SEARCY -- Melissa Reeves has been looking for a church where she knew they were there to worship Jesus and would accept her without judging.
She found it at St. James Church in Searcy.
Unlike most elect and candidates going through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults process, Reeves chose the Catholic faith on her own, without the encouragement of a Catholic parishioner.
"It builds your faith to see their faith grow," said Janet Pace, St. James RCIA coordinator. "A lot of people come to the Church because of a spouse or friend that has inspired them."
Reeves is "just drawn to the truth."
"I found it extremely inspirational," Pace said. "She is a little sponge. She wants to know everything. She feels liberated (knowing the truth)."
Reeves said she has been unhappy for several years because she was not active in a church and she wanted to set a good example for her son, 7-year-old Gunner.
Reeves, 29, was raised in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, by her mother, a Latter-Day Saint, also known as Mormon. While her mother was not active in the church, she insisted Reeves and her older half-sister attend services weekly and study the Book of Mormon for at least an hour before going to school and another hour before bed. While she was "blessed" in the church as a baby, it wasn't until she was 8 years old that she was baptized at a Mormon church in Jacksonville.
She then started to question the Mormon teachings.
"Over and over they would say 'This church is true. This church is true.' I couldn't count how many times I would hear this. They were grateful for (LDS founder) Joseph Smith ... I always sat there as a kid wondering 'who am I worshipping? Am I worshipping "this church is true" or Joseph Smith?' There was no emphasis on Christ."
By the time she was 14 or 15 years old, she was "kicked out" of Sunday school.
"I didn't question God. I firmly have always believed in Christ. I questioned the truth of their doctrines," she said. "And that was a big no-no."
Reeves said she felt that if she didn't conform, she was not welcome in the Mormon church.
"No one wanted to lead me or guide me," she said. "I didn't want to participate."
When she was 17 years old she moved out on her own and chose not to attend church anymore. But three years later, she got married in the Baptist church and her husband converted to Mormonism.
After being married for about a year, she got divorced. During the divorce process, she met with the local church leader, known as a bishop.
"He told me I make poor choices in men," she said.
In 2001 she got pregnant out of wedlock, but the baby was stillborn. Even though she had a rocky relationship with the local Mormon church, she approached them about seeking a funeral for her child.
"The deacons and the bishop refused me a service in the sanctuary because I was unwed," she said. "I was unclean because I was not married."
She was then told she would not get to heaven.
"That was a crushing blow," she said. "At that point, I spiraled into a deep depression. They pretty much damned me to hell."
Then she was even more saddened when the church leaders brought her before a church court, with a judge and jury, and "dis-membered" her.
Reeves got pregnant again in 2003 and gave birth to Gunner.
"I remember the day I gave birth to my son, promising God that if you give him (to) me I will give him back to you," she said.
In 2004-2005 she was granted an excommunication, which would seal her records and prevent church members from contacting her.
"I got a letter in the mail from the bishop granting my excommunication and voiding my baptism, which shocked me. How could you void my baptism? I only thought the Lord could void your baptism ... I knew at that moment that I was in the wrong church all of my life. I hungered for something more."
In 2004 she got married again and was ready to take ownership of her faith.
"For the first time at the age of 24 I opened the Bible. I never read the Bible ... I was so frustrated and I said, 'Lord where do you want me to go?'"
In 2009 she got divorced. That same year she began an Internet search and came across information on the Catholic Church.
"I have never been in a Catholic church," she said. "In my research, I wondered what is wrong with Catholic. I could investigate. They have been around since shortly after Christ's crucifixion and resurrection."
She then remembered the promise she made to God after her son was born.
"I couldn't really teach my son. So I did a lot of research. The Catholic Church always intrigued me," she said.
Through her research, she knew the Catholic Church would appeal to her.
"I wanted something traditional. I needed tradition," Reeves said.
So on Jan. 1, 2010, Reeves made a commitment to attend Mass at St. James and find out how to become Catholic.
Reeves and her son have been attending Mass and he goes to Sunday school classes. He was baptized in February with Pace and her husband Harry as his godparents.
Reeves is looking forward to her own baptism during the Easter vigil April 3. While her LDS baptism was "voided," the Catholic Church would not have recognized her baptism in the Mormon church as valid anyway. The Vatican has declared Mormon baptisms invalid because they don't have the traditional understanding of the Trinity. The LDS church considers Jesus and the Holy Spirit as children of the Father and the Heavenly Mother.
"When I walk into a Catholic church, I feel the presence of God ... It's the most Christ-centered church I have been in. ... I have been waiting for this all of my life. I just felt like this is the right thing."
She said the pastor, Father John Agbakwuo, and parishioners have made her feel comfortable and she knows now that she is worthy.
"I have people tell me, 'I am a sinner too.' No one is above me. I always felt people were above me in the Mormon church. I don't feel that here. I look forward to Easter. ... I worried so much about where I am going to go when I die. Now, learning the doctrine of the Catholic Church, I don't worry about that. I finally feel peace."
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