(A friend at church recently asked me to write about my experience of converting to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, also called Mormons. I thought it was worth posting here, too.)
I was baptized on my eighteenth birthday. My parents attended my baptism and supported me in my decision, although they have never had an interest in investigating the church themselves. But baptism is only one event in a conversion story; conversion begins well before the event of baptism, and we continue to be converted throughout our lives.
My parents came from two different religious backgrounds, Presbyterian and Christian Science. My mother, the Presbyterian, has always believed in God and has liked going to church, but to my father, although he always believed in a Supreme Being, attending church was an uncomfortable memory from his adolescent years. They compromised by sending my brother and me to one church or the other from time to time, but we were never regular attenders, and we never were taught a specific doctrine beyond trying to be good people and do what we knew to be right.
By the time I was a teenager, I felt that something was missing in my life. I began to attend the Presbyterian church in town occasionally, but I didn’t really understand anything of doctrine. When I attended one Easter Sunday, and a high school acquaintance, sitting in the pew in front of me, turned to me and said, “Oh, I guess you’re one of those C and E Christians,” (Christmas and Easter), I was dumbfounded and embarrassed. It was hard to keep going to that church after her rebuff.
This was in the early 70s, when a movement nicknamed the “Jesus Freaks” was spreading among high school and college students. As I recall, this was a Christian movement aimed at youth, combining the idea of religion with adolescent slang. I spent some time at lunch with an earnest group of nice kids, kids who gave me a pamphlet that told me all I needed to do was invite Jesus into my heart. I took the pamphlet and went home and knelt down in my room and tried to invite Jesus into my heart, but nothing much happened, and I was too embarrassed and shy to go back to the group and lunch and ask them what I had done wrong.
Not long after that experience, one of my friends from the high school band invited me to come to his church. He had recently joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I felt a little reluctant, because I knew some people considered the Mormons to be fanatical or odd, but I ended up accepting his invitation because I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. My parents didn’t have a problem with me attending the church meeting, but I remember my dad telling me that if they tried to give me a Book of Mormon, I could tell them that I didn’t need one; we already had one at home. (A neighbor family had given the book to my parents about eight years before. We had moved twice since then, but my parents—notorious for purging extra belongings in a move—had kept the book. I now realize that the neighbors had probably been participating in a ward missionary challenge to place a Book of Mormon with another family. That seed bore fruit, but it sure took a long time!)
The first time I walked into an LDS Sacrament Meeting, I felt at home. I loved the fact that entire families worshipped together, rather than sending the babies off to the nursery, which was the custom in other churches I had attended. I felt the Spirit during the simple ceremony of the sacrament, and I was impressed that no one passed a collection plate. I enjoyed singing the hymns. At the end of the meeting, one of my friends from high school came up to me and said, “Hey Kathy, I’m speaking next Sunday. Will you come again and hear me give my talk?”
I hadn’t planned on attending more than one Sunday, but how could I turn him down? It turned out to be his mission farewell, and he challenged me to meet with the missionaries and learn more about the church’s doctrine. I did. I read the copy of the Book of Mormon that had been sitting on my parents’ bookshelf for eight years. I struggled with some of the concepts of this new religion, which wasn’t fanatical, but which still seemed a bit odd to me. I prayed to ask God if this religion was from Him, if it was a true religion, and I felt happy and light and peaceful, and so I decided to be baptized.
This was about three months before my eighteenth birthday, but I decided to wait until my birthday to be baptized, not because my parents forbade me to do so, but because I wanted to celebrate my journey into adulthood by being washed clean of all my sins and taking on the new life of a religious person. That was nearly thirty-eight years ago, and even though I have had periods in my life of discouragement and doubt, I have never regretted my decision to become a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. My testimony has continued to deepen and grow over the years, and I hope it will always continue to do so.