These are stories of ordinary people from The River whose lives were meaningfully impacted by our faith community.
I wasn’t born into a Christian family, but I believe I was an ideal candidate for Christianity from the start. I was baptized 3 times: as a Catholic baby, then Pentecostal, and lastly Baptist—just to make sure I covered all the bases! However, as I got older I began to struggle with of the teachings I was hearing. For example, what about all the people around the world who had never heard of Jesus? Was I really to believe that the God who loved me would just send them all to hell? I began to question things even more when I moved to NYC at the age of 22. Eventually, I decided that my faith and relationship with Jesus was real—but that religion was something else entirely. I hesitated to even call myself a Christian.
Then I met Ryan, my now-husband, who was not a religious person. A few years into our relationship we felt that we wanted to be a part of a faith community. Our first time at The River was Easter Sunday, of all days! I was nervous—I could hardly remember an Easter Sunday in any church that was not entirely focused on convincing people they should follow Jesus in order to be "saved." That was not the message we heard that day, even though it was quite moving and spiritual. So, we kept coming back!
We love The River and feel so grateful to have found it! Being a part of this community has strengthened our marriage and continues to bring joy and blessings to our lives. We're happy to call ourselves Christians now.
I left Chicago for New York, with my boyfriend (now husband) Felix, in July 2013. This meant I’d be the farthest from home in two ways: from my parents’ home and my faith home. I grew up attending non-denominational church whose traditions resembled a mix of Evangelical, Southern-Baptist, Presbyterian, and immigrant Chinese culture. For 20-plus years I supported its patriarchal, complementarian gender views, and anti-gay stance; though I am gay. It was a good church for me in many ways. But, my questions kept growing. And when my relationship with Felix was made known to the church leaders I was asked to stop volunteering at the church.
When Felix and I moved to New York, we were looking for a church where our relationship would be welcomed and affirmed. The River immediately became our faith home. We appreciated its emphasis on life-giving faith, connection, and prayer, instead of outdated rules that alienate people. While at the River, I experienced a new sense of freedom and richness in my Christian faith. Rather than asking if I’m "Christian enough", I’m asking whether my decisions lead me to Jesus. Rather than talking at God, I’m learning how to listen, look, and feel for Him, so I might receive hope, encouragement, and life for me and everyone around me. I feel truly loved as I am, and connected to God in fresh ways for fullness of life.
Gloria & Albert
My wife and I met at a church some time ago. We learned a lot about Jesus and God and made some great friends, but ultimately decided it was best for us to leave, because it became too controlling.
For years, we searched on and off for a new church. We started to look harder when our kids got older as we wanted them to have some type of spiritual background. But, we were also quite skeptical about churches due to our previous bad experience. So, the search wasn't easy.
When we decided to try the River, it was initially hard to open our hearts, because it was not easy to trust another church. However, our kids kept asking us to come back. They have always liked the Riverkids program, and how can you say no to your children when they are asking you to go to church?
Since then, The River has become our home church that we trust fully. It has taught us about God's grace and unconditional love, to have a relationship with God based on his love instead of fear and guilt and shame. It really feels unique and impacts us in practical, daily life. For example, the River has helped our marriage so much! We are glad to have tried church-based spiritual pursuit again.
KATERINA & DENNIS
Dennis: We met in the West Village and had our first date there. We were very different but at the same time very similar. I come from a conservative Korean Methodist church background, and Katerina is from Macedonia where she grew up going to church 1-2 times a year, so it was important for me that we find a church that we both like. Personally, I opened up my heart to the sermons at The River. One thing that captivated me was the “centered set” principle, which puts vibrant relationship with God above rule-keeping. This was different than any message that I’ve ever heard anywhere else. That made it possible for both of us to understand and grow in faith in dynamic ways.
Katerina: It was definitely a challenge for me to understand a faith background that was different from what I grew up with. There were a lot of questions and problems that I needed to work with and understand. But we took it kinda slow and Dennis was very patient. Before The River, my faith could be summed up as, “I believe in God and I know about Jesus.” The River takes a different approach to faith than any church we've seen before—focusing on connection to the Living God, and how to make faith relevant in daily life. It’s really thought-provoking and attractive to younger people like us.