Someone close to me, my wife, called my previous post my “conversion” story. I didn’t mean for it to come out that way, but in the end I guess it sort of is. However, since I don’t particularly care for the term conversion in the instances that it concerns people who are already believers in Christ, and also because its not the fullness of the story, I decided to write the following.
I was born in Thomaston, GA on March 20, 1980. Thomaston is a small town, now considered to be on the outskirts of the suburbs of Atlanta. My father, at the time, was a charismatic Methodist pastor who “rode” a circuit. He was up and coming, however he had two issues, he was both charismatic and he liked black people – he actually wanted them in his church. Keep in mind, this may be 1980, but it was also the deep south and the United Methodist Church was a deep rooted southern denomination (John & Charles Wesley began in Georgia in the 1700s). On advice from a close friend, he left the UMC and started an independent charismatic church, which later merged with another independent charismatic church with eventual ties to the Paulks in Atlanta and so on.
Sometime in the mid 1980s, my father met then Pastor Randy Adler, a great man of God and faith, who would go one to be one of the central founders of the Charismatic Episcopal Church. My father would start a church in Thomaston – St. Michael and All Angels – in 1993, and go one to be ordained to the priesthood, becoming a canon, and later a bishop. This began my personal hunger for the liturgical and sacramental, starting around the age of 11-12 – the church we where in before the CEC was dabbling in liturgical expression, and it came full circle with my charismatic and Wesleyan upbringing. At this time, myself and the oldest of my younger brothers were home schooled (Josiah was only born in 1992) and my parents switched from the lifepack system (I don’t remember the publisher) to Seton Home Study School. Seton is an accredited home school program, that is Roman Catholic, based in Virginia. Throughout the 1990s I felt a calling to the priesthood, and I loved the liturgy, I studied it, along with the Bible and the Early Church Fathers – even going to seminary classes my dad taught as head of the CEC seminary in the southeastern United States. I was smart, even able to answer questions that seemingly dumbfounded seminarians, some who were already priests, who had come from other denominational walks of life, with pastoral and biblical experience. I loved it. I ate it, I drank it, i pretended to be a priest in my dreams. I was an acolyte who knew everything there was to know about being an acolyte. I knew the Book of Common prayer backwards and forwards – and not just the 1979 prayer book, but the 1928 one as well. I read the Bible throughout at least three times from 1993-2000 – even the Apochypha. I read the anti-Nicene fathers, the post-Nicene fathers… if it was church, I read it. I was also rebellious and prideful, and before my father could kick me out (I think it might have been more of my mother), I joined the Marine Corps in 2000.
I was in the Marine Corps for five years. In many ways it was glorious, in many ways I should be dead, either by my hand or something else. I survived, but I was broken. Both physically and spiritually. I didn’t find time for God unless I was desperate, and though I was desperate many times, it was never enough. I went to church on a so-so basis, never really getting rooted, even though there was a CEC church merely 30 minutes away (I still cannot thank Fr. Mark Johnson and his wife Natalie enough). I slipped and fell, got back again and fell again. In many ways, I became a man in the Marine Corps, which is awesome, and I began to become the man God wanted me to, which is even better. The only problem is I did it in the most roundabout way possible, which, let me tell you, sucks. I was still rebellious and prideful. I was still a know it all. I hadn’t really changed in most ways, yet I found myself out of the Marine Corps and back home where I needed to be. In essence, by only the grace of God, I had survived.
The end of 2005 brought me back home, put me in school (junior college), which, naturally, I excelled at. Both my father and my brother Jake were good motivators – Jake being smarter then me, but only because, or at least I bragged, I didn’t study – he studied constantly. I found a new home in my mind within the confines of scholarly activity. Again though, I was still rebellious and prideful, arrogant to a point. I still felt the call to the priesthood, and when I wasn’t being stupid or getting drunk, I continued to study, I continued to read and listen, and I continued to be active within my dad’s church, which at the time was the cathedral for the diocese of Georgia. Somewhere along the line I finished junior college and set my sights on the University of Georgia, but first, we had a diocesan convocation at the cathedral for Georgia, and I had to help my dad.
The convocation went great – some external denomination politics and controversy had to be addressed, yet from how I remember it, the convocation as a whole was awesome. The last night of it, a Friday night, in June of 2007, everything changed. We went home, to my parents house, me and my brother were going to stay up and drink scotch while listening to Ron White (a very colorful/vulgar comedian) and while we were doing that, my mother screamed from downstairs. I don’t know what time it was, but it was late – my father had a stroke. It ended up being a massive one, one that left him bedridden up until February of last year when he passed away. Beyond the support my family received from family, friends and the church denomination as a whole, I was angry. I was angry at God first and foremost, I called Him things I don’t think He’s repeat. I blamed Him, I probably even straight up cursed Him, I don’t really remember. In fact, I don’t really remember the next week or so. The short of it, I was angry. I eventually blamed myself, but my anger at God outweighed any anger I felt toward anything else. The people around me, mostly people from St. Michael’s, were extremely supportive, but in the end, inside the struggle was just too much.
I ended up going to the University of Georgia, following my younger brother, and ended up studying history and classical culture, with running certificate programs in Native American studies and archeology. I continued to study the Bible, liturgics, the church fathers, I also studied philosophy and Islam. I did my own personal biblical research project, I put special emphasis on church histroy. However, even though I maintained a presence in church while I was back at my mothers house, I didn’t give myself the time to go when I was away. Things began to change though when I met my wife on facebook, through mutual friends in the CEC, and she would come down to Georgia from Rhode Island to see me in November of 2008. (I think its November, we began talking n September).
To make a long story a little less long, in January of 2009 Ruth Anne got pregnant. I went back and forth a lot concerning what I was going to do, but I ended up deciding to move to Rhode Island and get married. We got married on September 12, 2009, and Katherine Isabella Elena Holloway was born September 30. Newlyweds with a baby, the more I think about it we should have had our own TV show. We have now been married almost six years, and we have added three more babies since Katherine. John William (named for my daddy), Karl Joseph (we like the name) and Zachary Thomas (Zachary is my middle name), Katherine is convinced she will have a sister named Sophia – who knows. During this time, we didn’t really have a “home” church, but both Ruth Anne (and her family, he dad is a deacon in the CEC) and I were still part of the CEC. The closest church to us was in Newport, which is quite a drive, especially with little ones. If the drive didn’t get me, what I found when I went there would have. Ultimately, it was a little of both. I had visited and participated at many CEC churches, mainly through traveling with my dad (I also lived in California for a year at the main cathedral in San Clement), and what I had found in Newport was like nothing I had ever experienced in the CEC. There was almost no liturgical expression, the sacraments felt like an afterthought, and I felt like I was going to an evangelical concert. This certainly, in my mind, was not going to work. So we stopped going. Now, here we were, with no place to go.
Personally, I didn’t really care. I was still mad. It wasn’t just my father anymore, it was a lot of things – in fact, my first confession (with Fr. James at our local parish) and my second confession (with Fr. Nick, also at our local parish) that was simply my confession. I was angry, mad as hell. Somehow I think Fr. Nick took it better, maybe Fr. James simply was not expecting me to say just that. Was that all I could remember? Yes, the anger, which led to confusion, had simply clouded everything else. In all honesty, before I get to the end of this story, I still deal with anger and rejection on a day to day basis, but at this point in my life, it had become who I was. I didn’t want to have anything to do with church. I had dabbled with the thought of visiting a local Orthodox parish – I had done some studies at an Orthodox parish when I lived in California. I loved the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostrom. I had also done some Eastern Rite studies in my home schooling. Yet, I just couldn’t see myself diving right in. I had even thought about the Roman Catholic Church, but the thought of sitting through RCIA classes, being taught stuff I already knew, well, I was just too smart for that. My wife, however, being the proactive one, sought out Fr. James at St. Patrick Church in Providence (her dad knew him) and eventually set up a meeting. I couldn’t honestly think of a reason to say no, so I planned to go. The more I thought about it, the more right it felt, and when Fr. James asked me if I really wanted to do this, I said yes.
The process to confirmation was long, longer for my wife, she did end up having to take the RCIA classes (I didn’t… thank God – well, I took two, the first on the Ten Commandments – I thought I was going to fall asleep, the second was the Theology of the Body). In the end, we were both confirmed and have been attending St. Patrick Church in Providence, RI for several years now. I still have many questions, I still have questions and issues with some beliefs – such as Purgatory and the Perpetual Virginity, but I have found my faith to be a Catholic faith. I am still a little Methodist, a little charismatic – still very Anglican in my thought processes, they are still a very large part of who I am as a believer today, and will continue to be for the rest of my life. As a side not – as an Anglican (or an English-Catholic, or to be correct, Anglo-Catholic) I am encouraged by institutions such as the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter. All in all though, I am Catholic. I do not believe the Catholic Church is the only way or the only answer, to believe that would be to say that men and women like my own father were wrong, and for me, my father exemplified the life of a true Christian in more ways then I can mention. I believe that Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life, I believe the only way to the Father is through Him. I believe that Christ is visible and present in the Sacraments. I am happy to call myself Catholic.
I am not a “perfect Catholic” by any stretch of the imagination. I still have my struggles, mostly internal, I am human after all. I still study and read, though I don’t find myself discussing theology, liturgics and such as often as I used to. I pray more now, but never without ceasing. I still have my doubts and issues, but my faith carried beyond all of those things – and the community in which I find myself still continues to blow my mind. I don’t find myself as charismatic as I once was – however I still will “speak in tongues” on occasion (usually when I am praying for Karl when he is having a fit) and I find myself raising my hands in worship from time to time (usually surprising myself in the process). I am still a rebel at heart, for whatever reason, maybe its part of who I am supposed to be. I still dream of the priesthood, but again, I am now a Roman Catholic. Words cannot describe how I feel in the depths of my heart for where I am at. Again, there are still struggles, but I have stopped being angry at God. I finally feel, in many ways, to be home, thought I am not totally comfortable with that term either. I know that my daddy is sitting – no dancing (you would have to know him), clapping his hands and worshiping God, all the while smiling down on me and my family.
J. Z. Holloway
Feast of The English Martyrs, 2015