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Worldwide fellowship needs no building, no budget, no bishops
Terri Marsh and Muriel Erickson are itinerant ministers who travel around the country and live in the homes of fellowship members. They currently are serving in the local area. Roger Werth / The Daily News

While megachurches explode from 3,000 to 8,000 members who worship among espresso machines, huge TV screens and sophisticated sound systems, other groups of Christians choose a stance that is very quiet, very still.

"We have no denominational name," said Muriel Erickson, who has been a minister in a worldwife "fellowship of love" for 50 years. "We don't need any name. Jesus did not give a name to his ministry."

Erickson, an itinerant minister to hundreds of home-based churches operating with no hierarchy or financial structure, spoke recently about why her faith is best practiced quietly, humbly, and free of mortar and money.

"We follow the example Jesus gave by his own life," Erickson said. "Those he called and sent out took no salary, paid no tithe. They never passed a collection plate."

She and fellow minister Terri Marsh presently serve in Longview, living in the homes of members who welcome them for various periods of time. In Longview and Kelso, more than 100 members, organized into six groups, meet for worship in each other's homes.

"We believe in the New Testament, that the church is not in a building, but in people," Erickson said.

When Jesus said "Upon this I will build my church," he meant not an authority figure but "the revelation disciples had received," Marsh said.

The two women preside at worship, weddings and funerals; offer counsel and comfort, visit the sick and work in missions. Each owns nothing but a few suitcases to hold her clothes. They have not married nor had families; they live without homes and furnishings, cars, bank accounts and insurance policies.

"You keep your possessions down, because you're moving all the time," Marsh said. "In Europe, we can travel without a car. Here, we get lazy, because people give us the use of cars."

When they need medical care or a plane ticket for missionary work in Australia or Eastern Europe, "the gift" always appears, Marsh said. "The Lord provides the way in every century."

Erickson said members of the group do not own televisions ("we have found it takes away from the quietness of the home") and don't go to movies. Females dress in skirts of mid-calf length and wear their hair long, practices grounded in Scripture.

It's sometimes a challenge for teens, Marsh acknowledged, but that's not a bad thing.

Erickson added, "If they themselves have the kernel of the matter, if they want to do what would please Jesus, they choose to be modest. Not because their mother says, 'You have to wear this," but because they have conviction. It's lovely when that happens."

When all ages gather for worship, "We read the Bible, pray and worship in sincerity and truth," Erickson said. "We have found the way that works. It produces life, peace and hope without financial bondage.

"It is so beautifully simple."

On a February Sunday, two dozen members sit in silence, on folding chairs set up in a Longview family room. There are four teen-agers, several people in their 40s and many older than 50.

There's no chatter, not even whispering. Everyone has a Bible and a small hymn book. At Erickson's prompt, they beginning singing.

Bind us closer, Lord, and closer, As one body may we be.

And our love for one another, manifest in love for Thee. …

The meeting has three parts that unfold in orderly precision. First, each member offers a personal prayer. Then, again taking turns, each one offers testimony, a few minutes of reflection based on a Scriptural passage. Finally, they share a communion of one tall glass of grape juice and one piece of bread.

Not only does it stretch to feed the entire group, but there's also some left.

"Home meetings are so reverent and so personal," Marsh said. "This is what we have found that feeds our souls."

At Wednesday Bible studies in school libraries or other venues, Erickson and Marsh explore lessons from Scripture for an hour. The messages and hymns reinforce themes: Life on Earth is brief. Jesus is coming. It is wise to be prepared — and preparation brings peace and joy.

Afterwards, kids fly around and members linger to talk and laugh. They share a graceful but strict focus on the strengths of their path.

"This is our whole life," said Erickson. "We don't dwell on comparisons."

Erickson grew up in northern Wisconsin and was brought up in a fellowship home. Marsh, who is from Kent, Wash., was raised by "God-fearing" parents but came to the fellowship later. Her maternal grandparents belonged, and when, as an adult, she found herself missing something as a churchgoer, memories of their ways surfaced.

Marsh went to Australia to teach and attended fellowship there. For six years, she struggled with a yearning to go deeper, finally deciding to become a minister although it meant leaving a career she loved.

"To make the full commitment, I had to look at what I was giving up. … I said yes to Him that called me. And I am thankful."

"You have an inner call, and you make it known to the group," she said. "We are 'trained in the yolk' "— on-the-job practice with an experienced elder.

Newcomers find the group through friends or notices of meetings. They may join at the Gospel meetings, Erickson said. "All who would like to embrace the faith of Jesus stand to their feet, and raise their hands."

Full immersion baptism comes later, she said. "It's not a part of joining. Baptism has to do with a deeper commitment. It's forever."

Conventions held in other states and overseas allow a wider net of fellowship — and love, Marsh said, smiling. Young members often meet their mates at the gatherings.

That's what happened with Lowell and Alice Modin.

Alice, who was visiting from New Jersey, attended a convention in Olympia where she met Lowell, a Longview contractor.

The Modins are both from families who raised them in the fellowship; Alice's ancestry includes great-great aunts who brought the belief system with them from Ireland in the 1800s.

The couple has three children, including a 19-year old son in the Navy and two teen-aged girls. The Modins don't put pressure on their children, their father said, because "the movement has to take place inside the person."

"If we believe in it and we love it, our kids have a blt of an advantage," Modin said. "Sitting through all these meetings for all these years, they're very aware of it."

For him, belonging to the fellowship is "the most important thing in my life. … People spend a million dollars and can't buy what we have. There is a growth that comes with it . … We can go through life with a smile."

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