First Assembly of God, Bemidji…


Driving through Bemidji this morning and I wanted to stop here. In college days this was one of the churches many, including myself, attended. We were earnest seekers of God like we were earnest seekers of knowledge and degrees in those days and this was one of the “live” churches in town that also had transportation from campus so those of us, most of us, who were carless had somewhere to go on Sunday mornings (A lesson there for people wanting to reach out to people on campus).

It was led by Pastor Ed Korthals, a middle aged and godly man, who, as I remember, had a good heart and truly loved God. Like many Assembly of God parishes the worship was casual and fervently emotional. The sermons were topical and always drawn from a biblical text. The people were friendly and welcoming (Another lesson there for people seeking to minister to college students) the music was upbeat and sometimes interesting. I do remember people bringing their own instruments, including a kazoo, to church.

Alas, I was probably not the best Pentecostal. I was seeking God and I learned much there but I was not good with all the emotional stimuli. There were times when I felt lost in a sea of people singing in tongues and wondering if I was missing something because I was not with them. I enjoyed the emotional power of people who truly were seeking to love and worship God but I needed a quiet place to do that and that may or not have been the case depending on the Sunday. Yet still I came and this church, because of the love they shared, became a home away from home for me and deeply instructive as I applied for seminary in my senior year.

Little did I know, of course, in those days how far I would have to travel and through how many changes I would need to make before arriving where I am. Over thirty years later and the spiritual journey of a lifetime I found myself, this morning, standing on the lawn of this church and asking God’s blessing on them in thanks for how they helped me along the way at a crucial point in my journey.

If Pastor Korthals is still alive I’m not sure what he would say about the path that I’ve traveled. I hope he would understand that the same earnest young man who came to him with questions and was searching for God has kept on the path, although in a way we both probably couldn’t have imagined. And I hope that he and the good people at First Assembly of God, Bemidji, would know that I was, and am, grateful for the gifts they shared with me along the way. Wherever I have traveled being with them was an essential part of the journey.

You see, some people do look down on what they consider the excesses of the Pentecostal experience and faith. Too emotional, they would say. Too susceptible to “fads” cloaking themselves as moves of the Spirit. Sometimes just plain too noisy. Some or all of that may have some substance from time to time but there are things they taught me that have graced all my life and flowed easily as I traveled towards Orthodoxy and are even, dare I say, worth our consideration.

First, it’s okay to love God, to really love God, even with your emotions. Your emotions are part of who you are and yes, they can be unstable sometimes but they can also be used of God and I don’t think it would hurt us as Orthodox if we loved God not just as a formality but also with a sense of feeling.

Second, we need the power and presence of the Holy Spirit in our own lives and the life of the Church.  So often we plan the life of our parishes like a business and forget we are a movement whose goals and methods need to be filled with the reality that the Holy Spirit can accomplish what a purely and perpetually practical outlook would never imagine. We see this, of course, in the lives of our Saints but for the most part I wonder if we’ve forgotten that what we see in the Saints is also for us here and now if we would open our hearts and lives to it. Sometimes we may think the Pentecostals go overboard on this but even if that’s true it doesn’t mean we should throw the baby out with the bath water. Some times we have so little but the reason for that is because our hearts and lives and resources are closed off to the possibility that the Holy Spirit is waiting to do something amazing through us.

Finally, there is a burden for the lost. Yes, First Assembly of God had a lady who would come with a kazoo sometimes but she was welcome and you could have probably come into that church dirty and smelling like booze and still found a place because the people had a heart for those outside their walls who needed to know Jesus. We Orthodox were like that in the very beginning and there have been some noticeable times and places in our history when this was the case but we could do so much better. There’s a reason there’s an Assembly of God in every reasonably sized town, and a few tiny ones, in the United States. The people believe they need to reach out to people for the sake of Jesus and they’re willing to put the time, energy, and resources into the project. If we who claim to have seen the True Light and found the True Faith actually believe this should we not at least try to share this gift? In fact, aren’t we actually commanded by Jesus to do so? We could learn a thing or two, I think, from the Pentecostals in this regard.

Looking back it’s amazing how far God has taken me in the years that followed those days at First Assembly of God. To the causal observer, I suppose, it would seem like I’m a world away. Yet, I’m grateful for that time and that parish and what God was preparing for me through them.  Of course much has changed but there was a fire there that the people sought and tried to keep alive, a fire that was Orthodox in it’s source and longing even if it was sometimes distant in it’s application and that fire has remained. It compelled me to go on from that place but, having been molded and shaped in a more ancient way, still burns inside and for that I am eternally grateful.



Night Verse #1

stars and wind and night and the beginning of autumn
the streets go quiet as the lights go on from house to house
the world settles to its rest, now the day is spent
with its controversy and the sweat of the brow
to sleep, as the poet says, and perchance to dream
and in those dreams find the wildness, the adventure,
the beautiful places where hearts go in the night
flying about on wings possessed by those who sleep
tomorrow is soon enough here and when it comes
the lights, the noises, the world, will rouse in a kind of fury
but for tonight there is sleep, and dreams, and an elusive calm

jk chagnon

In My Younger Days…

I would leave the house in the wee hours of the morning. A little latch release here and a small push on the screen and I was out.

I meant no harm. I simply walked the streets of my town and enjoyed the alone and the quiet. The dark was cool and pleasant and while the rest of the world was asleep I was awake with my thoughts, my dreams, and the shadows.

Often I still wake up in the earliest part of the morning and while I most often don’t leave the house I will quietly slip out of bed and think about the world. It can be a time of prayer as the stillness of the hour lends itself to such things. I think of people, they dance in and out of my mind, and I mention them to God. Some are close to me and within my day to day life. Others I haven’t seen in decades. Yet the names come to me and I think of where they are and what they’re doing and how life has been for them and give God their name. He knows what I do not and He can care for them in ways that time and distance prevent me from doing.

This may be one of those nights, a night when God nudges me awake at a time when the cares and noise of life are few and far between and there is time for us to talk. While the quiet settles over St. Paul and the old day becomes the new is a holy hour, a gift better than any dream and rest beyond sleep.

Imagine There’s no Football…

or any other professional sport for that matter. What would happen?

The answer, in a nutshell is “Nothing.”

If all of the sudden the NFL, or any other league, just disappeared there may be some initial shock but then everyone would just adapt. The time you would’ve spent watching or attending sports events would be filled with something else, perhaps even something better.

The money you would have spent would either be saved or directed towards some other kind of activity. After all professional sports don’t “bring” money to a place they simply rearrange the existing money to themselves over and above other choices. If there was no NFL people would spend the money they used to use for the NFL somewhere else, say a local restaurant or other venue. People in Omaha, for example, don’t have a professional football team so what do they do instead of buying tickets? They either save or spend the money on something else in town and the benefits go, not to a billionaire owner of a sports franchise, but rather to a local business or other entity.

The time you would have spent would also be redirected towards something else as well, again something possibly better. People might go outside and take a walk, do something as a family or take a drive. They could even, gasp, talk to each other and build better relationships or just use the time as a way to rest from a busy week. You could even consider going to church! I know, I may be pushing it a bit but I had to throw that in there.

The point is this. There has never been a time in the history of this country when professional sports of any kind have been a necessity. They can provide moments of fun, drama, and community but so can a lot of things that don’t cost hundreds of dollars. I would venture to say that if your favorite franchise just packed up and went away that no one would die and in a little while people would simply adjust and do something else, perhaps something even better than eating 10 dollar plus hot dogs.

Quite frankly, they need you and you don’t actually need them. The world is full of other things to do and when you know that you come to realize you have more power than you thought.

Loving the Church

Every Sunday there’s a pulse in my life, a once a week heartbeat on Sunday morning. It’s been that way since before I was born and it’s rarely skipped a beat. A kind of timeless rhythm that ties everything together, two hours or so to live in a different world, to be in church.

It’s not about it being pleasant all the time. There are times I’ve been to church when I wanted to be a million miles away, my body present but my heart in a far away place. There have been times, even as a Pastor, where I just wanted to pull the covers over my head on Sunday morning and sleep until Monday. There were times when just being in the building made me feel guilty and unholy.

Still, every Sunday if you want to look for me I’ll be there and a large part of it is because it’s there that I also find a quiet place often distant from a confused and crazy world. It is there, as well, that the timeless river of faith has a home. It is also there that I have heard words that heal me and mercy beyond my own brokenness. It’s in holy temples that God shares life with me.

I suppose that’s why I’ve dedicated the larger part of my life to service in and around the church. I’ve been hurt in the church, for sure, but it’s also the closest I’ve been to heaven. An idealistic part of me has never stopped believing it it’s potential for good not so much because of the people inside but rather the One in whom the Church really is rooted. When the world around me darkens it is my, and I believe the world’s, refuge, a place that even the world at its worst cannot completely ruin.

One day, I suppose, it will also be the last building you’ll find me, one last time before going to where every day is Sunday.




We Live…

in a post truth culture. We can frame our positions and arguments for the Orthodox Faith by the strictest rules of logic and people will say “So what? That’s your truth.”

We live in a post authority culture so simply saying “This is what the Church has always taught” may have little or no weight with the larger society.

We live in a post knowledge culture and people may not even have the slightest idea of the words and terms we use or their context. How will we be able to speak of, for example, “Salvation” when the average person may have little understanding of what that word means, and especially how we mean it?

But people will, if they see what we believe demonstrated by the tangible outworking of our lives, at least have something solid to grab a hold of as they try to understand what we are saying in a world without truth, authority, or knowledge as they have been formerly understood.

In the end, therefore, perhaps one of the most profound and useful things we can do as Orthodox is to actually be, Orthodox.