Dawn wrote me an email yesterday asking if I had posted our story about how we became Orthodox anywhere on my blog. I told her I haven't done that--it's been so long since we became Orthodox I don't hardly think about that anymore....I was looking at the calendar to figure out how long it had been, and realized that today is the 13th anniversary of us being Orthodox! So, I told her, perhaps in honor of our anniversary I would tell how we came to the church. And, why not, I'll add some biographical info as well.
I was raised Mennonite in a very conservative small farming town in central California. Paul was raised Baptist in Tucson and Prescott, Arizona. We met at college in the San Diego area--a conservative Baptist college. In fact, our college, Christian Heritage College, was founded by Tim LaHaye of the Left Behind series fame. (Or is it infamy?) We began dating only a couple of months after I started at CHC, and got married 1 1/2 years later. Yes, we were young! I was 20 and he was 21 when we married. Though that seems very young to me now I can't see doing it any differently. We were in love.....what else could we do?
Paul took on the responsibility of pastoring a small community church way out in the rural throws of San Diego County, just before we got married. The town was named Dulzura, and it indeed had a lot of back-country character. We met in a very dusty, spider-webby community center on Sundays. Paul and I once undertook cleaning the building out really well and found a bunch of black widow nests. He didn't get paid much--they were only paying him to "fill the pulpit" and be there on Sundays to conduct church service for an hour. But of course, Paul being who he is, he took the job much more seriously than that and did youth activities and other things that took us out there other than on Sundays. Friday night was the hang-out time at the local cafe, so we'd brave the cigarette-smoky little place to sit with folks from the church and hear the local lore. We really invested a lot of ourselves into this little church--sometimes with very little payback. We wanted more commitment from the people, and they wanted (for the most part) to come on Sundays and sing the hymns they'd sung throughout their lives.
We finished college. Paul had been planning to attend Dallas Theological Seminary, and we'd even visited. But he was working at the time for a gardener who was in the reserves. The Gulf War began while we were visiting the seminary, and Paul's boss needed someone to run his company if he was called to serve. He offered Paul a hefty bonus to stay for another year. As for me, I graduated from college with a liberal studies degree, intending to be an elementary school teacher. But California was under a severe budget crunch at the time and was hiring no new teachers. I went in another direction and never went back to teaching at a school.
Paul and I began to plan for parenthood and to open a home day care. This seems so phenominally ill-conceived to me now, but it didn't then. My mother had home day care all through my growing up years, and so I thought I'd be a natural at it. Besides, if I couldn't teach, I wanted to do something with children. But starting a business is hard work, and it never got very far off the ground.
Before any of this happened, though, a friend of ours from college, Kevin, who had co-pastored the church in Dulzura for awhile, called Paul up and said he needed to talk with him. Another pastor from the mega church he was pastoring at was looking at this church called the Orthodox Church. He talked it over with Paul. We hadn't ever heard of the Orthodox church. Paul told me about his conversation with Kevin, but I didn't think anything of it at the time. What I didn't know for months is that Paul began to do some study about the Orthodox church and continued (continues to this day). Months after, Paul broached the subject with me again. "I'd like to visit this church that Kevin was talking about" he said. Oh! Well, okay. Our first visit was during Lent. It was for a presanctified liturgy, and it was in an OCA church. That means it was very dark, there were lots of candles and incense, and we did a LOT of prostrations! It was all so foreign to me. I chalked it up to a cultural experience and thought that was that.
Until Paul said the next week he wanted to go back. He was still pastoring in Dulzura, so we couldn't go on Sundays. So, we went back for the next Wednesday's presanctified. That time I was just bored. Then Paul wanted to go back for the next week. That third week I was hooked. I began to fall in love with the beauty of worship that didn't exist in our evangelical protestant traditions. And I was soon to find out about the history of the church--that it went all the way back to Jesus.
We continued going to an Orthodox church, but not on Sundays. We found an Antiochian church that was closer to home for us, with a convert priest who could answer our questions very well, Fr. Paul O'Callaghan. He was raised Catholic and then went toward the Jesus Movement before converting to Orthodoxy, so he was very well equipped to answer our questions. Pascha (Easter) was our very first Sunday Divine Liturgy, and with the glory of Holy Week behind us, we were ready to convert!
It was in that Antiochian church that we became Orthodox on October 11, 1992. Paul quit pastoring the Dulzura church a couple of months before. People asked us whether we would bring our church into the Orthodox church, like the AEOM movement did. But these folks weren't ready for anything so exotic. They didn't need their faith shaken. We didn't even talk about it very much with them--it just wouldn't have served any good purpose. Or that's what we thought then. Perhaps we didn't trust them enough. There was one woman of great faith there who came for our chrismation, which is the conversion cermemony in the Orthodox church where the Holy Chrism (oil) is applied done with people who have already been baptized.
We started our home day care, Paul quit working in gardening to help at the home business, Hibiscus was born in 1994(we named her Carissa--she took the name Hibiscus three years ago), and we began thinking about Paul attending Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Boston. We quit the day care when Hibi was 6 months old (and I had to wonder, staying home with my baby, how in the world anyone dropped their 6 week old or 3 months old or 6 month old off at day care? I couldn't imagine ever leaving her). In 1995 we packed up and headed for Boston. It was a great four years--very, very hard, but good. Hard because of the poverty our family lived in, hard because of the big shake-up in the Greek Orthodox Church (which happened around the same time as the shake-up in the Antiochian church, over the Ben Lomond parish). Hard in a nice way that our core values were being challenged and put to the test, and some were being molded in a different direction from how we'd thought they would be.
Oh, yes, and we visited Kevin and his wife, Robin, in Memphis while we were moving out to Boston. They became Orthodox just in time to serve as godparents to Hibi. Kevin is now Fr. Kevin and he is the priest of an Antiochian parish in the East San Francisco Bay Area.
So, how did we become Greek Orthodox instead of Antiochian? Through a series of painful events, and a great little mission parish also in San Diego county. Fr. Paul O'Callaghan was transfered to Wichita, and in his wake we had a series of priests. Never again was the whole parish kept happy. Paul tells me that the parish is back together now, but it took many years and it fell apart for a long time. Just before Hibi's baptism was scheduled, Paul had a meeting with a bishop (he shall remain nameless here) to ask to attend seminary. It did not go well. The bishop asked lots of inappropriate questions and we left with a very bad taste in our mouths. Meanwhile, we couldn't get hold of our priest to talk about Hibi's baptism. We finally just threw our hands in the air and went to the great little mission parish, pastored by Fr. James Gavrilos, who welcomed us with open arms and gladly took us into the Greek church.
I'll stop here for now....but I will have more to say about our lives in the Orthodox church--the good, the bad, and the ugly. We've changed a lot since we became Orthodox, and telling about our conversion just isn't the whole story. So, I'll write more, maybe tomorrow. Stay tuned.