The Ray Family’s Conversion to the Catholic Church can be read here.
Family Affair (June 6, 1997)
Religious Research results in Conversion to Catholicism
By Diane M. Hanson
Special Writer for the Michigan Catholic Newspaper
LIVONIA, MI -It was like being moved by a process beyond his control. That was how Stephen Ray described his conversion from an evangelical Protestant to an orthodox Roman Catholic.
But Ray wasn’t the only one caught up in that whirlwind. His wife, Janet, and their four children were swept along as well. The Rays never wanted to become Catholic. They never even set foot in a Catholic Church until the day after they decided to join. Janet Ray, the oldest of four girls, was raised in the Presbyterian faith. Steve Ray was the third of five children in a family that became Baptist in the 1950s.
Married in 1976, the couple attended churches of several denominations along with some non-denominational churches. Eventually they stopped attending church “because of the shallowness of what we found,” Steve Ray said.
“I think we were frustrated,” Janet Ray added. “The abortion issue was a big issue for us. When the evangelical churches were allowing abortions, and elders’ wives were getting abortions and they refused to take a public stand against abortion, then that would cause us to leave.”
Eventually the Rays, who were home-schooling their children, Cindy, now 19; Jesse, 16; Charlotte, 10; and Emily, 5; began a home Bible study. But Steve Ray admitted he was complacent, and that his wife first became interested in Catholicism. “I was fully content to be a generic Christian,” he said, “to love Jesus Christ, to study the Bible, to raise my family, teach them at home and run a business.”
In the early 1990s that business, Distinctive Maintenance Inc., an office cleaning company, was consuming much of his time. The Livonia-based firm has since matured into a multi-million dollar corporation.
But Janet Ray was searching. “It was a longing that I couldn’t express for worship,” she said. When she read Thomas Howard’s book, “Evangelical is not Enough,” all her longings were put into words, she said.
It was at a 1993 talk given by Frank Schaeffer (son of Francis Schaeffer) regarding his journey to Eastern Orthodoxy that Steve Ray said was the first time the door opened in their minds to there being an organized ancient church and not just an invisible church.
The Rays bought every book on the ancient Church they could find and also began reading about the early Church fathers. “We found out the early Church was Catholic, it wasn’t Protestant,” Janet Ray said. “We were taught it was Protestant,” she explained.
For Steve Ray, there was an answer to the question: “Did the Church come before the Bible or did the Bible come before the Church?”
“We had always assumed that the Bible gave birth to the Church but realized, after some research, that was really a fallacy,” Steve Ray said. “The Church was there. Jesus did not leave us with an authoritative Book, He left us with an authoritative Church and later, through time, that Church gave us an authoritative Book, but the Church came first.”
Steve Ray said they questioned the thinking of the early Church fathers, assuming they were Protestant in their theology and that “the Catholics corrupted it all later on as the centuries went awry.”
To their amazement, they found that “the early Church believed absolutely in the real presence of Christ in regeneration and baptism,” Steve Ray said. “They believed in apostolic succession. They believed in the primacy of Rome. All these things that are essentially Catholic were already well established in the first, second and third centuries, and it kicked the foundation right out from under us.”
New Year’s Eve 1993 was the turning point. The Rays spent the evening with friends with whom they ended up in theological discussions.
The couple spent the first day of 1994 reading and listening to tapes of conversion stories. By the end of that day, Steve Ray said, “I looked at Janet and I had tears in my eyes and I said, ‘I’m Catholic.”‘
It wasn’t until the next day that his wife could say she, too, was Catholic. The first announcement they made of their conversion was to friends Al and Sally Kresta, whose family had converted to Catholicism the year before. The Krestas invited the Rays to attend Mass with them.
“It never dawned on us we would have to go to Mass,” Janet said. “We thought we could just be Catholic in our heads.”
The Rays decided to leave their children at home when they accompanied the Krestas to Christ the King Church in Ann Arbor.
“We cried through the whole Mass,” Janet Ray said. “I had never heard the Gospel more clearly proclaimed as in the Mass.”
As strongly convinced as the couple was about their new faith, their parents and children were not.
“I wasn’t so sure about it,” Jesse Ray explained. “I knew my grandparents were Christian and that they were going to heaven so I said, ‘I don’t want to become Catholic, I just want to stay what Grandma and Grandpa are.”‘
Cindy Ray admitted, “I didn’t particularly want to become Catholic, but I wasn’t really adamant in any direction.” Of her parents’ decision she said, “I thought they were crazy but . . . by the time I decided to become Catholic, it was a lot because I could see how much they were doing and I figured they had to be right.”
The family joined the Church on Pentecost Sunday, May 22, 1994. There were even a few members from Janet and Steve’s families who attended the service, although it was still difficult for them to accept.
For Cindy and Jesse Ray now, joining the Church has made a world of difference. “I think it has changed everything,” Cindy Ray stressed. “It’s changed things in knowing what is right and wrong and wanting to follow what’s right. Having absolutes makes a big difference. Going to church every Sunday as a family makes a big difference.”
Steve Ray said his children appreciate the stability and authority of the Church, even though it is tougher to be a Catholic. “The Catholic Church is tough because it says, this is the truth,” he noted. “We’re not going to change it for the next generation that come along, just because a generation becomes lax in it’s morals…. God doesn’t change, neither should His truth change.”
Charlotte Ray, 10, freely admitted, “I loved becoming a Catholic.” She also loves to argue theology with a friend. “I win,” Charlotte Ray said with a smile.
Part of that evangelistic spirit must be credited to her parents, who gladly proclaim their faith and find it easy to defend if necessary.
“I think that’s something that Catholics have to do,” Steve Ray said. “They have to become verbal about their faith. They need to be excited about it. They need to share with people.”
Steve Ray is currently writing Bible study notes and has written a book, “Crossing the Tiber” (Ignatius Press), which was originally intended as a letter to his father describing his reasons for becoming Catholic. It grew into a book about his family’s conversion to Catholicism with hundreds of detailed theological footnotes confirming the historical roots of the Catholic faith. According to Ignatius Press, the book is selling well and the feedback has been very good.
The Rays have brought other families into the Church and intend to continue to do so.
“There are converts coming into the Church all over the country,” Steve Ray said. “It’s like getting a shot of adrenaline, and I find Catholics all over now getting excited about their faith, excited to talk to other people about their faith and tell other people about Jesus and the Church.”