It was during the midst of an emotional crisis in March 1984, that I made the decision to receive Jesus Christ as my personal Savior. Without hesitancy, I was more than aware that I needed to grow in the things that pertained to Him, and most assuredly to familiarize myself with His Word. I did not fear a “sell-out” to God since my love for the Savior had been fostered in childhood. As an eight year old Catholic school student, it was not uncommon for me to attend daily Mass, and essentially it became a practice that continued for a long while afterwards. Literally, it was a joy to be in the Lord’s presence and to pray. However, to say that I had strayed far from Him, particularly in my 20’s, was an understatement at best. Throughout my life, my looks had often been called into question and despite the biting wit that was part of my repertoire, a decent sense of self esteem was decidedly absent. I was on a non-stop quest for love and quickly embraced promiscuity as an end to satisfy the means. It was a futile endeavor and despite the physical pleasure, most encounters rendered emotional depletion.
Almost immediately after I had accepted the Lord, my friend Laura, who was instrumental in my desire to follow Him, began a recitation against Catholicism and repeatedly urged that I seek membership in a non-denominational fellowship where matters of the Bible were explained. She also insisted that my blessings from God would be delayed unless I was obedient in this matter. The thought of such was less than fathomable and the dilemma that I faced was “where to?” I was cognizant of the fact that I needed to develop in the Word but I was reluctant to put aside what had been the core of my life since infancy. Moreover, I was very much involved with the affairs of my parish. However, at Laura’s insistent prodding, I agreed to visit her church, and a date was set for Sunday, June 3, 1984. I went to early Mass and then followed her directions from Astoria to Joy Boulevard in Baldwin, New York.
With the exception of a brief sightseeing expedition in Great Neck three years beforehand, followed by my cousin’s wedding in a synagogue, I had never been inside of any church or worship center other than Catholic. Still I had speculated, and was therefore less than surprised, to find the premises devoid of statues, sacred artifacts, holy art, etc.
I waited in the vestibule and ultimately Laura arrived with her family. We were seated and as a newcomer, I was introduced to a few individuals including the pastor. Eventually he took his place at the pulpit at which time service commenced. I have no remembrance of the message that went forth but at some point, the pastor called up individuals who were in need of prayer. That was me. What had factored into my decision to accept the Lord in the first place, and thus change my life, was my devastation over an unrequited love affair with a South American priest. My personal Gehenna was furthered by the knowledge that he was content to continue a liaison absent of commitment. I was battle weary with my lifestyle that oftentimes included married or otherwise unavailable men. I wanted a husband...period...but despaired that at the age of 31, my horrific choices had caused the marriage band to pass me by. And so with that, I headed to the altar where a line began to form.
Eventually the pastor made his way to where I stood. Prior to that day, I had never met him nor did I share anything about myself. Nevertheless he looked directly at me, and what I later learned was through the unction of the Holy Spirit, said “The Lord has heard your cry of fear and frustration and He wants you to know that He has already taken care of it, but you have to stop taking it back from Him.” Instantaneously I knew that His words were from God for other than Laura, and perhaps her husband, there was no one else present who was aware of my circumstances or the cry of my heart.
When service concluded, I was approached by other congregants who, upon their greeting, exalted over the happiness they experienced following their departure from the Catholic Church. Clearly my experience at the altar was something that had yet to occur in my parish and I was completely edified by the pastor’s prayer. Still, I knew that aside from occasional sojourns, I could never make this particular house of God my spiritual home.
It was my intent to head back to Astoria as Laura and her family had plans of their own. To my surprise, I was invited to go for brunch with a few of the individuals whom I had met...Sylvia, Anna, and Joe. I agreed and because I drove, I offered a ride to those who needed transportation. Sylvia accepted and off we went. During service, when she learned I was single, she sought to point out a few of the available male congregants. I was courteous but uninterested. I needed to heal which would not occur through a rebound relationship particularly if attraction was absent. Moreover, I was unable to tell her how my heart continued to long for the cleric.
Upon arrival at the restaurant, we were met by Anna and Joe. As conversation ensued, I discovered that Sylvia was an unhappy housewife and Anna a beautician. What Joe did was unknown but almost immediately into the meal, when he learned I was Catholic, he erupted into a diabolical monologue about my involvement with Satan. As the others allowed him to rant, I quietly informed him that I did not share his views. Mercifully the brunch came to a close and since Sylvia also lived in Queens, I drove her home. En route, she mentioned that Joe hated the Catholic Church...no kidding...and that on one occasion when he encountered a group of nuns, he bellowed “look at the devils...” She then began to speak of her marital frustration and her desire to end the union particularly given the availability of decent Christian men. She also shared her grief at the recent loss of her son, the ineffectual counsel of her parish priest when that tragedy occurred and her joy upon the discovery of God’s promises which did not occur until she fled from Catholicism. I was definitely interested in the latter but at that point I was somewhat confused and wearisome of the Catholic bashing.
The unspoken assumption in the period that followed was that I would emulate both Laura and her lifestyle. I could not do so and to some degree, I had a distinct fear of the label associated with the term born-again Christian or holy rollers as some were referred to. I knew the type...the women wore no makeup, and both hair grooming and fashionable clothing were minimized. Jewelry, save for a watch and perhaps wedding band, was prohibited and the elimination of certain activities was applauded such as dancing, movies, television, and alcohol consumption. My intake of spirits consisted of an occasional glass of wine but I did enjoy dancing particularly if I was at an event. And while it was in-excessive, I did frequent the movies and watched television. Jehovah Witnesses they were not yet according to Laura, some Christians frowned upon Christmas festivities, including the display of a tree, since to celebrate how the world had transformed that day was indeed a pagan gesture. To my observation, I also learned that conversation seemed an impossibility with many Christians for any given response to my “Hello, how are you?” was met with the immediate recitation of a Bible verse or words that seemed to be taken from a script. Was there anyone capable of routine dialogue?
The wait for a spouse seemed endless and I completely appreciated Laura’s encouragement particularly as ridicule over my prolonged single status was forthcoming from my relatives. Yet at the same time, I became somewhat frightened with the prospect of a Godly husband. The man whom Laura was married to seemed allergic to employment and the stank of poverty was rampant in her home particularly as it was her meager secretarial paycheck which sustained the family. When she ofttimes referred to him as her gift from God, I inwardly questioned as to whether I wanted the Lord to bless me in that manner. Couldn’t I just get a decent man who accompanied me to Mass? My dismay was further evidenced by an encounter with other Christian couples at a July 4th barbecue hosted by Laura. Each one seemed joyless and without spontaneity.
Nevertheless, during my exhaustive quest for emotional healing, and with Laura’s encouragement, I returned to the church periodically. On one particular Sunday, prayer was again available which was done not by the pastor but rather certain members of his congregation. The woman whom I approached was truly devoid of compassion since her immediate response was “Well, what’d you want?” Admittedly I was cowered and haltingly replied that I wanted to be married. She provided some nonsensical response, sans the prayer, and directed me back to my seat. As the pastor began the message, he was soon joined by Joe who, after he received permission to speak, loudly exalted over his freedom from the “Catholic Church and its demons.” My immediate thought was “Again?? Did you think I was deaf when you accosted me in the restaurant??” He gave me a sly smile afterwards which I returned with a brief hello.
I continued to hear the stories of those who, once they accepted the Lord, left Catholicism immediately thereafter. Moreover, and courtesy of Laura, I was still barraged on a somewhat consistent basis as to why a departure from the Church was warranted. For a myriad of reasons, I found that impossible to do. There was comfort in my parish…I was involved and knew everyone whereas those in her church were remote particularly towards single congregants such as myself. Aside from the obligatory hug that was given immediately prior to the pastor’s message, there was minimal interaction. Congeniality was not on their agenda and though I desired fellowship, there was none to be had. Laura, understandably, was busy with her own family. Sylvia, I soon realized, only wanted a friend with a car to chauffeur her about. With that, I declined her suggestions to get together particularly when they included “Let’s go shopping at the Queens Center tomorrow.” the proposed day of which was a Sunday shortly before Christmas. As expected, her calls ceased and during a subsequent visit to the church, she attempted to introduce her husband to me but was stumped as she queried “Excuse me, what is your name again?” I was done and remarked to Laura “You will never understand. I am there alone and it is rare that anyone will go out of their way to make me feel welcome. As much as you rant against Catholicism, in my parish, I am known and greeted by name.” We maintained our friendship but my Sunday presence there concluded.
Throughout the intervening years, I visited other fellowships but again I felt unaligned. I was used to the quiet reverence of Mass and not the screaming histrionics that emitted from some pulpits. On one particular Sunday in June 1987, a good friend urged me to accompany her to the Palace Theater in upper Manhattan to hear a well known but controversial and now deceased prosperity preacher. Why I agreed I am still unable to comprehend. From the onset, I knew it was a mistake particularly when he came out to the platform and giddily danced to an oldies tune that pertained to monetary gain. Though I was reluctant to stand as a first time guest, my friend prodded me until I rose, only to hear the good reverend exclaim “Hey baby...where’ve you been all my life?” I quickly sat back down and uttered not a word. As the service continued, I felt as if I were held in a vise. When it ended, I left quietly with my friend in tow. Products for sale were displayed across the lobby and with minimal surprise I noticed that prices were doubled on items which had the original cost displayed.
At the suggestion of an acquaintance, I went to a singles meeting that was affiliated with a church in Nanuet, Redeeming Love Christian Center or RLCC. There I spoke to one of the leaders who at one time had been a member of my parish. Disparagement was absent and I enjoyed myself immensely. Of my own volition, I began to attend their services periodically.
There were a number of issues that ultimately prompted my departure from Catholicism. I was restless, I was bored, and aware that I was in need of a change. Ultimately, on the date that it occurred, February 12th, 1995, I had served as a Eucharistic Minister at the 11 and afterwards waited for an acquaintance whom I had known for many years. He was now married but our friendship, until then, had remained intact. However, this day was different for on the walk home, he was visibly grieved as he expressed his love for me and acknowledged that it was difficult to be in my presence. I softly replied “I’ll make it easier for you and not go to the 11 anymore.” With that, I turned into my gate without further adieu. I went into the bedroom to change and the clock on the VCR player read 12:32. And at that precise moment, the Lord said to me quite clearly “You’re never going back there anymore…period.” Hence there was no doubt that it was time to leave.
Of course my decision met with fierce opposition from my family…”couldn’t I find another parish?…” No. “How could I just abandon my church and forgo my involvement?” And on and on. Laura, for her part, was ecstatic over my decision as were others. Now, I would finally draw closer to God and familiarize myself with His Word.
For the remainder of February through late August, I stayed home on Sundays with teaching tapes and my Bible in hand. Eventually a coworker challenged my lack of commitment to church and quoted Hebrews 10:25 “do not forsake the assembling of the brethren.” I countered that that passage did not pertain to me as my walk with the Lord was stronger than ever before. When I arrived home later that afternoon, I prepared dinner and perused through my reading material. I was still on the mailing list for RLCC and therefore had a collection of their magazine entitled Horizons Unlimited. I pulled a copy at random and as I began to eat, the very first article that I read not only addressed church attendance but specifically quoted Hebrews 10:25. Okay…that was indeed confirmation and I resolved that I would return to RLCC that Sunday which in fact I did.
I stayed at RLCC until October of the following year when, at the suggestion of a friend, I visited Faith Fellowship in Edison, New Jersey. I enjoyed the pastor as well as the message and soon thereafter made it my own. The commute from Astoria was not too horrific and I pondered whether I would participate as a volunteer staff member.
I was off from work on April 3, 1998, and I used that time to run errands in Manhattan. Once done, I had a strong compulsion to take the subway to Briarwood and frequent my favorite Christian bookstore. Two of the shoppers with whom I engaged in conversation, Nancy and Clare, told me that they were members of a popular church in Brooklyn which I’ll refer to as NYL. I was familiar with it as I had visited there twice in 1992 and had recently passed by the building en route to a birthday party. I spoke of Faith Fellowship, numbers were exchanged, and I left soon thereafter with purchases in hand. My mind was on other things but as I exited the train at Steinway for the walk home, I heard the Lord distinctly say “I want you at (NYL).”
I was excited at the Lord’s directive for many reasons one of which was that the pastor was an amazing teacher. I would also have the opportunity to become involved as the toll-free ride from Astoria to Brooklyn was 30 minutes versus the hour plus to New Jersey. With that, I returned to Faith Fellowship that weekend and resolved that I would leave after the Easter service which was the following Sunday. One of the men asked if I had still planned to volunteer but I replied that that would not occur as the Lord had called me to a church in New York. I said goodbye to the few friends I had made, got into my car, and drove off for the last time.
I reached out to Nancy, told her what the Lord had shared with me, and we made plans to meet for the early service that Sunday. Once there, I immediately applied for membership, took the class soon thereafter, and purposed that I would satisfy every requirement in order to participate as a volunteer staff member within the one year waiting period.
1999 was a pivotal year as I met my husband in early May and three months later, joined him as a volunteer staff member. The Word at NYL was powerful and I continued to grow in the things of God.
My husband and I were married in November 2001 and soon thereafter the church moved to an expansive location in a nearby area. And it was then that an uneasiness in my spirit began to occur. The messages from the pulpit had evolved from amazing conviction to condensed clips that pleased the masses in attendance including the many politicians and prestigious. I had oftentimes heard that there was no accountability in Catholicism and that people were essentially free to do as they pleased. However, in this new and allegedly improved atmosphere, holiness had escaped from the altar and I observed how many of the congregants, co-volunteers included, deliberately lived their lives in direct contrast to God’s Word. When I began to question them in conversation, the predictable responses consisted of “God doesn’t judge me…He knows I’m a work in progress and He’ll bless me by the sincerity of my heart.” The text did not change and I was unable to fathom how this was allowed to transpire within a purported Christian, born-again environment. Yet no correction ever came forth from the pulpit and the atrocities continued.
With the influx of celebrities and speakers who were verbal advocates of that which contradicted the Bible, the church sanctuary gradually became devoid of the Lord’s presence. Those present began to worship the pastor but knew virtually nothing about the Risen Savior. It was during that period that I began to long for the holiness, order, and adherence to the Word of God, all of which are rudiments of our Faith.
In 1998, this would have seemed unimaginable yet ultimately in June 2008, my husband and I resigned from this megachurch. In a sense my husband was devastated for while he realized that Biblical teaching had dissipated, he had been there for 16 years and truly enjoyed the camaraderie amongst those on his team. In the midst of it all, it was during that time that the Lord began to deal with me about a return to Catholicism. Instead of immediate obedience, I shared the revelation with others and was led to conclude that I had not heard His voice. We then joined a local fellowship that in many ways gradually echoed the permissiveness of the megachurch. A year later we departed from there in unison and began to attend a fellowship on Long Island.
The Lord is so gracious for as I continued to seek Him, He reminded me as to where I had been called. Finally, in mid-2011, the urgency in my spirit intensified whereas I could no longer deny His will for my life. I spoke to my husband who supported this decision and in September of that year, I joined my local parish, and in essence, returned home. I smiled at the Lord’s sense of irony when a few months later, on February 12, 2012, 17 years to the date of my departure, I was installed once again as a Eucharistic Minister. Almost immediately thereafter, I was invited to become a lector and a myriad of other activities quickly followed. I was a constant at the 8am Mass since this enabled me to drive to Long Island for the 10:30 service.
The pastor was less than enthused over my decision to return to Catholicism which he referred to as a false religion. Even with that, I may have remained for awhile longer, but my husband was anxious to leave. He had never quite settled in and had sensed that the Lord wanted him at a church closer to home which is in fact what soon happened. While I accompany him to service most Sundays, particularly as the pastor is an excellent teacher, I am proudly and boldly Catholic. The Lord has placed a fervency for such in my heart and it’s a joy to share my faith with others.
I love the majesty of the Mass as well as our glorious heritage. Nevertheless, I am grateful for the amazing preachers that I’ve encountered throughout my journey for many of them brought the Bible to life and taught me how to trust the Lord. However, one observation that I have made is that inconsistency remains a glaring issue within the non-denominational fellowships. There are some that will embrace the presence of the Holy Spirit and the promises of God while others insist that such benefits concluded upon the death of the apostles. Another aspect of concern is this: there are congregants who appear devoted to the Lord and will depict Catholicism as apostasy. Yet oftentimes, particularly when elections occur, those same persons will abandon righteousness while they prioritize social justice and therefore readily endorse those who espouse an ungodly agenda. I realize that the Catholic Church is not without its issues as unfortunately there are individuals, including those in leadership, who act in a similar manner. Still I remain astounded by the hypocrisy. How can you scream “Jesus, Jesus” and then bash us as unbiblical when your own actions run afoul of the Word?
In December 1990, I encountered the former leader of RLCC who had then recently returned to Catholicism. When I queried as to why that occurred, he replied with a smile “There is no perfect church but there is a perfect God.” Almost 30 years later, it is an answer that has continued to resonate with me.