Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Christ is risen!
As I write these words, I am distinctly aware that the season of Pascha is coming to a close. By the time of publishing, it will already be past Holy Ascension, and that joyous greeting – “Christ is risen!” – will be exchanged for “Christ is in our midst” until the evening of Great and Holy Pascha next year. A week from now the Paschal cycle will come to a close with Pentecost, and a new season will begin.
On Pentecost Sunday another “season” will pass in the life of St. John the Baptist Church: Fr. Theodore, your beloved founding priest, and his family will say farewell to the community. It is fitting that the Paschal cycle should align with this momentous transition in the parish. We all entered Lent with zeal for the spiritual bootcamp that takes place each year. Through the 40 days and Holy Week, we strove to purify our passions and become spiritually strengthened, that we might come to Pascha renewed and with a deeper faith.
Likewise, a great zeal inaugurated the foundation of this new parish 20 years ago. In the intervening time, under the guidance of Fr. Theodore (and more recently Fr. Timothy), this parish has grown in size and in spiritual maturity. The “bootcamp” of those first 20 years has produced a deep faith and a firm foundation for the future. It is humbling to step into a role that has been so well-served by Fr. Theodore.
My family and I will enter your lives as this year’s Paschal season ends. I am thankful to God that in the preceding decades such a solid spiritual bedrock was laid, so that this new “season” in the life of the parish can grow with confidence. Further, I am fortunate to be able to work side by side with Fr. Timothy.
I come to your community from a parish with the same patron saint: St. John the Baptist Church in Las Vegas. I have served for nearly four years as the second priest in Las Vegas, working in a large and thriving community within a bustling metropolitan area. (Some of you may know the head priest there, Fr. John Hondros, who served in the Northwest for a decade at parishes in Eugene and in Seattle.)
I came to Las Vegas directly from seminary in Boston. Prior to entering seminary, I worked in print journalism, as a waiter in fine dining, and in real estate development.
Presvytera Annie and I are natives of Northern California: She grew up in ‘high-tech’ San Jose; I grew up in ‘farm town’, Modesto. Both of our families came to Orthodoxy around the same time, when we were adolescents. Her family came from an Evangelical Protestant tradition; and both of her parents were raised as missionaries in the Philippines. I am the son of a Lutheran pastor (previously) – he left the ministry in frustration, years before we became Orthodox.
Presvytera Annie and I have been married for 14 years. We have six children, three of whom entered our family in 2008. That year Presvytera gave birth to Thomas (now 9 years old), and we received our oldest two by adoption: Dimas (20) and Débora (19). They are biological siblings from Guatemala. Dimas is living in the Boston area and preparing to enter the police academy. Débora just finished her freshman year at Hellenic College. While I was in Boston at Holy Cross seminary, we had two more children, Peter (6) and Nicholas (4). And a year ago in Las Vegas our youngest, Joseph, was born.
We all look forward with great anticipation to meeting all of you. I have heard of (and briefly experienced) the hospitality, warmth, and kindness of the community of St. John – truly your reputation precedes you. As we enter this new season in the life of the parish, may we pray for God’s guidance, that His will may be done in all things, and that we may continue to grow closer to Him as a community, united in the Body of Christ.
In Christ’s Love,
Father Matthew Swehla