Today is the Feast of St. John the Theologian, the patron saint of our mission parish. We had a fish fry tonight behind the church to celebrate. That’s an icon of St. John; in the background, one of our parishioners, a West Feliciana firefighter, is bringing catfish hot from the fryer to the table. That’s Julie’s vinegary (versus mayonnaisey) cole slaw to the right of the frame. All of it was delicious. There was cold beer also. A good time, had by all, under the oak trees.
Today was a good day to reflect on how much our little parish has come to mean to me. This week, I spoke with my friend Shelley Finkler, a parishioner at the wonderful St. John Orthodox Cathedral (Antiochian) in Eagle River, Alaska. I interviewed her for an article I’m writing for the magazine about the Benedict Option. Shelley and her husband Jerry came into Orthodoxy in 2007, but were living with their kids in a house 20 minutes away from the cathedral. This made it harder to get to vespers and to participate in the full liturgical life of the parish, especially in the snowy winter. Then circumstances led them to spend some time living in the residential community surrounding the cathedral, which allowed them to be present more often. Excerpt from our interview:
That meant we could go to all the services, first time ever. The quality of our life that year, even though we were way poor, was so rich because of being able to make it to the services, and also because of the friendships. The relationships we had with the people there were richer.
When Jerry finished his master’s degree work, they moved back to their house in the countryside, but missed being present all the time for liturgy and vespers. They missed it a lot. So this year, the Finklers have moved back to the community for a year to serve as the host family at the cathedral’s innovative St. James House ministry.
Listening to Shelley talk about how simply being present for weekday vespers and all the liturgies changed her life and her family’s life really resonated with me. We live about six minutes away from our mission parish. I’m not there for all the vespers, but I’m a lot better than I ever have been about going — and yes, I can tell a big difference in my spiritual life. There’s just no substitution for being there. How fortunate we are to have our little mission, which so many of us have worked and do work so hard to keep going. It’s for from perfect, of course, but in its essentials, the parish church I’ve longed for all my adult life, and being part of its community and its prayer life is a blessing.
I’m feeling magnanimous tonight. If you like, use the comboxes to talk about what you love the most about your religious community.