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Congregation Will Follow Pastor's Lead in Converting
By Brian'Lewis
Source: Knight Ridder Newspapers - Date: Unknown

HILLSBORO, Kan. Marilyn Ratzalaff along with her church, has embarked on a difficult spiritual journey, She and 30 other members of the Hillsboro nondenominational congregation are converting to Eastern Orthodoxy.

"For me, it's been very challenging," said Ratzlaff, who grew up as a Mennonite. "It's just opened up a whole new world of 'what Christianity is all about."

On Sept. 5, Ratzlaff and the other members of the church in the predominantly Mennonite community began their journey as catechumens, or formal learners. The congregation will probably be received into the church as full members sometime in the spring, a church official said.

Last month, the congregation learned that church officials had approved a new name, Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church. It was chosen partly because the biblical story of Jesus' transfiguration happened , on Mount Tabor, and Tabor College is in Hillsboro.

Although the Orthodox faith was brought to this country mostly -by Eastern European and Middle Eastern immigrants, it is being embraced more and more by Westerners, Orthodox officials say.

Rev. Peter Gillquist, director of missions and evangelism for the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese of America, is a former evangelical who became Orthodox in 1987. Since then, Gillquist said, 75 churches have joined the archdiocese. Most converted from other Christian denominations.

"Constantly I'm getting calls from clergy that just feel drawn back toward the original church," Gillquist said.

Converting to Orthodoxy means learning about a faith foreign to most Protestants. Doctrinal differences include the role of the saints and the honor Orthodox Christians believe is due Mary, the mother of Jesus.

Worship differences abound, including having an iconostas, or icon screen, in the pulpit area, which separates the altar, the holiest area in an Orthodox sanctuary, from the rest of the church. Icons, or sacred artwork, also line many churches.

Incense is used in Orthodox worship as a symbol of Prayers rising to God. - Congregations stand for most of the service as a sign of respect for God. At the end of some services, members kiss icons of Jesus, Mary and the Trinity as acts of, veneration.,

Rev. John Baize, who graduated from a Mennonite Brethren seminary in California, became pastor of the Hillsboro congregation two years ago. He says the focus at the seminary was on how the first Mennonite Brethren adherents had tried to recapture the lifestyle- of the early Christians.

But as he served various churches, Baize said, each ones mission didn't seem to reflect what he had learned. Baize believed the church he hungered for would exist only in heaven-. His perspective changed when he read a book about Orthodoxy.

"It was a very troubling book to me because it talked about spiritual truths that I had not been exposed to," he said. Eventually, he and his wife decided to teach the Hillsboro congregation about the Orthodox church. And church members began to rethink their faith.

Don Ratzlaff, a photographer, said that once he and his wife concluded the Orthodox Church had existed unchanged since the 1st Century, they felt compelled to convert.

"If this is the way the church is and was," he said, "even though it's not comfortable to me, I don't have a choice"

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