In September 1990, Pastor David Hovik of Grace Community Church in Arlington, WA began the fall Sunday School program with a class in Church history and he was surprised by the huge turnout. He had taught this class in a private Christian school before, but never in a church setting. Faced with the fantastic enthusiasm and interest, he decided to go deeper than before, to go back to the sources of the early Church rather than just cover the usual secondary materials or start with the Reformation.
What Pastor David discovered was quite unexpected; he found very little in common between the early church and the practices of modern North American evangelical churches. Pastor Hovik began to pass out reading material on almost a weekly basis. This also marked a period of deep soul searching in his life: what responsibility did he have with the facts that he had uncovered? Should he (could he) simply ignore them and not rock the boat?
As they learned more and more about how Christianity was practiced in the generations that followed the apostles, they also started making small changes in their Sunday services. The pulpit was moved to the side, allowing the altar to be the focal point, and certain fixed prayers were introduced, such as the Lord’s Prayer and the Nicene Creed; candles were placed on the altar.
Taking Some Further Steps
While small and very incremental, these were changes that not everyone in the congregation was comfortable with. While some people were attracted to the church for this reason, some chose to leave.
As Pastor David’s studies continued, he became convinced that the original church was sacramental and liturgical, that there was no time in the church’s history when it had not celebrated the Eucharist frequently, when it did not have Bishops or practiced infant baptism. It was also clear that the early church had always valued the apostolic succession very highly, so highly that it was inconceivable that it would not be followed.
After reading Becoming Orthodox by Fr. Peter Gillquist (and a subsequent phone conversation with the author), he was more and more convinced that Grace Community church could not continue as a non-denominational church. They needed to join a historical church body. It wasn’t clear at this point what that would be, but it needed to be liturgical and sacramental. Both the Anglican and Lutheran traditions were examined along with Orthodoxy, and at this point, Orthodoxy seemed the least likely choice.
As Pastor David started a dialog with local Orthodox priests, as well as other Lutheran and Episcopal pastors and priests who found or had found themselves in the same situation, it was clear that this was not going to be an easy transition, but it was also clear that it was one that had to be made. Rather than resigning, Pastor David decided to challenge his congregation to work through the issues together with him, even though he knew it would compel many to leave.
Some people felt strongly that Pastor David’s responsibility was to abide by the church’s statement of faith, even if it contradicted the early church practice. Pastor David felt just the opposite. If there was a contradiction, Grace Community had to change and conform to the historic Church.
Fr. James Bernstein and the parish of St. Paul Orthodox Church in Lynnwood, WA, were very instrumental in our journey to Orthodoxy. Initially, Fr. James and Fr. David met on a regular basis to discuss Orthodoxy. This was not an easy transition, and Pastor David had many questions which had to be answered. As he learned, he shared his information with the congregation.
It was only after a 3-4-year period of study and the pain of more families departing, that Pastor David could say with confidence that the Orthodox Church alone had maintained the faith and practice of the Apostles. Only then did he begin to discuss in earnest how to go about the transition.
In the end, after 5 1/2 years, Fr. James helped Fr. David with a one year formal catechism process by coming to Arlington every other week during the final year of our journey. Many of St. Paul’s parishioners were the sponsors (godparents) for our families who converted. This special relationship between our sister parishes continues today.
Reception Into the Orthodox Church
In March of 1995 Pastor David was at the final AEOM conference in Jackson, Mississippi. At the concluding Liturgy he was the only non-Orthodox person present. His Grace, Bishop BASIL, sent Fr. James out with a piece of antidoron for pastor David. As he placed it in his hand he said: “I have a message for you from the Bishop. He said the next time he sees you, it better be on the other side of the iconostasis.” A pivotal point in the history of our parish came on March 3, 1996, when Pastor David tore up his sermon notes and just talked about the last few years, what the congregation had learned together, and what conclusions there were to be drawn. He simply stated that the time had come to seek reception into the Orthodox Church under the Patriarch of Antioch. It wasn’t long after that the church started its formal process of catechism, overseen by Father Peter Gillquist and others.
Less than a year later, the church leadership meet with His Grace, Bishop JOSEPH, at St. Paul Orthodox Church to discuss our formal reception into the Church. On February 8, 1997, with television news cameras and priests from throughout Washington and Oregon present the congregation was received as Saint Andrew Orthodox Church by His Grace, Bishop JOSEPH. Fr. David Hovik was ordained to the diaconate and then to the holy priesthood on the following day.