People of St. Peter’s

Erica LaRussa

erica-larussa-easter-2017-st-petersAs a child, my parents made sure our family attended church sometimes on Sundays and always on holidays. We took part in Christian Education classes and made our sacraments. I owned a Bible (though rarely opened it). I memorized the prayers I was supposed to and could recite them. I was taught that Jesus was born a miracle of the Virgin Mary and was the Son of God; that he died on a cross for my sins and then rose from the dead… and if I believed in Him I would go to heaven, but if I didn’t I would go to hell. All of this made very little sense to me, but it was routine and I didn’t have much choice in the matter, so I went with it. This was the beginning of my faith.

When I went off to college and started my life as a young adult, I stopped going to church and only prayed when I really needed something. I was focused on my studies, my career, and learning to be independent. I met and fell in love with my future husband, Larry. We were married at age 23 and moved to Philadelphia. We decided to try some churches but were left underwhelmed and quickly gave up after a handful of services at different parishes. We both knew we believed that God existed, still went to mass on Easter and Christmas with our families, and we still prayed when we needed something. So we went on with life and lived with this kind of belief about God and religion.

At 28 years old, we started a family of our own. It was through this beautiful baby girl that God grew our faith and we put Him in the center. We found a joy in our heart that filled us to the brim. Our daughter was baptized and we found a congregation that was new to our neighborhood. It was different. The young pastor was our age and he was engaging, energizing, refreshing. We didn’t need to know all the words or get dressed up, and it was okay to have questions and doubts. The music was uplifting, the messages were powerful, and we found ourselves worshipping in a way that was meaningful. There was opportunity for fellowship and outreach, but we were so exhausted and busy from having a newborn and both working full time that we didn’t get involved much or make new friends. Our life was busy. Jesus was there but it was so hard for me to find time with Him.

When we discovered we were pregnant with our second daughter, we decided to move back to New York and be closer to our families. Larry accepted a job in Geneva, which is right in the middle of where each of our families are in Rochester and Syracuse areas. I was not too thrilled to leave Philadelphia – I liked my job, my friends, the big city and the life we had started there. Geneva was very small and unfamiliar. We didn’t know anyone or anything there. I prayed to God to give me patience to give this new place a chance, and for Him to show me courage to put myself out there, to meet new people and try new things. We tried out a few churches in the area but were again underwhelmed, as we had entered and exited the services unnoticed and unaffected.

Five days after our second daughter was born, I was itching to get out of the house. I took my now family of four to a church I had heard about called St. Peter’s. The moment we walked in, we were immediately and warmly welcomed. The singing choir gave me goosebumps, the sermon lifted me up, and I felt part of the liturgy, not just an audience member. There were dozens of children, some of them sitting quietly, some of them playing in the pews, some of them even running around the sanctuary, and no one seemed to mind, in fact, they smiled. It was so incredibly refreshing and relieving. When it was time for Peace, everyone actually left their seats to exchange the Peace with others and went out of their way to welcome us. It was exuberant, I had never seen anything like it! When the service was over, we were bombarded with folks insisting we stay for coffee, refreshments and fellowship after the service. I had never seen such a lively group of people at a church before. People invited us to parties and picnics, offered to help out with our young children, gave advice and tips on settling in to Geneva, and most importantly encouraged and welcomed us with open arms to return to St. Peter’s. My husband and I were stunned. We were jubilant. We knew that day we had found “the” church for our family.

A year and a half has passed. Our second daughter was baptized at St. Peter’s, and Larry and I were recently officially received into the Episcopal church. We have found a home in St. Peter’s. We have found a family in St. Peter’s. We have found God in St. Peters, and are thrilled to join Him in loving other people. We hope both of our children can grow up here and invite Jesus into their lives. They love going to church, seeing their friends, hearing the music, participating in fellowship and Sunday school. We are excited for both our girls to make their debut appearance in the upcoming Christmas pageant performance.

I now realize that faith isn’t just believing in something – it is something to base my life off of. In my 30’s, I have now really began to realize how much I need a Savior and how awesome life can be when Jesus lives in my heart.