thee. These things kept me far from thee; even though they were
not at all unless they were in thee. Thou didst call and cry aloud,
and didst force open my deafness. Thou didst gleam and shine, and
didst chase away my blindness. Thou didst breathe fragrant odors
and I drew in my breath; and now I pant for thee. I tasted, and
now I hunger and thirst. Thou didst touch me, and I burned for thy peace."
(Book 10, chapter 27)
Tragedy brought me face to face with the Catholic Church in 1994. In January of that year, the seven year old son of one of my friends at work was killed when the little boy dropped a book while crossing in front of his school bus and when he ran back to get his book, he was killed when the bus ran over him, crushing his little body. At his wake, a poem was displayed that he had written in school which touched me very deeply:
God is a man.
God gave us the world.
God loves us very much and I love God very much too.
God lives in heaven because he has to watch us;
And when we die, we go to heaven and that is where God lives, in heaven.
It was at the funeral for Matthew that I was moved to come forward and receive communion for the first time in a Roman Catholic church.
Several months later, the new born baby of one of the members of my group at work died. The baby had been born with a genetic defect where the baby's body could not exactly replicate new cells. The doctors told them that they could keep her alive for 10-12 months with intensive care but eventually all the baby's organs would fail and nothing could be done to prevent this from happening. They were told that the best thing they could do would be to take their child home and give her lots of love. So March of 1994 saw me back once again at another Catholic funeral. (The only other time I had been to a Catholic service was about 1983 when a friend at work died from cancer).
As a result of these funerals I began to attend Mass at a Catholic church near my house and also the services of other churches. Our Ward was meeting in the afternoon that year so I had the entire morning to go from church service to church service. As part of attending other churches as Easter approached, I began to see Easter in a more special way than I ever had before. Each Sunday brought us closer and closer to this most special and sacred event. This period of preparation and reflection was missing in our Ward and always has been missing.
During "Holy Week", the week before Easter, I heard on the radio that a musical medieval service called "Tenebrae" was being held at Holy Name Cathedral for the Roman Catholic Diocese. It was the most beautiful music and service I had been at since I had been in England. I was again touched by the music and the message of this ancient Easter service.
Easter of 1994 happened to fall on the same weekend as General Conference. I was in such a state of looking forward to Easter that the Priesthood session of conference turned out to be a real disappointment, especially since I had wanted to continue my Easter experience. As I sat in the Priesthood session with my oldest son, I became more and more agitated as it became apparent that the speakers were not going to say anything about Easter. I knew that an Episcopal church near my house was having what is called an "Easter Vigil" and having never attended one I really wanted to go. So I gave the next speaker one last chance. I told my son the if he didn't mention Easter in his talk we were going to leave and go to the Easter Vigil at the Episcopal church. Well, the speaker totally blew off Easter and we left. The Easter Vigil service was what I had hoped it would be with a most direct focus on the resurrection of our Savior. Driving home with our extinguished Vigil candles in hand we passed a Catholic Church where I noticed that they were also having an Easter Vigil service.
I continued to attend other churches. I went to Catholic Mass on Saturday evenings and I guess got to be such a regular that one Saturday I was asked to help out with the collection. I tried to explain to the elderly man that asked for my help that I couldn't or didn't think that I could, not being a Catholic, but I think he was hard of hearing and wouldn't take no for an answer.
In September, I found the old Episcopal Cathedral church where Abraham Lincoln had worshipped in before the Great Fire of 1871 necessitated rebuilding. I walked several miles from where I worked to this church for an Evensong service but was only accompanied by two others in a said and not a sung service. I realized then how much the English had lost with the loss of empire and this old church was dying along with the empire on which the sun never set. This old Episcopal church was very close to Holy Name Cathedral, so I decided to go to Mass at Holy Name after work a few times a week.
On September 8, 1994, I passed another church in the financial district of the city on my way to Holy Name Cathedral. This was St. Peter's church. I had passed it many times in the over 14 years that I had worked in the city, but I never took the time to find out that it was a Catholic church. That evening, they had a Solemn Vespers (a communal prayer service) for the occasion of the Birth of the Virgin Mary. The choir sang some of the same works I had heard in London. It was wonderful to enter St. Peter's on this special day in September where I was greeted by 'sweet singing voices that flowed into my ears; and truth was poured forth into my heart, where the tide of my devotion overflowed, and my tears ran down, and I was happy in all these things. I tasted, and now I hunger and thirst for more'. I will never be the same!
While at Vespers at St. Peter's, Father Bob, one of the Franciscan Friars at the church introduced himself to me and cared enough to learn my name. Also the Liturgy Director, Sue, took a special interest in my journey of faith. At first, I came to all of the
Solemn Vespers services. I soon discovered that St. Peter's also had Solemn Masses. All Saints and All Souls Days at the beginning of November were very powerful for me. We sang the song (now included in the new LDS Hymnal as hymn #82) written by Ralph Vaughn Williams,
"For all the Saints", A SONG WRITTEN FOR ALL SAINTS DAY! I now knew why this song was written and what it really meant!
Before long I was going to pray and to attend Mass at St. Peter's every day before work. I would spend many of my lunch hours at St. Peter's in prayer. On once such occasion I had the sensation that I was rushing forward at a high rate of speed towards the open arms of Jesus Christ. I felt that I was spending most of my days in a state of prayer and reflection only interrupted by the necessities of life and work. It was a wonderful time of spiritual growth and discernment.
By Christmas I had discerned that I was being led towards full communion with the Roman Catholic Church becoming a member of the
Body of Christ. I thought this would be as easy as joining the LDS faith, especially since I thought I would be considered a
"golden contact". I was surprised and a little disappointed to find that becoming a Catholic is a long process, one with serious
reflection and very public commitments and many opportunities to back out. It is a process most unlike the way many Mormons are
rushed into church membership in a matter of weeks.
At first I was disappointed that I couldn't become a Catholic at St. Peter's. I was told that I would have to work with the Parish
church were I lived. Father Bob at St. Peter's gave me the phone number for the Catholic Parish which was only three blocks from my
home. I was very scared. It was hard enough to admit that I wanted to become a Catholic to Father Bob at St. Peter's in the city but
the thought of talking about this with people only a few blocks from my home, people that might know me, my wife or my children was
terrifying. I finally called after agonizing about the call over the weekend. I set up an appointment to meet with the Pastoral
Associate that was running a program called the RCIA (the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults). She was very reassuring,
explaining to me, after hearing my story, that I was on a wonderful "journey of faith". This description, a "journey of faith"
was new to me because as a Mormon I never considered that I was ever on a "journey". I had always thought that I was at faith's
destination as a Mormon.
I had a rocky time through RCIA, dropping out several times due to family considerations only to feel later that I had made a mistake. It seemed that every time I went to Mass the Pastor was talking directly to me in his homilies and these messages all seemed to say that becoming and being a follower of Christ is never easy, that friends and family might not be there to support me. One Mass included the reading from scripture concerning the would be followers of Jesus, 'Let me go first to bury my mother and my father, then I will follow you'. I knew what these reluctant disciples were facing. These scriptures were talking directly to me.
My decision to enter into full communion with the Roman Catholic in 1995 was not a simple nor an easy one, although I believed that becoming Catholic was ironically consistent with my religious training at BYU having now decided between Catholicism and Mormonism. I was still the Gospel Doctrine Teacher for the Mormon adult New Testament class. (My lessons from the Gospel of St. John, especially chapters 1, 4, and 6 convinced me that Christ's Church was still on the Earth after nearly 2,000 years.) Since I had been on a "journey of faith" without bringing my family along with me, my family was shocked when they learned that I had become Catholic. My parents, who were on their second mission at the time in the Presidency of one of the now many LDS temples, couldn't believe it. My Mom even told my wife that she would understand if my wife decided to leave me. (We are still together, thanks be to God!) Our oldest son was preparing for his full-time mission. My decision to become Catholic triggered my second oldest son's bi-polar disorder which has been very difficult for our family to deal with. (This is the same disorder that manifested itself in David Hyrum Smith [Joseph and Emma's youngest son] when David found out the truth about his father's plural wives. David died in the Elgin Mental Hospital in Elgin, Illinois because in the late 1800's no treatments were available for bi-polar disorder).
I will miss being the Gospel Doctrine teacher. It was the BEST calling I ever had as a life-long Mormon and an experience that I doubt I will ever have again. I don't miss going to the temple. I had memorized every word in the Endowment - it was hard for me when they changed it - I could still hear the old words. I do miss being able to talk with Mormon friends and my family about my experiences. My parents don't want to even listen to any of it and my wife and children only get upset if the topic comes up. I live for those rare moments when I am asked questions about my faith journey.
I think it is very important for you to know that the questions that came to me while preparing my Gospel Doctrine lessons had never come before my spiritual awakening. I was happy with what I had been taught from my youth and with what I had taught others on my mission and in my relations with those at work and in my neighborhood. I had passed out copies of the Book of Mormon at work and had referred my friends to the Missionaries. When questions did come up they were always easy to brush aside "when viewed in the light of revealed truth". When my Bishop asked me in my annual interviews if I had any sympathies with anti-Mormon groups I could always honestly say that although I knew they existed, I didn't know who they were or how to contact them. I had no problems with living the gospel or the commandments, I was active in my Ward and Stake and I've always had a temple recommend. My family has always been active and still is.
No, the questions came AFTER I had a spiritual experience that consumed every spare minute of the next several years of my life as I tried to explain to myself what had happened to me. I had had a most spiritual experience, totally unexpected, and I was very much surprised by it. This had never happened to me in the temple (except one time in Washington D.C. after being there all day) or at church and only a few testimony meetings in my life came close to what I had experienced. My experience can be summarized by St. Paul's quoting from Isaiah in Romans 10:20,
"I was found of them that sought me not; I was made manifest unto them that asked not after me."
I believe that at some time in your life, God will enter in a surprising way causing you to challenge everything you hold to be true. It is a very scary experience because it would have been so much easier to stay the way I was, especially with children and a wife that I love very much. This has not been easy for me or for my family.
The answers to my questions about Mormonism are not favorable to the faith of my youth. I am convinced that each person must find truth on his or her own. I am not saying that there is more than one truth. I am saying that truth is something each person must look for and find. It is not something that we inherit from our parents or from the Pioneers, we must gain it for ourselves. Having experienced truth from a totally unexpected source has helped me to see that the "truth" I once held as truth was only an illusion and I am now surprised that until recently, I was never was able to see through this illusion and actually condemned those who had.
"To whom am I narrating all this? Not to thee, O my God, but to my own kind in thy presence--to that small part of the human race who may chance to come upon these writings. And to what end? That I and all who read them may understand what depths there are from which we are to cry unto thee. For what is more surely heard in thy ear than a confessing heart and a faithful life?" (St. Augustine, Confessions)
I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of all things through Jesus Christ, the only Begotten Son of God the Father from before all time and not just in the flesh. I believe in Jesus Christ. He is the Messiah, my Savior and my King. He entered our world, a world He created, and became one of us, uniting man and God. He will return again in glory to judge the living and the dead and His kingdom will have no end. The Holy Spirit has guided the true Church of Jesus Christ since the Day of Pentecost and still does today. The Heavens are not closed and we are in communion with the Church in Heaven for the Kingdom of God is also here, now, within us. The Catholic Church contains the fullness of Christianity and is authorized through Apostolic secession to perform the sacraments of the Church. I bear this witness in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, who lives and reigns with God the Father and the Holy Spirit, One God, forever and ever. Amen.