On two occasions, in 1580–1 and 1587, the Worcestershire gentleman Ralph Sheldon of Beoley and Weston (1537–1613) undertook to attend services in his parish church. This article seeks to make sense of these occasions of ‘conformity’, in the context of the situation and choices facing Catholics in Protestant England. It argues that Ralph consciously rejected the Jesuit message about non-attendance at the state church, a view he never abandoned. Never described by his contemporaries as ‘papistically affected’, let alone as an ‘obstinate recusant’, his later reputation as such is mistaken. By exploring the evidence relating to these occasions of official conformity, it is possible to see how he managed the challenge of being a Catholic living within the law. He could be regarded, and treated, as an obedient subject. He might thus be viewed as a church papist. However, since occasional conformity must itself also suggest recusancy, a more nuanced understanding of his position requires a reconsideration of some of the evidence.