Perched atop a bluff overlooking the junction of Interstates 44 and 55 and fabled US Route 66, in the shadow of Saint Louis’ iconic Gateway Arch, Saint Michael the Archangel Church has stood as a beacon of faith since it was planted in the early 1900s. Like many older inner-city parishes, Saint Michael’s has endured the ups and downs of the 20th century, including the Great Depression, World War II and its aftermath, and the endless societal changes that took hold in the 1960s and 1970s.
Today, some 40% of the residents in the parish’s neighborhood live below the poverty line. In an effort to address their needs, Saint Michael’s is now the nerve center of FOCUS Gateway City Center, which is dedicated to responding to the needs of the broader community with the love of Christ and “for the life of the world.”
FOCUS—the “Fellowship of Orthodox Christians United to Serve”—is a national movement, founded by Orthodox Christians united in faith and joined by others, which provides action-oriented and sustainable solutions to poverty in communities across America.
“The mission of FOCUS North America is, as an expression of Christ’s love, to serve the thirsty, stranger, naked, sick and imprisoned by providing Food, Occupation, Clothing, Understanding, and Shelter,” explained Kenny Kidd, FOCUS’ Director of Development. “In the spirit of this mission, FOCUS Saint Louis provides a broad range of services that includes free weekly meals, grocery and clothing donations, and work and life readiness resources. FOCUS’ aim is to help transform lives and break the cycle of poverty that afflicts so many in our society, by moving them from dependency to self-sufficiency.”
FOCUS Gateway City Center’s Apostles Community Kitchen also serves nearly 17,000 Sunday dinners annually, sponsored and served at Saint Michael’s by dedicated volunteers from Saint Louis area parishes and beyond.
On Sunday, July 22, 2018—the eve of the opening of the Orthodox Church in America’s 19th All-American Council [AAC], His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon and the members of the Holy Synod of Bishops visited FOCUS Gateway City Center to witness first-hand its inspiring ministry to the broader community. Metropolitan Tikhon expressed his gratitude for the work FOCUS is doing in Saint Louis and its other six sites across the United States.
“Having the Holy Synod at the FOCUS Center was inspirational to all of the volunteers, many of whom represent jurisdictions other than the OCA and do not regularly have the opportunity to meet and engage with its clergy and hierarchs,” said Kenny Kidd, FOCUS Director of Development who, with Sarah Arnold, FOCUS National Program Officer and local representatives, welcomed the hierarchs. “FOCUS North America, as a national organization, is very thankful and appreciative of our growing relationship with all of the faithful within the OCA and the opportunity we had to participate in the 19th All-American Council.”
As a follow-up to the Holy Synod’s visit, participants in the AAC Youth Program spent the better part of Thursday, July 26 putting their “faith into action” at FOCUS Gateway City Center.
“We were so blessed by the youth who visited later in the week, who were able to meet James and hear his story, which he shared as part of a testimony to what FOCUS does for individuals in the Saint Louis community,” said Kenny. “The youth also helped tackle a few big jobs at the FOCUS Center, including cleaning the entire kitchen and dining area, sorting food pantry donations, and weeding the community garden, for which we are immensely grateful.”
In a further gesture of support, offerings taken at services during the AAC—a total of $6,000.00—were earmarked for FOCUS’ Saint Louis ministry and presented to FOCUS representatives during Friday’s closing plenary session.
“We are thankful for the donations received during the Council this year in Saint Louis, which will go directly towards supporting the local center,” added Kenny. “Others who would like to add their gifts to those collected at the AAC may do so online.”