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Orthodox youth ministry leader identifies with questioning of youth

Kevin Scherer seemed like “the golden boy on the fast track” into ministry until his questions about faith led to the loss of nearly everything—his job, his reputation and his friends.

Kevin Scherer
Kevin Scherer, Orthodox Christian Fellowship

After surviving that traumatic time, the questions he wrestled with during his youth and early 20s now help him understand and serve young people, including college students nationwide who belong to the Orthodox Church.

Kevin, a priest in the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America, is executive director of the Orthodox Christian Fellowship (OCF), the campus ministry arm of the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas.

The OCF provides programming in fellowship and spiritual growth for 270 chapters in the United States and Canada.

Many young people Kevin works with are struggling with questions about God, faith and the meaning of life, as he did.

“Their questions are a sign of health.  They should be embraced by the church,” he said, “as a sign that the church is an open door to someone’s life.   I hope to help students discover a deeper, fuller definition of their faith.”

As part of his work in youth ministry as a Southern Baptist, Kevin took young people to South Central Los Angeles, Mexico, and other places to experience first-hand the plight of the poor and marginalized.

“When students are pushed out of their comfort zones, they face their stereotypes and perspectives,” Kevin said. “Emotional vulnerability, contextualized with responsible pastoral direction, can be a transformative experience for spiritual growth and discipleship. It’s about interaction with one’s neighbor and the gospel.”

While at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Seminary in Crestwood, N.Y., Kevin prayed for an opportunity to combine his passion for youth with his mission experience.

He wrote his master’s thesis on how short-term missions can be a gateway for church renewal. His research and ideas led him to establish the Orthodox Youth Outreach in 2001.  In recent years, hundreds of junior and senior high students have been involved in local community service and short-term mission projects through OYO’s efforts.

Although he travels around the country, Kevin is based in Spokane, where he and his wife are rearing three daughters—ages 12, 9 and 6. When he’s not away, Kevin serves a mission parish in Moscow, Idaho. For more than a year, he has led worship for this parish of about 36 people.

Kevin shared insights from his journey into Orthodox Christianity, a journey that he said was neither straightforward nor easy.

Like many members of the Orthodox Church, he is a convert.
The grandson of a Southern Baptist preacher, he was expected to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps and become a pastor.

As a child in Mountain Home, Ark., he was well-versed in the Scriptures and excelled in Bible drills. He accompanied his grandfather on long trips in the Ozarks to plant churches and spread the Gospel.  Sunday evenings during his teens, Kevin preached to members of the church.  His sermons received high praise.

“My grandfather was a huge influence on my life,” he said. “I respected and loved him so much. I just couldn’t disappoint him.”

So Kevin studied theology and graduated with a bachelor’s degree from San Diego Christian College. He was immediately hired as a youth pastor at an influential evangelical megachurch. He and his wife, Robin, whom he met at college, lived three blocks from the beach.
“It was about as perfect as it could be,” Kevin said. “From my friends’ perspectives, my life was playing out as everyone thought it should.”

Deep inside, however, he didn’t feel satisfied. Questions about faith, the Bible and church history nagged him. His best friend at the time, a member of the church where he worked, encouraged him to seek answers. The two talked to different theologians from various Christian traditions, including Catholic and Episcopal churches. It was the first time he had studied pre-Reformation church history.

He began attending worship at these churches before heading to work and teaching at his own megachurch.

His wife, a musician at the church, first thought he was crazy, said Kevin. Soon, she began asking the same questions about church history and authority, and finding depth in the liturgy of other churches.

“I didn’t have preconceived ideas,” said Kevin. “My questions were sincere. I just wanted to follow those questions.  It became a matter of conscience.”

Two years later, when Kevin was 23 and preparing to attend Dallas Theological Seminary, he shared his feelings with the senior pastor of his church. The next month, he was fired and no longer allowed to teach.  Some parents of youth forbade their children from speaking to him.

“I was in no man’s land,” Kevin said. “I didn’t know what faith community I belonged to. I didn’t have a way to make a living. I didn’t know what to do.”

So he and Robin moved back to Arkansas and lived in his mother’s basement. He found a minimum-wage job shoveling dirt, then worked at a hardware store and then was a tram driver. For a year, they scraped by.  They continued on their faith journey, even as Kevin was asked to serve as interim pastor of his grandfather’s church, with the expectation he would continue after his grandfather retired.

The Scherers discovered a yearning to pursue Orthodoxy, so they did some research.  One Saturday, they drove four hours to the nearest Orthodox church in Memphis, Tenn.
They found that parishioners of St. John the Evangelist were like them—men and women who came from other Christian traditions but desired an ancient way of worship and a spiritual life in which Christ permeated every aspect of their lives. They wanted to be part of a church that integrated both theology and spirituality.

At St. John’s, he felt a sense of homecoming amid the icons, candlelight and incense during a vesper service. On meeting Kevin and his wife for the first time, the priest embraced them.
“Looking at the icon of Christ, I had an overwhelming feeling of wanting to run to it and wrap my arms around it,” said Kevin, describing his first visit to St. John. “Tears were streaming down my face. I had this overwhelming sense that I was home.”

The Scherers spent many weekends driving to Memphis for worship at St. John’s. In November 1993, the couple was received into the Orthodox Church. They lived in Memphis for several years before moving to St. Vladimir’s in Crestwood,  where Kevin pursued his call to ministry.

Despite the pain he suffered when he left the megachurch in San Diego, Kevin said he still values his Southern Baptist background.

“All my education led me to this point,” he said, adding that his grandfather, now 91, respects Kevin’s ministry and call to serve as a priest.

In fact, his experience as a youth pastor in the Southern Baptist tradition prepared him to do outreach among youth for Orthodox Christian churches in this country.

The pain and confusion he endured as a young man with many questions, Kevin said, also prepared him for the present.

He wouldn’t be where he is today if he had chosen the easiest and most obvious route. His being fired from his job and disowned by friends led to his journey to his new church home.

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Copyright © March 2009 - The Fig Tree