By Celine Klosterman
Michael Cumbie realized at age 14 he was called to preach the Gospel.
But he had no idea that call would eventually lead him away from his Southern Baptist roots and into the Catholic faith.
During the men’s conference “The Force of Fidelity” in Iowa City next week, the speaker hopes to ignite a fire for the Church whose truth he gradually discovered.
Growing up in the Deep South, Cumbie’s journey began while attending a boys’ retreat with the theme of “What Does God Want From Me?” “I knew, that week, that my call was to ministry — to teach, preach and be a pastor,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to instill a great love for Jesus.” He went on to become a Protestant pastor in 1981.
But a couple years earlier, as a college student, he’d had an experience that planted the seed for his eventual conversion to Catholicism. During a charismatic prayer gathering in 1979, he received the gift of tongues, he said. “That drastically changed my perspective because Southern Baptists believe the gifts of the Holy Spirit passed away after the apostles died. So I started to wonder what else my church might not be right about.”
As Cumbie was driving the next day, he passed the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Mobile, Ala. “I heard a voice say, ‘I want you to go in there and pray,’” he said. Having grown up around people who saw the Catholic Church as a non-Christian cult, he approached the cathedral hesitantly.
But when he entered, he was overwhelmed by the church’s beauty. He spent the next four hours inside praying, reading biographical stories posted near statues of saints, and admiring stained-glass windows inscribed with passages from Scripture. “I thought, if these people aren’t Christian, why do they have this?”
“That day, the Holy Spirit touched my life,” Cumbie said.
The memory of that encounter remained with him years later, when he attended a pastors’ conference that ended up changing his life’s direction. At the event, a keynote speaker surprised some attendees by saying Christians needed to return to ancient liturgical worship and to sacramental theology. “He spent the whole week teaching us about the Mass, Eucharist and apostolic succession. He said, ‘I’m not trying to make you Roman Catholic, but you need to know the history of the Church.’ That really began my journey.”
In 1993 he was ordained through the Old Catholic Church, which is not in communion with Rome. But after making a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, he realized that to be in line with the historic Church, he needed to be in communion with Rome.
After returning to the United States, he knew he had to resign as an ordained minister in the Old Catholic group and enter the Roman Catholic Church as a lay person. He did so in 2001, along with his three children, through Christ the King Church in Ann Arbor, Mich. His wife, Sherry, returned to the Church after 28 years away.
A couple years later, he said, Saint Joseph Communication in California asked to record his conversion story and distribute it throughout the United States. Cumbie said he then began receiving requests to speak and now travels full time to present at conferences and other faith-related events.
He said it can be challenging to make a living on donations, but it’s rewarding to “see the lights go on in the faces of all these Catholics when you remind them how to defend their faith.” It’s gratifying, too, to get emails from people who returned to or entered the Church thanks in part to his message, he said.
When he speaks at “The Force of Fidelity” March 24, he hopes to inspire attendees to be strong Catholic fathers, husbands and spiritual leaders.
“He’s just amazing because of his conversion story,” said Father Bill Kneemiller, who will lead men in praying the rosary before the conference. “He’s very dynamic and enthusiastic,” said the pastor of parishes in Hills, Lone Tree and Nichols.
IOWA CITY – “The Force Of Fidelity,” the fourth annual Iowa City Catholic men’s conference, will take place March 24 at St. Patrick Church.
Michael Cumbie, a worship leader and musician, is the featured guest speaker. Father Troy Richmond will lead a session on the importance of regular confession. Father Michael Phillips and Father Rudolph Juarez will also engage conference participants.
Attendees will have the opportunity to receive the sacrament of reconciliation.
A light breakfast and lunch will be served. Suggested donation for the conference is $25.
Father Bill Kneemiller will lead the rosary at 6:30 a.m., and Bishop Martin Amos will celebrate Mass at 7 a.m. The conference will open at 8 a.m. and end at 3:30 p.m.
Knights of Columbus council 14385 from Saint Wenceslaus Parish and council 14481 from St. Patrick Parish have organized the conference.
For more information or to register, visit www.icmensconference.com or call (319) 331-6763.