Congregation Will Follow Pastor's Lead in Converting
Source: Knight Ridder Newspapers - Date: Unknown
HILLSBORO, Kan. Marilyn Ratzalaff along with her church, has embarked
on a difficult spiritual journey, She and 30 other members of the Hillsboro
nondenominational congregation are converting to Eastern Orthodoxy.
"For me, it's been very challenging," said Ratzlaff, who grew up as a
Mennonite. "It's just opened up a whole new world of 'what Christianity is all about."
On Sept. 5, Ratzlaff and the other members of the church in the
predominantly Mennonite community began their journey as catechumens, or formal learners.
The congregation will probably be received into the church as full members sometime in the
spring, a church official said.
Last month, the congregation learned that church officials had
approved a new name, Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church. It was chosen partly because
the biblical story of Jesus' transfiguration happened , on Mount Tabor, and Tabor College
is in Hillsboro.
Although the Orthodox faith was brought to this country mostly -by
Eastern European and Middle Eastern immigrants, it is being embraced more and more by
Westerners, Orthodox officials say.
Rev. Peter Gillquist, director of missions and evangelism for the
Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese of America, is a former evangelical who became Orthodox
in 1987. Since then, Gillquist said, 75 churches have joined the archdiocese. Most
converted from other Christian denominations.
"Constantly I'm getting calls from clergy that just feel drawn back
toward the original church," Gillquist said.
Converting to Orthodoxy means learning about a faith foreign to most
Protestants. Doctrinal differences include the role of the saints and the honor Orthodox
Christians believe is due Mary, the mother of Jesus.
Worship differences abound, including having an iconostas, or
icon screen, in the pulpit area, which separates the altar, the holiest area in an
Orthodox sanctuary, from the rest of the church. Icons, or sacred artwork, also line
Incense is used in Orthodox worship as a symbol of Prayers rising to
God. - Congregations stand for most of the service as a sign of respect for God. At the
end of some services, members kiss icons of Jesus, Mary and the Trinity as acts of,
Rev. John Baize, who graduated from a Mennonite Brethren seminary in
California, became pastor of the Hillsboro congregation two years ago. He says the focus
at the seminary was on how the first Mennonite Brethren adherents had tried to recapture
the lifestyle- of the early Christians.
But as he served various churches, Baize said, each ones mission didn't
seem to reflect what he had learned. Baize believed the church he hungered for would exist
only in heaven-. His perspective changed when he read a book about Orthodoxy.
"It was a very troubling book to me because it talked about spiritual
truths that I had not been exposed to," he said. Eventually, he and his wife decided to
teach the Hillsboro congregation about the Orthodox church. And church members began to
rethink their faith.
Don Ratzlaff, a photographer, said that once he and his wife concluded
the Orthodox Church had existed unchanged since the 1st Century, they felt compelled to
"If this is the way the church is and was," he said, "even though it's
not comfortable to me, I don't have a choice"