L’Abri comes to Roseville

Christian conference provides ‘honest answers to honest questions’
By: Sena Christian, The Press Tribune
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Although David George now serves as a church pastor, he once struggled with his Christian faith. George, senior pastor at Valley Springs Presbyterian Church in Roseville, credits what’s called the L’Abri Fellowship with answering his questions about Christianity and cementing his devotion to the religion during his youth. L’Abri, which means “shelter” in French, is a study center started in Switzerland by Christian theologian and philosopher Dr. Francis Schaeffer in 1955. Schaeffer’s ideas are often credited for the rise of the Christian Right. Now, his centers exist throughout the world. The centers help clarify the Christian faith within the culture that we live, George said. Some students stay for months, while others may stay only a week. In August, Valley Presbyterian Church will bring the teachings and discourse of L’Abri to Roseville with L’Abri California 2010, a conference held every two years. This year’s theme centers on “thinking and living the way of Christ.” While the study centers appeal to young people struggling with what they believe about God, the four-day conference is open to people of all ages and beliefs, and features guest speakers, workshops, worship, a concert and art show. George, 61, was once one of those questioning youth. During his high school and college years, the Philadelphia native struggled with his Christian upbringing. He had several lingering, unanswered questions: Was the Bible a trustworthy document or a book of fables? Did the Bible have historical integrity? He wondered if the Jesus of the Gospels was actually the “true” Jesus. “These are some of the fundamental questions the Christian faith is based on,” George said. As a history major at the College of Wooster in Ohio, George spent a semester in Israel. Around this time, he became acquainted with the writings of Mr. And Mrs. Schaeffer and decided to spend a month at L’Abri in Switzerland in 1970. “I felt it would be really good for me to sort through what I believed,” he said. “I did get a number of my intellectual questions addressed. I was really helped in my understanding of my beliefs … I had a sense of call to ministry.” What followed for George was Westminster Theological Seminary in Glenside, Pa., a time living in Green Bay, Wis., and a move to Roseville where he and his wife Jayne launched a new congregation in the form of Valley Springs Presbyterian Church in 1989. “The thing that grabs me on the intellectual level is no one addresses human issues better than (Christianity),” George said. “It does so much better than any other philosophical system. We’re incredibly intelligent and we have so much potential as human beings (but) we’re a mess.” The Christian faith tries to address this dilemma with great integrity, he said. Robert Brekke, who will attend his third L’Abri conference this year, shares this sentiment. “(L’Abri) has been eye-opening to say the least,” Brekke said. “It tends to rearrange my thinking. It focuses on the interface between Christianity, culture and arts, which is an area the church doesn’t normally direct itself toward. The talks are enlightening. You might say revolutionary and a bit controversial because it doesn’t speak kindly to mainstream evangelical culture.” Raised an atheist, Brekke spent his college years studying to be a high school biology teacher. “I had no interest in religion,” he said. “I actually had an aversion to it.” But as he learned more about physics, biology and chemistry, he ended up thinking there might actually be a designer, or creator, of the universe. He soon became a Christian. Brekke said his current place of worship, Valley Springs Presbyterian Church, “feeds my heart and my head.” Organizers expect this year’s conference to attract around 200 attendees, partly because of guest speaker Os Guinness, author, social critic and senior fellow of the EastWest Institute. Also keynoting the event is Dick Keyes, director of the L’Abri Fellowship in Massachusetts. Workshops focus on topics such as hospitality in modernity, value of reading to children, gender and vocation, mystery of prayer, case for civility and the moral power of satire. “This is not ‘Believe it because I say it,’” George said. “L’Abri is well-known for it’s intellectual activity. It’s not fluff, not smoke and mirrors. It’s sorting through philosophical issues and having honest answers to honest questions.” Sena Christian can be reached at ---------- What: L’Abri California 2010 conference When: Thursday, Aug. 5 to Sunday, Aug. 8 Where: Valley Springs Presbyterian Church conference center, 2401 Olympus Drive in Roseville Cost: $95 per single registrant and $170 per couple. (If paid at the door, there is no discount for couples). Special discount rates are available for students and groups of 10 or more. Info: Visit or call (916) 786-7940