Dear Friends in Christ,
Hurricane Irene came through the area of Eastern NC with a vengeance. Ironically, Irene means peace in Greek! I am grateful to God that none of our parishioners lost their lives—downed trees and flooding are truly dangerous. Property damage did affect our community, however. One family lost their home, having to ride out the storm in a treehouse as the waters rose. Another family lost their pier, and another had trees all over their backyard. I am sure that some of you reading this also experienced damage. If any of you reading this would like to share your experience with me, I’d appreciate hearing from you as well. I can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and by telephone at (919) 827-4945.
Hurricane Irene went on to ravage New York. On Long Island, several of our families lost power and suffered inconveniences, but the real damage was in the Catskills, where our monastery dedicated to the Holy Ascension is located. While the monastery itself was spared, the entire town surrounding it was flooded out, and all the businesses and homes on the main road were significantly damaged. The local grocery store lost all of its stock, and will not be replenished for at least a month. To put things in perspective, the acting abbot of the monastery, Fr. Maximus, has to drive 30 minutes each way just to get food of any kind now. For those who have lost their appliances and homes, this only adds to the misery. Fr. Maximus reports that it is the worst flooding he has ever seen in New York in his lifetime.
A serious matter such as this provides a natural opportunity to discuss a serious matter. One of my friends is a Protestant minister in Greenville. His parish has perhaps two times the number of people that our parish does—in other words, it is small by Protestant standards. Their denomination has a crisis response team, and people from neighboring parishes flew in to North Carolina and did work for the people who were suffering. People in their local Church community helped each other, helped their neighbors, and even people they didn’t know to help them recover—out of love for them, and a desire to share Christ with them. One of our families was served by such a group of mobile responders from Arkansas.
Our parish has doubled in size since last year, and all indications are that the growth will continue—subject of course, to the will of God. However, we are still small. It’s not a surprise that when the main families have suffered debilitating loss, that some of the damage at the Church (which is minor, thank God) was not addressed immediately. It’s understandable that some families had to receive help from non-Orthodox volunteers, who are better organized and have the financial resources to do so. Our diocese did organize some relief for the people in the Catskills, as it did in Joplin and Alabama during the tornados, but to be honest, it probably would have been impossible for it to manage two crisis responses at the same time (i.e. New York and North Carolina). All of this is very logical and understandable.
However, what is it about our faith which is average, basic, or exists with an attitude of “just getting by?” The Church exploded in the early centuries for two reasons: the holiness of its members was so great that God worked miracles through them readily, and they had the mentality that we are a community that needs to work together and live together. Our community in Greenville is made up of people who live far and wide; we are spread out. That sometimes makes it hard for us to serve each other. Yet there are core families who live 90, 70, and 30 miles away who make the effort to serve the community of Greenville. At the same time, there are many families who live in Greenville who have come to the Church occasionally but never significantly contributed to the maintenance of the property or the charitable outreach of the Church. We see in some the early apostolic spirit of doing whatever it takes to keep the faith spreading, and we see in others a desire to attend the Church when it suits them, when they need comfort, or prayers for themselves, but when it is not convenient to them, they do not attend.
I do not imagine that this problem is unique to our Church community, but I want to emphasize that this recent crisis only highlights the fact that the Church will only be able to do good in the lives of its members and the community surrounding it in proportion to the effort that the members put in to it. A few families cannot bear the brunt of all operations at the Church all the time, and when crisis strikes, if these families are affected, the Church’s mission is impacted. The work of maintaining the Church property and of organizing and staffing its ministries needs to be more equitably distributed.
Again, it is perfectly understandable that a small parish would not be able to have the kind of response to a crisis that other Churches were able to do. However, we have the grace of God, and we can do amazing things with this blessing, so we cannot be content to be average. We’ve seen amazing things happen at our parish in the three years we have been here, so there should be no doubt that any effort put in to the Church will bear astonishing results many times over.
Instead of simply admonishing you all, dear readers, I wish to encourage you. Let me paint a vision of the future. In three years’ time, Nativity of the Holy Theotokos Greek Orthodox Church will be three times the current size it is now. It will have members local to Greenville, and members from far-flung areas of Eastern Carolina who come and are served by the Orthodox presence here. When a crisis occurs, not only will the Church be able to meet the needs of its members, but it is able to make a positive impact in the community, and after the next disaster is over, people will remember that our parish was on the front lines of the response.
Are you reading this and wondering what you can do to help? I frequently invite readers to attend the Church liturgies, because this is where our conversion and spiritual growth begins. However, there are some of you reading who have attended infrequently—please come regularly, and sign up for the property cleaning and maintenance schedule. Next, you can help us manage our clothing distribution program, so that we can perhaps offer it more frequently.
For those of you who have been hesitant to attend a service for whatever reason—come to the next charitable event, or give me a call and let’s discuss ways you could help out at the Church during the week as a first step. The bottom line is, we all expect the Church to be there for us when we need it, but we need to be there for the Church and for others when they need it, too. We can’t just rely on others, because there will be times when they cannot do it alone.
We’ve weathered this storm, but we have some steps that need to be taken to reach the vision outlined above. Take the first step today! We will travel this road together in Christ.