The Journey Begins
My journey began in the 1960’s. My father was Roman Catholic and my mother was southern Pentecostal and, in order for them to be married, she needed to convert. The fact that she was already carrying me made this rather difficult and probably the reason why I wasn’t baptized at St. Clement Church until I was two years old.
I have vivid memories of hearing the Latin masses before Vatican II and even later. I remember having a curiosity about serving in the church—the fancy way the priests dressed, the chanting, and the way they were revered and respected. When I was ten, my mom was convinced I was going to be a priest because I started going to mass a few weekdays in the summer. (It wasn’t until years later that I revealed that the only reason I was going is because of the McCann family and their pretty girls.)
As a teenager, my heart was truly interested in serving and I became an altar boy. I loved serving so much that I was attending church on both Saturdays and Sundays. On Sunday morning I enjoyed singing with the organist, a kind, aging woman who always seemed to have a smile.
My desire to serve was eventually replaced with something new—rock and roll, fast cars, beer, and women. I had left the Catholic Church for my newfound hobbies, but it was shallow. In my heart there was still a desire to serve the Lord.
Igniting an Old Flame
By the mid-1980’s, scandal had rocked the Catholic Church and even my one-time parish in Warren. I no longer wanted to have any part in the church, but I did want to have a relationship with Jesus. Therein was my conundrum … We grew up believing that all non-Catholics were doomed to an eternity of fire and damnation and I didn’t dare go to a church of a different denomination. Yet, I could not bring myself to return.
One day, while searching for something new on the radio, I stumbled across a religious station and decided to leave it on. I began listening to the preacher on a regular basis, and a new fire started to glow. But this time, it didn’t have all the strings attached. It felt free.
About the same time, I met the woman of my dreams, Jean. To my delight, I learned she also enjoyed the same radio preachers. She was baptized Lutheran but her mom took issue with something in the church and scurried her and her sister to an Episcopal church a few miles away. Meanwhile, her father stayed loyal to Our Shepherd in Birmingham.
When we started dating, I asked her if I could attend church with her. She laughingly replied that asking a girl if you can attend her church was the oldest trick in the book, but I really wanted to go. I was quite surprised to learn that the Episcopal service was pretty much high Catholic! I felt quite comfortable and not oppressed. We were married in the church in 1986 and stayed there until about 1991, when the diocese started eliminating gender references and ordaining practicing homosexuals.
Redeemer Anglican was our next stop—a small but very welcoming church that used the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, laden with the language of King James. It was there that my spiritual awakening began—it was faith, not works, that saved us! Our beloved pastor was forced to retire and the incoming pastor was a devotee of the high Catholic mass from the 16th century—something I couldn’t tolerate. Time to move…
Our kids were attending Our Shepherd’s Day School, I was a Cub Scout leader there, Jen’s father was a member, and we attended special services with our kids and liked the teachings. So Our Shepherd became our new home and the place of my newfound passion for Christ!
Luther Was a What???
During our classes to become members of Our Shepherd and the LCMS, we learned a lot of interesting things, but what knocked me to the ground was when I learned that Martin Luther started off as an Augustinian Monk. Martin Luther was a Catholic? I rubbed my forehead in disbelief while Pastor Ray smiled. “Yes, Franklin, he was a Catholic, but here’s the rest of the story…” I was both relieved and happy learning the history of the church!
The more I learned about the bravery of Martin Luther, CFW Walther, and others, the more I felt that I had truly come home. Suddenly, my desire to serve the church was back but with more vigor! I felt called to become an elder, worship assistant, and part-time usher. I truly enjoyed serving Jesus and people, but there was something more—something from years ago that was nagging at me—a distant calling.
Then, in early 2014, I learned of the Deacon program through a friend and fellow Scout Leader, Steve Sparks. He told me how enjoyable the program was and how much his life had changed since he began his journey. The more he talked, the more I felt the calling. I approached the church and, although a Deacon was not required at Our Shepherd, I was allowed to enroll and have Pastor Ray as my Supervising Pastor. And so, in spring of 2015, at age 57, I was off to school once more.
Each class offered its own challenges and we were blessed to have very knowledgeable, helpful instructors. And the camaraderie between the students produced life-long friendships.
The benefits of this wonderful journey go far beyond that of learning and preparing to be a Deacon. We are better disciples, servants, leaders, husbands, fathers, brothers, etc. For me, my spiritual life is far greater than it was and, as I prepare to enter the SMP program, I truly look forward to seeing what God has in store for me next!
For more information about the Deacon, Pre-SMP and Ministry Assistant Training (for women) Program, click here.
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