Four generations discover the love and forgiveness of Jesus.
Every night, Christopher Correri lifts up his six-year-old daughter, Anayah, because she wants to touch the cross hanging on the wall and say good night to Jesus.
Her love for Jesus is evident, as is that of her dad, grandma, and great grandma.
But what makes this story amazing is not their love for God but God’s free love and forgiveness for them, despite what they do or don’t do—something these new Lutherans now understand.
“No matter what mistakes or wrongdoings have happened, instead of being punished for it, God loves you and is going to forgive you. I think that is a big thing,” says Stephanie Cohen, a new member at Divine Savior, Delray Beach, Fla., and Anayah’s grandmother.
Stephanie was raised Roman Catholic in Brooklyn, N.Y., which included attending Catholic elementary school, high school, and college. “All my life was Catholic,” she says, “but I can’t explain if I had a deep-rooted faith. I know I believed in God. I know I believed in Jesus, but . . .” She struggled with the guilt she felt as a child if she didn’t go to church. “It’s always a negative. God is going to be mad at you,” she says. “Even as an adult if something happened, I always felt guilty.” Her struggle intensified when she felt like the priests weren’t welcoming her children in church.
Despite her misgivings, Stephanie continued attending Catholic church and raised her two sons Catholic. She and her mother found a new Catholic church in Florida after she, her second husband, and her mother moved there. But sometimes it seemed like she was just going through the motions. “In Catholic church, you stand up, sing prayers, you sit down, you kneel, you stand up, you sit down, you kneel, you say the Hail Mary, and you’re gone,” she says. “I always thought when the priest is saying the homily, What are you talking about? How does that relate to [the world] today or what you just read from the gospel? I knew I had faith, but I felt lost, if you will.”
Stephanie’s mother, Camille LaProvidenza, grew up with no religion until she was 10. Raised by a Jewish mother and Italian Catholic father, she was allowed to choose what religion to follow. After trying out a few different denominations, she decided to join her father’s extended family and become Catholic. “I followed that through until a year ago,” she says.
Through the years, Camille struggled with some parts of the Catholic religion, including going to Confession. She also noticed hypocrisy among some of the priests. But that didn’t stop her from going to church.
In 2020, something did stop the family from attending church—COVID. “We stopped going to church for almost two years,” says Camille. “This was not good—we weren’t doing what we were supposed to be doing.”
In August 2021, the family—Great-grandmother Camille, Grandmother Stephanie, son Christopher, and Christopher’s children—went to the beach, a place they liked to visit as COVID wound down. That’s when Christopher met Amanda Haar, a member at Divine Savior in Delray Beach.
Christopher was struggling in his faith life. He had divorced his wife, and he and his three children had moved in with his parents right before the pandemic started. “For an entire year, we were just inside. That’s a lot of alone time, a lot of thinking. People were dying. It was chaos. It all seemed so unreal to me. There had to be a bigger meaning or picture behind what was going on,” he says. “It was a lot of introspection and reflecting and trying to figure things out.”
Christopher had been raised Catholic by his mom, Stephanie, but struggled to connect. “There was nothing that drew me into going,” he says. “I always found the whole Catholic church vibe to be very hypocritical.” He started attending a mega-church with his now ex-wife and appreciated the relevant messages about Jesus. But that didn’t last, and after several years without church, he wanted to return—for himself and for his children.
When he opened up to Amanda, she said that she would pray for him. That prompted Christopher to ask her if she went to church. Amanda began talking about Divine Savior and invited him to attend (see sidebar).
That invitation was all he needed. He asked his mom and grandmother if they wanted to go with him—even if it wasn’t a Catholic church. They readily agreed.
That next Sunday the entire family attended Divine Savior. They were surprised at what they saw and experienced.
Stephanie’s first thoughts? “First of all, I was shocked that the church is simple. There’s just a cross and altar. That’s it.” Camille noticed that as well: Where are all the statues that we pray to? she wondered.
They also noticed the warmth and friendliness of the people at the church. “Pastor Joel [Schulz] seemed interested in me as a human being, not just another person in church but genuinely curious about me,” says Christopher.
The family kept coming back and started learning more about Lutheranism and God’s Word. “When Pastor speaks, he speaks from the Bible,” says Stephanie. “He’s not saying, ‘This is my interpretation.’ These are the words that came from God. He makes connections from whatever he is reading in the Bible to you today in your real life.”
Camille appreciates the opportunities to learn how to read the Bible for herself. “Being Catholic, as a child growing up, we were told you can’t read the Bible—plus everything was in Latin. The priest would explain what he wanted you to know,” she says. Now Camille and Stephanie attend a small group Bible study where they are digging even deeper into Bible teachings and stories.
Those stories also are being taught to the youngest generation of the family—Christopher’s children, Elijah, Anayah, and Isaiah—through children’s sermons at church and Divine Savior’s kids’ program. “They observe and pick up what the pastor tells them,” says Camille. “And they need this in their life.”
In March, all three children were baptized on the same day that Stephanie and Camille were confirmed and joined the church. Christopher’s confirmation followed in June.
Christopher appreciates the church’s willingness to address the difficulty of being a Christian in the world today. “It’s a spiritual war. We’re living through it, and no one talks about that stuff. It was super refreshing [to talk about it],” he says. “There is so much divisiveness and hate and anger. . . . I was feeling the pressure.” At Divine Savior he learned that having the knowledge that Jesus died for our sins can help him make godly choices in the world today.
That’s something he wants his children to know as well. “Everywhere you look you can see the influence of darkness. I want them to have some protection against that,” he says. “I want my kids to understand and get to know God and have that in their toolbox in life.”
That knowledge of God’s grace and forgiveness and how to live a godly life in thankfulness to God for those gifts is key for every Christian—no matter what your age.
Says Stephanie, “Pastor Joel has said many, many times that Jesus died for us, he forgives us, our sins are taken away. And just knowing that is amazing.”
She repeats, “It’s amazing.”
Author: Julie Wietzke
Volume 109, Number 12
Issue: December 2022
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