If you have been reading through Paul’s missionary posts last month you may have noticed a reference to my conversion story. Paul asked me several times to write it and I eventually did. Here it is:
The story, to be told correctly, needs some family background. My father was born in Independence, Missouri and was baptized a member of the church at eight years old but was not active as an adult. My father joined the USAF and was stationed at Burtonwood, England during the Korea War. My mother was born in Macclesfield, Cheshire, England, and had three sons by my father before they were divorced. At age four I was raised in England with my mother and new stepfather. I knew nothing about my LDS heritage as I grew up and never came into contact with any members of the church.
My mother was Catholic and my stepfather never mentioned religion but was a hard worker and was a good influence. If I asked him to do something that he thought I could do for myself he would say, “Use your own initiative”. We never went to church as a family but when I was very young I recall my mother telling me that there was “God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost”. She said I can pray to God the Father and ask for what I needed. I could understand asking for what I wanted, a young child knows how to do that. She then said that you have to have faith. I didn’t understand that, what’s faith? Fast forward to age twelve and I am having a difficult time at school such that I felt I could not talk to anybody. I lay quietly in bed, tears in my eyes, no-one to turn to. I remembered my mother’s words from years ago and so I prayed as best I could to “God the Father”. In my mind’s eye I pictured Him as a grandfather, a real person. I started the prayer something like this: “God, I don’t know if you exist but please help me…”. It was a somewhat rickety faith but I did have my prayer answered.
I was attending a Catholic school at the time though I wasn’t a member of any church. When I was taught about the Trinity I had difficulty with the concept, it did not seem to align with my experience of praying to Father.
At age twenty I wanted to meet my father as I had not seen him since I was four. I didn’t know where in America he was living. I was visiting my home town of Macclesfield, where I noticed a church with a strange name—“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints”. It wasn’t an English church that I knew of so I thought perhaps it was American. I went in and talked to a woman who was cleaning the floor. I told her I was looking for my American father and she took my name and address and told me that someone would contact me. Soon after, I received a letter from the Bishop of the Macclesfield Ward telling me that perhaps I should write to the Genealogical Society in Salt Lake City. My mother remembered that my grandmother lived in Utah and that she went by the name of Martha Harrison, after her second husband. I wrote the letter, mentioning my father’s mother’s name.
My grandmother was active LDS, my grandfather RLDS. Grandmother worked for the church at Zion’s Printing in Independence, Missouri. When Zion’s moved to Utah in 1946, she came with her work. When my letter reached the office girl at the Genealogical Society, the girl knew my grandmother and called her. My grandmother wrote to me saying that my father was in England on a 14 week TDY with the Air Force. Richard Sr. wrote to me, and I immediately traveled south to meet him, unannounced. He had married twice more and his third wife, my stepmother, greeted me at the door. I talked with my father and he explained how he had kept out of my “new” family so as to not disrupt it but now things were different. We saw each other a lot until he returned to the United States.
I corresponded with my father and my grandmother. After some months, I asked my grandmother about the church I went into in Macclesfield. She responded by mailing to me two pamphlets: “Which Church is Right?” by Mark E. Peterson and “Joseph Smith’s Testimony”. I did not attend any church but thought there was something to the Bible or else why do so many people have an interest in it? However, I did remember in my childhood when all was despair I had prayed to God the Father and my prayers were answered. I also owned a Bible I had purchased and read portions of it. I especially liked the book of Proverbs and enjoyed many of the wise sayings. I was curious about the Ten Commandments and found them in Exodus and read them several times.
These two pamphlets were my first exposure to the Church. I was not interested in them but I felt obligated to at least glance through the pages because my grandmother had taken the time to send them to me. While lying in bed in January 1974, I read through them very quickly to fulfill my obligation. I put them down and decided to sleep. However, I could not sleep and picked up “Which Church is Right?” and read it cover to cover. I also read “Joseph Smith’s Testimony” in its entirety.
I will post the conclusion of My Faith tomorrow.