It was March 2016 when my large family timidly entered the sanctuary at CTR for the first time.
We were a family on the rocks.
One of our children had been suffering ongoing acute effects of early trauma in the foster care system. I had believed that I was responsible to take his pain away and fix him, and that I was failing. In refusing to leave this burden with Jesus, I had come unglued and suffered a major breakdown a few months prior.
God taught me a key lesson in those months between my breakdown and that mid-Lent Sunday, that I had misunderstood him as a harsh task-master. He wanted me to know him as my loving Father. He gave me a vision: a charcoal and watercolor image of me as a child curled up in his lap, being comforted and soothed as he lovingly embraced me to his bosom.
In the process of my recovery, God communicated something else, clearly yet separately to my husband, Eric, and me: we needed to find a safe faith community that was equipped to give us shelter, where we could hunker down and heal.
We were heartbroken and terrified. We felt as though God was calling us to step blindly off a cliff. As a needy family still in crisis, how could he ask this of us? How long would we free-fall without a church to call home? When a new church heard our story with all its neediness and brokenness, would they even want us?
But the biggest, scariest questions were about our children. After already experiencing so much trauma in their lives, would losing their beloved church traumatize them further? Would we lose them in the process?
In I Samuel 7, Samuel erects a stone in remembrance of God’s miraculous intervention in a battle with the Philistines. The Lord grants Israel a victory they knew was otherwise impossible. Samuel names the stone Ebenezer, marking it with the words, “Thus far the LORD has helped us.”
Our family’s history is full of “Thus far the LORD has helped us” moments—milestones that mark God’s trustworthy provision for us along our rocky journey. Eric and I recounted the stories of these “Ebenezers” to our children, reminding them of the times God closed doors only to open greater ones, or when he surprised us with unexpected, extravagant gifts.
So by the time we shared with them that God was calling us away from our church and into ‘the great unknown,’ they were ready. Our then-10-year-old’s faith-filled response to the news was to exclaim, “When God sends you on an adventure, you just gotta go!” Praise God for the faith of a child!
We decided to try Christ the Redeemer first. It was Eric’s top pick because although we had only known low-church and contemporary worship styles, he was longing for the richness and structure of a liturgical high church. I, on the other hand, could not imagine myself feeling at home in such a foreign worship culture. Nonetheless, it felt safe as a first place to visit. My children already knew several CTR children through social connections, and many parishioners who were aware of our crisis through our homeschooling network had already been supporting us in meaningful ways.
Additionally, my early website reconnaissance told me two important things: one of the members of the clergy, Father Ray, has a professional background in mental health; and Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, led by Father Brian, has a philosophy on children’s ministry that, I strongly believed, could nurture my vulnerable and hurting children.
When we arrived that first Sunday, the bulletin I picked up left me speechless. On the cover was the very specific image God had given me months earlier: the charcoal and watercolor drawing of a child being lovingly embraced to Jesus’ bosom. I was shocked.
Then the sermon surprised me, too, when Father Malcolm preached on The Parable of the Prodigal Son.
But rather than talking about the younger son, who leaves home and recklessly squanders his inheritance away, he focused instead on the older son. The older son, who remains at home and works for his father, views him only as a strict business owner; the son fails to perceive—and receive—the great love his father has always offered. This was the exact lesson God had been teaching me in the wilderness months between my breakdown and that Sunday.
Those two glorious gifts from God told me I was home. But what did my children think?
They loved it. LOVED it. Something about the quiet dignity of being entrusted to sit with God in wonder during Catechesis deeply resonated with them. And the physicality of the worship service—the crossing, bowing, kneeling—engaged them, body and soul. They called it “worshipful worship.” They couldn’t wait to come back. And Eric felt the liturgical “worshipful worship” was a foretaste of heaven; his parched spirit drank deeply.
Soon after, Father Tim met with Eric and me. Our whole painful story came tumbling out between heaving sobs. I knew that if CTR was to be our home, then we needed to be fully known, even our ugly and embarrassing chapters. His response was so gentle, kind, wise, grace-filled, and—this surprised me—affirming.
As it turned out, the cliff wasn’t nearly as big to jump off as I thought it would be. After just one Sunday of searching, we found our new safe place to hunker down.
It was another Ebenezer.
Six months later, all eight of my children publicly affirmed their faith in Christ and were baptized on All Saints’ Sunday. It was a miracle of healing for our family.
And another Ebenezer.
Today I frequently find myself sitting in the pew during the 11:00 service alone or nearly alone. The church has welcomed my children into diverse and meaningful roles within the body. On any given Sunday, someone may be singing in the choir, serving as torch bearer or crucifer, ushering, or assisting in Catechesis. Such joy. New Ebenezers week after week.
Christ the Redeemer has its own Ebenezers. The first stone was laid less than ten years ago when the church was formed—the first miraculous story of “Thus far the LORD has helped us.”
And now, the same God who made a way nine years ago for us to occupy our beautiful campus is calling us to step forward, in faith, into a capital campaign.
My family has experienced firsthand that CTR is a safe faith community for at-risk children and their caregivers. There are many more families on the North Shore who also need a place where they can hunker down and heal. The Holy Spirit has given our church a vision to prepare ourselves to welcome them. As God brings them to us, we will need more space.
I have not been an Anglican long, but I have learned that we value beauty and excellence. I am excited that God is moving us to imagine a children’s formation space that is beautiful and excellent. It is a space that matches the high value we place on children—that they are not an afterthought and neither should be the space in which they worship.
Eric and I have invited our children into the Forming and Sending Campaign dreaming process, through prayer mostly, but also through respecting each one’s ability to joyfully contribute something meaningful and sacrificial.
My children’s response? “When God calls you on an adventure, you just gotta go!” They are excited. They are creatively and sacrificially engaging. Praise God for the faith of a child.
It’s likely the ground under the proposed building site is typical New England soil: full of field stone. Knowing our good Father, he can call forth a harvest yield from that rocky place far beyond what we could ask or imagine—a harvest of new Ebenezer stones that will far outnumber those of the soil. All for his glory. Praise his name.