“Mold me and make me after Thy will”
There has been a longstanding joke in the South that every loving Southern Baptist parent prays that his children will grow up and become successful enough to join the Episcopal church. To the casual observer, my conversion to the Episcopal church certainly fit that paradigm.
After my father’s death, my mother took a crash course in shorthand and typing so she could get a job, worked to pay off the business debts associated with my father’s nascent Flight Training School, then put herself through college while rearing us three children.
Each of us, in turn, worked and earned scholarships to complete our college education. Eight months after graduation, I married my knight in shining armor and began to live the Great American Dream of Success and Happiness with him.
I had earnestly prayed that God would preserve me from the temptation of falling in love with a Catholic and was quite relieved when the man of my dreams turned out to be a fellow Southern Baptist from South Carolina. I gladly moved east, away from my family in Texas, and tried to become his perfect “help-meet.”
The most wonderful part was mothering our four children. No feminist has ever shown me any project that is more challenging, exhilarating, or rewarding than nurturing your own children. I relished every year of it. Of necessity, I had been a latchkey kid a whole generation before the term was invented. Every day that I had come home from school to an empty house, I swore that somehow, someway, I would be there for my own children.
Being a helpmeet also meant refinishing furniture, making curtains, cooking gourmet meals, befriending the neighbors, and volunteering to improve the community. As a couple, we eagerly participated in each church we joined, serving as Sunday School teachers, committee chairmen and prayer group leaders. As we moved “up the ladder” financially and socially, we also began to entertain more frequently and more lavishly.
I certainly thought of the many stylish parties we could have the first time I saw The House on Valley Road. Its elegance took my breath away. Architectural details like solid mahogany paneling in the library, Waterford chandeliers, triple solid brass hinges on every door, custom-milled windows and woodwork, and twelve foot ceilings were flourishes that I had never dared to dream of owning. As I mentally measured the rooms, I couldn’t help but contrast it with the houses of my youth, including the one-room shack that had lacked indoor plumbing.
I wanted it so much I could hardly relax until we paid our earnest money and signed a sales contract. Yet, I was afraid of my intense desire. On the morning of the closing I prayed that it would not become an idol to us and that God would use our family and our house to be a witness to him in the new community. In my arrogance, I somehow thought that God would be pleased that a family of sincere Christians lived in the most beautiful home in the county.
With the home came a move to another town and to the Episcopal Church. But it wasn’t just a desire for status or a chance to get to know the “movers and shakers” of the community better that drew me there. It was the liturgy.
After attending one service, I knew that this was what I wanted and had wanted for a long time without knowing what to ask for. The solemn procession, the skillfully written order of service, the music, the rituals, and the Eucharist transformed Sunday morning services into a divine appointment. It was as if I suddenly had permission to enjoy beauty for its own sake, that it was Godly, not frivolous. I had grown up relishing the earnest preaching from evangelicals. As an adult, I had reveled in the exuberance of a Pentecostal church. But here, in this service, I felt like I glimpsed heaven itself.
We took the Christian formation classes and quickly became leaders in the Episcopal parish, eventually serving in almost every possible capacity. I learned to appreciate the gentle discipline inherent in the church calendar. I gradually relaxed and began to value the theology. Instead of militantly being on guard to “promote the faith,” I learned to appreciate God’s mercy – and my own need to call upon God for mercy every day. We parishioners supported each other emotionally and spiritually while we fervently prayed for our church leaders to come in from left field and return to the basics of faith. In fact, when the media drumbeat reached a crescendo for the leadership in the Catholic Church to liberalize its views during John Paul II’s visit in 1993, we jocularly suggested among ourselves that perhaps all the liberal Catholics should join the Episcopal church and all of us conservative Episcopalians should become Catholic. Yet none of us made a move.
But my life in Camelot ended several years before World Youth Day in Denver.