Whoever says religion is dying hasn’t been to East Texas lately. Here, amidst the pine trees and oilfields, religion is flourishing. I pass nine churches on my fifteen minute drive to work, and that’s not counting the steeples rising in the distance. Policemen direct traffic in front of the largest church on Sunday mornings. Several churches use shuttle buses to convey members back and forth from sprawling parking lots. Vacation Bible School is still the highlight of summer for countless children, and my first week of work I was invited to join the building Bible study group that meets during lunch on Fridays.
The majority of these churches have something in common-Protestantism. Eight of the nine churches I pass are Protestant. More specifically, the majority of the churches in East Texas are Baptist. The church with the traffic controllers? Baptist. The churches with the shuttle buses? Baptist. The Bible study group? If you said Baptist, let’s hear an amen to that. So how does a girl raised as a Baptist in the buckle of the Bible belt end up risking eternal damnation as a twenty-six year old Catholic convert?
The simple answer is that I married a cradle Catholic. When I first mentioned that I was dating a Catholic, quite a few people suggested that I should convert him because “Catholics aren’t Christians.” It was the first of many misconceptions about the Catholic faith that I’d discover in the next few years. In the end, no one converted anyone. I didn’t convert him, and he certainly didn’t convert me. I chose, without any external pressure, to embrace the faith that was so different from what I knew but was exactly what I needed.
I grew up faithfully attending a small Baptist church with my grandmother every week. Some of the most important people in my childhood were my devoted Sunday School teachers. The sight of Little Debbie snack cakes in the grocery store can still take me back to the holiday parties they threw for us, and at my recent wedding I wished more than once that Mrs. Nancy was still with us to say “I told you so,” the vow she made to an eight year old me who swore I would always despise boys. Our little church couldn’t maintain a strong youth program, however, and by the time I was a teenager I had stopped attending. I tried out several larger churches over the next decade, but the Protestant church experience was changing in a way that I was not.