Seek & You Shall Find: A Convert's Faith Journey
Forrest Wylie (right) is an active member of St. James the Apostle Catholic Church in Sneedville, Tenn. He helps Father Bart Okere (center) throughout the Mass and serves as a lector and greeter. Forrest learned about St. James through Brother Craig Digmann (left), who helped Forrest through the RCIA program in Rutledge, Tenn. (Photo/Molly Williamson)
By Molly Williamson
As Forrest Wylie knows, sometimes it takes a while to find the perfect fit.
After many years of wanting to join the Catholic Church, Forrest converted in 2013 in Glenmary’s St. John Paul II Rutledge, Tenn., mission. Now, he is never letting go of his faith.
In August 2016, Forrest joined St. James the Apostle Catholic Church in Sneedville, Tenn., and immersed himself in the small parish. He attends adoration every second Thursday of the month and is ready to serve on Sundays.
In the Sneedville church, which rarely draws more than a dozen people for Mass, Forrest acts as an altar attendant, lector, extraordinary minister of Holy Communion and greeter and once helped patch holes in the gravel driveway.
“It is a lot, but to be honest, I am glad I came here,” Forrest said. “I wish the (attendance) numbers were bigger, but for me, I like being in a small church.”
The 46-year-old Thorn Hill resident was searching for the right faith for a while. An avid reader, he had been studying history and theology for many years. He wanted to learn more about Catholicism, but the opportunity never arose.
“The closest Catholic Church to us was in Knoxville or Morristown,” Forrest said. “It is only about 30 or 40 minutes away, but I didn’t have a car. When you are poor, telling someone to drive to Knoxville or Morristown is like telling them to drive to the moon.”
But the Lord works in mysterious ways, Forrest found. He was helping his parents move, and it was a long process. They were packrats, so he spent many days traveling between their old and new homes to complete the transition. On one trip, he saw the Union County storefront mission church – St. Teresa of Kolkata – and decided to stop in. He connected with Father Steve Pawelk, who invited Forrest to attend Mass in Rutledge, closer to his home.
“By then, I had a change in circumstances, so it was easier for me to start attending,” Forrest said.
In 2012, he joined the RCIA program, but he said it took him a full year to complete the program, partly because he broke his hip halfway through the program and partly because he was so skeptical of the faith.
“I had a lot to learn,” Forrest said. “Once upon a time, I was very critical of Christianity. I guess I was agnostic, but it was only because what I knew about Christianity, I learned through history books.”
Shortly after he converted in Rutledge, Forrest strayed from the church. He had a hard time making it to Mass, and he was not active in the Rutledge parish. When Brother Craig Digmann, who helped Forrest in RCIA, moved to Sneedville, he told Forrest about the small Sneedville church. It is an intimate setting that Brother Craig knew would perfectly suit Forrest.
Since he joined the parish in August, Forrest has thrived. He joined the Knights of Columbus and has become the right-hand man for Father Bart Okere, a Knoxville diocesan priest who splits his time between Sneedville and Rogersville.
“Without Brother Craig and Forrest, I don’t know what I would do,” Father Bart said.
Now, Forrest is encouraging others to explore the Catholic faith and to visit the Sneedville church.
“To those who are interested in Catholicism, I would say, ‘please come,’” Forrest said. “Keep studying it. My favorite scripture is ‘seek and you shall find. Knock and (the door) shall be opened unto you.’ If you keep looking for the truth, you will eventually arrive at Christianity.Sometimes, it just takes a long time.”
This story first appeared in the March 2017 Boost-A-Month-Club newsletter.