The Larson Family’s Faith Journey

The Larson Family’s Faith Journey

The Larson Family’s Faith Journey.

“As believers we should do our best to meet together, to assemble in worship, instead of pulling away from each other as some continue to do. In fact, we should come together even more frequently, eager to encourage each other, urging us onward as we anticipate that Day dawning.”  (Hebrews 10:25).

Sheri was raised in the Baptist church, while Steve was raised in the Evangelical Free Church. Neither tradition is particularly sacramental or liturgical. Neither of the churches were multi-racial, unfortunately. The reason for that is mostly style of worship and breadth of friendships, as opposed to overt racism. My Swedish Free Church wasn’t anti-black as much as pro-Swedish. They were pretty much biased against anyone that wasn’t Scandinavian. Neither of us were strongly tied to our churches as adults, and so were open to a variety of worship experiences and church traditions as we began our life together.

When we married, we were “experienced” Christians, in the sense of being born and raised in a church and a willing participant in a number of youth groups growing up. Then we went to an evangelical Christian college. So we had both been exposed to a million sermons and a million hymns. Interestingly enough, it was an unofficial street church in Detroit that impacted us the most soon after we were married. This group of believers was loosely called “the fellowships,” and consisted of professionals, blue collar workers, and Jesus freaks. It undoubtedly got its start during the Jesus movement earlier. This informal group that held meetings all around the Detroit metro area provided a perspective of the Christian walk from which we have never strayed to this day: the centrality of the Scriptures, especially the gospels; the importance of a spiritually gifted teacher of the Word; the experience of Christ-centered worship; the importance of consistent Bible study; the joy of meaningful relationships in the Lord. During our almost three years in the Detroit area, we attended the fellowships each Sunday morning and a Bible study or two during the week. We were mesmerized by the wonderful teachings of Mr. Haskell Stone, a converted Jewish man who was truly gifted by the Holy Spirit to open up Scripture in a way we surprisingly hadn’t heard before in our experience. We were thus provided an outstanding biblical perspective by someone who didn’t even go to seminary. He had an MA degree in philosophy from Columbia. We will always be indebted to Haskell and the other teachers there for setting the standard to learning the Word. Sheri and I at that time embarked together in the adventure of following Jesus, and have continued in that light ever since, with nary a waver.

While participating in the fellowships, there was a sister church in Detroit inner city called Messiah Lutheran Church. The pastor, Rev. Dick Bieber, had a huge influence on us during that time and thereafter. He led a classic and effective city ministry to the homeless, the destitute, the hungry, and anyone who was in need. Dick was an outstanding preacher and always demanded a practical outworking of the gospel to those in need. He wrote at least a hundred tracts for his street ministry, and he always wrote out his sermons. We continue to read his tracts and sermons to this day.

After moving from Detroit to Indiana and then California, we roamed from one church to another, searching for a teacher like Haskell, a preacher like Dick, a ministry like Messiah Lutheran’s. During this time the liturgical tradition started to get our attention. Also, the importance of the sacraments became a focus. So for the next 25 years or so, we were attracted to Bible-believing Episcopal churches: Christ Church Episcopal of Wenham, Mass.; St. Paul’s Episcopal in Newburyport, Mass; All Saints Episcopal in West Newbury, Mass.; Church of the Resurrection in Dallas; Falls Church Episcopal in Falls Church, VA; Truro Episcopal in Fairfax, Va. In all these churches we loved using the Book of Common Prayer, and our use of it spilled into the home as well. We loved a more formal worship liturgy, and we appreciated the meaning and importance of the traditional sacraments. We embraced the braiding of Scripture, sacraments and the Holy Spirit in our church life. It was very important for us to have the Eucharist every Sunday. It was critical that our children be baptized as infants. We loved to celebrate the church year with all its special days and ways to worship through that. We embraced the candlelight, the bells, the incense, the choirs, and the more multi-sensory it all was, the better, as far as we were concerned. We also were enthused by the gifts of the Spirit. When the Episcopal denomination decided to endorse gay marriage, gay priests, and the pro-abortion stance, we decided to remain in the Anglican churches that developed during that time of splintering. We wanted to be involved in the more mainstream, evangelical biblical tradition while remaining liturgical and sacramental.

So as we rode the gospel train, one rail was sacramental and liturgical. The other rail was also crucial to our Christian walk and our growth in the Faith. It centered in our study and appreciation for the Jewish roots of our faith. We began to see that in many ways Christianity was a Jewish religion. We thought a lot about the Jewishness of Jesus, and we felt like we were understanding the gospels for the first time as we considered His life and work in the context of His Jewish faith. The roots of the Christian tree were found in the firm ground of the biblical Hebrew faith and history, the Old Testament as well as the New. This focus helped turn our Christian home into a domestic church. We incorporated many of the biblical experiences into teaching the faith in our home life: house blessings; the Passover seder; making a sukkah; experiencing Tashlich; celebrating the sabbath liturgy around the table. We believed that this form of discipleship was biblical and was an important part of how we raised our children in the faith. I have gone into detail on this in my blog posts “Homespun Truths” and “Family Survey 2018.” We tried not to be legalistic about these things, which would have defeated the purpose. We simply didn’t want to depend on Sunday School and youth groups to teach the faith to our kids. We never regretted that decision.

When we finally moved to Durham, NC, we weren’t sure what to do about churches. Our children were mostly grown, so it wasn’t that important to consider their wishes at this point. We settled on Blacknall Presbyterian Chruch for a while because we had so many friendships there. Sheri and I jumped into church involvement right away, teaching adult classes about parenting, icons, Jewish celebrations. and Christian education. We did miss the weekly communion service and a more liturgical service, but we liked the pastor Allan Poole, as well as the wonderful people there. We did go to All Saints Anglican Church in Durham for a season so we could receive communion and worship with the Book of Common Prayer.

When we moved to Roxboro, we attended St. Mark’s Episcopal till it imploded through church discord. At this time we felt the Lord moving us to an entirely different type of church. There was an outstanding African-American church in Roxboro called Shady Hill Missionary Baptist Church. We started attending and loved it right away. We were warmly welcomed by all the members of the church, and the pastoral staff even made us “honorary members” with a formal certificate and everything.  Sheri and I would often offer prayers during the services when asked, and we enjoyed participating, especially in their prayer life. We were even asked to give some prayers up front during their 150th Anniversary service, which was a real honor and a tremendous pleasure. We didn’t want to enter the church to change anything about the church. We simply wanted to learn from their perspective as to how to engage in intentional racial reconciliation. We wanted to engage in the church’s culture, and develop deep and meaningful relationships. All those goals were met. Tragically, many of the congregation died during the pandemic, and the church is having a difficult time rebounding from the covid shut downs. We miss the church and our friends there a great deal.

As a married couple we have gone to many, many churches. Some had great music, others did not. Some had great preaching, others did not. Rather than judge a church’s effectiveness right away, we instead wanted to learn by participating, by getting involved and offering ourselves in the life of the church. We would like to read the Word during the service, teach adult classes, participate on the prayer team and healing team, lead Bible studies, and Sheri did an outstanding job in one church by writing pithy and memorable introductions to each Scripture passage that was read during the service.

We yearned for each of our children to choose Jesus. We wanted them each to diligently seek out for themselves as adults the faith community that reaches them most profoundly. So throughout our church experiences we wanted to reveal the benefits and virtues of each church denomination or community. We developed great friendships with charismatics, fundamentalists, Pentecostals, evangelicals, Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox believers, and every protestant group one can think of. Our earnest prayer is that Christ’s splintered Body would one day heal and join together as we embrace the centrality of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Thanks be to God. *

* This has been our journey as of August of 2022 *