Journey in faith 1

A God of Surprises


I never expected to be a Catholic.

I grew up in the Church of Scotland in the 50s and 60s, in Ayrshire. Sectarianism was strong, Catholics and Protestants didn't mix, and each just knew the others were going to Hell.

Relations had warmed somewhat by 1980, when I was confirmed in Crown Court Church of Scotland in London, but when the minister said that if the Catholic Church in 1560 had been like it was now, we'd not have needed a Reformation, I thought he was rather daring.

So, when I came timidly to St Augustine's on the 7th of July 2005 in search of an open church in which to pray about the London bombings, I didn't dream I'd be received into the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil of 2006. I imagined a force field to repel Presbyterian heretics like me, but instead I discovered a warm, but not pushy, welcome, and found myself at Mass the next Sunday, and the following Sundays, and feeling that I was somehow at home. I joined the RCIA course, and began attending weekday Masses during the following Lent. Since then, the Eucharist has been a vital part of daily life.

I'd worshipped with Anglicans since moving to Tunbridge Wells, but never felt any urge to join the Church of England. They had bishops, fancy vestments, and no end of mysterious practices that my Protestant soul could not understand and instinctively disliked. No, I was born in the Kirk, and I could not change my spiritual pathway for social convenience.

There were, therefore, many mental barriers between me and Catholicism, not least a feeling of betraying "the faith of my fathers" and a reluctance to upset my older relatives in Scotland, and a sadness that I'd not be able to share Communion with my non-Catholic friends and family. There could be no going back.

In the end, I accepted in my head what my heart was telling me, that only by becoming a Catholic, could I grow in my Christian life.

What people don't tell you, is that being a Catholic is a lot more fun! Going to church used to be like sitting in God's front parlour, that rarely used room kept "for best," cold, musty and uncomfortable. Now I feel I'm part of God's close family, welcomed round the kitchen table. Church is not just for Sundays. There's so much going on, not just in St Augustine's itself, but also pilgrimages, retreats, and the joy of being part of something truly universal.

I still have affection for the Kirk - after all, it gave me a greater knowledge of Scripture than most Catholics of my age - and an occasional nostalgia for long fire and brimstone sermons! There have been one or two rockier spells in my relationship with the Church, as you'd expect with anything important, but I've never regretted becoming a Catholic Christian. When I'm asked why I did such a peculiar thing, I find that the best answer is the one that sounds trite - the working of the Holy Spirit!

Trish Fowlie