Beacon of Hope: Journey of Grace

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By Jeanne Thompson
For Proclaim!

Drew and Christine Barkman celebrated their entrance into the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil on Saturday, April 20, 2019, at Saint Thomas More Parish in Roaring Spring. Reverend Leo Lynch, Pastor, had the privilege of baptizing their son, Vander, at the same Mass. The Barkman’s developing faith, celebrated within the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) in the Church, is a true inspiration and example.

For Drew and Christine, their relationship with God began when they were both very young. They each had beginnings in small denominational churches in the Everett area but they never felt like they belonged to a church community. Their families attended services very infrequently or not at all. Drew’s parents divorced when he was young and they moved often.

Christine attended church as a teen when her sister was joining the Methodist Church. She was active in a college evangelical group at Penn State and when she moved home after graduation she “bounced back” to that church.

As we spoke, Drew recalled “God experiences” that began his steps to be a Catholic when he was eleven. The kindness of an older nun in a gift shop while on a trip to Mount St. Mary’s, Emittbsurg, then the finding of a rosary in his quarters while he was a Marine stationed in Iraq and the relationship that grew with a devout, kind and patient Catholic priest who answered his many questions while performing his duties as Chaplain’s assistant, and finally being “awakened” that the Apostles Creed was his too.

After Christine met Drew in their mid-20s, they married in 2007 and the combined leg of their faith journey began. After 10 years of discussion, prayer, scripture reading, and research, becoming parents, and still not making a formal decision about the Catholic Church, God made it for them.

Christine shared “I never considered being a Catholic, although I knew some Catholics in name only. After Vander was born, we knew we wanted to have him baptized, but still didn’t know into which faith. We started to go to the little Catholic chapel just 10 minutes away (Saint Anne, Claysburg). Drew went first, then I did, then as a family when Vander was six months old. We attended pretty regularly and debated about actually becoming a part of the Catholic Church. In the summer of 2018 we made our decision after speaking with Father Leo and enrolled in RCIA.”

Then the formal instruction and religious formation time (the catechumenate) began. During these months their sponsors, Laurie Staub and Barb Leslie, and a dedicated Catechist at Saint Thomas More Parish, walked with, supported them and even helped with childcare. On the First Sunday of Lent at the Rite of Election at the Altoona Cathedral, the Barkmans knew they had made the right decision. At the Palm Sunday Retreat beginning Holy Week when Bishop Mark anointed Drew and Christine, Vander who was with them said “Hi Bishop” to his surprise. Even he was excited for the Easter sacraments!

Christine shared what she would tell others about RCIA: “I think if I had anything to say to those considering the Catholic Church, I would say to try it. Go to inquiry sessions. Do some independent research. Ask questions. The best thing that can happen is that you realize how amazingly beautiful and indescribable the Catholic faith is. From Jesus’ presence in the Eucharist, to the communion of saints, to the freedom that comes with confession and penance, our beautiful Blessed Mother….It’s the sacraments that make it what it is, the substance that keeps the Church alive. The moment I knelt down to receive my first Eucharist, I thought to myself, ‘Why hadn’t I done this my whole life?’ It felt so natural. It felt like I was finally home.” Drew will tell everyone, “I am so proud to be Catholic and I never run out of a way to pray or what to pray for.”

As Neophytes (new members), the Barkman’s journey continued through the Easter Season entering the period of Mystagogy. They will journey with the entire Catholic Church in this life-long unfolding period when the mysteries of the sacraments are revealed as their relationship with God grows even deeper.

Jeanne Thompson is the diocesan coordinator of Christian Initiation. For more information about the RCIA journey, contact her at jthompson@dioceseaj.org.

[Photo: Drew Barkman and his son, Vander, at the 2019 RCIA Anointing Ceremony.]