“We don’t know if we believe in God anymore.”
That announcement from our teenage daughters started us on a journey toward exploring Orthodox Christianity.
I was a “dyed in the wool” evangelical, from a long line of Mennonite Brethren ancestors. My husband, Evert, was raised Missouri Synod Lutheran, but later became part of the Christian and Missionary Alliance. We met at a Southern Baptist Church and were a part of a new church plant in the north part of Lincoln. The church plant’s denomination (Berean Fellowship) was similar to an independent Bible church.
As far as we knew, we were going to stay in our church the rest of our lives. To be truthful, we were just kind of “coasting” in our spiritual life, but it seemed to be working okay for us.
But then our daughters announced their agnosticism. They began asking us questions that we couldn’t answer. And that started to shake up our faith as well.
At the same point we knew we couldn’t give up believing in Christ. Faith was so much a part of our lives that we couldn’t imagine life without faith, without worship, without that assurance that God was a part of everything we do. And we’d seen God work in our lives and the world around us enough to know that we always would believe in God. But we weren’t so sure about the evangelical faith.
So we began a search of our own. Ever since Evert heard that Frank Schaeffer, son of the well-known evangelical thinker Francis Scaeffer, had become Orthodox, he’d been intrigued. Since the girls were wanting to visit other places of worship, we thought we’d all go together to an Orthodox church.
Evert looked online and found three local Orthodox churches: a traditional Greek Orthodox church, a Russian Orthodox church with services in the Russian language, and a third one: St. John of Krondstadt Eastern Orthodox Church.
I had a connection there. A family from my daughter's dance studio were members, and I’d had many conversations with the mom, Tracey. (She homeschools too.) For years we’d driven past the church’s coffeehouse/bookstore, called the Catacomb, and wondered about it. There was something weirdly fascinating about a coffeehouse for “Ancient Christianity” – a place “not of this world.” We would peer in the windows as we drove by, sometimes seeing men in long black robes, and we’d wonder what it was all about. Later I found out Tracey’s husband sometimes led meetings there.
So on a Friday night, Evert and I decided to drop in at the Catacomb. A bit nervous, we walked into the small room. A couple sat at the table, and the priest stood behind the counter.
The priest introduced himself as Father James and said I looked familiar. He told us he played folk music, and I realized that he had played for some of the dances I’d participated in. The woman at the table looked familiar to me too, and before long we realized that we both work out at the same Curves.
We liked Father James immediately. He wore his gray hair in a ponytail, had kind eyes, a good sense of humor and the insights of an artist. We chatted for over an hour and left with two books and plans to visit the church on Sunday.
A Facebook message from Tracey informed me that the ladies usually wore dresses (and some wore head scarves, but we didn’t need to), and that they always had a potluck lunch after church.
The church is located only a few blocks from our home. Ironically, we had worked to start a church in the north part of town because we desired that neighborhood feel. But the church plant we helped start is still about five miles from our home and many of the members live about that distance or more. Here was a church within walking distance, and as we later discovered, many of the members lived in our immediate neighborhood.
As soon as we stepped out of our car, we saw someone we knew: a young woman who does folk dance with us. We brought our food down to the basement kitchen, while the girls stepped into the sanctuary, literally wide eyed.
During our first service, we were struck by the beauty of the liturgy. We felt like we were worshiping someone holy. We loved the music, the incense, the icons, the bells. We loved the ancient words. And, although we didn’t understand everything they believed, we felt there was something there.
But what we found the most amazing was the people. All ages fellowshipping together. Families, singles, young couples, retired folks, and a few new Americans from Russia. We found much in common with these folks. Many were interested in the arts. Some were from similar spiritual backgrounds. One woman with Mennonite roots even looked like she could be related to me.
It’s been about four months since that first service. Now we attend every time we don’t have commitments at our present church. The girls, although they do not believe in Christianity, love the liturgy and the people, and they want to keep going. My husband and I are feeling more and more drawn to the church. We’ve been devouring Orthodox books and Ancient Faith Radio podcasts.
Sunday we told Father James we were ready to start lessons to learn more about the Orthodox Church. We’re still on the journey. This is a huge step for us. But even being on the journey is amazing, considering our background. This blog will document that journey. Although we do not know our final destination, it’s exciting to be moving intentionally.