Ray grew up as a Catholic, with a firm belief in God. As an adult he explored different churches. “I was born and raised Catholic, and I don’t denounce the Catholic church in any way. However, I found the New Church has not contradicted any of the deep beliefs that I have in right and wrong, God’s will for me, and how to carry that out.”
One of the most important things about religion to Ray is his belief in God. “I believe in God but I also believe something else that most people have trouble with and fight about in this world forever.It doesn’t matter whether a person is a Muslim or a Catholic or a Buddhist, or whatever: there’s only one God. He doesn’t really say exactly how you’re supposed to worship Him. Man has done that. Man has created those diversions.” When Ray thought about the difference between his experience in the Catholic Church and the New Church he realized that “the ritual of the Catholic Church was just that, it was a worshiping ritual, but it didn’t really provoke me to get involved in the humanity of the church.”
Having never attended the San Diego New Church, Ray was interested enough to ask Rev. Mark Perry about the services, and, in part because of how welcoming Mark was, Ray attended his first service. Ray feels sure that his interest in the New Church was what God wanted for him. “Mark made me feel welcome. But [it] was never, you know, ‘Hey, come on, why don’t you go to church and do this.’ It never happened that way. It was my choice, my decision through God, saying, ‘Give this a try, Ray, it’s something different in your life that you may want to incorporate.’ So I have, and I’ve found that it’s made my life more tolerable because it’s helped me get through a lot of very terrible situations that I have to deal with.”
Since starting to come to services, Ray has noticed many little differences in his life. “[The New Church] has shown me a new way of life. It’s made me feel comfortable and welcome and I have been going through a lot of stress in my life within the last year since I was diagnosed with leukemia and going through a lot of painful treatment, and I really needed the help of God. I’ve always believed in God, but the New Church has given me a clear, fresh—not new—but good way to worship. I feel that I’m right here. I feel I belong here. And it has guided me through a lot of stress and pain. I thank God for the church and for people like pastor Mark and all that he’s [done to help] me through this.”
Because of the new knowledge he has from the Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg, Ray has made many changes in his approach to worshipping and to daily life. “I have made mistakes in worshipping [God], and one of the biggest ones that I’ve found, through my participation in the New Church, is that what’s important for me, is not what I want God to give me. [For example,] ‘God give me a new car. God help me make my rent payment. God, make my children good and behave.’ It’s always been in my youth in learning that I just ask God. Ask, ask. And I’ve always forgotten the most important question to ask: His will for me. ‘What would You like me to do today, God?’ Not say ‘OK, God you’ve got to do this, and I’ve got to have this happen, and this has got to happen, OK we’ve got the day straightened out, God, OK let’s go do it.’ It doesn’t go that way anymore. I get up out of bed and I say ‘God, show me Your will for me that I may serve You best this day.’ And I walk on through my day and life and that’s pretty much a change that I’ve felt. I’m not saying that the New Church brought this change about in me, but somehow in learning about the teachings of Swedenborg, I’ve learned a simple lesson that I’d missed all my life. The correct way to ask God. And it was a great enlightenment for me to realize that. And I do feel that my participation in the church here has brought me toward that enlightenment. It guided me toward that point where I saw the bright light, the flash of God. So I’ve learned just to seek His guidance and follow His way for me today.”
Ray believes that God was leading him to find the New Church. “The New Church has changed my life, and it’s made me feel useful in different ways that I never dreamed I could be. I’m glad I found it. I’m glad I’m here, and I know it’s God’s will for me. ”
by Ray Debolt
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story was developed by Abigail Smith from interviews with Ray Debolt and the Rev. Mark Perry, pastor of the San Diego New Church. Ray passed into the spiritual world in May 2009.