I was born in 1958 on a dairy farm in upstate New York. I essentially grew up in a two-church family. My father was an Episcopalian, while my mother was a Fundamental Bible Baptist. Mom's personal faith in Jesus found expression in her evangelistic fervor. It was at her feet as a child when I first met Jesus. A faithful husband, father, and churchgoer, my dad's faith was dutiful though distant and somewhat impersonal. Though my parents loved one another, in expressing their individual faiths I grew up in an adversarial environment. Mom was quite concerned about whether Dad was born again, and Dad could not understand why Mom couldn't simply attend Saint John's!
During my pre-teen years I attended St. John's, enjoying chanting in the children’s choir during Morning Prayer and learning the classic Old and New Testament Bible stories in Sunday school. As I entered my teen years, it was my mom's Bible church that spoke into my life and stirred my heart, with its emphasis on the study of Scripture and encouragement to share the gospel. They also taught Jesus could come at any time especially since Israel was now a nation. I found purpose and direction in such teachings.
In response, I shared Christ with my best friend, David, who eventually asked Jesus to be his Lord and savior and prayed that other classmates may have the same experience. However, I knew I wasn't as close to God as I could be. I knew there was more. Upon entering my senior year of high school, I decided to attend a Christian liberal arts institution – Houghton College.
In college, my life in Christ truly exploded. It was there that I discovered the wonderful richness of God's written word and the life-giving joy that comes through fellowship with other believers: Koinonia! Chapel, prayer groups, missionary gatherings, contemporary Christian music, and even fasting were all new and exciting. And that was just my first semester.
It was during my second semester when I first encountered the Messianic movement through a two-member band called Lamb. Though still new to contemporary Christian worship, I knew right away Lamb was offering a different worship experience. They used strange words to refer to God like Yeshua haMeshiach. Most of their songs were in the minor key and their lyrics were from Old Testament texts. As Jesus did for the disciples on the road to Emmaus, Lamb was opening my eyes to Messiah's work upon the cross using the Hebrew Scriptures. This was my first taste of just how Jewish the Christian faith is.
Photo from lambmessianicmusic.com.
It was also around this time that I first encountered the person of the Holy Spirit through the ministry of Professor Hugh and his wife – Mary Morken. My experience was much like that of Isaiah 6. As a result, my prayer life has never been the same! From them, I came to understand something I’d never received from my mother’s tradition: the need for the power of the Holy Spirit in the Christian life.
I found my mother's tradition was – at best – skeptical about my experience. The Episcopal Diocese of Albany New York received me gladly. They were in the midst of what is known as the Renewal,or the Charismatic Movement. It was at this juncture that I returned to the Episcopal Church. Within a few years, I married Linda and eventually raised four wonderful daughters.
During these years, I worked at a Christian radio station in central New York, and sharing the gospel continued to be essential in my life. Though a member of the Episcopal Church, Linda and I were given an opportunity to help establish a local non-denominational, charismatic church in our hometown. This chapter of life had many ups and downs. Though it closed in difficult and painful circumstances, God graciously led us to a place of healing – a Messianic Jewish fellowship, Beit Shalom, led by Rabbi Steve Galiley.
Beit Shalom was a Messianic Jewish community that was both ethnically Jewish and committedly Christian. This community opened its arms to my family, and God moved in our lives in powerful ways. It was here that we truly experienced the Jewishness of our faith and its deep and beautiful roots which stretched back thousands of years of God’s faithfulness to his people.
One discovery – in regard to my genetic heritage – was made a few years back. My mother and her twin brother were adopted. Though they knew their birthmother was English, their birthfather was a mystery. At the urging of my daughters, I had a DNA test. To our astonishment, the test results indicated I had Jewish blood! With assistance from Andrew, my son-in-law, we discovered my mother's birthfather was a Sephardic Jew. I see this as both a gift and God’s sense of humor!
In time, the Lord called us back into the Episcopal Church; however, our connection with the Messianic community continues to this day. One of my greatest surprises upon entering back into the sacramental world was evangelical Anglicanism's prophetic understanding of the in-gathering of the Jewish people to the land of Israel. It was only a few years ago that I first heard of CMJ. It was a delight to find a sacramental tradition that took to heart the biblical mandate “to the Jew first.” It was in CMJ that I found the streams of my life coming together.