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Conversion (from the Latin and Old French meaning to turn around) is a profound change. The Bible uses μετάνοια and ἐπιστροφή in the sense of a transformative change of heart.

There’s a lot of people (on social media), however, who use “conversion” for journeying into Roman Catholicism (a journey that has a specific marker at the Easter Vigil). I think this is unhelpful. Certainly, moving denominations may cause conversion or result from conversion but if moving into Roman Catholicism is, in and of itself, regarded as conversion this debases and demeans the term.

I have responded to (mis)using “conversion” for being formally admitted into Roman Catholicism (see, for example, these half dozen examples: a; b; c; d; e; f). But now I have been pointed by Cherilyn Young (thank you!) to the point that my position is actually official Roman Catholic teaching. She has highlighted:

The term “catechumen” should be strictly reserved for the unbaptized who have been admitted into the order of catechumens; the term “convert” should be reserved strictly for those converted from unbelief to Christian belief and NEVER used of those baptized Christians who are received into the full communion of the Catholic Church [my emphasis].

Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) pages 363

Certainly, conversion, this transformative change of heart, may happen at the point of changing denominations – but it is not to be identified with it. Some people have a dramatic Damascus-Road type of conversion; others do not. I am a Cistercian Associate, attempting to live a Cistercian approach to life beyond monastery walls. Cistercians vow conversatio morum, from the Rule of St Benedict. Conversatio morum is an understanding that is difficult to translate, but, at the very least, it is a commitment to a lifetime of ongoing conversion.

The Nicene Creed is clear: there is only one church, and there is only one baptism. Baptism makes you a member of the church. This Nicene approach gives little traction to people who casually speak of being “baptised Anglican, or “baptised Methodist”, or whatever. To put it, possibly, crudely: it is the same iPhone whatever shop you purchased it from. Baptism is not dependent on validity of ordination, etc. Individual parishes, communities, churches, provinces, denominations, etc realise the one church in different (better and worse) ways (individual shops provide better or worse service of the iPhone you got there; and sometimes you don’t go to the shop where you bought your iPhone but find one that is “better”.)


There are rites akin to RCIA, Services for a New Beginning, in my free online book Celebrating Eucharist.

The image above was created by me.

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