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Banjo Sunday
January 01, 2021

- Jean Hoefling -




It was another “banjo Sunday” at church. The worship team, perky in cowboy garb and with bright bandanas around their necks, led the songs and hymns with fun country music embellishments. Nothing wrong with that in itself; country is cool. But I was near tears, at the end of my proverbial rope, unwilling any longer to call “worship” the ever-morphing show before me every Sunday morning. I felt ashamed, ungrateful at the stirrings of discontent in me, and kept my growing agony to myself. But agony it was. 

But why weep when everyone I knew in that stable Midwest community was loving, generous, and accepting? Talented and sincere, the worship team wanted only to bring a joyful, genuine experience of worship to the congregation in a culturally relevant way. The church had generously sponsored my husband and me on the European mission field for close to twenty years. My in-laws, bastions of self-sacrifice and enthusiastic church involvement, were practically saints in my estimation, and many of the members of our “adult community” (the hip new term for Sunday school), had become close friends since we returned from France in the mid-nineties. They still are.

What then? Why was I so unhappy? It was a spiritual crisis I could not ignore, as much as I tried at first. Someone gave me Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail by Robert Webber, a defense of liturgical Christian traditions, and as I read, I started to find words to go with the longings within me that I hardly understood. One Sunday a month I dropped the family off at church and scurried across the state border to worship by myself in a small Episcopalian parish and afterwards pick the brain of that community’s patient, godly pastor. If Job had had an identical twin, Fr. Bill would be him. After at least a year of living between two worlds and whining quite a lot to my long-suffering husband, I knew I would not stay in the evangelical tradition. I was starving to death of hunger for transcendence; for history that dated to well before Martin Luther; for awe and reverence in worship; and for a stable theological and dogmatic framework that wouldn’t change with every guy on the church’s teaching circuit who claimed God had “given him” whatever view (think eschatology; Holy Spirit; interpretation of Scripture) he embraced. I was tired of a schizophrenic faith. 

Did such a faith setting as I tentatively groped for even exist? I couldn’t embrace Roman Catholicism for several reasons. Even the Episcopal service, with all its dignity, didn’t feel right. And that denomination was in the throes of embracing doctrinal and theological changes that I couldn’t accept. I felt backed into a corner with no way out.

 When our family moved to Colorado I joined a homeschool cooperative in which some of the parents were members in a local Orthodox parish. They seemed clothed and in their right minds, so at the invitation of one couple I attended the prayers of the ninth hour one night and fell in love at first sight, sound, and intuition. I couldn’t get enough of the icons, that saintly “cloud of witnesses” that graced the sanctuary walls. I gobbled up the reverence and beauty of the Divine Liturgy, brimming with Scripture, symbolism, and a timeless elevation of Eucharist before everything else. I drew near to Christ in a way I’d never experienced and discovered “tools” for spiritual growth that I didn’t have to make up myself. I studied with wonder the solid historical foundations of this physical, historical Church of Christ on earth, with its martyrs, saints, Church Fathers, and solid teachings that weren’t changing with cultural pressures. And I reveled in the “white space” that is inherent in Orthodox tradition and practice: God, life, and sacrament are mysteries. I was happy to let them be so.

“Scarcely had I left them when I found him whom my soul loves” (Song of Solomon 3:4). When a heart is seeking truth and breaks free, God moves. I will never stop pinching myself that he led me to the True Faith.

 



Jean Hoefling is a copyeditor, sometimes blogger, and the author of four books, one of which won the 2019 Readers’ Favorite bronze medal for Christian Fantasy. Another,...[more]
“An Orthodox community where people find transformation in Jesus Christ.”

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Jean Hoefling is a copyeditor, sometimes blogger, and the author of four books, one of which won the 2019 Readers’ Favorite bronze medal for Christian Fantasy. Another, Journey to God (Regina Orthodox Press, 2009) details her experiences on pilgrimage. She has been Orthodox since 2001 and sometimes wears a bright bandana to church.