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Karen at the Western Wall in Jerusalem

Karen at the Western Wall in Jerusalem

Good morning! My name is Karen Haas, and I’ve been coming to St. Mark’s since March of 2014. First some background about me: I was born and raised in Korea in a family of very devoted Buddhist parents. Later after college, I started working for an airline, moved to the US, got married, had children, and I started to go to church. I was baptized at a Southern Baptist church in Orlando, Florida about 27 years ago.

Since then I had been regularly attending church, and I had enrolled my children in Sunday School from an early age, always trying to provide them with the best Christian education that I could possibly give them. However, looking back now, I realize that I was the sort of Christian who dutifully spent about an hour or so in the pews on Sunday, and who steadfastly believed that, although I loved Jesus Christ, I thought I loved him sufficiently enough.

I don't know what made me decide, but one of my New Year’s resolutions for 2014 was to meditate and pray everyday. Truth be told, I wasn’t really doing either all that often or too well. Realizing that I wasn’t giving 100% in my efforts, I discussed the matter with my son, who is my best friend and a very spiritual young man. He answered in some well worn platitudes like, “It takes an entire village to raise a child, mom.  I think you might need some help. I don’t think you can become a better Christian all by yourself. It just doesn’t seem like the right way." He also gave me a list of churches that offered good prayer or meditation classes. I was absolutely resolute by this time; no more simply sitting in the pews!

There were six churches on my list and St. Mark’s was one of them. I eventually decided to visit the classes here, and check the church services out. When I first joined Morning Prayer, I did not even know what I was supposed to do, or even what to look for while I was here. I had actually never been to an Episcopal Church service, even though my children had attended Episcopal services at school. My son gave me some heartwarming words written by the late, great Robin Williams. My favorite is, “Why should someone become an Episcopalian? Because, you don’t have to know how to swim to get baptized!"

Upon entering St. Mark’s at Morning Prayer, I found some people and Father Paul, so I sat down and was soon following along. When everybody else stood up or sat down, without really even knowing why, I followed along. There were times when everybody was reciting from some sort of red book. I tried to follow along too, but to my embarrassment, I realized that I hadn’t the slightest clue of how to do so.

Feeling a little uneasy, and wondering if I had made the right decision in coming, I fidgeted in my seat until a copy of that mysterious red book was handed to me, and someone who didn’t even know me at all began to kindly point out the pages I was supposed to read from. As I later found out, that person was none other than Teena Urban, an extremely thoughtful and compassionate Christian who later became my personal sponsor, and someone that I now consider my new best friend. She guided me through the entire service - quite an enormous task now that I think about it.  Afterwards, I seriously thanked her and meekly told her that I was a visitor.

Teena suggested that I start by attending Bible Study that day, and so I went with her to the Parish Hall. She introduced me to Father Paul, and he explained how to properly utilize that mysterious red book, which of course is actually known as the Book of Common Prayer. I was amazed by the fact that any church would make so much use out of a book other than the Bible.  I again realized how much more I needed to learn in order to fulfill my personal resolution to be a better, more dedicated, and a more understanding kind of Christian. I was fully prepared to accept whatever help came my way this time; in fact, I absolutely cherished it!

Father Paul was kind enough to show me how to perform my daily prayers, and even gave me a red book to take home! The Bible study was very intriguing, and I was introduced to so much knowledge about the faith that I hadn’t been aware of before - all of it just waiting for me to take in. Afterwards I attended High Mass, and even though I did not know what to expect, the church pamphlet that I had been given to me very clearly showed me what to do, and motivated by my friendly interactions with the parish members here, I found that I could now follow along with most of the service.

Karen with her family in Jerusalem at the Pilgrim Guest House of St. George's Anglican Cathedral

Karen with her family in Jerusalem at the Pilgrim Guest House of St. George's Anglican Cathedral

The time came for receiving communion, and again I began to feel apprehensive. I didn’t even think I would receive any bread or wine, but then I saw in the pamphlet where it said: “In the Episcopal Church, all baptized Christians are welcome to receive Holy Communion." I read it again, blinked twice, and understood that yes indeed, that was what had been written. I could not believe that a total stranger like me would be welcomed so warmly to partake in the services at St. Mark’s. I know that among all of the happy memories I made that first day here, I think one in particular sticks with me the most. I felt so accepted and happy to be here. It really was a beautiful service that day - heavenly even. Over the next two years, I learned tremendously more about Christ’s teachings. In fact I learned even more than I did in the previous 27 years combined. Also, I amproud to say that I was confirmed and received by Bishop Bob last year.  

I was further blessed to go on the Holy Land trip this June with Father Paul and my new St. Mark’s family! Such a once-in-a-lifetime journey has actually been on my wish list ever since I first accepted Jesus Christ into my heart and called myself a Christian. What though, you may ask, was this change in feeling that the Holy Land pilgrimage had brought upon me? What new perspectives and new possibilities did I actually find upon going to Holy land?

For so very long, I had treated my faith, this very precious gift from on high, as something superficially worn on the sleeve, like some sort of badge merely meant for display in the wider world. I never realized what God even meant to me, at least not really. But when I went to Jerusalem, I felt as if God has always been right there, originating and representing all of the good aspects deep inside of my heart, inside all of our hearts, and in fact I now believe that the Lord has been with me since before I can remember, even when I had often times felt like he wasn’t really there. I guess that it wasn’t that I had become afraid of really immersing myself in the church, or in God, but rather, that I had maybe become a little afraid of the kind of personal interactions that I knew were vital to a healthy, dynamic relationship with Christ. However, the fact that I can tell you all of these things so soon into my time at St. Mark’s makes me feel as if my time in the pews really is different this time!

Once somebody had asked Teena about how she had first met me. In all of her trademark wisdom, she simply replied, “I didn't find her. God led her to us." Teena could not have been more right. God led me to St. Mark’s, and I am happy and proud to say that this is my home church now. Stepping through these doors, I had seriously asked myself if I would be able to find God here, or anywhere for that matter, after so many long and difficult years of searching, but in time the Lord answered my prayers through the very gracious people of St. Mark’s.

And now I’d like to end with Mark 9:23. “And Jesus said to him, 'if you are able! - all things can be done for the one who believes.'” Thank you very much. God bless you all.

Karen Haas