A Spiritual Journey: Seven Decades in the Making

Carol moved to Pilgrim Manor in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in March 2017 and immediately hit it off with Rev. Beth Rodenhouse, the full-time chaplain.

As a faith-based nonprofit organization, United Church Homes is committed to providing full-time chaplains in each of its senior living communities. They foster spiritual wellness for all residents and staff.

“She came walking down the hallway and we started talking and the rest is history,” Carol said of Rev. Beth, who told Carol about all the opportunities for spiritual care at her new home.

“She said, ‘I’m not sure they’d like me because I haven’t been to church in a while,’” Rev. Beth recalled. “I told her that was no problem and that God would be quite happy to have her.”

“It was like God was smiling at me, even though I didn’t know what He looked like,” Carol said.

With a spiritual thirst and deep-seated curiosity about the divine, Carol has been on a pilgrimage since childhood. She had a desire for a deeper relationship with God, but until she met Rev. Beth, kept hitting roadblocks in her journey. Rev. Beth and Carol shared many conversations before Carol started attending chapel services on Sundays and Mass on Wednesdays.

Growing up, Carol had many Catholic friends with whom she attended church services. Her immediate family was not particularly religious, but inside, Carol continued to feel a pull toward her Creator.

Even when she was baptized by emersion in a Baptist church in 1983, Carol did not feel she had found her “regular church.”

That came after she started attending Pilgrim Manor worship services. She pondered where she belonged — did she want to join the Catholic church or become a member of another denomination?

“I told her that as far as I’m concerned, what brings us together is a whole lot more than what separates us,” Rev. Beth said. “I encouraged her to listen to her heart. I believe that the Holy Spirit was nudging her in the direction she should go.”

As she contemplated her faith, Carol became more certain that the Catholic church was where she belonged. She completed an expedited catechism in three months, rather than the typical one year, under the direction of Father Brian Johnson of St. Alphonsus Parish in Grand Rapids. She regularly visited with two parishioners, Barbara Hedrick and Gayle Neihoff, who supported her learning. When she completed her studies, Pilgrim Manor hosted an official worship service and reception to celebrate before a second ceremony at St. Alphonsus.

Throughout the journey, Rev. Beth encouraged Carol and supported her spiritual growth.

“She helped just by talking to me, listening to me and answering the questions that I had, and believe me, I had a lot of questions,” Carol said.

“I think questions are good,” Rev. Beth responded.

Music, especially, was an area that spoke to Carol’s soul. It was what first drew her to the chapel at Pilgrim Manor, all those months earlier.

In fact, on the day Carol was confirmed into the church, the final hymn playing was one of her favorites: How Great Thou Art, a song that brings Carol to tears. Rev. Beth noted that music for services is planned months in advance.

“I just felt like it wasn’t a coincidence,” Carol said.

Carol’s favorite scriptures include the Book of Ruth and Psalm 121, a pilgrimage song that talks about God being on the journey with God’s children.

“Through our hellos and our goodbyes, He is on our journey with us,” Rev. Beth said.