WASHINGTON OF MY HEART
JOURNEY TO ORTHODOXY
The Kemper Family Journey
Don, Jacque and Ron’s beginnings into Orthodox Christianity started 38 years ago when we first discovered Christ…
by Don & Jacque Kemper
We were living in Reno, Nevada and through our neighbors we began going to an Evangelical Free Church. It was a great Bible teaching church, very small but with 5 gifted Bible teachers, one had worked on the Dead Sea Scrolls before his retirement.
After leaving Reno for Kennewick, Washington we attended the Christian Reformed Church. Again a very conservative Bible teaching church, with a pastor who was very involved in Campus Crusade ministries and especially a prison ministry. For most of our 27 years in Kennewick our home (which was close to our church) became an auxiliary Sunday school room and a Wednesday evening bible study.
Don was actively involved in the church as an elder and a Sunday school teacher. My interest was in Bible Study Fellowship, a non-denominational 7 year Bible study that has over 900 classes world-wide. In BSF I had various roles and several years later Don helped start a men’s BSF class, where he was a Teaching Leader for 17 years. This was a ministry he loved and regretfully left when we moved from Kennewick to Colorado to be near family.
Besides our church involvement we helped a local Young Life program get started in Kennewick. Added to this involvement Jacque was invited to speak at various women’s retreats and was surprised to find out that instead of being a nervous wreck, that it was very satisfying and lots of fun.
Ron in the meantime graduated from our local community college and before going on to Washington State University to study nursing, he decided to take a year off and attended Ecola Bible college at Cannon Beach Oregon. This was an incredible experience and he was able to study and learn from some great teachers. After graduating from the Inter-collegiate School of Nursing at Washington State, Ron had lots of experience in Home Health, Hospice, and as an Oncology nurse. He took a brief respite from nursing and studied a second love of his, computers. But he decided his heart was in nursing and he now works at Sky Ridge Hospital in Lonetree, Colorado.
After Don retired we moved near to Glenwood Springs, Colorado. While there our introduction to Orthodox Christianity began with a visit from our youngest son Chris, who is part of an Orthodox Church in Post Falls, Idaho. We have to admit, when he first visited us 6 years ago we were intrigued by what he shared about Orthodoxy, but with our protestant outlook we found it all very strange and confusing. We wrote off his involvement as something for him but definitely not for us. Crossing yourself, candles, icons and incense were way beyond our grasp.
After some harrowing trips over the mountains to visit our daughter Rebecca and family, we decided we wanted to live closer to them, and moved to the Denver area. We were surprised and amazed to discover that she was also involved in the Orthodox Church.
In order to understand the reasons for Chris and Rebecca’s transformed lives we began reading the reams of material that they gave us on Orthodoxy and asked to go with her to church. She kindly took us to Saturday evening vespers, knowing that this was a less overwhelming introduction to a church that was so different than anything we had ever experienced. A church where the able-bodied stood for a 2-3 hour liturgy, where there was chanting, incense and icons everywhere. Fortunately what she had given us to read, her own personal experiences and observations really paved the way for our entering into a new way of worshipping.
One of Don’s greatest hungers was to find a church where worship of Christ our Lord was primary. Over the years we all had become dismayed how even the more conservative denominations were becoming more worldly and seemed to be focused more on the congregation and its needs rather than worship of the Lord.
The evening the three of us walked that into that Orthodox Church in Colorado Springs we were overwhelmed by the whole experience; the liturgy and the attitude of worship convinced us that we had come home. We are awed by the fact that we have been so blessed by God to be led to this church, where we are experiencing what our hearts have for so many years been yearning. On the eve of Pentecost, 2007, we we received into the Orthodox Church, and our journey that started 38 years ago in Reno took on a whole new and wondrous beginning. Our only regret it that it took so many years in coming.
The emphasis of my testimony is slightly different then that of my parents in the aspect that I was raised in a non-Christian home for the first thirteen years of my life. My mother became a Christian and soon afterwards in February 1969, my mother showed me a Campus Crusade Four Law book to me and I prayed the prayer in it, to receive Jesus as my lord. Shortly afterwards also our family began to attend the Evangelical Free Church in Reno, and later the Christian Reformed Church in Washington state, when we moved there in 1973.
I guess my experience with Protestantism is similar to that of many other Protestant Christians in the aspect that the emphasis was in praying the salvation prayer, and then try to live the Spirit filled life by being obedient to God’s word in the Bible. I knew we were supposed to worship the Lord, pray to Him, study His word, and somehow be obedient to Him; but there seemed to be no systematic way in doing these tasks. In my Protestant life worship ended up being a secondary activity, occurring only on Sunday morning services—usually consisting of reading the Ten Commandments, or of the Golden Rule, singing five or six hymns, praying four or five times (one usually silently for about twenty seconds to privately confess ones sins).
After about ten years in the faith, I heard a pastor mention that we should have five minutes a day for a quiet time of devotion in the Bible, so I added that too—to my life. I would drop my Bible, read whatever it fell open to and then pray a simple short prayer—‘Lord get me through this day without any close calls or flat tires’ (I had a pre-occupation with my driving in high school and college!). However apart from the time I spent attending church, and with my time in the word… I spent little time thinking of God… assigning my time with Him to a brief moment in the mornings, and an hour and a half on Sundays.
I went on with my life—in 1978 I attended nursing school, graduated in 1980 and began work on a poorly-staffed cardiac floor in Phoenix, Arizona. I got so depressed with the poor working conditions, and despaired over my lonely single existence that I took a year off to attend a small Bible college in Cannon Beach, Oregon. After rededicating my life there, I then had considered Christian ministry such as one on a Christian-run hospital ship. That opportunity fell through, but shortly afterwards, I then found a rewarding job as a cancer nurse in a large hospital in Tacoma, Washington; and considered that as a form of service to God.
Not finding any church completely satisfactory in fellowship, worship, or in Christian service—I began attending Bible Study Fellowship, a non-denominational Protestant Bible study, on a regular basis.
Eventually I was baptized in a relatively minor (and private) ceremony, in a mainline Protestant church where I was trying to find worship that made sense. What I ended up finding instead was the same old problem of token attention to worship, a ‘what’s in it for me attitude’ present in the church I went to—and more disturbingly I found that also to be in my own thinking. In the churches I attended, I also felt that no one seemed to care concerning my own personal walk with the Lord, or with where I stood with the Lord… there was no accountability to the Lord, to anyone.
After many years of emptiness, frustration and personal apathy over my walk with the Lord… my sister Rebecca suggested that I try the Orthodox Church in Colorado Springs where she was attending. I first went on a Wednesday evening to Vespers with some slight apprehension as a Protestant, not knowing what to expect.
But the very moment I walked into the building, I saw the iconography, smelled the incense, heard the gentle voice of the choir and saw the Priest, Father Anthony facing east. It became apparent that all of the attention was in worshiping the Lord God almighty.
It immediately became apparent to me that I was with the saints in heaven as much as with fellow believers in worship. Such wholeness, in worship I never had ever experienced in my life as a believer—this is the Church, the body of Christ. And refreshingly absent was the ‘me’ attitude, substituted instead by humility in worship.
Being an Orthodox Christian is being whole. I see the way we pray in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit—acknowledges the whole Trinity.
The way we venerate icons I see includes the whole body of Christ, including the saints who have run the good race before us. Now gone from my thinking is the agnostic way of neglecting the whole God-head in prayer. Gone also is my unbelieving ignorance of my spiritual forefathers and mothers—they are not dead but alive in Christ, able to hear, see in the present.
Being whole also includes the confession of sin, being accountable to Christ, with the help/guidance of His priest—this now allows me to turnover the full burden of my life all to Jesus—rather than trying to self diagnose myself during a token quiet time. Bible study, prayer and fasting in the Orthodox faith also is becoming apparent to me as being a 24/7process that doesn’t occur just on Sunday’s, or during a weekly Bible study—but as a daily, hourly, moment-by-moment process.
I still have so very much to learn concerning Orthodoxy. It is not an easy way to go. But as I see it, it is the only way to experience the fullness of walking with Christ.