State of the Parish: Celebrations and Opportunities

Brethren: Holy Trinity has much to celebrate over the year past and has several opportunities in 2013 to further our mission of building up the Church beyond our parish.

First, let me highlight a number of unqualified successes. [Sections with asterisks (*) have their own reports and I refer you to them for greater details.] 

Celebration

A prime example of building up the Church beyond our parish is the Penn State Orthodox Christian Fellowship (OCF)* which actively ministers to students who participate on campus and in our parish in activities led by Deacon Alex Cadman. Over the years by means of campus ministry, Holy Trinity has been formative in the vocations of priests, deacons and monastics who now serve the Church. In addition to our own Dn. Alex, these are Fr. Hector Firoglanis, Fr. Gheevarghees John, Fr. John Diamantis, Sister Helene (Krenitsky) and Sister Margarete (Roeber).

Additionally, Alexey Petrides and Ryan Stingle are now completing Master of Divinity degrees at Holy Cross Seminary in anticipation of future church service, and Jabra Tannous has begun studies at St. Vladimir’s. Maria Roeber is finishing her two year appointment as a missionary to Tanzania. This is not to mention the numerous Penn State alumni now serving as lay leaders and simply good Orthodox Christians in so many parishes and careers in various parts of the country who credit OCF with providing them with a spiritual base and formation during their university years.

Sunday School/VBS* have seen consistent growth and excellence under the capable direction of Deacon Mark Oleynik. With five classes now in session on Sunday mornings, we now face the joyous challenge to find more room to accommodate more students. (Don’t forget that in Deacon Mark’s previous assignment at St. Mark’s, Bethesda, the Sunday School tripled in size and the parish was “forced” to build a Christian Education wing to accommodate the growth. It’s easy to see why.) 

Matthew 25* provides all of us with regular opportunities to impact the lives of Christ in the poor and the homeless in our community through its considerable work and partnership with Strawberry Fields and Housing Transitions. 

Men’s Fellowship sent a team of ten on a short-term construction mission to Marshall, Alaska. This marks the first time that a group of adults from Holy Trinity have done mission work, although we have helped to send many students on short-term missions throughout the world over the years. Upon return, the men have decided to support an Alaskan seminarian, Deacon Jason Isaac, in his studies at St. Herman’s Seminary, Kodiak. Dn. Jason is from Marshall. We appreciate the support which others have committed to this effort as well.

Opportunity

Our Strategic Growth Team (SGT) is actively engaged with charting our course over the next several years. As I noted at last year’s meeting, we have a five-year window to do the following:

  1. Build a chapel for our parochial mission, Chapel of the Holy Spirit (CHS)*, Beavertown.
  2. Come to a decision about our own building/expansion/relocation options in State College.
  3. Continue to expand and develop ministry at Holy Trinity in the meanwhile.

This year, it is a joy to refer you to Fr. Basil’s report and the considerable progress which is being made to build that chapel in Beavertown. Barring unforeseen complications, it is anticipated, and quite possible, to clear all the hurdles, dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s and break ground for CHS in 2013.

SGT has been at work over the past six months trouble-hooting several options for the parish to consider for addressing our need for more space for future ministry. As these are further refined by staff and council, the parish as a whole will have ample opportunity over several months to assess these options, comment upon them, and help us reach consensus on a prudent way forward which is faithful to our mission—to build up the Church beyond the parish—and our core values of worship, discipleship, fellowship, ministry and stewardship.

These options include, but are not limited to, the following: purchasing additional property in the neighborhood, specifically the American Cancer Society next door; purchasing property elsewhere in State College to build a larger, new temple and facilities; remaining on-site with no additional capital expansion, but the possible addition of two liturgies on Sundays; developing a second mission in this area to accommodate growth; or perhaps some combination of the options above. God will guide and God will provide both the direction and the means to do his will.

Seminarian Internship—Fr. Basil and I are exploring the possibility of a seminarian internship at Holy Trinity/Holy Spirit for this coming summer to develop the choirs and singers for both State College and Beavertown. Much technical knowledge is needed to conduct and sing Orthodox services well. This is something we have come to expect in our liturgical experience in our parish. The intern would possess considerable seminary and musical training in order to expand upon the dedicated work of Dr. Bob Roberts, Karen Cattell and our many church singers. It is envisioned that the intern would spend most Sundays in Beaver Town, while workshopping and developing voice and conducting techniques in State College during the week.

The proposed cost noted in the two budgets (HTOC and CHS: $4,000) would be raised apart from general offerings through grants and appeals. Besides providing a seminarian with parish experience in anticipation of future ministry in the church, it would also offset a portion of his or her educational expenses for the ensuing school year.

Seminary faculty from St. Vladimir’s Seminary is involved in developing criteria for participation as well as vetting possible candidates for this program. The term would last 8-10 weeks.

Everything outlined above is faithful to our mission and based upon our core values, building up the Church beyond our parish by means of worship, fellowship, discipleship, ministry.

Now for the stewardship: When I first cast vision for my pastorate in State College (1995!), I told mission leaders at that time that under my leadership it would be a pastorate whose ministry was based upon sacrificial, proportionate giving for the work of the Church. The mission community was already in agreement that Holy Trinity would never charge “dues” because it never wanted to become a religious club but a church in the fullest sense of that term.

I promised that God would bless us if we honored him with a tithe, something which Scripture indicates and which I practice. I also promised to lead them and the future parish in scripturally based financial support (cf. Malachi 3:8ff).

Over the years our financial stewardship has grown and our blessings have been multiplied. Currently our sixty families and supporting units provide not only the bulk of the parish budget through weekly offerings but mission and outreach appeals above budget, as well. Total giving as noted in the financial reports from both State College and Beavertown is now approximately $250,000 per year. That’s an average of more than $3,500 per family. And that is a blessing! But now, we called to be blessed more by increasing support sacrificially to meet the opportunities God has in store for us in 2013.

Chiefly, the majority of the increase is to provide adequate compensation in terms of pension and health care for Deacon Alexander. In addition to being on campus, he serves as parish ministry coordinator. As a full-time church worker, he is entitled to the benefits which most of the rest of us already enjoy. The Pastoral Care Committee is to be commended for its diligence in applying the Clergy Compensation Guidelines of the OCA in order to propose the increase in Deacon’s Alex total support.

It might be tempting to say, “let’s just have every family increase giving” by 1/60th of the total increase needed. In other words, a $12,000 increase divided by 60 families: that would work out to approximately $200 per family, or $17 per month, or $4 per week. And that certainly would be one way to do it, if everyone responded equally. But would it be the right way?

Have we ever noticed that things we are tempted to do are never really God’s way to do anything? Now, I’m not saying that everyone increasing his pledge by $4 per week is an evil thing to do! But what I am saying is that Scripture teaches us to give in proportion to how God has blessed us. For some, $17 per month might be the cost of a latte a week at Starbucks. For others, it might be the cost of a medical prescription. So while leveling the field might sound good, it actually might hurt some of our brethren.

In other words, to those to whom much has been given, is much more required. So, I lay this before you as an opportunity to increase your giving and then increase your joy in proportion to God’s blessings, in your lives personally and in our parish’s life corporately. Take a fixed percentage of your income blessing and thank God for it by returning it to him, weekly or monthly, and put him to test, as he indicates to us:

Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it. And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, and he shall not destroy the fruits of your ground; neither shall your vine cast her fruit before the time in the field, saith the Lord of hosts. And all nations shall call you blessed: for ye shall be a delightsome land, saith the Lord of hosts. (Malachi 8:10-12)

Then let’s see what God will give us to celebrate next year, and how many more opportunities he will give us to continue building up the Church beyond the parish through worship, fellowship, discipleship, ministry and stewardship.

— Fr. John