George Geftakys has died…

Grave markerGeorge Geftakys slipped into a coma on August 11, 2014, and died at 6:15 p.m.  He was buried in a private service at the Riverside National Cemetery. Your reflections prompted by this event are welcome here, on the website, and on the Facebook groups, “George & Betty Geftakys – Geftakys Assembly”, and “The Geftakys Assembly”. Elizabeth Esther Geftakys Henderson written about her grandfather’s passing on her blog and on her Facebook page.

In April George had had a stroke and a fall, from which he did not recover. He was placed in hospice care and given two to six months to live. Several former Assembly leaders considered visiting him to make one final appeal for a change of heart. However, his opportunity for repentance was past; according to a family member, he was not capable of coherent discussion due to increasing dementia.


So George could say…

In 1970 (before the Assembly began) there was a weekend seminar in George and Betty Geftakys’ home. Some people hung around afterward to talk–his teenage son, Tim, and his friends, several women in their sixties who had been part of a similar ministry in the past, several young couples who were experimenting on Saturday nights with their ideas of what the church really ought to look like. George proposed, with enthusiasm (as he did everything), “What we need is a prayer meeting! You people here are the backbone of this ministry. We need to meet every two weeks on Saturday to pray all day for this ministry! The Lord wants to do great things, and there is great opposition. What do you say, friends! Is that too much to ask for the Lord?” Thus was born the Workers Prayer Meeting.

Now, wherever he went he could say, “This ministry is bathed in prayer. I have a whole group of people praying for me all day twice a month.” That tended to set polite skeptics back on their heels a bit. After all, the guy was apparently not a lone wolf, he had serious people behind him.

On another occasion George said, “I remember the days when Billy Sunday preached in tent meetings. Those were wonderful days, friends, wonderful! God came down on that tent, glory filled it. It’s a shame there are no more tent meetings. God used them in a mighty way. I’m all for raising up a new tent campaign for the Lord, what do you say, friends! Wouldn’t that be glorious, a tent right here on Harbor Boulevard!”

And so the yearly Fullerton and Huntington Beach tent campaigns were born. Never mind that they were an anachronism, they never drew crowds of people, they sucked huge amounts of time and energy from many people to put them on. That didn’t matter, because George was able to say, “In this ministry, we don’t care about the latest fad in the churches. We do things the old fashioned way. We just preach the gospel, like Billy Sunday and Billy Graham.”

“…So George could say”….How much of what we did was really for this purpose, so George Geftakys could give an impression – “This is my ministry, this is who I am.” All nights of prayer, summer schools on university campuses, even the seminars…In addition to being tools for mind control, they were stage setting and props and cast to support the illusion of George and Betty Geftakys’ drama.

It’s not about me….

Michael Spencer’s posts on grace (here, here and here) gave me an “aha!” moment about what was off-base, spiritually speaking, in the Geftakys Assembly, and other legalistic groups. That kind of perfectionistic performance-based teaching invokes a schema that is all about the individual. Do I have the right attitude – “Are you rejoicing, sister?” Am I praying enough – “Did you sign up for prayer tower?” Am I walking closely enough with the Lord – “How are your morning times, sister?” Am I following all the rules – “Your hair is a little short, sister.” Am I spending time with enough people – “Are you going through the Anchors with someone?” Am I working with my children enough – “Are you having mat times at home, sister?” Am I teaching my children the way of the cross – “Are you enforcing first-time obedience, sister?” Am I a good example – “There’s nothing wrong with a glass of wine, but you have to think about your testimony.” (Sorry, but I really needed that glass of wine.)

You form a picture of a God who is busy all the time scrutinizing the lives of His children for flaws and failures. That’s his preoccupation, that’s what he is really, really interested in – pointing out all the mistakes, and searching, searching for the rare soul who is doing it all right. Those few – those very few – successes are his delight! Those few successes are what the whole human project has been about since the book of Genesis, and they are the ones in the book of Revelation who help Jesus win the final victory! Yaaay for the Overcomers!

God’s other main endeavor right now is preparing great things for them!

Uh, pardon me, but that schema is bass-ackward! Emphasis on the “Aack!!” THAT IS NOT God’s plan and preoccupation! He created man because he wants to reproduce the love that exists between the Father and the Son. The angels were fine, they’re sentient and powerful and all. I mean, talk about performance! But they have no clue about relationship. He wanted beings who could share the love.

Of course, having the image of a God like this and and being able to freely choose to love him, we were also able to disobey, and the rest is history.

So is God all about trying to get us to shape up, already? NO. He sent his son to live the perfect life on our behalf and to die to bring us into union with himself, so that, by grace through faith, we are once again in that circle of love between the Father and the Son and the Spirit. And although we still sin, we have within us the desire to behave like family members. The more we experience the love, the more we want to change and become like Them.

And that’s how it works! Instead of it being all about our individual performance, it’s all about believing more and more what God has already done on our behalf, opening ourselves up more and more to receive his love. As that happens our minds get renewed. We begin to operate out of a different set of beliefs. We change! (A little. Sometimes a lot, but not often, because changing our beliefs isn’t easy…) But that’s the difference between legalism and grace–it’s a completely different paradigm! It’s not about us, it’s about the love of God!

Hymn triggers….

This was one of those Sunday mornings that was a minefield of triggers, hymn triggers. I’ve learned I have to look over the bulletin for roadside bombs before the church service begins. So there it was, the hymn before communion – “Let us love and sing and wonder” (Little Flock, I think). I haven’t laid eyes on this hymn for at least 18 years, since we left the Assembly. I took a sharp breath and muttered, “Oh, dear.” I whispered to a friend sitting next to me to please pray for me and pointed to the hymn. She knew exactly what I meant and squeezed my hand.

I quickly read through the words before worship and began to identify the worst parts and brace myself. During the first part of the service and the sermon I was able to collect myself and get very objective and ready for that hymn. When it came, I got through it with only an increased heart rate. No tears.

But the memories were flashing before my eyes. Mark Miller singing this particular hymn – the volume always increased on the last phrase, “You have washed us with your blood; you are worthy, Lamb of God.” He would lift his chin up and really let it out. Thinking of the great truth of the fourth stanza, and how the words clashed with the Assembly message: “Let us wonder – grace and justice join and point to mercy’s store; when through grace in Christ our trust is, justice smiles and asks no more: He who washed us with his blood has secured our way to God.” There was a flood of conflicted feelings about the bittersweetness of the Assembly experience.

But after communion there was another IED I hadn’t noticed – the hymn “Join all the glorious names.” That one took me completely by surprise. I did pretty much okay through most of it, probably because I was already trying to steel myself against my emotions. But the last phrase of the last verse was my undoing – “Behold, I sit in willing bonds beneath thy feet.” In the Assembly I had always sung that as a renewed commitment to submit to everything, and it always inflicted a sharp pain.

All in all, though, it really helped to ask my friend to pray for me. Knowing she did was a present reality that kept me at least partially grounded. I wasn’t completely swept away in the tide of tears as I so often have been. About six months ago we sang, “It is well with my soul,” which, again, I don’t think I had sung for 18 years. I was still so obviously blubbering at the end of the service that the dear older man who sat behind us came up afterward and put his hand on my shoulder and asked me, “Is it well with your soul, sister?”

It seems so crazy that this stuff still goes on with me after 18 (eighteen!!) years. The reality is, though, that memories of the past remain in the brain, vested with the same emotions that imprinted them at the time, until they are accessed and reframed with a different understanding, and refiled with a different set of “tags”, to use a blogging metaphor. My brain has done so much of this over the years that today, when the last verse popped up, it was only moments before the new tags were applied.

First Congregational (small)The music through the whole service this morning was a trip down memory lane, most of it positive. The first hymn was “All glory, laud and honor”, for Palm Sunday. That took me back to my earliest childhood at the First Congregational Church of LA, where I sang in the children’s choir. First Church is very reminiscent of English cathedrals and the formal English service. First Congegational Church Chancel: a nave that seemed about four stories high, chancel of ornately carved wood, gorgeous stained glass on all sides. We wore miniature English-style choir robes –  plain full length purple underneath short starched white cottas. I have a picture of us all lined up on the church entry stairway, holding our little crosses made of strips from palm fronds. We processed solemnly up the center aisle behind the cross and the adult choir, the strains of the huge pipe organ reverberating. It’s a good memory, a memory of reverence and awe. First Church indelibly imprinted on me a love for the English communion service and the Book of Common Prayer. I can remember standing beside my mother in the pew hearing her sweet voice saying the Apostle’s Creed. We attended that church until I was about ten.

Back to today’s service. During communion the pianist played a medley of hymns: “I heard the voice of Jesus say, ‘Come unto me and rest.'” – college, InterVarsity Christitan Fellowship. Wonderful memories. “The Lord’s my shepherd,” Fountain Avenue Baptist Church. My family went to Fountain Avenue after we left First Congregational. I was baptized there. My mom came to faith in Christ, was baptized there and started the church library. She stayed there until she went to Westmoreland Chapel. My dad was a deacon. Good memories.

I guess when you get to your sixties you reflexively look back over your life and try to make sense of it as a whole. It was good today to be taken back to all those times and know that God has never left me nor forsaken me. I can see the Assembly years – twenty long years –  as part of the whole, and He has been teaching me the whole way.