Previously, on Don’t Let The Days Go By, Greg attended Jeromeville Covenant Church for the first time. Many of Greg’s friends from Jeromeville Christian Fellowship attend that church, and it was the first time Greg had ever attended a church that was not Catholic. Greg, not wanting to go to a new church just because all his friends were there, decided to go to both churches for three weeks and pray about it before making a final decision…
On October 16, three days after my first Sunday at Jeromeville Covenant Church, I got back to my apartment in the late afternoon and brought my backpack upstairs. I had checked the mail on the way in, and all we got was junk mail.
When I got to my bedroom, I took out of my backpack the bag from the campus store, where I had bought two birthday cards earlier. My brother Mark was turning 15 this coming Saturday. I took his card out of the bag; it had a basketball on the front, and on the inside, it said, “Hope your birthday is a slam dunk!” I was hoping to find a good fart or poop joke card for Mark’s birthday, but I only found one such card at the campus store today, and I was saving that one for the other upcoming birthday in my family. Mark played basketball, so I went with the basketball card instead. I wrote on the inside, “Happy birthday! — Greg.” I put a stamp on the outside and wrote our home address; I would drop it in a mailbox in the morning.
The card with the fart joke was for my dad, who would be turning 47 at the end of the month. That card said on the outside, “Farting is an art,” written inside a giant brown cloud of gas. On the inside, the card said, “Happy birthday, Rembrandt.” I did not fill out Dad’s card yet, since I still had a while before his birthday.
I turned on my computer and opened a new email, one I had been dreading sending all week. I had been involved enough with the Newman Center that, if I started going to J-Cov, my disappearance from Newman would be noticed. Among the adults who run things at Newman, Sister Mary Rose was probably the one I knew the best, so I at least felt like I should tell her what was going on. I started typing:
Hi… I need to talk about something. As I’ve said before, I’ve gotten involved with Jeromeville Christian Fellowship over the last year. Many of my friends from JCF go to Jeromeville Covenant Church, and last Sunday I went to church with them. I really liked it there. I feel like it is a place where I can really study the Bible and learn what it means to live for Jesus.
But I also do not want to turn my back on 20 years of Catholicism and everything I was raised with. I don’t want to start going to J-Cov just because all my friends are doing it. So I decided to go to both churches for the rest of October, while I pray about this. I just wanted to let you know what was going on. Any thoughts you might have would be appreciated.
The rest of the week went well. I only had one class Thursday, so I had scheduled four hours of tutoring for my job with the Learning Skills Center. On Friday, all of my closet met. I walked into room 2 of Wellington Hall, a lecture hall with around 200 seats, for New Testament, and sat in the back. A minute later, Margaret Seaver walked in and sat next to me.
“Hey, Greg,” Margaret said. “What’s up?”
“Not much. Glad it’s Friday. I’m tired.”
“How come you haven’t been at choir practice at church the last couple weeks? Are you coming back?”
“I don’t know,” I said. I explained to Margaret that I had been to J-Cov and was wondering if the Newman Center was really the right place for me.
“We’ll miss you in choir,” Margaret said. “But I understand. And I think it’s good that you’re taking your time and not just rushing off to follow your friends.”
“Yeah,” I said.
When I got home from classes that Friday, I had an email from Sister Mary Rose. I opened it and read.
To: “Gregory J. Dennison” <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Re: wondering
Date: Fri, 18 Oct 1996 11:03 -0700
What you are experiencing is called a faith crisis. Sometimes God puts us in situations where we really have to listen to Him for answers. Keep praying about it. Say a rosary. Listen for God’s voice. And let me know if you ever want to meet to talk about this more. Don’t feel bad about this experience. Many wise spiritual leaders have experienced faith crises and come out stronger in the end.
I think you are wise to take your time and try out both churches for a while, not wanting to base your decision on what your friends are doing. We would be sad to see you leave Newman, after all of your involvement here. But wherever you go, keep following Jesus. He will never lead you wrong. You will definitely be in my prayers.
Sister Mary Rose
On Sunday, since J-Cov only had morning services, I did the same thing I had done the week before. I attended J-Cov in the morning for their service and the college Sunday school class, which they called 20/20. I felt the same way about J-Cov as I did the previous week: I loved the Bible teaching, and everyone there made me feel welcome.
The Newman Center had two Masses in the morning and one in the evening, so I had been attending the evening mass at Newman during this period of going to two churches. I had been with the choir at the late morning Mass for over a year, so last week, the first week I attended evening Mass, it felt a little strange not to be with the choir. I recognized a few faces from social events where people from all three services attend. The Newman Center was a student-focused congregation, but some families attended the morning services as well. There seemed to be an even higher percentage of students at the evening Mass.
As Mass began, Sister Mary Rose stood up front and announced that this was El Salvador Sunday. Jeromeville had a sister city in El Salvador, and the Jeromeville Newman Center once a year updated the congregation on what was happening at the Catholic church in that city, with a second collection taken for that church’s needs. “Their roof is in need of repair,” Sister Mary Rose explained. “The second collection today will go to their repair fund.”
The choir began singing a song in Spanish, I assumed because it was El Salvador Sunday. The song was unfamiliar to me, not a direct translation of anything we normally sang in English. I did not know most of the people in the evening service choir, since I normally attended the late morning service. I missed singing at the late morning service, and I felt bad for saying that I needed a few weeks off.
After the opening song, we said the Kyrie and sang the Gloria in English as we always did. The lector approached the podium for the Old Testament reading next, but before she began, she said, “Today’s readings will be said in Spanish only. As you listen to the words, put yourselves in the position of a refugee, in a strange land where you don’t understand the language. Remember the plight that they go through, as you sit here comfortable in your surroundings.”
What the actual crap?
God loves refugees. God commands us to take care of foreigners, because his people were foreigners in strange lands in the past. I know that. But this was a bit ridiculous. Now, in the middle of Mass, was not the time for this kind of political posturing, and this was not the way to draw attention to the plight of refugees. What kind of church would deny its congregants the opportunity to hear or understand the Word of God in order to make us feel guilty for what God has blessed us with? Of course, had this happened at Jeromeville Covenant, I would have had my Bible with me, but typically Catholics did not bring Bibles to Mass. Back home at Our Lady of Peace, we used a missalette, a publication issued three times per year that had all the Scriptures and prayers for that time period, but the Jeromeville Newman Center did not use this. People just listened to the words being read. This was looking less and less like a church where I could learn more about the Bible. I recognized a few words here and there, but my three years of high school Spanish were not enough for me to understand everything from these readings.
After the Old and New Testament readings in Spanish, Father Bill read the Gospel reading and gave his homily in English. I was not sure if Father Bill or Sister Mary Rose even spoke Spanish, for that matter.
Later, during Communion, the choir sang a song called “Pescador de Hombres,” literally meaning “fisher of men.” I had heard this song once before, last year when we did El Salvador Sunday. We sang two verses in Spanish, then one verse in English. The refrain was sung in two-part harmony, with one voice singing a third higher than the other. It reminded me of the music I would hear on Spanish-language radio stations when flipping around looking for something to listen to.
I remembered some of the words of this song from last year. The lyrics took the perspective of one of Jesus’ early disciples, who were fishermen when Jesus called them. The first disciples left their boats and fishing gear behind and followed Jesus. “Junto a ti, buscaré otro mar,” the choir sang at the end of each refrain. I understood those words; they meant something like “together with you, I will look for another sea,” with “you” in this line referring to Jesus. When the choir switched to English for the last verse, they sang “next to you, I will seek other shores,” the same meaning but with the correct number of syllables to fit the song.
I will look for another sea. I will seek other shores. Was that me? It certainly felt like those lyrics were speaking to me. Jesus seemed to be calling me to look for another sea, one where I could learn to follow him instead of being caught up in a shallow faith of political posturing and memorized rituals disconnected from the life I live the other six days of the week. Maybe I needed to be around people who did not find it acceptable to get tipsy from Communion wine and joke about it, as that girl from the early morning service had a few months ago.
After Father Bill dismissed the congregation and the choir finished the closing song, I sat in my chair for a few minutes, watching everyone else file out. I had committed myself to attending both churches for three weeks before I made a final decision, but after last week and this week, I felt like the right decision was becoming clear already. Unless something changed drastically in the next seven days, Jesus was calling me to look for another sea, and that other sea appeared to be Jeromeville Covenant.
“Hey, Greg,” I heard a familiar voice say next to me. I looked up to see a thin, short-haired guy my age. It was Sean Richards, one of a very small number of Catholic students who also attended Jeromeville Christian Fellowship. “What’s up?” Sean asked.
“Just thinking,” I said. “The last two weeks, I’ve been going to church at Jeromeville Covenant in the mornings. I know a lot of people there from JCF, and so far I like it there. But I don’t want to leave Catholicism and start going there just because all my friends are doing it. So I’ve been praying about it, and I decided to go to both churches for the rest of October before I make a final decision.”
“That’s probably a good idea. What made you want to look at Jeromeville Covenant?”
“I’ve been more involved with JCF and studying the Bible more. I’m just not sure I’m going to find that in Catholicism.”
“You could always try getting involved in one of the small groups here,” Sean said. “They do Bible studies in those groups too. But I know JCF has good Bible studies. I’ve been going to a JCF Bible study this year.” I knew of the existence of small groups at Newman, but I was not sure exactly what happened in them.
“Maybe,” I said. “I’m going to keep praying about it and see what happens.”
“That’s a good idea. And either way, you’re still following Jesus, and that’s what’s most important.”
“I’m gonna get going. Have a good week, okay?”
“Thanks. You too.”
The following Sunday, October 27, was my dad’s birthday. I called my parents after I got home from J-Cov, and Dad said that they all loved the birthday card. Mom was already calling Dad “Rembrandt” every time he farted now.
Sometimes, when I have to make a big decision, I will feel confused for weeks or months at a time. Other times, I just kind of know what the right decision is. And in those times when I think I just know, it can be difficult to discern whether this knowledge is truly the Holy Spirit guiding me or just something I want for selfish reasons. This time, I was pretty sure I knew what the Holy Spirit was saying. I had committed to going to both churches for the rest of October, but the evening Mass at the Newman Center that night just felt like it was not my thing anymore. That night was the last night I ever took Communion in a Catholic Mass.
I did not make a complete break with Catholicism, however. To this day, I still attend Catholic Mass when I visit my family on Christmas. I believe that the different branches of Christianity have much in common and should focus on this more than the things about which they argue. I believe that the Catholic rituals are rooted in deep and meaningful experiences of worship, and I believe that it is possible for a Catholic to have a personal relationship with Jesus. However, this aspect of faith is not emphasized in Catholicism, so many who consider themselves Catholics do not actually know Jesus. I no longer take Communion when at Catholic Mass, out of respect for the fact that Catholics only offer Communion to other Catholics. I also had a small scholarship from the Santa Lucia County chapter of the Italian Catholic Federation, and I turned down the money for the following school year, since I did not feel right taking their money not being Catholic anymore.
My mother never had a problem with me going to churches that were not Catholic. She told me that Grandma was a bit suspicious at first, because Grandma was raised in a time of more tension between Catholics and Protestants. When I got involved with JCF and decided to go to their national convention in Urbana, Grandma told Mom that she was worried that I was joining a cult. But then, according to Mom, Grandma mentioned Urbana to one of her old lady friends, who then said that her son had attended an Urbana convention in the 1960s. Grandma was okay with Urbana now that it had the Old Lady Friend Seal of Approval.
When I walked into 20/20 on November 3, my fourth Sunday at J-Cov, I walked up to Taylor and Pete and Charlie, who were standing and talking. “Hey, Greg,” Taylor said. “Wait, weren’t you just doing your thing at both churches for October?”
“Yeah,” I said. “And I decided I’m here for good now.”
“We’re glad to have you here,” Pete said.
“Thank you,” I said. “I’m glad to be here.”
I attended Jeromeville Covenant Church for almost five years, right up until I moved away from Jeromeville in July of 2001. I stayed in touch with many people from J-Cov for many years, some of whom I am still in touch with today. I got involved with a ministry there that had never been anything I ever thought about doing; I will tell that story soon.
In 2001, shortly before I moved and left J-Cov, we voted to buy a larger property about five miles away on Bruce Boulevard, at the eastern edge of Jeromeville. I came back for the first service in the new building two years later. After I moved out of Jeromeville, I came back to visit J-Cov once or twice a year through the rest of my twenties. I was very involved with another church in my thirties, so for a while I never made it back to visit J-Cov. But twice in my forties so far I have had occasion to attend a Sunday service at J-Cov. These days, there are not many people whom I knew who are still around, but there were still enough that it felt like coming home.