Evangelization: “A Tale of Two Parishes!”

Lansing, NY



OCA – December 2014

Over the weekend of November 15-16, 2014, Archpriest Jonathan Ivanoff, Director of the Commission on Mission and Evangelism of the Diocese of New York and New Jersey, visited Holy Apostles Mission Church here to meet with Priest James Worthington, Rector, and his parishioners, to celebrate the divine services, and to share in the joy and blessings being poured out upon this OCA Planting Grant Mission.

“Beginning with Great Vespers on Saturday evening, we were pleased to have Father Jonathan present with us,” said Father James. “Afterwards, members of the parish joined Father Jonathan in a conversation about the good things that are being done in the parish—including daily services, care for college students and charitable outreach—while examining new and further ways for ‘growing the mission.’”

On Sunday morning, the celebration continued with a baptism and two Chrismations—a sign of the growth of this four-year-old mission community.

“Two newly illumined young men, as well as several youths from the parish, joined Father Jonathan and me at the celebration of the Divine Liturgy in the sanctuary, which was nearly full of the faithful of the parish,” Father James said. “As Father Jonathan noted, ‘The joy and laughter at coffee hour was truly contagious, and the entire service and atmosphere was so conducive to prayer and worship. I was also blessed by the fellowship and talk we shared Saturday night after that meeting.’”

The parishioners of Holy Apostles Church are quite blessed to be guided by Father Jonathan and their entire diocesan family.

“Through the prayers and generous support of the entire Diocese of New York and New Jersey,” Father James concluded, “the mission of the Orthodox Church to spread the Gospel to all nations is bearing fruit in Lansing, NY.

[See related article.]

Similar “good fruit” is being experienced at Saint John the Baptist Church, Rochester, NY, where Archpriest Ken James Stavrevsky is Rector. Celebrating its 50th Anniversary in 2014, the parish is well established, yet has never lost its missionary spirit. At the beginning of 2014, it launched an Evangelism Task Force, made up of 12 members—ranging in age from 16 through 80—to consider ways to proclaim the Good News to all who would receive it.

“‘What great things has God done in your life?’ is a profound and wonderful question, to be sure,” said an enthusiastic Blake Keller, who chairs the Task Force. “It’s also a question central to our evangelism efforts, for we—like the healed Gadarene demoniac of Matthew 8:26—are commanded to ‘go and proclaim all that God has done for you!’”

With this thought in mind, Task Force members welcomed Priest John Parker, who chairs the Orthodox Church in America’s Department of Evangelization, on November 12, 2014.

“The Task Force had been working actively for over six months and found affirmation that their efforts were heading in the right direction while considering new ideas for the coming months,” Blake said. “When formed, the Task Force set a lofty goal of increasing Liturgy attendance by 20 percent by May 2015. We discovered that, to realize this goal, we didn’t need to reach much further than those already known to us and friends of the parish—those who come infrequently, children of regular attendees, people married or baptized in the parish, and so on. With Father John’s help, we made the commitment to this concrete goal through actionable and measurable steps.”

Among these steps are developing an “baseline” against which to measure attendance, creating an on-line parish directory with member photos, forming an Ushers’ Ministry to ensure that visitors are welcomed warmly and gather contact info, producing a Liturgy guide with an illustrated text of the Liturgy with explanations, redesigning the parish’s web site to optimize for search engines while producing informative content that appeals to “seekers” and parishioners alike, and installing a more visible exterior sign that features service times and a clear message of invitation—“Ancient Christianity for Everyone!”

“On Saturday, October 4, we hosted a ‘Blessing of Animals,’ for which we mailed out over 2,400 invitations to households within a half-mile of the church and asked parishioners to distribute flyers to their neighbors, friends and coworkers,” Blake continued. “Even members of the Mounted Unit of the Rochester Police Department attended!” [See related story.]

Future efforts will include a program titled “Brother’s Keeper” to reach out actively to contact those who no longer attend the parish, letting them know that they are missed. Social media opportunities are also being explored.

“Father John emphasized that all efforts should be kept personal, to the extent possible,” Blake said. “While the internet and social media offer promise, they must always point toward a personal contact—telling our personal stories being the best way to connect with others. This has proven true in our case with many, including our parish’s Protodeacon, coming to the church after receiving a simple, personal invitation by a friend.”

Father John offered attendees three key principles for parish growth—hospitality, people telling others about the Church, and a beautiful, clean and accessible church building.

“He also shared two methods of outreach—a personal method, such as sharing our stories with others, and a more ‘broadcast method’ by which many are reached through the internet or other advertising/marketing methods,” Blake added. “Another possibility is to host and invite neighbors to a ‘movie night’ at the parish with seasonally appropriate films.

“The gathering with Father John was energizing, and Task Force members are more excited than ever to continue our efforts,” Blake concluded. “It’s especially exciting to know that other parishes are also working hard to rekindle the zeal that characterized those who brought Orthodoxy to North America over 200 years ago!”