Fr. Paul Albert blesses “Garden of Saints.”
“It’s not just about the meal, or even the guests,” says an 80-year-old who regularly volunteers for Orthodox Detroit Outreach [ODO]. “For those serving, young and old, this is ‘school’ where we can learn the deeper lessons of life.”
And for him, and the many others who offer their time, talents and treasures through ODO’s ministries in Southwest Detroit—a neighborhood hard hit over the past few decades—Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral has been “ground zero” for what the parish’s Pastor, Archpriest Paul Albert, Pastor, sees as an effort to proclaim “the fuller presence of the Gospel” in the inner city.
“There is much more happening here than simply running a soup kitchen,” Father Paul explains. And while the cathedral—the oldest Orthodox Christian parish in the state of Michigan, planted in 1907—had dwindled to less than 50 members over the years, in part due to factors affecting many “rust belt” cities and towns, the tenacity of its members had led to “a gradual meshing of parishioners, neighbors, and faithful from a number of parishes embracing the Orthodox ethos and the neighborhood’s environment—an experiment in a more pastoral approach to community building.”
Nearly five years ago, a tenacious group of parishioners began reaching out to those living in the cathedral’s neighborhood.
“There are so many people ‘on foot’ in the neighborhood, and the cathedral provided an ideal ‘access point’ for neighborhood outreach,” Father Paul added.
Initially, the cathedral’s faithful prepared and served Sunday meals for the neighborhood’s individuals and families. As word spread about their efforts, faithful from sister parishes of the Orthodox Church in America, the Serbian Diocese, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, and other jurisdictions displayed an interest in helping, signing up to provide meals after the Sunday Divine Liturgy on designated weeks. With excellent networking and a drive on the part of a small leadership team to put Matthew 25 into action, ODO was born. In addition to serving weekly meals, volunteers repair neighbors’ homes, offer activities for neighborhood children, and maintain a community garden.
“We’re attempting to help families, one by one,” said Father Paul, “while ‘repurposing’ the inner city parish by using the cathedral to address the often neglected needs of the inner city.”
With Father Paul’s assignment as Pastor in January 2016 and with the blessing and encouragement of His Grace, Bishop Paul of Chicago and other hierarchs, ODO’s ministry continues to grow.
“On the last weekend of June 2016, some 35 volunteers from parishes across the area turned out for a Saturday work day,” Father Paul added. “We completed some work for neighborhood families, provided some much needed fresh paint to our community center space where our weekly meal takes place, worked in the community garden, and shared our love for God and one another. Nearly 100 individuals attended Vespers that evening, at which Father Andrew Yavornitzky, Michigan Dean and Pastor of Saint Mark Church in suburban Rochester, MI concelebrated. A dinner was held to thank and further encourage past and current volunteers. After the Sunday morning Liturgy, some 100 neighbors gathered under an outdoor tent to enjoy a picnic as we blessed the community garden, located on the cathedral property.”
Known as the “Garden of Saints,” the site includes several outdoor shrines with icons of saints, such as the New Martyr Elizabeth, who were especially known for their charitable ministries to the poor, needy and forgotten.
“In a very real way, our neighborhood efforts are an extension of the Divine Liturgy,” said Father Paul. “When I look at the faces of our neighbors, especially the children, I cannot help but experience tears of joy.”
Those not living in the Detroit region may participate in ODO’s ministry by donating equipment and supplies. An on-line store enables those who cannot participate personally to be a part of ODO’s efforts to bring the fuller presence of the Gospel to southwest Detroit.