Treasures Found Off the Beaten Path

You never know what treasures you will find when you get off the interstate and roam down country roads.

When my husband and I first moved to Michigan three years ago we found a beautiful old church in the small town of Muir. Passing through the town on the main road you would never see the church. But by turning off the main drag we found a church with historical value as well as beauty.

Getting Off the Beaten Path https://wp.me/p5cw98-10X

Recently we found another interesting church in the small town of Woodbury. Again, the church would never be spotted from the main highway but we discovered it when we turned off the main road into the town itself. It’s a small town with little to offer but this unique church caught our eye.

The sign outside said it was the St Herman Orthodox Christian Church.

Not being that familiar with the Orthodox faith we had never heard of a St Herman so we were intrigued.

When we drove by the church was not open but we checked their website and found that they had services on Monday. We drove back to Woodbury and the priest and his wife were so gracious to allow us to see the church and to share the history of both the building and the Orthodox faith.

The church building is over 100 years old and was originally built by the United Brethren. In 2006 the Orthodox church family purchased the building and began converting it into their own facility. In the Orthodox faith there is a great emphasis on icons of Christ and the saints. This church was beautiful inside with the “great crowd of witnesses” they had there. The priest’s wife was the artist and she spent over ten years paintings these colorful icons. I would have liked to have taken more pictures but out of respect for their tradition did not get too many.

On learning our names, they pointed out Saint Barbara and Saint Paul that were part of the saints at the front of the church. It was interesting to me that there were no pews in the sanctuary but they explained they stand for their services.

We also learned a little more about St Herman and found that there are several Orthodox churches in the USA that are named after him.

Born into a merchant family in the diocese of Moscow, St. Herman became a monk when he was still a teenager. When Russian explorers began looking toward Alaska St Herman was part of a group of ten men that came to evangelize the area. After five years the head of the mission with several of his group were drowned. Slowly others began to leave until St Herman alone remained. He loved the children, baking them cookies and nursing those who were sick. He started a school for orphans and took the side of the natives against the Russian fur traders who were exploiting them.

After his death in 1837 he was buried in the Resurrection Church on Kodiak. In 1970 the Orthodox church canonized Herman “as a sublime example of the Holy Life, for our spiritual benefit, inspiration, comfort, and the confirmation of our Faith.”[ He is considered by the Orthodox church to be the patron saint of Alaska.

The priest and his wife were very hospitable even inviting us to share their noon meal. They also invited us to join them for one of their services. I’m not sure I would be up to it as they stand for the service and their brochure says their services are long (as much as two hours). I would never be able to stand that long on these arthritic legs. Still, it would be interesting and I have always loved learning more about other Christian beliefs.

Life is much more interesting when you get off the interstate and explore!

Church – Simple and Fun?

Recently I saw a church sign that invited people to come because their church was “simple and fun.”

That sounded great! Who would not want to go to a church that was “fun” and keeping things “simple” in the chaotic times we have been experiencing sounds like a good idea.

But is it? Is that the purpose of the church – to keep things fun and simple?

I grew up in a very legalistic church. The furthest thought then was for church to be fun. Often I joke when I wondered if some activity would be sin I just had to ask myself, “Would I have fun doing it?” If the answer was “yes” then clearly it would be sin.

Of course I am exaggerating a bit, but church was never simple. There were many man-made rules to follow. Those of us who questioned were considered in danger of losing our salvation.

So, believe me – I never want to go to a church that is not fun or that makes the message of the love of Jesus Christ complicated.

But seeing this sign that seemed to be attempting to appeal to people as a place that would be fun and simple, I could not help but wonder if we are moving too far away. Have we thrown the baby out with the bath water?

It seems churches, like political parties, social norms and fashion all move like a pendulum.

Webster defines pendulum as:

a body suspended from a fixed point so as to swing freely to and fro under the action of gravity and commonly used to regulate movements (as of clockwork); something (such as a state of affairs) that alternates between opposites.

As I have watched my church it seems like it started swinging away from the legalism that was so wrong toward a practice and teaching that was based more on the Word of God rather than man-made laws. That is good.

I cannot help but wonder if the pendulum is swinging too far in the opposite direction. In the desire to free us from the rules of man and to make the gospel of Jesus Christ appealing to others, are we moving too far once again from the Word of God – in a different direction – but still away?

On the one hand, the message of salvation through Christ is simple. Acts 16:31 sums it up very simply.

Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved.

However, any reading of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount would tell us that following Jesus Christ is anything but simple. Jesus called his followers to a much higher standard than any they had heard before. To be a true believer requires much more than a simple “I believe.” It calls for a change of heart. That is not easy or simple. On the one hand following Jesus can be fun. There is no greater joy than having a heart filled with God’s joy.

However, again I do not think the death of Jesus was meant for me to have fun. Listen to His words:

Matthew 16:24 – Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

Luke 14:28-30 – Don’t begin until you count the cost. For who would begin construction of a building without first calculating the cost to see if there is enough money to finish it? Otherwise, you might complete only the foundation before running out of money, and then everyone would laugh at you.  They would say, ‘There’s the person who started that building and couldn’t afford to finish it!’

Perhaps I am being too hard on this church sign, reading more into it than was meant. Still, I wonder – are we swinging too far away – are we more interested in what is “new” forgetting that while much of what was “old” should be discarded, there was much there of great value.