My physical and spiritual autobiographies are inexorably linked to my place of birth: Salt Lake City, Utah. For reasons unknown to me, my forebears forsook their sundry Christian traditions (Anglican, Lutheran, Presbyterian, and Methodist) and embraced the self-styled “Prophet” Joseph Smith and the wholly-other religion of Mormonism as early as the 1850’s, i.e., within ten years of the founder’s death. I therefore grew up in an almost exclusively Mormon environment, attending the Mormon Church and public schools whose student bodies were overwhelmingly Mormon.
I staunchly believed in the Mormon Church and its doctrines throughout my childhood and I was regarded by family members as the “religious” one. In the spirit of the Bereans, though, I had the habit of checking the scripture “evidence” given to me by Mormon leaders with the Bible. I began to notice the tremendous contradictions between the Bible and Mormonism, and inherent contradictions within Mormonism itself. I had held little belief in the Bible (Mormons are taught NOT to trust it) at that point, but by the grace of God I read Bible texts in context and I conclusively realized that Holy Scripture and Mormon teachings were hopelessly in conflict. When LDS authorities told me that Ezekiel 37 contained a “prophecy” of the Book Of Mormon (“Stick of Judah,Stick of Joseph”) I was dismayed to see that instead of a “prophecy” of new scripture, the context showed it to be a prophecy of the Jews being united in one kingdom in the land of Israel. I had always loved God and wanted to know Him ever better but now my religious world view was crumbling and I was very disillusioned and disheartened.
I must digress at this juncture to note that the few Christians whom I had known in Utah were either unwilling to share their Bible-based faith with me or they were inept in disclosing to me the differences between the historic Christian faith and Mormonism. I might have been spared those years of seeking the on true God and still not finding Him.
At the age of twenty, I left the U.S. for music studies in Vienna. The “Old World” was a “new” world for me. The contrasts between provincial Salt Lake City and an artistic and intellectual capital city of Europe were staggering. I was now a resident in the city of Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Brahms and Freud; a city with world class opera and orchestras. My school, the Hochschule fuer Musik could boast of past faculty of Bruckner and Webern and students such as Gustav Mahler.
I had now made friends with students from all over the world with differing religious backgrounds: Moslem Turks, Buddhist Japanese, and Hindu Indians. I asked many of them to share their beliefs with me. Some of their beliefs seemed profound, others simply ridiculous. A few of my classmates were Evangelical Christians who also shared their faith with me, but they were unfortunately woefully deficient in their use of Christian apologetics. I just couldn’t simply believe anything anymore for the sake of believing. I had to have compelling reasons why to believe what they believed. However, a seed was planted that would eventually see fruition. It would take time before that could happen because of my prejudice against historic Christianity. I had been indoctrinated from the earliest age that all of Christendom (all existing denominations) was apostate, corrupt, and only Mormonism was true. I yearned to know God and I instinctively knew that I hadn’t found Him yet. My spiritual life was of paramount importance and I felt compelled to keep on searching.
I became increasingly interested in knowing rather, the historic background of the Christian faith: Judaism. In my quest for knowledge of religious truth, I left Vienna for Jerusalem and enrolled in a rabbinical school upon my arrival.
This “world” turned out to be radically different as well from my life in Vienna. Jerusalem is an odd admixture of the modern and the ancient. Jewish West Jerusalem was crowded by traffic and noise, much like any American city, but then one could cross to Arab East Jerusalem and find donkeys and goats in the streets of the Old City.
My new school was in north Jerusalem on land that straddled both Jewish and Arab sectors of the city. All of us lived at the school and followed a strict regimen of prayer and study. We arose early for Shochrit (Morning Prayer) which lasted almost an hour, and then we broke for breakfast. Several hours followed with classes in Talmud and Torah. After lunch we “davened” (prayed) the Mincha Service and then we studied in pairs until dinner. We had free time after dinner but many Talmidim Chachim (wise students) would return to study until midnight. I was living an orthodox Jewish life: study and more study, eating strictly kosher foods and wearing tzidzis (fringed garments) and a yarmulke. I was learning much and particularly enjoying my Talmud studies.
One day in class I was startled when the subject of Jesus was brought up. A student raised his hand and asked our learned Rebbe how Jesus could have performed miracles. There had been so many witnesses to His miracles, the fact that Jesus of Nazareth performed them couldn’t be denied. The Rabbi cleared his throat and explained to the class that Jesus had invoked the secretly-known-how-to-pronounce Name of God: the Tetragrammaton. I was astounded that even orthodox Judaism could not deny the miracles of Jesus! Another question posed by a student one day brought me closer to the truth, his wanting to know, “how we will recognize the Messiah when He comes?”
Our Rebbe replied, “We have two traditions regarding the coming of 2 Maschiach (Messiah) Either HamMaschiach will be born, grow up among us and Am Yisrael (the people of Israel) will collectively recognize His messiahship, or He will come fully formed in the clouds with glory. “
The hair literally stood up on the back of my neck. Could it be that both traditions had been fulfilled in Jesus? I pondered this deeply for many days.
About this same time I came into contact with an American-born Messianic Jew named Danny Ascher who had immigrated to Israel. He invited me to Messianic Jewish services and Bible studies. I had so many questions as to why he believed in Jesus as Messiah. I couldn’t understand why, if the historic Christian religion were true, the crusades and the Spanish Inquisition. I was taken aback at the simplicity and truthfulness of his answer, ”Not all who profess to be Christians are Christians. By their fruit (works), you will know whether they were truly disciples of Jesus.” Danny was also very patient in explaining how historic Christianity was the fulfillment of Old Testament Judaism. He took me to many of the messianic prophecies in Isaiah and showed me in great detail how Jesus of Nazareth had fulfilled them all. There was also something very special about Danny’s method of evangelism: I knew that he cared for me as a person and also was concerned about my spiritual life. I didn’t feel that I was going to be a “notch mark on someone’s conversion belt” as I had felt from my evangelical friends in Vienna. In truth, this was the first time that I genuinely felt the tender love of Jesus extended to me by way of another human being. It was by this love and proclamation of the truth to me with such force that I could no longer ignore Him.
I came to faith in Christ in late December, 1974, and was baptized by Danny and some other Jewish Christians in early January, 1975. I have been His ever since.
I still went to classes at the yeshiva before leaving for America and attended again on a later trip to Israel to understand better our historical roots of the Christian faith.
My first Christian church experiences after conversion were ecumenical in nature. I met and married my wife Ruthie soon after receiving Christ and we attended English and Arabic-language services in both East and West Jerusalem. We sometimes prayed on Tuesday nights at a Roman Catholic convent in the Old City and at a “Charismatic” Baptist church in West Jerusalem on Saturdays. My late father-in-law had been involved with the Assemblies of God and was later ordained a pastor in the Church of God of Prophecy, a Holiness-Pentecostal group, so we attended this church on Sundays. There were many special services held at other non-denominational churches which we also visited.
After we returned to the U.S. in 1980 with our infant daughter Rania, 3 we again attended various churches: Baptist, Methodist, Pentecostal, but mostly non-denominational. We enjoyed our fellowship with these various Christians, but my identity was always that of a Christian who happened to be attending that particular church.
1985 found us living in the state of Vermont, where I was the choir director and pianist at an independent church that held contemporary music services, when I received a phone call from the Rev. Everett Fullam, rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Darien, Connecticut. My name had been submitted to him for consideration as the new choir master at St. Paul’s. After an initial meeting with the Rev. Fullam in Montpelier, I was invited by him to attend services at St. Paul and to be interviewed by their music committee. This was the first occasion that I ever worshiped in an Episcopal church and it was love at first sight! I loved the liturgy and the Eucharist became meaningful to me in a new and dramatic way. I felt that I had finally “come home”. I didn’t receive the call to St. Paul’s but I was none the less thrilled that I had finally found my spiritual home where I belonged. Ruthie and I began attending on a regular basis the Episcopal Church first in Stowe, Vermont, and then in other states over the years.
My Episcopal Church involvement has spanned now thirteen of my twenty-four years as a Christian and it is the only church in which I hope to serve our risen Lord.
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