Update: Avon parish accompanies man on path to becoming Catholic

An Easter welcome

Greg Nelson, who was featured in the March 23 issue of The Visitor, was baptized during the Easter Vigil at St. Benedict Church in Avon.

  • 10-year-old Olivia Dirkes holds a candle during the Vigil. (Photo by Paul Middlestaedt for The Visitor)


Greg Nelson believes in God and prays every day, even though for most of his 36 years of life, he hasn’t belonged to any particular church. But that’s about to change.

Nelson, who has been preparing for the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults for a year and a half, will be welcomed into the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil at his soon-to-be parish of St. Benedict in Avon.

Nelson attends Mass regularly with his wife, Jessica, who is Catholic, and their 18-month-old son, Bryson, who played a pivotal role in prompting Greg to look more closely at his faith.

Greg Nelson stands in the gathering space of St. Benedict Parish in Avon. Nelson will be welcomed into the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil there March 31. (Dianne Towalski / The Visitor)

The couple tried to conceive a child for nine years and after working with doctors and multiple methods, they were told they would never have children.

“For years, they told us we would never get pregnant. So we finally stopped doing the doctoring and I said, ‘Let’s just pray about it.’ We prayed and prayed and three months later, [Jessica] was pregnant. We had thought we were being punished but no, this is what God was waiting for — for us to have faith,” Greg said.

When they found out they were pregnant, they decided they wanted to baptize the baby Catholic. That’s when Greg began talking with Benedictine Father Greg Miller, pastor of St. Benedict’s.

“I talked to Father [Miller] and began praying and connecting and actually understanding why I need faith,” Greg said. “He’s such an amazing, down-to-earth person. He really made me feel welcome.”

Greg began taking weekly RCIA classes with Father Miller, between the Sunday morning Masses.

“Father [Miller] has taught us how to read the Bible and to understand it. He has taught us that people understand it differently based on where they are at in their lives and what they need. I used to get really confused reading it. Now I have an app on my phone that helps me with trying to stay on pace so that it makes sense,” he said.

He has also found new ways to pray.

“I pray about 15 or 20 minutes at night and I try to start each day praying with what I am grateful for. This has taught me to look at the good things instead of the negative, and it really helps in building your day on who you want to be,” Greg said.

Greg and his family attend church weekly and spend time with the parish community.

“We’ve gone to some of the parish breakfasts and dinners. People have been really inviting, just visiting with us. We feel totally welcome. Everyone smiles or talks to us. The community is great,” Greg said.

Over the past year, Father Miller involved the parish community in a variety of learning sessions for Greg and others discerning whether to enter fully into the church. The eucharistic adoration group hosted a session and spent a Holy Half Hour in front of the Eucharist. The rosary group that leads the rosary before daily Mass shared how important the rosary is to them and then taught and prayed the rosary. There was also an opportunity to accompany a parish minister on a home visit where the homebound person shared why the Eucharist was important to them.

“This is important because it is the role of the parish to help form those wanting to be Catholic,” Father Miller said. “Their witness gives a living example of how they will lead their lives. Becoming Catholic is not just ideas or doctrine but a way of life that has meaning and purpose.”

Father Miller paired Greg with an RCIA sponsor, longtime parishioner Jim Mergen, to accompany Greg during the RCIA process.

“I always say if you’re not going forward, you’re going backwards,” Mergen said. “I wanted to be involved in the parish and this is a good way to continue to learn about the Catholic faith, to keep growing and to help others grow in their faith.”

Mergen noticed Greg’s determination immediately as well as his willingness to learn and to participate in trying different things.

“I would suggest a book to read and he would be willing to try it, to try anything to grow in his faith. He challenges us to do the same,” Mergen said. “Now when we meet, he can pick out things in his life and see how the Holy Spirit and God are helping him. Every week he has a comment about where he saw God at work.”

Greg Nelson, right, meets with Father Greg Miller, left, pastor of St. Benedict Parish, and his sponsor Jim Mergen between Masses March 18. (Dianne Towalski / The Visitor)

Greg said it has been good not only for him, but for Jessica, too. Although Jessica was born and raised Catholic and the couple married in the Catholic Church, she didn’t always go to church.

“So now she’s kind of re-learning along with me. Now we go every weekend as a family,” Greg said. “As a child, she went because that was what was expected of her. Now she feels it and sees the meaning behind it and understands the reason why we do the things we do. Not because you have to but because you want to.”

“It is cool watching him grow,” Jessica said. “Things you might have learned as a kid you might not have paid close attention to. So now that he is going through it, it’s kind of cool listening to the different things he has learned. It has brought us closer.”

Greg is most looking forward to being able to receive Communion.

“Right now, I don’t use holy water because it is a reaffirming of baptism which I haven’t yet experienced,” he said. “And I go up for Communion now but I just receive a blessing with my arms crossed. I’m excited to really feel a part of this great thing, and I already do feel that I am, but just to be able to do everything will be wonderful.”

Father Miller said the parish community will continue to support Greg in his journey of faith.

“We will continue to meet weekly until Pentecost during which we will reflect on the great mystery of God’s love for us. During these sessions I will invite various people who volunteer their time for the parish and invite the newly baptized to see where their own talent can be used to help the mission of the church.”

Someday, Greg hopes he might be able to accompany someone else who might have questions about joining the Catholic Church.

“I would like to be able to sponsor people in the future. What Jim has helped me with, I could be one of those people. I could talk about my own experience and how I made this choice,” he said. “The best thing is believing and having a faith. There’s a path — and it’s not my path — but with God, it always seems to be the right one.”


Author: Kristi Anderson

Kristi Anderson is the editor of The Central Minnesota Catholic Magazine for the Diocese of St. Cloud.

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