Megan and John Glassbrenner’s Journey on the Road to Their Emmaus
Megan was raised in a family in the Protestant tradition. They lived in the farming community of Mondovi. John is a native of Altoona, near Eau Claire, which is about 24 miles north-northeast of Mondovi.
Unlike Megan, John related, “I was not raised with religion. I wasn’t raised in the church at all. However, I always felt somewhat called to it. I remember reading the Bible when I was little. Trying to figure it out. But it was the difficult King James version. But I always thought there was something special about it. I remember praying as a little kid.”
Even though it was difficult for John to comprehend the full meaning of what was contained in the Bible at an early age, he remembers thinking of “the significance that there is a God. And I remember believing in Jesus. My friends talked about it. They went to an Evangelical church, which I wasn’t raised in.”
As John grew older, he found himself seeking a deeper meaning of the messages contained within the Bible. John reflected, “When I was 16, I was always called to it, but I was starting to form a real belief in Jesus. I remember reading the Gospels for the first time. And throughout my 20’s after my military experience, I dabbled in Christianity, but I was not really in it.”
As time went on, John found himself alternately fully embracing Christianity and then pulling away from it. He was searching for truth in Christianity. But it seemed that it was eluding him. “I joined the Church of the Nazarene and was baptized there. But I fell away from it for a while.”
John decided to enroll as a religion major at UW Eau Claire to further his search for understanding the Bible. While at UW Eau Claire John met Megan, who was attending Emmaus Bible College in Dubuque, Iowa.
Megan remembers the importance of her small Protestant church family as she and her younger brother were growing up on the family farm. Deacons, rather than a pastor, saw to the spiritual needs of the congregation. “We gathered together each Sunday sharing and learning scripture and breaking bread together.” Megan recalled, “learning about the crucifixion and the importance of having the tradition of breaking bread every Sunday. I prayed the Sinners Prayer [an evangelical Christian term referring to any prayer of repentance, prayed by individuals who feel convicted of the presence of sin in their lives and have the desire to form or renew a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ] when I was very young, perhaps eight or nine years old. I was baptized at this time.
“My church family was very central to my identity as I was growing up and besides being a farm kid that was very important to me,” said Megan. She continued, “My church family is the kind of people I wanted to be – caring and loving through the people in that church setting.”
Following high school, Megan went to Emmaus Bible College to strengthen her identity with her Christian upbringing. “I wanted to do something with my life, and I fell in love with the Intercultural Studies Program where I would be able to go to other countries and share Jesus with people whose knowledge of Christianity may be minimal or even absent.” she said.
It was during these college years at Emmaus that Megan met John. They would have intense discussions about the Bible. Finally, Megan kept saying to John, “If you want to learn about the Bible, why don’t you come to the Bible College?” John remarked, “So this is a Protestant Evangelical Bible college. I went there expecting to become a pastor. I was going to lead a Protestant church. That’s what I wanted to do. However, they don’t train pastors at Emmaus, so I studied for a Bachelor’s of Science in Biblical exposition and theology instead.”
John and Megan were married a year after John transferred to Emmaus Bible College. Following his studies, John was ordained in the Southern Baptist Church and he and Megan did a three-month mission trip to Australia in the final semester of Megan’s intercultural studies degree.
“I’ve studied for all these years trying to find Jesus in Scripture. And He is just right there in the Tabernacle. I found Jesus alive in the Eucharist.”
Returning home, John and Megan lived in an extra house on Megan’s family farm intending to set down roots. John recalled, “At first we were bouncing in and out of churches because I was trying to find a church that I could get employed with my education. But nothing was available at the time and I eventually took a job in sales. But I was still called to the ministry and theology. We joined a contemporary Mennonite church where I was able to do a little preaching and I enjoyed that. Then the pastor left. There were twelve people left in the church. It was going nowhere.”
John was beginning to burn out. Churches he and Megan joined or considered joining seemed to have no consistent direction. It seemed that every church had its way of interpreting and emphasizing the scriptures. Searching for the Truth seemed to be getting more and more elusive. “It just felt very defeating over a long period,” said John. The searching, the seeking, with no end in sight; they felt dejected.
But their life was about to change.
John recalls a recent significant event that occurred in his life. “It was May of 2018. I remember preaching a week before my grandfather died. My grandfather, who was like my dad because my mom was a single parent- so we were really close – died suddenly of complications following heart surgery. I was there when he passed away. I couldn’t deal with it. I studied a lot about the end times. And how things look. But I didn’t have a theology that interpreted it, so I started to become disillusioned with the church. Reciting the Sinners Prayer at my grandfather’s gravesite seemed a too simplistic expression of our faith.
“However, there was this intense call to find my spirituality and a deeper meaning of life,” recalled John. “And I remember at one point I even told Megan I am really scared – I don’t know if I really need Jesus anymore.” Megan told me, “I will follow you anywhere. But if you leave Jesus, it is a place I cannot go.”
John and Megan also needed to consider the spiritual welfare of their children, who are now six and eight. Megan said, “I needed a place where I can raise our kids where they’re going to take faith to be honestly their own as they get older. But they’re not going to have that if we don’t have a church community. They’re not going to get it just from us like it is.”
“I will follow you anywhere. But if you leave Jesus, it is a place I cannot go.” – Megan
They visited several schools in the area. Megan liked what she found at St. Mary’s Catholic School 4K program and decided to enroll her son. John was not sure about this. At the Open House event, they found out that her son did not have to attend Mass, much to John’s relief. John even said, “Don’t you dare talk to me kids about baptism.”
In retrospect, John admitted that he was terrible because he was so headstrong. However, they ended up putting their kids in the Catholic school because John and Megan were ecumenical in their thinking. “I mean, it was more about our kids going to a place where they taught Jesus stories in the Bible and things like that,” said John. “And we figured if they go to a good school where they’re not having issues, they could get a good education. They could learn the Bible, but we’ll just tell him when he gets home that this Mary stuff is hogwash.”
Seeking a greater spirituality experience John knew that many religious traditions use prayer beads and Catholics are no exception. John asked his son’s teacher if she could give him a Rosary. He read about the Rosary and its Mysteries. This was a pivotal first step.
John and Megan, perhaps unconsciously, were on the road to discovering the depth and breadth of the Catholic faith. John said, “I started reading old church documents and learning about the early church fathers and finding out about the Eucharist and what it says.” Coincidently they met Fr. Billy Dodge, pastor at Roncalli Newman Parish in La Crosse who invited them to tour the cathedral. John confessed, “I still wasn’t convinced of the Eucharist. The body and blood of Jesus Christ. Then we were in the Adoration Chapel, Fr. Billy is genuflecting and I’m asking him why he does that and why they do it in the Church and he’s explaining it to me. I’m like, ok, you know, whatever, it’s all good to me.”
The following day John was watching a Journey Home video episode on EWTN entitled Bible verses I never saw when I was a Protestant. After the presentation, a caller called in and said Luke 24. “I paused the video, and I said no way does Luke 24 talk about the Eucharist. It has nothing to do with the Eucharist. Luke 24 is about Jesus walking on the road to Emmaus with two people who don’t recognize him and then He shows Himself in Scripture. That was our Bible verse at Emmaus Bible College. When He does that, He shows Himself like He does all through Scripture. Jesus reveals Himself in Scripture. But wait … I [John] am thinking now … Jesus does not reveal Himself to the two travelers … until … you need to read on … “
28 As they approached the village to which they were going, he gave the impression that he was going on farther.
29 But they urged him, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over.” So, he went in to stay with them.
30 And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them.
31 With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight.
32 Then they said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning [within us] while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us?”– Luke 24 verses 28-32
“After reading the rest of the verses I am like wait, Jesus doesn’t appear to them yet after he goes through Scripture. I ran out to where my wife was standing out in the living room and I said, honey, you won’t believe this. But Jesus is revealed in the breaking of bread. Not through Scripture. I was so excited. Now I am reading aloud to her: ‘Then the two recounted what had taken place on the way and how he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.’ (Luke 24 verse 35)
“And I was just overwhelmed by the Spirit and I sat down, and I cried. And Megan goes ‘what’s wrong’ and I said, I was before our Lord yesterday and I didn’t show him any reverence. I’ve studied for all these years trying to find Jesus in Scripture. And He is just right there in the Tabernacle. And I told her, I said I’m Catholic. I found Jesus alive in the Eucharist.”
John, Megan, and their two children joined the Catholic Church at Easter of 2019. Since that time, they have been active in church ministries. John started a podcast in conjunction with one of St. Mary’s RCIA catechists entitled “The Sacred and the Mundane”. Megan worked with Father Sakowski, pastor of St. Mary Parish, to host a series of “Fall Festivities” that have been very successful.
They were seekers, they were searchers and now they have found a home in the Catholic Faith in the Eucharist, but their faith journey continues as it does for us all.
By Robert Rogers
Published March 2021 Catholic Life Issue
Top Pic: The Glassbrenners at the Cathedral of St. Joseph the Workman in La Crosse.