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Planted in 2013, the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary Mission here received it’s first-year Church Planting Grant from the Orthodox Church in America at the beginning of 2017. And since that time, “the many opportunities that have been made possible are difficult to count,” according to Priest Joel Wilson. “Wanting to be good stewards of what we have been given—and also knowing that we are accountable before God for all of His gifts—we have reached some important milestones this year, thanks to the grant.”
Among the milestones Father Joel cites is a marked increase in attendance at liturgical services.
“We’ve been able to celebrated a more complete cycle of services for Holy Week and Pascha, with as many as 60 people in attendance at several of the services,” said Father Joel. “We’ve also added more services to our weekly cycle—Reader’s Matins and Small Compline during fasts—and I’ve increased my availability to meet with people during regular Wednesday and Friday morning office hours and lunch appointments throughout the week.”
Among the mission’s other recent milestones are the training of men as readers and younger boys as altar servers; the welcoming of more men and women who sing at the chanters’ stand; initial steps in designing a new web site to provide a space for education and connection to those who may be interested in Orthodox Christianity; the building of shelves to house the community’s bookstore and newly established library; the ongoing beautification of the mission’s worship space, including exploration of designs for a proper iconostasis; and the purchase of fabric used to sew altar coverings, robes for altar servers, and a full set of priest vestments.
“And now, being on salary, Matushka Tessi and I were able to make a five-day spiritual retreat at Saint Tikhon’s Monastery in July 2017,” Father Joel explained, adding that “while it may be encouraging to hear about these milestones of growth in the Church, these efforts are primarily focused inward.
“When sending out His apostles, Christ commanded them, ‘Freely ye have received, freely give’ [Matthew 10:8],” Father Joel was quick to add. “In obedience to His command, it is also our desire as a mission to ‘freely give,’ increasing God’s gifts and offering them to the local community and the larger Body.”
As an expression of this desire, the Annunciation’s faithful also have pursued several other efforts this year through which they can “freely give” to others as well, said Father Joel.
“We sent out our first missionary on an organized mission trip to a Native American reservation this year,” he explained. “Even before she left, a desire was sparked among many of our faithful to participate in a short-term mission trip, most likely through the Orthodox Christian Mission Center, in 2018.”
The mission has also started to offer more focused and accessible Christian Education classes on Wednesday evenings.
“At the suggestion of several other priests, we purchased An Orthodox Catechism, requested that each talk be listened to ahead of time, and then coupled this with other basic catechesis and questions,” Father Joel said. “Since doing this, we’ve seen attendance at the classes—and for the services beforehand—double since last year.”
The mission also has stepped up its participation with and support of local organizations, especially those that provide support and resources for single mothers and those with difficult pregnancies, which according to Father Joel “has helped our neighbors put faces on our mission as we become increasingly associated with those who do beautiful things in our community.
“We’ve also been experimenting with adding several new methods of engagement, including the building of our own church app and the automated texting of reminders for upcoming services and events,” Father Joel added. “This has allowed those in our mission who live far away to stay connected with others in the parish, to know what is happening, and to make donations. It has also helped those who don’t have a smartphone or regular internet access to stay current by receiving text updates.”
Father Joel and his flock remain vigilant in recognizing the endless possibilities they face as a growing community in the months and years ahead.
“We are incredibly grateful for these opportunities, made possible by the planting grant,” Father Joel observed. “And we are excited to see what may yet happen the rest of this year as we pray that all of these opportunities will help to strengthen the Church in our corner of the Lord’s vineyard!”
Follow the growth of Annunciation Mission on-line.