Parishioner Stories

David Driver - Thekla Barrera - Joel Williams - Kristina Roth-George - Anonymous - Anonymous

David M. Driver III

My parents were missionaries in Brazil where, coincidentally, I was born. We were Anglican of the "low church" variety in which I had the privilege of growing and learning and doing those things rambunctious boys did in the 1930s in Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina. An imprint which I still cherish was that of a young and very gifted Priest who took me along as his Acolyte/congregation on the North Arkansas Mission Circuit. Later we discovered that the Driver church roots ran back to an Anglican Church and Robert Driver (b.ca 1520) in Avening, England. The roots were indeed deep!

Short cut - to the conversion and marriage to my life-long Queen and the mother of our three amazing grace-filled daughters!! During this time I learned the rigors of responsibility as a husband and father, i.e. a hands on course in Applied Theology.

After nearly 15 years in insurance administration, during which time I also became a lay reader and teacher in the Church. My Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ decided that I should leave the constrictions and corruptions so evident and abhorrent to me in the business world. My beloved wife had only one comment, "Well it's about time!"

And so another move. This time to seminary in Illinois, with the blessing and support of my boss! (that's another story). Now there were five of us to feed, clothe etc., a monetary concern, which Eleanor took on. Graduation and ordination came about three years later. (thanks be to God). So many events, so many folk of interest and distress during that struggle! The seminary event was intended to make or break one. We all survived stronger for it individually and as a family!

My first "post" as Priest was as assistant in a parish in Texas. From there to a mission Church in Ft. Worth and then a call to Michigan where we served for some twenty odd years. In the early years of this time we did not foresee that we were being placed directly in the middle of a struggle for the faith of the Episcopal Church. By God's happy sense of timing, much earlier, we had the unique experience of meeting and working with Fr. Patrick Reardon, a great Priest who is now Orthodox. In addition, I was blessed to be part of a group of conservative clergy - Anglicans, Roman Catholics and Orthodox- which kept my sanity and faith in focus. Add to this also, the earlier (chance?) meeting with Fr. Alexander Schmemann and there is very small wonder my beloved and I became familiar with Orthodoxy and her indestructible faith, indefatigable zeal and piety.

After a decade and a half of warfare (spiritual and otherwise) with occasional brief interludes of peace and renewal, I took early retirement. The next dozen years were spent in what is best described as spiritual and reality rehab. This was accomplished by the grace of three Godly Anglican Bishops and a small town in Illinois filled with genuine people. There in a little Church of caring, responsive folks we were loved and enjoyed spiritual peace. It also provided me the opportunity to teach Theology in the Diocesan School of a very solid traditional Diocese- with many great personal rewards of seeing people appreciate the Faith as I knew and loved it. And so in life another new venture into God's purpose for us.

After a few years, grandchildren concerns arose which moved us to Texas with new experiences and challenges. During this period our time and energy were focused on our growing family and serving as interim in a couple of North Texas Churches.

Once again our hunger for the purity of the Faith began to call us to further search for it. This led to our submission to and study of Orthodoxy. Following the usual 2-3 year period, we were Chrismated Orthodox.

We came to St. Joseph in 2008 and luxuriated in absorbing the spiritual and historical truth and strength of Orthodoxy. The beautiful homogeneity of the congregation with all her different cultural strains combine to celebrate the gift of Orthodoxy, and is an unexpected blessing which provides a glimpse into The Church which Our Lord and Savior gave us as a way to find His Way through all the trials of this life and the assaults which Satan mounts against us, His Church.

Do I miss the Church in which I was raised and in which I served as Pastor and Priest? Absolutely! But that recollection draws on sweet memories and accomplishments rather than on the hopes and promises which this oasis and fueling station provide as we live The Way together toward His Divine Reward. I believe I am on The Way, yet not "Home". That is God's Glory.

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Thekla (Kerryn) Barrera

My journey to Orthodoxy was as long as Moses’ journey to the Holy Land. While I cannot claim a nomadic lifetime in the desert, I can say that I was moving through my life for four decades with a huge empty hole – incomplete. There was no great divine intercession that brought me home, but a gnawing hunger for something undefined.

Born a preacher’s kid, my Methodist raising had me in church and Sunday school every week for most of my early years, but witnessing my parent’s divorce and all of the emotional turmoil in the years that followed, left me with little faith. What was the truth and how could I be certain?

Over the years I “tried on” many different religious followings, but they just didn’t fit me. I studied eastern philosophies, Islam, and Judaism, and while I found basic goodness in all with a strong faith in God, and I met some amazing individuals along the way, these other religions did not complete me.

About eight years ago, a friend of mine introduced me to Orthodoxy after much coaxing. My friend was not comfortable with all of my questions, so I went to the internet and researched everything I could find – how could this church claim to be the true church of Christ going back 2,000 years, and I had never heard of it before? And what are all of these “rules” to follow – kissing images and fasting – was this really being practiced by Christians in Texas today?

I began attending my friend’s church, a very large Greek Orthodox parish, and knew from the first visit that I had found the one true Church. Oh true, I didn’t understand most of the words being chanted or sung – whether they were in Greek or English, but I felt such an overwhelming love of Christ. I firmly believe that it is the compilation of the senses that fully engages the human body in worship – sound, sight, smell, singing and taste (the last of which I could not participate in without becoming Orthodox).

I attended classes at the church to learn about the liturgy and the many differences between Orthodoxy and other religions. I also read every book I could get my hands on! As part of my class reading assignment, I read the Book of Acts, and it was as if I were reading the Bible for the very first time. The words came to life and I would tell my children the stories at the dinner table, as if I were reading an adventure. This was very important to me because I had at one time denied the divinity of the Holy Bible, and my heart and mind has now been opened by these holy words.

Over the next few years, I attended other Orthodox churches in the area to understand the differences, and I was very interested in hearing the liturgy in English. My search also included the need for a priest that could guide me through the challenges of becoming an Orthodox. From my first visit to the St. Joseph Orthodox Church, I knew that I was home. There is such an acceptance within this church that is expressed from the top, by Father Joseph Huneycutt, down to the smallest child that toddles up to you with open arms.

My chrismation and my daughter’s baptism into Orthodoxy are monumental events that are surpassed by no others. My life has changed because of my faith, and I thank God for that. I continue to study Orthodoxy through the many wonderful texts written by the early Church Fathers, as well as contemporary literature by our own priests. The challenges of living a God-pleasing life do not go away, but they are so much easier to handle when I have the tools to deal with them.

This was my 40-year journey to Orthodoxy, and now I am on a journey with Orthodoxy! God-speed on your journey!

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Joel Williams

After living a Christian existence in a Protestant tradition (Church of Christ) for nearly sixty years I was received into the Orthodox Church in 2009 on the Feast of Pentecost after several years of exploring, contemplating and appropriating the great message of the Orthodox Church which I came to understand and appreciate more and more though I had never experienced any negative notions or "issues" with the part of the Protestant world in which I was raised.

While serving on the staff of a large Protestant church, I began to get a keen sense of the fractured-ness of the Protestant world, not due to any one thing that I was particularly experiencing in my church, but rather as a result of being more in tune and focused on Protestantism and all of its permutations while observing what was happening in the world of American Evangelicalism in general.  I saw through some of the Barna Group research that empirical data was indicating that Evangelicals were more and more taking a "smorgasbord" approach to defining their particular belief structure. More and more one's beliefs were becoming less and less defined doctrinally or theologically.

I observed that this attitude, in my opinion, was incubated in the spirit of American individualism and fostered by a "have it your way American ethos".  It was as if Christianity was morphing into just another of the world's great philosophies and the notion of "The Church" was evaporating.

It is very important to note that none of those perceived conditions of Christianity that I was sensing led directly to my converting to the Orthodox Church.  I am merely describing the condition of my mind and spirit as being fertile to the possibility that there might be a more concrete, steady and real church somewhere out there, and not the one conjured up as a universal, invisible church resultant from the centuries of continued splintering fostered by the Reformation.  So let me be clear, I did not leave any group or church for anything specifically negative and that is very important for me to express.  I know many people who have converted to the Orthodox Church from the Protestant world, and I have yet to hear one of them offer any regrets about their previous experience in that world.  In fact, most often there is an expression of gratitude regarding early faith development attained during those years in Protestantism.

In contrast, upon entering the Orthodox Church I am now a member of the oldest Christian Church, replete with the teachings of the scriptures, the foundation of our faith, along with guidance of the early Church Fathers with their proximity of time and geography to the apostles.  There is an authentication of this church when reading the continued and unbroken lists of bishops who serve today, tracing their predecessors back to the 12 Apostles and the millennia of "laying on of hands" in ordination.
The Holy Orthodox Church is tangible, visible and organic with its unchanging and unyielding teaching and doctrine expressed in great authority and all the while disseminated in love, love of God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the Holy Trinity.

The Orthodox Church, the church of the East, has never stood in need of reform and counter-reform unlike western Christianity.  The Orthodox Church is not perfect yet through its sacramental and liturgical life it nourishes and gently pushes its members into a greater communion with God while confidently proclaiming daily the Resurrection of our Lord, a resurrection afforded to us as we grow in faith and obedience, with the full confidence that the Church will not allow the Faith to be eroded by secular whim or expedient impulses.

Come and see, I think anyone of a sincere heart just might fall in love with the Church that Christ built and left to his followers.

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Kristina Roth-George

My boyfriend (now husband) and I were in college when he began reading about Orthodox Christianity. We had met at an evangelical student ministry group. He had attended a private non-denominational school for all of his childhood education, and his grandfather was a Nazarene pastor. But way back on his dad’s side, he had Syrian roots and a handful of relatives who were still Orthodox. I had never even heard of the Orthodox church and assumed it was the same thing as Roman Catholicism. He had seen the doctrine and worship style of his childhood evangelical church change with each new pastor it had, and the quick succession of these big changes disturbed his analytical mind.

Truly, my first response to his newfound interest was great aversion. My family had left the Roman church when I was in junior high in order to join a Bible church. I had come to view anything involving sacraments, incense, holy water, and infant baptism with great suspicion. Yet despite all of the Bible studies, group prayer meetings, and Scripture memorization (all very good things), I never felt as though I was growing spiritually in the way that I wanted to. I struggled with spiritual doubts but never felt as though the campus ministry leaders and student mentors could provide any answers, comfort, or tools. I began reading a few books about Orthodoxy even as my boyfriend and I continued to disagree about the topics. (Our parents were concerned about this new interest as well and voiced their opposition, although thankfully over the years as they have learned more about Orthodoxy, much of their dislike has turned to respect.)

After college, we began visiting a parish much like St. Joseph in Northern California. It was just to observe and to learn more, we told ourselves. We wanted to see in person what we had been reading about in books. I stood uncomfortably near the back, just watching, for most of that year. But the people were wonderful and didn’t make me feel uncomfortable at all, and soon the sheer beauty and reverence of Divine Liturgy began to win me over. I began to keep a small daily prayer rule. I even bought a few icons. I clung to the Jesus Prayer and the peace it brought me. Finally, we attended our first Holy Thursday service, the Passion Gospels, during Holy Week. The church was packed. That amazing service was what finally pushed me into making Orthodox gestures, crossing myself, venerating icons, being comfortable with Orthodox services on a deeper level.

As I continued to read, I began to understand the beauty of the sacraments. They were a place where God Himself – Christ Himself – could meet me. The grace of the sacraments wasn’t about how much I studied and memorized the Bible, how well I evangelized others, or how hard I tried to grow. I was still accountable for my own spiritual involvement, but the sacraments offered such simplicity and power that I could not resist them. Sinner that I am, there have been occasions after receiving the Eucharist that I return to my seat and to my mundane thoughts and then, out of nowhere, inexplicably feel a sense of great joy or even laughter welling up inside of my throat. This always surprises me, as I tend to be on the serious side. I have also come to rely on the grace of confession and like many, over time I just know when it’s time to go again without even looking at the calendar. I have fallen in love with the visual beauty of Orthodoxy and the icons that cover a church’s walls. They were strange at first but now when I visit a non-Orthodox church for a wedding or funeral, the building does not seem at all like a church without the icons and candles. We are overly cautious people, so it took us three years to finally be baptized and chrismated. It hasn’t always been easy; we’ve moved often and have experienced a variety of parishes, from tiny missions to parishes that hold the Divine Liturgy mostly in Greek to the beauty and warmth of a place like St. Joseph. But we are so thankful to have found the Orthodox Church and the truth and grace it gives us. The beauty of the timeless services, the stability of the doctrine, and the focus on Christ are irresistible.

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Anonymous

Being raised by my father, he tried to make sure that my sister and I were around good and faithful people, especially women since my mother gave up custody when we were young.  But I chose a path totally opposite of what he set up and became a single mother at the age of 18.  And I had no idea how I was supposed to care for this soul but still knew that God could make this right.  And I met a man, we married, and divorced.  But before the completion of our relationship, he brought Orthodoxy into our lives.  I could hear, see, smell, and taste the Love of Christ and knew I was home!  The small Greek church accepted my child and I with open arms and showed us how to live in humility and with dignity.  The church family took the time to explain and brought us to see the beauty in our new home and the priest was part of this community-what a blessing!  I had not seen this done with such ease in a community.  The fullness of the faith surrounded my small family and I could not deny this is where Christ is and has always been.

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Anonymous

I was raised in what some would call a "nominally Catholic" house. We stopped going to church after my twin brother and I were Confirmed. Practically speaking, my brothers and I grew into our teenage years as atheists, though the significance of the question "Does God exist?" came to me earlier than the rest. I spent most of my youth as an ardent atheist, criticizing and belittling the Christians for their hypocrisy and silly superstitions.

Some time near my twenties, I was invited to a Baptist church camp by a good friend; for lack of better to do, I went. It was there I met not only my future wife, but came to experience the reality of God's presence for the first noticeable time. I recall an immense sense of relief and freedom, and, though my heart had been cold to others for years, I became zealous to love others and give them that same experience.

A year or two went by, and, being an intellectual and bookish person by nature, I found myself discontent in studying the theologies of the various Protestant denominations, and even the foundation of Protestantism itself! For many of the same reasons, I knew I could not accept Catholicism. I was terrified about how I was to continue pursuing this Person I had come to know, until a friend of my wife -- a "cradle" Orthodox -- suggested I go to an Orthodox church.

Fortunately, while home from University, I found there was a church very near to where I lived -- none other than St. Joseph of Houston! I entered an Orthodox church for the first time, witnessed the Liturgy, and near the end I remember weeping while saying to myself: "I'm home. At long last, I'm home." And I haven't left since.

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