When I met my wife, Dee Piekarek, we were both working as counselors at a residential treatment center for children. I had recently left the Catholic priesthood and was pursuing a doctorate in clinical psychology. I had always been a serious Christian, drawn to the world of church, and loved many aspects of ministry, too. However, I had left when I began to question the priesthood’s requirement that I live alone, without a family, for a lifetime. As Dee and I dated, I understood that I was (hopefully!) on my way to landing this extraordinary Christian woman as my wife. I could not have known then that I also would be gaining an extraordinary family of faith in the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
My journey reflects many of the features of a modern Christian seeker, for it has been guided above all by the quality and depth of relationships. There were many precious steps where, in hindsight, I can see God’s hand at work. God worked through so many members who welcomed me with open arms, as Dee’s spouse, from Day One. God worked through Pastor Rodney and Pamela Mills, who, when they first met us, welcomed Dee and me with so much acceptance of where each of us was at in our spiritual walk. Pastor Rodney took the time to show me the biblical basis of Adventism and, in an amazing surprise, they travelled back from Texas to Milwaukee to be present for my baptism. God worked through my in-laws, Karl and Anita Piekarek, who’ve shown me the strongest marriage I’ve ever seen. God worked through my wife, Dee, who has a passion that all the kids at Central shall be members of Christ’s church . . . and shall be members of the remnant who keep the commands of God. And God worked through so many of the other families with whom we are raising our 7-year-old daughter, Delaney — a family of families raising our children together.
This year, God worked through Pastor Bryan, who ignited an excitement in me by showing me the thoughtful and intellectually rigorous ways that the Adventist Church is presenting the eternal truths of the gospel, while simultaneously translating it to the historical moment of today. I’ve always been attracted to faith as both a heart and head experience. As we began to meet regularly, I was impressed to learn more about the deep and nuanced thinking happening within the Adventist Church. We talked about the Adventist teaching of the broader church throughout history and the role of the modern Adventist church. We talked about the implications of a theology that unites body and spirit in a whole person, and the implications of Sabbath theology on understanding God’s design for humanity. We talked about humanity’s perennial temptation to compel misguided worship, or to prohibit authentic worship. Every discussion we had seemed to integrate Biblical principles and modern life in such a seamless way.
Above all, what has always been irresistible about this Church is the love. The people of God at Milwaukee Central have stood by Dee and me on some of our most joyful days, and they have stood by us on some of our toughest days, as we lost two of our children to a neurological disorder, our dear sons, Nicholas and Matthew. In all of those moments, the support I felt from the congregation was rock solid. They carried us by their faith and love, in a way that was also fully human. They did not try to give us pat answers, but rather entered into the painful loss, and the unanswered questions it raised, right along side with us.
I feel like I already have had some deep faith walks with the Adventist Church even before becoming a full member. As I told the congregation on the day of my baptism, “Most miraculously, you have always loved me as I am . . ., and not merely for what you hoped I might one day be.” That is miraculous love. That is Divine Love. I’ve seen a lot of churches in my day. I’ve never encountered one where so many people take their faith so seriously. Faith is not just one aspect of life alongside others; it is the central, organizing principle around which everything else is built: family, money, relationships, time, ministry — everything.
As a clinical psychologist, I’m trained to look carefully at actual results, not claims. When I look at the Adventist church, I see a group of incredibly dedicated Christians, who come together to form the Body of Christ described in the Scriptures. We know that, today, so many people in our culture feel alienated, isolated, lost in a competitive and lonely world that gives little to hope for. But within this Body of Christ, there is love, there is support, there is hope, there is faith, there is purpose. This is what I have experienced at Central. This is what I want for our daughter, Delaney. One of the most important moments in my discernment came when I realized that I would be thrilled if our daughter Delaney were to someday marry an Adventist man. While, of course, our human struggles are present in every denomination, I came to believe in my heart that, if she were to marry an Adventist man, it might well be her best chance of finding an incredibly dedicated Christian husband. I asked myself, “If that’s what I am rooting for, for her, then what would stop me from uniting our family in this faith?”
To sum it up, I felt so many signs coming together, pointing me to the Adventist Church. The people who are my deepest companions in faith, the experience we were having as a family in good times and bad, the incredible dedication of the members, the intelligence of the leadership I’ve been blessed to know, the rich biblical and intellectual foundations, all seemed to be used by God to point both my heart and my head to the Adventist faith.
Earlier this year, Sheldon Bryan, pastor at the Milwaukee Central Church baptized me. And, so, in a world so full of distraction and busyness, I am proud and happy to join the church that proclaims Sabbath rest. In a world so full of addictions of every kind, I am proud and happy to join the church that decisively says that is not the way. I am proud and happy to do all I can to share this unique light in the city of Milwaukee and beyond.