Holy Comforter Orthodox Church was a local church in Houston, Texas led by Archbishop +Walter B. Conway. I met +Walter through a co-worker, Larry, who invited me to his ordination ceremony. +Walter had a wonderful personality and I instantly liked him. I particularly remember that he would walk up to someone and say, “tell me something spiritual”. That generally made me think a moment!
+Walter’s church was a small building that had formerly been a convenience store. Before I met him, the roof had leaked badly, doing a lot of damage. By the time we met him, +Walter had already restored the building itself, but the small electronic organ no longer worked. Kathryn, my wife, cleaned the workings of the organ and restored it to playing order. She became our organist. We had such fun each Sunday gathering there to pray and sing.
Along with fellowship came a growing understanding of the mindset of some early church Fathers. Ideas such as theosis, humility, compassion, and service connected with me deeply at a time when I was ready to learn. The challenge to live a life of self-awareness and humility was moving to me.
The humble lay aside all vanity and conceit in the service of the least of God’s creatures, and to consider no good act as beneath one’s dignity and honor. [oca.org]
A time of change
Both +Walter and Larry went to be with the Lord in 1993. I continued the church under the omophorion of the bishop in Tennessee who had been +Walter’s chief consecrator. We were not connected to a major, widely recognized Orthodox jurisdiction. And, our local group was very tiny. Most of our (already small) congregation had known +Walter through his law practice and left when that ended. Not long after October 1996, when I attended a synodal gathering in Tennessee, my employer gave me a new assignment that would include years of overseas travel. For purely practical reasons, we stopped operating our little church.
I had done some church-related desktop publishing for +Walter, including preparing his Liturgy texts in computer form. It didn’t seem right to discard or shelve in a box the liturgy materials we prepared. I put them in my small library of Western Rite Liturgy texts, along with some other Western Rite texts, such as a version of the Gregorian Rite.
My simple view of religion
The proper purpose of religion is to teach me how to live, not to teach me how everyone else should live. Or, as a sermon by Rev. Mark Schaefer says it:
Christianity is not a religion that tells us what to do. It is a religion that tells us who to be. And we are called to be Christ in the world. Ours is a faith that would have us collectively be the body of Christ and as individuals be Christ to the world.
Being Christ to the world can mean, for example, living lives of service and compassion, pursuing a life-long struggle to improve and grow in our walk with God.
Sometimes it surprises people that I do not try to “convert” them, as if that would work anyway. While I am always happy to share something of my path when asked, I have no desire to force anyone to follow my path. I were to remove the freedom of choice from others, I would deny them an essential part of their personhood. It would mean nothing.
I believe hopeful, positive creativity is affirming of life and to be encouraged. Destructiveness and negativity are the opposite and to be avoided. People do often find me trying to encourage others to enjoy doing something creative and joyful. I feel that, when we create something positive, we give honor and worship to the God who created us.