[Kairos Journal, November 17, 2005]
In 1991, my husband I made a difficult decision to leave our denomination for theological reasons. It was, for us, a matter of integrity. Bishops were denying the Resurrection, the Virgin Birth, and other basic tenets of the faith. After twenty years in the Episcopal church, first with both of us in seminary, and then with Gary serving as a pastor, we knew it was time to look for a new church home.
What Gary discovered was the Eastern Orthodox Church. The most striking thing about this church was its determination to adhere to the faith and worship of the early Christians. They still used hymns and prayers from the first few centuries; their doctrinal and moral convictions were likewise unchanged.
Making this decision was the easy part, compared with putting it into action. Gary had at this point been a pastor for sixteen years, and had steadily built a successful career. We had a nice home, nice cars, and three great kids, all near their early teens. Family expenses were increasing, and college was just around the corner. I was a stay-at-home mom, not yet earning an income as a writer and speaker. Could we just walk away from all this security? How would we live?
I prayed that God would give us a few other families to go with us. I prayed, specifically, for ten. I figured that ten tithers would make one income. If only ten tithing families joined us to start our new parish, we could stay afloat.
Well, God gave us five. We were at a time of testing. We moved out of our lovely house in a photogenic Victorian town west of Baltimore, and into the city itself, to a neighborhood that the newspaper euphemistically described as “lower middle class” in an article about a murder on our street. Drug dealers stood on the corner. Women had screaming fights below my bedroom window. A bicycle unattended was a bicycle stolen. Every month, our savings account dipped a little lower.
That was almost thirteen years ago. If today you visit our parish, Holy Cross, you’ll see a small stone building crammed to the walls, filled mostly with young people, college students and families with young children. The congregation is expanding so vigorously that we think it’s time to start another mission.
It was scary to step out in faith. We gave up almost everything, and risked even more. We found that this willingness to risk led to blessings we did not anticipate. We experienced the joy of being able to worship in freedom, without hovering fear of authorities elsewhere distorting the faith and misusing their powers. We learned to think of bishops, amazingly enough, as godly men who love their people and lead them in integrity. We were able to concentrate on drawing closer to the Lord and being transformed by him, rather than exhausting our spirits with controversies. (Sadly, I see some of those who chose to “stay-and-fight” being changed over the years: some are debilitated, while others have developed an unhealthy taste for the thrill of conflict.)
But the greatest, and least expected, gift was the effect this step had on our children. They saw that their dad was doing something because it was a matter of integrity. They saw that he had resolved to step out in faith and do what he felt the Lord was calling him to do, for a matter of principle. And they saw that he was scared. It’s true: courage is not “not being scared,” it’s “being scared and doing it anyway.” For our kids, their dad was revealed as a real hero. This was at a point in their growth when many children are forming the opposite view of their parents. It is at least partly due to this example, I believe, that all of them are strong Christians today, and with their spouses are raising our six (so far) grandchildren in the love and fear of the Lord.
Many reading this are caught in a moment of decision similar to the one my husband and I faced years ago. God will have to guide you to make the right choice in your own situation. But know this: he is faithful, and he does provide. When things look bleakest is exactly when he does his greatest miracles. That’s what it was like in the dark, chilly hours before dawn when Jesus did, despite what some bishops say, truly rise from the dead.