Believing in Two Worlds: Raising My Children in an Orthodox-Protestant Environment

“Mommy, can we go to Nanny’s church every Sunday?” my five-year-old son asks.

Nanny’s church does have a pretty cool kids’ wing. The hallway is colorful and reminds me of the bright warehouse hallways from the Disney show Imagination Movers. There are several doors along the hallway sporting signs that say things like “Control Room” and “Faith Factory.” At the end of the hallway there’s a large multi-purpose room with benches, a stage, a couple of big screen TVs, basketball goals, and lots of bright lights.

The church is non-denominational Protestant, and it’s your typical hip church – praise band, coffee shop, jeans instead of suits. I actually enjoyed visiting a non-Orthodox church for a change. And evidently, so did my son.

At our church the kids are in the service with us. We allow them to bring a book to read and a notebook to write in, but still, most Sundays are a struggle to keep the two of them quiet and to keep them from annoying each other. They do have Sunday School, which is very hands-on and my kids seem to enjoy, but it’s nothing like the flashy, fun setup from their grandparents’ church.

My children are being raised in this strange mixture of Orthodoxy and Protestantism. Though they’re baptized Orthodox and we attend an Orthodox church, they attend an inter-denominational Christian school that is heavily influenced by Protestant (and mostly Baptist) beliefs. They learn praise choruses and Bible stories at school; they learn feasts and saints at church. I often wonder where my kids will land when they are old enough to choose for themselves.

I often wish I could find a middle ground. While I appreciate the rich historical traditions that my children learn, I think the Orthodox Church could use a dose of fun.  The Protestant church provides that fun, user-friendly environment that children enjoy, although I think sometimes Protestant ministry seems to stop at fun and not move beyond it.

For now, my children experience both worlds, and I hope they are benefitting from that. The seeds of belief in and love for God are sown. And right now, at their young ages, that is enough.

(P.S. I have more thoughts on this. There may be a Part 2.)

10 comments

  1. Karissa, you are handling this so much better than many of my generation of converts from Protestant to Orthodox. We were such radicals, that in our vigor to bring our children up Orthodox, we sometimes rejected our protestant roots too loudly. There was so much good in the Presbyterian (for me) or Episcopalian or Methodist or Baptist churches of our youth… so much that was an organic part of our Western culture, but we didn’t know what to do with that as we became Eastern Orthodox. Some of our (now grown) children have left for Protestant churches, others have just left altogether, and some have embraced the Orthodox faith of their parents. Each will find his own way, hopefully with the respect and blessing of his parents. Thanks for sharing this. You’re a wonderful mother.

    • kksorrell says:

      I definitely think I sometimes “look down my nose” at Protestant churches now. I don’t know if that is an Orthodox attitude or just stemming from my own strong feelings about my conversion. While I still struggle with feeling like Protestant churches can create a forced emotionalism or create a sense of Spirit through the music, etc, I have to remind myself that God is present there, too. Those people love God, too. It’s not always black and white, right and wrong, good and bad. Both Orthodoxy and Protestant have things that are good and right. I have just made a decision (based on many sound reasons, I believe) to be Orthodox.

  2. David J Dunn says:

    I think one thing to,consider is where we attend. I have attended Orthodox services at other churches, and the children are much more loud. They make fun out of the service, and pretty much everybody is cool with it. Coming from a Protestant background, we often think of church as something only for grownups, and we expect kids to behave accordingly. Of course I do keep my kids on a short leash at church, but that is because of where we attend. When in Rome…

    • kksorrell says:

      You’re right. Since I’ve only been to the other 2 Orthodox churches in Nashville, I don’t have a wide range of experience with what other Orthodox churches do. I would love to see how other Orthodox churches engage the children. I think that they try to include the children in some of the feasts during Holy Week particularly. And I do love having the kids in there for Eucharist. Still, I don’t see why children’s church is really so bad.

  3. Kevin Allen says:

    We have found that the closest “middle ground” is Catholic school. They are sacramental, liturgical, etc. There are adjustments that must be made (esp. when kids are in pre-2nd grade and must go through religious education and go to a party at confirmation!) but it is much better than Protestant schools where they outright deny much of what we practice. Just a thought.

    • kksorrell says:

      I went to a Catholic school, so I understand! Fortunately, my school did not require non-Catholics to take Catechesis. My husband teaches at the school our kids attend and fortunately has been able to explain Orthodoxy in a meaningful way to many of the faculty and students there. He is actually the Dean of Spiritual Life there now, so he’s an Orthodox guy giving spiritual guidance to mostly Protestant students! Fortunately we have had no bad experiences with anyone denying or disbelieving our faith. It would be harder if we went to a denominational school. At least we have a few Catholics and some variety at their school.

  4. Daphne Davenport says:

    Karissa,
    I am a 19 year convert to Orthodoxy living in Arkansas. My extended family attends a wonderful Anglican church here which I visit pretty often, I am in a non-denominational Bible study which hugely enriches me, and I continue to be grateful to be a member of my Orthodox church. My children are ages 14, 16, 18 and 21. It is good, in my opinion, for them to be exposed to the strengths of both the protestant and Orthodox worlds and thank God for what He is doing in both arenas. I too feel curious to see what they will decide regarding their own faith choices as adults.

    I wish that the North American Orthodox church was more advanced in its assimilation of American culture into eastern riches of Christian faith. And I wish that the protestant church was more aware of how very rich are the prayers of our Orthodox faith. People I respect tell me this will happen in time.

    To me, the convert churches are vibrant in faith, yet lack the cultural grounding of those who have been Orthodox for generations. (For example, the convert priest telling catechumens that he “prefers the women to wear head coverings but does not require it” seems to me to drastically miss the point in helping an American born woman assimilate into the church). And in my own Greek/Arab church, I sometimes feel that in order to fit in I must deny my own inherited culture, which is English/German. I can understand the need of cradle Orthodox to protect their culture and faith under many generations of Muslim aggression by focusing on retaining their language and way of life and yet the lack of looking outward to help people in this country who are hungry to find the church and even more to stay in it, saddens me.

    I have rarely heard anyone write as you do of embracing the good of both Orthodox and protestant spiritual worlds. Thank you for it.
    Daphne Davenport

    • kksorrell says:

      Daphne,

      Thanks so much for reading and for your comments! From what I can tell, there are drastic differences between mainly convert Orthodox churches and the ethnic/cradle Orthodox churches! I’m at a convert church so that’s all I know. Fortunately I do not feel pressured by a certain culture or language, but I have felt pressured in general at times – to homeschool my children, or to wear a head covering, or to attend church every time the doors are open. (We live an hour away and make it to Sunday liturgy and most feasts, but that’s it. We only go to Vespers if we’re bringing the prosphora.)

      I definitely agree with you that there are things the OC and the Protestant church can learn from each other! I do not know that I will ever be able to shed my “former Protestant” lens. It is a difficult thing to do. There were sound reasons why I left the Protestant church, but it raised me and grew me and shaped me, and it’s hard to get past some of that.

      I’m glad to know this resonates with other Orthodox Christians. I’m sure there are many who would disagree with me. But this is where I am on my journey right now.

  5. Frank Z. says:

    I was raised a Catholic, and attended a small country church. I can still remember serving as an altar boy and bringing the water/wine to the priest, but in winter it was often frozen! (because the building wasn’t heated during the week).

    At the same time, I often attended a non-denominational Protestant summer camp (mostly run by the Church of Christ) during summer for a number of years. There were some enthusiastic young adults who came from a Christian college to lead the groups of children. They would give their testimonies in the evening, which were sometimes quite emotional (but not wild!). These impressed me, but I never grasped the power or way by which my aspirations could be realized.

    I think one of the things I learned from the Catholic church was reverence and respect. Even though I now look back on many of the beliefs and practices as superstitious, but I could never mock the people who hold these things in ignorance of better ways.

    One good thing is that we were still taught the Law of God, which is often degraded in Protestant faiths these days. I still remember a list of “sins” that we could read over, to help us remember what to confess. So there was an accountability for sin, that impressed me about God’s holiness, and made my conscience sensitive.

    I don’t remember there being too much in the Catholic service for children. We were taught confession and some other doctrines as we got older. But there were just hard wooden pews and kneeling benches, and we were just expected to sit/stand/kneel and generally go along with what everyone else was doing, which we did. But these were the days before everything for children was expected to be hyped up and adrenalinized.

    One thing that influenced me greatly was the lives of the saints. The mysterious faith that they had which was stronger than the fear of death, intrigued me, and I used to marvel at the things they went through. Although now I look back on some of those stories as probably fictional or fanciful, yet there is enough evidence of what the early Christians and later martyrs went through to prove the power of that faith.

    As far as children go, I think it’s a shame if a church thinks that the only way to attract children is to “wow” them with “all the neat stuff” they can play with. That’s really self-centered and only encourages the “what’s in it for me” attitude that is destroying our society. Children should be encouraged to participate either in the service, or in practical works for others. Their focus needs to be drawn away from themselves towards service.

    Any church that can teach children self-forgetfulness gets a big gold star in my book!

    • kksorrell says:

      Great comments, Frank! You echo a lot of my thoughts. That user-friendly, what’s in it for me approach one of the things that turned me away from Protestantism and toward liturgy.

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