722 N. 145th St. | Shoreline, WA 98133

My Church History, Randy Van Heusden

It was Sunday morning and I was being made aware that it was time to get up for church. Never being a morning person, I hear the request and do what I always tried to do and turned over to get extra moments of sleep. I knew it was not going to be more than 10 or 15 minutes and soon I heard that if I was going to church I needed to get up and get ready to go. I got myself up, showered, ready and so we went. I learned to dress up for church, not understanding why, only to learn it had something to do with respect for church and God. I enjoyed the music a great deal and was the one thing that drew me to go to church. I would bring my cassette recorder to record the service and mostly the music. I loved the way Fredricka, the organist, played. I still have some of those tapes, when I find them one day, I hope to recover them digitally. I sat in the front row pew, so I could be as close as possible to get the best recording. I was asked to join the choir and that added to my enjoyment of the music and service. I had my own robe and found Wednesday’s practice an added dimension to my place in the church and spiritual journey. I was singing in the adult choir with my mother and so as a teen I was the youngest in the choir. There was an issue for me being there since I really could not carry a tune and could not hear my own voice like it actually sounded. I could read music since I had taken piano for about 5 years and knew the music and liked being involved in it and with it. I learned some years earlier from my minister that being in tune was not important, so it was easier for me to sing out and without concern for the quality, but more for the enjoyment. He told me that God did not care whether you were in tune, but that you were involved in the music spiritually. I was definitely into the music spiritually and hated when we did not sing all of the versus and the music stopped for that moment. Did I say I really enjoyed the music? It was at a lively pace, most likely a little up beat which made it that much more enjoyable.

I never forgot my mother asking me one day if I got that extra special press in my hand when receiving the wafer. It had not occurred to me before then that it was special and different than what anyone else received. We were special to the Father and he made us special in every service. I will never forget, that I was receiving a spiritual message. I was important and loved, in the church and by this minister. I realize more now I was loved outside the home, among all of the other rejections I dealt with throughout my life. I became an adult at the age of 11 when we moved to a new home and, being the oldest, I was expected to do all of the things around the house and take care of the house. I was different, and I knew it, not only from the point of being a very young adult, but relating to adults much older than myself. I set my own goals and was a leader not a follower. I did not wear jeans like everyone else my age, but wore permanent press pants. My like for the church music also made me different and again I knew it. Being different and special is a theme throughout my life. Those details might be better left for another day. I was not aware, but God was directing me and watching over me.

I grew up in the Episcopal Church from baptism as a baby. I went to Holy Trinity Episcopal Day School from kindergarten the first year it was opened and continued through the 6th grade the last year of school they had during my time at this school. I was one of few students that went through the first complete cycle of all the grades at the school. When the minister told me that it was so important that I had completed that first complete cycle of the school, that meant a lot to me. We moved to a new home the last year of school and so, it was convenient that my kindergarten school teacher took us to school each day. We had morning prayer each day before school in the church, which I did not enjoy, since the music was not there quite like I was used to. It was a different organist and for me I knew how different it was, and not the same intensity. I never realized how much going to even morning prayer would all grow on me as I got older. We had religious study each week and I always found it difficult and cryptic. It was history I just did not understand or comprehend. I found myself always drawn to the church music and looked forward to enjoying each Sunday. I did not understand the readings or the sermons in most cases, they sounded to me like someone reading a bunch of words without any connected meaning unlike a story. As I have grown and matured those readings began to have meaning and value. It may have taken me a long time to have them make sense to me, but of course it eventually did.

I think it was going through confirmation classes that the prayers began to take hold and make sense to me and have value and meaning. I wish I could find that blue confirmation manual we had and have searched looking for it, without success. I may have discarded it and not realizing the value and information it contained. I had gone through confirmation under the old school before the change in the prayer book and hymnal that we use today. I learned a lot and found myself having memorized the prayers doing something I was never really very good at it, but with the repetition I remembered them. I loved the old books we used back then and resisted the changes in the service. I liked the old books so much I bought them for my personal library, which I still refer to today. I found myself not as interested in going to church with the change and so I found more things to occupy my time and sleeping later and getting out to play tennis worked in my favor.

I had my share of years where I stopped going to church as I found other activities grasping at my time and availability. I had so many things I was trying to fit into a weekend, which included helping my father at his house and my mother at her house and then of course taking care of my home. I wanted to get out for my tennis too, but it quite frequently was sacrificed for the other primary chores. I eventually found the term “religious” as I got older, but not necessarily in the way you might think. I would religiously go to tennis every chance I had. I never thought of it as a religion, but still religious in the time spent playing tennis. I still had chores to help my mother and father, but worked it into my schedule somehow. I loved my tennis enough to have it become my religious event of my weekends. I stayed busy and was usually gone all day from home helping anyone and everyone, with some time for myself with my tennis exercise.

When I got married, I wanted my minister to do the wedding as he held a very special place in my life and my development spiritually and my place with God. We held the service in her church, The Church of the Nazarene, as she wished, which I did not like, but then it was a style I was not used to and the music was not what I loved so much. I found her church much like the Baptist style. I found myself hating church more and more and not able to find the classical Episcopal hymns that I enjoyed so much. I would go to her church to hear her sing as my wife had a beautiful voice to die for. If you know that feeling of the voice going through you as she sings, that was my wife every time she sang no matter where she sang. God gave her a gift. My mother had a beautiful voice, but she, my wife, had one of those voices that went through you and you felt it and knew it. I tried to be supportive of her skill and for her to take advantage of it outside of the church, which she never did with her fears. I loved it when my wife came and sang with me at my church, but it was never often enough. I was so proud, every time she went with me. The compliments were numerous and again making me so proud of her talent. The music shouted through me as I felt her beautiful voice and I enjoyed the music I was so accustomed to hearing. It was the hymns and music that really engaged me in the Episcopal church. Strangely enough many years later as I got involved with a girlfriend, we went to her Catholic church and she would go to church with me at different Episcopal churches. As close as the Catholic and Episcopal churches were, the services were so different and especially the music. I found myself enjoying the music at the various Episcopal churches and especially one Christmas Eve service where I cried with each song that we sang and used a lot of tissue that night. My emotions had returned and that was an emotional night that I will never forget. That might be the beginning of my finding my way back into the Episcopal Church. I never really left, but spiritually I was struggling with church as I knew it and the changes that the church had made in the services and the changes in the wordings that I learned and memorized in confirmation.

When I moved to the Seattle area for a relationship, I found myself with no church and, with all of the changes that had occurred in my life, church of any kind was not of any interest. I had made a commitment to a completely different life style than I had previously known, and to be honest, God was the furthest from my mind. I had expectations of a certain amount of freedom within a restricted and controlled relationship. This was another part of my midlife crisis. It seemed no matter how much I tried and with a carefully planned change, I failed. God was watching over me little did I know even with what I thought I knew and had changed. My move to Seattle had a whole new religious aspect to my life that I was seeking. The relationship failed in less than four months. My emotions, depression, and mental health had failed too. I was in crisis mode and needed help. The problem is that I did not know what to do or where to turn for help. I was a meandering, lost soul, and soon became homeless, living out of my car and couch surfing for 18 months. How did I go from a Home owner in Florida to having no place to live? I then managed to push for being committed to the VA mental health inpatient hospital, which lasted for 10 days. This was the beginning of getting real mental health help. I did not know that God was watching over me especially when I wanted to commit suicide, but having promised to not ever do so again, I could not make any attempt no matter my desire.

It seems odd that about a year later I would be attending a catholic church again with a friend who I met, and we talked and shared our stories with each other for over a year. He helped me in so many ways and eventually shared each other in a relationship, now good friends. Like I said God was watching over me. I was not in tune with all that he was trying to do for me, but we would go to his church and the more I experienced the Catholic church the more I did not understand it. I was confused with my life and the church was not helping me even though it was an escape and change from the problems and issues I was dealing with each and every day. God would not let me fail. It was my mental health issues that were driving my life at this time. My spiritual journey was in God’s hands.

While I was serving in the military, I found an Episcopal church off base and tried to attend most every Sunday, when I was not involved in the Boy Scouts. I also experienced other churches during my time in the service some of them being Baptist, Lutheran, Catholic, Presbyterian, and others I do not remember. The one thing that always stuck in my mind was that the music was foreign to me and was never comfortable with the informal style of service. I also remember the hell, fire, and brimstone sermons as well, a style that I never received well. I gave other churches an open try and some were better than others, but I did not have that connection that I had always experienced in the Episcopal Church. The people were always friendly and did all but beg me to join them each Sunday. The Episcopal Church I found just off base, initially had another thing that had occurred to me in that I had a mother there that treated me as her son giving me a mother away from home. She invited me over nearly every Sunday and made sure I was well fed and rested for that day. She did all but take care of me. I was a big eater and never left anything on my plate. I was not aware how much I required the interaction I felt when I went to church and that church played an important role once again in my life.

Years had passed with a number of different phases of my life and midlife crisis. My life was changing in so many ways. I wanted one thing and my life was changing, but not allowing me to have what I wanted with other responsibilities and things going on in my life. Being married was also interfering with my life change and preventing my life successes. I lost all sight of my life direction and any connection with my church, God, and my future. This also became a time where I tried to commit suicide back in 2002. Surviving that day with the help of a couple of friends who stopped me from being successful. This may have also been another part of my survival and spiritual journey back into the church. God was again watching over me and had a future for me. Mental health and depression issues are still a problem, and with the help I get each week in groups and therapy, I am better able to enjoy my spiritual journey each week at church and God made it happen.

I still struggled with my spirituality after my suicide attempt and no desire to go back to church. My church attendance did not stop God from protecting me and watching over me. With about ten years of minimum spiritual activity, I found myself again having little interest in church. My mother passed in January 2012, 3 days after her birthday. I cried and cried, but I knew I no longer had my mother to fall back on, and did not know that she was still there not just in spirit, but as my angel. I knew that I had a reason to find my way into the Episcopal Church once again. My mother attended church most every Sunday, and when I visited her in 2011, she took me to church and introduced me to her minister. He complemented her with her new young boy friend before my mother introduced me as her son. It made me realize that she was intimately involved in her spiritual journey each and every Sunday. She loved God and was in church every Sunday unless she was sick, or some other event prevented her from being there. I also realized she never left her spiritual connection with the church and it was always the Episcopal church. I realized that my own journey back to the church needed to be fulfilled. It was my mother’s passing that made me research each Sunday an Episcopal Church that was going to help me enjoy a lost and essential part of my journey, more importantly my spiritual journey. I found myself disappointed when I was hoping to find an old style church like I grew up in expecting the traditional stained glass windows and the dark wood pews with a warm feeling as you walked inside. I expected to see people dressed up for church, but did not find it. I realized times had changed and the respect and quiet previously seen in the church was gone. I was determined that the right church was out there without having to sacrifice my life to get there.

God brought me back through my mother. About six months after my mother passed, little did I know that I was going to find myself in an emergency medical situation. I was playing tennis when I had a strange warm internal sensation go through my body, a very odd feeling and not one I had ever experienced nor would you want to. If you can imagine the warmth of your blood now flowing throughout your body, but not in the veins and arteries that normally contain the flow. I hit the ball and then experienced a huge pain in my belly and sides that was an ache that I could not explain. I knew something bad may have happened. The warm sensation made no sense to me, but I took a break and got someone to take my place. I was still on my feet and now moving very slowly due to the pain. Little did I know that God had me playing with an emergency room doctor in case I needed his help. I started to make a connection with what my Cardiologist was telling me and his fear of what might or could happen. I did not make the connection, but I had experienced what is known as an Aortic Dissection, I later found out. I drove home about 20 minutes, and before I got out of the car and went inside I called the afterhours VA nurse. I explained to him what had happened. He looked at my records and said to me that I ‘needed to call 911 otherwise I might never get another chance.’ I hung up and called 911. At that point I was aware that I was being watched over, but did not understand by who, how, or even why. I was taken to the UW Hospital by the ambulance and a surgeon specializing in aorta surgery was already there and telling me I had 35% chance of not surviving the surgery. I told him ‘I had all the confidence in his skills and abilities and would see him on the other side.’ After awaking in the recovery room, I started to put 2 and 2 together. I realized my mother was taken at that time by God, after tapping her on the shoulder, saying ‘you need to come with me as your son is going to need you later this year.’ My mother was my angel watching over me with the hand of God as I survived the odds against me. I am a 2% survivor of an Aortic Dissection. There are two types, a type A and type B. I luckily or more unluckily have both and the type A was repaired. I also realize my survival was due to my being a vegetarian and having perfect arteries. I am now living life number three, thanks be to God. This was another reason for me to attend my church and do so regularly.

After going to many different churches in the area I eventually settled on St. Dunstan’s Episcopal. I knew that I found my home church and that it was going to be all new and different. I sit in the front row pew, so I can record the readings, including mine, and the sermon. It took me awhile to settle into the service routine and style, while finding that there was going to be some things I liked and others I was just going to get along with any way. I was still dealing with the passing of my mother and her no longer being here with us. I realized that life once again had changed, and I needed to follow in the memories of my mother and some of the things she made a regular habit of doing and did for herself and others. I found myself getting involved in the church with taking pictures, helping out with the sound system as needed, becoming a reader, sharpening the pencils, organizing the books in the pews, and counting the proceeds of the collections from the services. I had taken steps to get and be involved more than I originally had imagined. I never wore a cross around my neck, but I was finding a draw to a cross, and realized as I hunted for the right cross, I purchased more than one and that wearing two had additional meaning which included one close to my heart in memory of my mother and still to date, it remains around my neck with the two of them together.

Now that I have made another move in my life it is once again time to search and find that right place to share my Episcopal values and what I hope is the right church for me to enjoy and continue my life in God. The one thing I always knew is that the “Golden Rule” was a central part of my life and will continue to live my life with that in mind. I do not know what God thinks of me and all that I have done for others, but I know I will continue to do Gods work in making life better for everyone I meet. I have always treated everyone in the same way I would expect them to treat me. I may be naive and gullible but that is because I expect everyone I meet to be good and friendly. God has his hands on my life and I treat everyone if he has the same hands on their life. I think God never left me, even when I lost my spiritual way with him. I have returned and intend to keep him in my heart and all that is expected of me to do.

God knows that the music will be the sounds of joy as we sing about Jesus Christ and God, and the traditional tunes in the hymnal, along with the words will be my greatest draw to church every Sunday. The stories in the readings and sermon may take second place, but still hold a place as a part I now enjoy. God put music in my life and it is the traditional hymns I still hold so dear. Thanks be to God.