Adrian Thacker is a naturally cheerful person. As he sits with a mug of tea, talking about his fiancée, his love of the English countryside, and his plans for the future, he exudes goodwill.
But he’s a Yorkshireman, and despite several years living and working in London he doesn’t much like the place, wincing at the noisy traffic with a blunt “Well, I don’t intend to spend the rest of my life here if I can help it. For family life, we’ll need somewhere quieter and with a garden.” He has recently started a new job with a Catholic children’s charity after several years of working with the Catholic Truth Society, Britain’s main publisher of Catholic booklets. A convert, he is happy to talk about his faith and his journey to the Church.
Just a Logical Step
“I was brought up in the Methodist tradition. I wasn’t confirmed, but it did provide me with a strong basis of faith and knowledge of Christianity. Then when I went to university, studying history. I discovered the great religious debates of the seventeenth century over things such as justification and the nature of the Church. It was a big widening of understanding.
“I had never seen this bigger picture before. I knew about Jesus Christ, and had certainly been taught to establish some kind of relationship with him. It was important to me, and I valued it. Now I was beginning to understand that this was all part of something much larger, much richer in its links with things like culture and history. I think, looking back, that this was definitely all linked with being at university. I was discovering a whole range of new insights, and this religious question was a major part of that.
“I started going to an Anglican church, partly because of involvement with its musical side. I sang in the choir and so on. Then from there it was just a question of widening and deepening my knowledge of the faith. In one sense, the word conversion doesn’t sound quite right for the decision to become a Catholic—after all, we are all called to conversion every day. It was just a logical step, a question of seeing the full picture.”
University was at Durham, but it was in Manchester, where he was then working, that he was received into the Catholic Church.
Knowing Where You Stand
“When you become a Catholic you have to study a lot of things, and you do get held up at particular points, and you have to think them through. But I would say that the fundamental relationship with God doesn’t change. It’s more a question of opening out, of seeing the fullness of the thing.”
While still Anglican, he became acquainted with the Anglo-Catholic tradition, which includes a greater emphasis on the sacramental side of faith. “But it was all too comfortable. There was a lack of any firm clear teaching on the major issues that face us today, such as the ethical aspects of human reproduction, cloning, the value of life itself. There simply wasn’t a clear logical stance on these matters, and that is what you do find when you look to the Catholic Church.
“For me, a major point was the Catholic Church’s clear stand on these major moral issues of today, issues that also affected me and my contemporaries in our personal lives. Part of the great attraction of the Church is that it is clear—and refreshingly so. There isn’t any fudging.
“Then there was this question of seeing things from a wider perspective. Methodism is very Anglo-Saxon. It owes a lot to great figures such as Wesley and Whitfield, but they belong to only one very narrow bit of the world. I found that Catholicism widened my vision and my interests. Paradoxically, it also enables you to look at other religions with greater confidence, because you have a solid base for your own convictions. It was only after I became Catholic that I found it possible to look at Islam, for instance—you are in a position to engage in the subject, to have some dialogue, because you know where you stand.
“Becoming Catholic wasn’t in any way traumatic for me. I know I have been very fortunate in that. For some people, family circumstances or other realities mean that it can be a lonely struggle and involve suffering. But I lost no friends by joining the Church. On the contrary, life went on opening up and showing new dimensions. I have friends of all sorts—lots of Catholic ones but also people of other beliefs. And my family has never been worried or frightened by my becoming a Catholic. They accepted it, and we are all on very good terms.”
Adrian has been studying Arabic and recently returned from a trip to the Middle East: “Fantastic, just so interesting, especially really getting to know people, being in their homes, talking about so many things.” He particularly loved getting to know Arab Christians, and on returning home he was invited to give a talk about all this to a Catholic discussion group. “Catholicism isn’t restricting. It gives you a worldview, and somehow it always makes you want to know more, to explore further.”
So Much Larger and Wider
Like many converts, Adrian has a sense of confidence in the Church and some asperation with people who see only the gloomy side of things as problems within the Church (poor liturgy, falling numbers at Mass attendance, scandals, evidence of poor teaching in schools).
“Honestly, I suspect there have always been crises in the Church. And God is good. Look at how things are in the Church in Europe at present, and we are given just the pope we need. When Pope Benedict XVI was elected—a German who returned to his native country for that amazing million-strong World Youth Day—there really was this sense that this was all an act of Providence.
“One day, we’ll have an African pope. That will be great. But at the moment, the Church in Africa can cope without one. The Church there doesn’t have the immediate problems of the Church in Europe; there is still steady growth there. You can really see how God provides for the Church and how things fit together.
“When I became Catholic, I saw it as the natural completion of a journey that had begun with an adult reawakening of my Christian faith, the faith that had been taught to me, in its basic concepts, as a child. The Catholic Church gives you the fullness of this faith. It is the original, the complete, the whole vision that Christ came to bring to us.
“There were various things I needed to study in some depth to be able to g.asp (such as the role of our Lady), but the journey was always one of exploring further and finding again and again that in the Catholic Church was the true history of how Christ had dealt with his people down the centuries. And there was this magnificent understanding of a worldwide institution, one stretching down through the centuries. It’s all so much larger and wider than is sometimes presented. I think this is something that we need to communicate to people who are outside the Church. It’s something that non-Catholic Christians, especially in the English-speaking world, can find most illuminating. All the great music, the great art, the huge achievements of this worldwide Church—it’s so much larger than the rather narrow vision offered by some small evangelical group that operates within a specific culture and language and often assumes its own style to be the only sort of Christianity that could ever exist.”
“What Do You Want a Church For?”
The everyday reality of being a Catholic in Britain, of living in a way that is “against the tide” isn’t something that bothers him. Like most Catholics, he finds lots to laugh about.
“When Hina [his fiancée] and I went away for a weekend of country walking, we naturally booked two separate rooms at the hotel, which seemed to cause the manager enormous puzzlement. But what completely freaked him out was my casual request for information about the nearest Catholic church. I remember the expression on the man’s face as he asked, quite genuinely, ‘But what do you want a church for? You’re on vacation, aren’t you?’ It reduced Hina to helpless laughter.”
Adrian and Hina will marry at London’s Ealing Abbey in 2006 and are looking forward to raising a family. “Country walks, small country towns, an interest in history—and a home that we can afford, not London prices.” That last bit is the one thing that makes him gloomy for a moment. “You see all sorts of great places, but it’s a question of affording it.”
Talking about a family brings us on to hobbies and interests. He learned the piano and violin as a child and has always taken an interest in church music, even trying his hand at composing his own settings for psalms. The talk turns to particularly silly modern church hymns.
“Oh, some are just ridiculous. I learned more—much more—good sound theology from the Methodist hymns on which I was brought up. But there are some new hymns (such as “The Servant King,” which Catholics love and which was actually written by an Evangelical) that will stand the test of time and be valued. Actually, Catholic hymnals are gradually improving. Some of those awful things from the 1970s . . . oh, dear.”
For a moment we unite in feeling a bit crestfallen. But the tea is finished and it’s time to go. The London traffic roar greets us as we make our way up Victoria Street to the station. It’s a rather warm and sticky evening, and the train journey to the suburbs will not be particularly pleasant. But Adrian remains cheerful. “Can’t stick this sort of noise. But look.” He’s indicating a whole new row of shops, just opened, which have been behind billboards for some time and are now revealed in their pristine glory. “That’ll be great for the Catholic Truth Society bookstore, just opposite the shops. It’ll bring in more customers.” The grin is back.