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Archives From Methodist minister to Catholic convert

May 22, 2024

By Keith Benman
Contributing Writer

Hattie Taylor’s best friend in high school took her to a few Catholic Masses. She heard about the effect Vatican II had on the Methodist church in classes at a Protestant seminary. Later, when she was a United Methodist pastor, a man others had apparently “shooed off” turned to her for answers about Catholicism. She answered as best she could. And when she expressed interest in converting to a Catholic priest, he dumped stacks of books on her doorstep.

In June of 2023 all those events and more in her life added up for Hattie Taylor. She converted to the Catholic faith.

Taylor, who grew up in North Bangor, admits her path to embracing the Catholic faith may have been unusual in some respects. Even her Catholic confirmation at St. Mary’s, Potsdam, was not the standard. A procession of pastors from the Catholic, Episcopalian, Unitarian, and Methodist faiths preceded her confirmation Mass. Former college and Protestant seminary classmates were in the pews supporting her.

“It was a lively Mass,” Taylor said on recent afternoon reflecting back on her conversion. The 28-year-old sat down recently with North Country Catholic to go over her conversion journey. It’s a journey she said was driven in large part by a search for authenticity.

“It was sort of an unlikely calling,” she said. “It was something that I heard very clearly, very distinctly: that I was going to be happier, more at home, more at peace in the Catholic church. And I really just kind of followed it.”

Since, she has found what she calls “spiritual groundedness” to be the most rewarding part of her new-found faith.

“I’ve never been so – just willing and happy to pray at any point about almost anything,” she said. “Spiritually, I’m so much more alive than I was.”

Saying she is more spiritually alive than ever is saying a lot, considering Taylor’s upbringing.

She was raised in a Christian home where she was infused with a love of Christ. Her mother and father were both Methodist lay speakers, meaning they could perform almost all the functions of an ordained minister except presiding at Holy Communion. They were called to serve at Methodist churches all over the North Country, with Hattie and her brother Jake in tow. Later, her mother became an ordained Methodist minister and pastor, which she is to this day.

“I really liked the Church,” Taylor said. “It’s something I looked forward to every Sunday.”

By age 15, Hattie herself was a lay speaker. That meant leading prayers, songs, reading scripture and even delivering sermons at Methodist services. At age 22, she completed a bachelor’s degree in philosophy at Houghton College, a liberal arts college rooted in the Wesleyan faith in western New York. She then completed a Master of Divinity degree at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.

She was ordained a Methodist minister, and in 2020, she was appointed pastor at Grace United Methodist Church, in Massena. Subsequently she was appointed to additional pastorships in Hogansburg and Potsdam.

She was pastor of the three churches at a particularly challenging time for Methodists. The church worldwide was preparing for a 2024 vote on removing its bans on gay people, including the one on marriage. Taylor wanted to help see her congregations through what proved to be very difficult conversations. She felt she should be there for them, offering what guidance she could ahead of the big vote.

But as early as 2021, she was feeling the tug of some Catholic beliefs. It wasn’t long before she started checking it all out by attending a Mass now and then at St. Mary’s, Potsdam. As she considered the faith further, she said she did have trouble with the concept of women not being able to consecrate the Eucharist.

“I was mad at the Catholic Church for that,” she said. “But the more I read on it, the more I realized men and woman are different. Even though people sometimes have trouble admitting that. We really are fundamentally different creatures.”

It wasn’t long before something felt inauthentic to her when she presided over Holy Communion as a Methodist minister.

She says a key to her eventual decision to convert was a presentation on Vatican II by Father Joseph Giroux, pastor at St. Mary’s, Potsdam, which she attended in late 2022. She said she already had an understanding of the history-making ecumenical council called by John XXIII from her classes at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. But Father Giroux’s presentation deepened and emboldened that understanding.

At some point, she told Father Giroux about her concern for her Methodist flock in the midst of their wrestling with LGBQT issues. She was having a hard time with the thought of leaving them. She said the priest’s advice was simple: “You should really do what you think is right.”

As she consulted with friends, colleagues and family about her urge to convert. She said fellow ministers from Protestant denominations gave her their counsel. Eventually, some offered their support for her final decision.

By early 2023, she was ready to tell her Methodist congregations she had been called elsewhere and would have to leave the ministry. Then she was ready for that big day in June at St. Mary’s, Potsdam, where she would be confirmed in the Catholic Church. She remembers it was a Thursday night Mass with one other confirmation candidate there. She said seeing all the local pastors who supported her processing up in St. Mary’s was quite a sight.

“I just remember being so nervous,” she said.

Taylor hasn’t looked back since. For one thing, she’s been too busy.

She was appointed pastoral associate at St. Mary’s, Potsdam, and campus minister serving students at SUNY Potsdam, Clarkson University, St. Lawrence University and SUNY Canton.

The campus ministry holds regular Friday dinners and discussions with students at the Newman Center across from St. Mary’s. There are on-campus activities like Bible study and other activities off-campus such as Eucharistic Adoration and Mass at St. Mary’s, Potsdam. Campus ministry also offers volunteer opportunities like a recent cleanup at the Kateri Tekakwitha Center in Hogansburg.

She finds her work with students rewarding.

“They’re still growing in their maturity,” she said. “But they are definitely more level-headed than the media gives them credit for.”

She realizes the road to conversion is different for everyone. She realizes how difficult and at times puzzling that search can be. So, she has some simple advice to offer for those contemplating conversion to the Catholic Faith: “Go to Mass as much as you can.”

She also noted Eucharistic Adoration is a wonderful way of discerning one’s calling.

She said the hour or so of stillness allows those considering conversion to calmly reflect on the changes occurring in their outlook and faith.

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