“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy-laden,
and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)
“Who will God send through our doors today?”—I sometimes ask myself. These days it seems that God is drawing more and more people to His Holy Church. Almost every Sunday I see a brand-new face or two: wide-eyed, curious, and awe-stricken. (Many of you can remember the experience of your own first visit.) They just keep streaming in, feeling battered by the struggles of life; abandoned or alienated by the religious experience they came from; and looking for the fullness of communion with God, yet not knowing yet what that looks like.
One of the blessings I have as a priest is the opportunity to hear the stories of these newcomers whom God sends to our parish. They all have unique and fascinating narrative journeys, which span months or even years before they ever walked through the doors of St. John. Some have been lifelong Christians, journeying through various churches until they finally found “home.” Others have been atheists, born into agnostic households, who came to realize that a loving and merciful God created them and gave purpose to their lives. Still others have been wounded by tragic experiences and have found the Hospital of our souls and bodies. You can read some of their diverse stories in the Journey to Orthodoxy section of our parish website.
Better yet, you can meet these new people in person! Just in the last two years, 30 adults and children have converted to Orthodox Christianity at St. John—in addition to a dozen babies who were born into the parish!—and many others are still on the journey. That’s a lot of new faces! There are so many new people, including “new” people who have been attending for many months. If you don’t know them yet, then make an effort to connect: share a table at fellowship or meet for coffee or lunch sometime. Who knows, these may become your closest friends or future god-families.
Who will God send through our doors today—or tomorrow or next year or next decade? This question is especially timely now, as we arrive at the 25th anniversary of our parish and we gear up for the site committee’s search for our permanent home. During all these 25 years, St. John has welcomed newcomers despite our exterior surroundings: a school cafeteria, a strip mall basement, a converted furniture store. This will not always be the case. Within the second 25 years, our community will (by God’s grace) build a true Orthodox church—a beacon and citadel in the midst of a wounded and suffering world. Our community will erect a physical church which will communicate that God is our “rock of refuge, a fortress of defense to save [us].” (Psalm 30:2)
As we plan to build the strong and long-lasting walls of a true Orthodox church (with the guidance of Andrew Gould, our architectural designer), we must also strive to build strong and long-lasting relationships between our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Thankfully this is accomplished in many different ways, not only by sharing a conversation over coffee.
Each time that you offer your time and effort within the parish community—setting up Sunday fellowship, calling a sick or homebound parishioner, wrapping pastries & loaves on Mondays, volunteering with Jr. GOYA, serving on parish council, baking prosphora, volunteering at Logos Bookstore, etc.—you are strengthening the bonds at St. John and also being a witness to Christ’s self-sacrificial love. “The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” (Matthew 9:37) Let us each strive to ensure that this saying does not apply to our parish: few doing much and vice versa. Find a way to offer yourself to St. John. Build the bonds of fellowship.
God is sending us His harvest. They are streaming in the doors each week! Let us be ready to receive what God is giving us, offering of ourselves just as He has.