By S.L. Hansen
LINCOLN (SNR) - The Catholic Coffee House series, “Journey of Conversion,” will welcome Vern Steiner and his son Chad Sunday, Nov. 15.
The pair will talk about “Heart and Mind in the Journey Home” at the John XXIII Center, 3700 Sheridan Blvd., Lincoln, at 7 p.m.
“For both of us and our families, the journey consisted in a long and difficult process of working through many issues over a period of more than 10 years, including a great deal of reading, reflection, family conversation, and prayer,” Vern Steiner said.
He and his wife Carol had been lifelong and active evangelical Protestants. Vern had pastored a church before becoming a seminary teacher in Chicago and British Columbia. In 1995, he came to Lincoln and founded the MIQRA Institute. Miqra’ is the Hebrew word for Scripture or the reading of Scripture.
“It was a creative venture with a focus on providing biblical studies at a serious level for the continuing education of pastors, campus missionaries, and other interested students,” Vern said.
Though small, some of the MIQRA courses were credited at a number of colleges, universities and seminaries, including the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The institute was sustained entirely by donations.
In 2001, Chad, who was a member of the MIQRA teaching staff, let his father know that he was considering the Catholic faith. While living in England to further his studies in bible and theology, Chad and his wife Kacy joined the Anglican Church.
The younger couple returned to Lincoln in 2005. After considering local Episcopal options, they instead returned to the evangelical church to which Vern and Carol belonged. Still, they felt pulled toward Catholicism.
As professional academics, Chad and Vern focused on research. Armed with prayer, perseverance, and a moral commitment to following truth wherever that might lead, they tackled many biblical, theological, and historical issues.
“Ours was a search for the truth about the Church,” Vern recounted. “What is the Church Jesus established, and how many of these are there? Where can that Church be found throughout its existence, from the first century to the present? And what does it mean to be woven fully, not imperfectly, into the life and fabric of that Church?”
Both Steiners would say that Blessed John Henry Newman and many other theologians were instrumental in finding answers to these questions.
“When Chad informed me in 2010 that he was headed toward the Catholic Church, I was not entirely unprepared or taken by surprise,” Vern admitted. “By this time, he and I had ventured too deeply into ecclesiology and Church history to remain comfortably where we were.”
The Steiners had experienced a change in perspective on the answers to their three key questions and on where those answers are best found.
“We discovered them in the Catholic Church,” Vern said. “And having made that discovery, we were faced with the hard reality: Either convert or disobey.”
Chad and Kacy Steiner were received into the Catholic Church in 2011 at St. Peter Parish in Lincoln.
“I managed to hold out another four years,” Vern said, “because (a) I did not think my work in the Evangelical world was completed yet, and (b) I was not convinced that everything we had studied and discussed actually required my move to the Catholic Church.”
Vern was sensitive to his substantial role in evangelical Protestantism and on the many people he had known, taught, and otherwise influenced. It was not their reaction to his conversion that worried him so much, but the potential negative impact on the faith of others.
“To me the more troubling questions centered on how so many good and intelligent people could be so wrong,” he said, “and on whether the issues were even of such magnitude and consequence for me to unsettle so many people who doubtless would find my conversion disconcerting, even scandalous.”
Vern continued to study Christian documents and history in quest of a via media (“…to use Blessed John Henry Newman’s phrase,”) a “middle way” between Evangelicalism and Catholicism. Meanwhile, MIRQA closed in 2013.
“We enjoyed 18 wonderful years and then ran out of funds… doubtless in part because of our controversial (from an Evangelical perspective) ecumenical posture,” Vern said.
Complicating the matter, evangelicals certainly could have become dubious about donating to MIRQA because there was one Catholic on staff, Chad, and another on the board of directors, Jim Jansen.
Within a couple more years, the rest of the Steiner family had reached the conclusion that the Catholic Church was the place God was calling him to be. Vern and Carol, along with their daughter Cari and her husband Jason, were received into the Church during the Easter Vigil of 2015.
“We at St. Peter Parish, they at Twelve Apostles Parish in Platte City, Missouri,” Vern said. “Our entire family is now united in the Church. It just took some of us longer than the others to reach the finish line!”
He added, “Basically, we studied our way into the Church. Our talk will tell the story of how that happened.”
All are welcome to hear the Steiners tell their conversion story in detail on Sunday, Nov. 15 at 7 p.m.