Below you will find a report Fr Aleksey gave at the Annual Parish Meeting held on Sunday, January 27.
Reflection on the past year
Another year in our lives and in the life of our parish community has passed. First thing to do is to give thanks to the Lord for everything He has given us and the lessons He taught us. We should also be thankful for each other. God has put us all in this place and at this time for a reason. Anything God does is meant to lead us to salvation. Therefore, since we are all here, it means we need each other for our personal salvation in our Lord Jesus Christ.
2018 was a good year – we grew and improved, and I don’t mean in quantity, but in quality (even though quantity is also there). So far most of our events have been directed inward, which is fine because we need to grow strong and healthy as a community before we can look outward. This does not mean that we don’t look outside ourselves while improving inside. Our foundation is Jesus Christ and we build upon this foundation day by day, year by year.
Some cold, hard facts from 2018
Last year we had 7 baptisms, 1 wedding, and 6 funerals (of which 5 were registered members).
As you may know, I keep track of attendance at our services. Compared to 2017 our attendance improved for every service in 2018. For Sunday Liturgy, in 2017 we averaged roughly 61 people, in 2018 the number increased to 66 people. Attendance for Vespers also increased, from 3 people in 2017 to 4 people in 2018. It is sad how overlooked this short, prayerful, and beautiful service is. During next Nativity fast I plan to do a short series of Teaching Vespers, similar to how we do Teaching Liturgy. Tuesday evening service attendance has also increased in 2018, from 3 to 4. Bible Study is also doing good, we finished off last year averaging 8 people per session. Finally, Talks with Teens that I try to hold once a month is ok. So far all we’ve done is read and discuss books. I will try to come up with some activity for the future, something like bowling, hiking, or ice skating.
Our Sunday School, which uses a program called Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, is doing good. Thank you to Barbara Preciado and Matushka Natallia for leading the school. With the help of Sunday School moms they organized different activities for the kids, for example movie nights, pumpkin and gingerbread house decorations, and “Samaritan purse,” where they prepared boxes of Christmas gifts for the kids in need.
One important note about Sunday School, Bible Study, and the parish in general – what we do here is only a supplement to what you do outside of here, meaning at home, at work, shopping in the store, talking to a neighbor, or walking a dog. Sunday School and church on Sunday does not fulfill our requirement of religion for the week. I came to church, brought my kids to Sunday School…check…obligation before God is fulfilled, I am good for the next 6 days and 22 hours.
That’s not how it works. If we want to be serious with Jesus, if we want the next generation to grow up in faith, morally sound, and convinced that Jesus Christ is important for every day of our life, and supporting the Church then we need to practice our faith daily, especially if we have children looking at us. No matter what we say or do on Sunday, it won’t matter if Jesus is neglected the rest of the week.
Church is a supplement to our daily life. A very important supplement, but a supplement nonetheless. We come to church to get recharged for the new week, if you will, to re-energize, to receive the Body and Blood of Christ, to reaffirm our faith, so that we could live it out during the week.
Some of the specific events that we had this past year
We held our second annual Teaching Liturgy series at the beginning of the year before the start of Great Lent. Maslenitsa potluck coffee hour, with Russian-style pancakes. I have to note that our potluck events seem to be getting better, this is one of the signs, I think, that we are growing in the right direction. We hosted traditional Mission Vespers during Great Lent with the clergy from our deanery. It still remains to be seen whether we will continue having these services. Before Pascha we had spring cleaning day. And this year I plan to schedule not only spring cleaning, but also winter cleaning day for Christmas. Patronal feastday in summer – the bishop could not make it, but there was quite a number of clergy who came to celebrate with us. Picnic fundraiser in September was a success, in my opinion. Oktoberfest potluck and Thanksgiving dinner keep getting better. Thank you for embracing these ideas. For Thanksgiving dinner we also do a Homecoming Sunday, where the idea is for you to invite someone to church. It was good to see that last year we had guests. It’s completely ok if people came and never returned again, or came and didn’t like our style of worship. The point of inviting someone is not for them to join right away. The point is for us to introduce and share what we have (and I must say, we have a lot. The Lord does bless us abundantly). On Nov. 17, newly appointed, although temporarily, bishop visited us and presided at the Liturgy. The reason Bishop Matthew asked to visit us was because his predecessor, Bishop John, recommended our parish. I think that’s another sign that we are doing something right. But we should not boast in it! There is nothing to be proud of, take it for what it is and move on. And the last major event of the year was Yolka and visit of a seminarian family. Thank you to everyone who organized Yolka and bought gifts for the seminarian family.
Words of gratitude
As you can see last year was busy, many of you participated in many of the events. Therefore, I would like to thank you for working hard to keep our parish active and operating. I will not mention everyone by name because I will inevitably forget someone, but I will mention organizations. Starting with the choir and our choir director Andy. Thank you for leading us in prayerful and beautiful singing. Saint Anna’s Altar Society – thank you to all the ladies who change the covers during the year, and for supplying the altar with necessary things. Last year Saint Anna’s sisterhood bought a new shroud of the Mother of God and new blue covers. Thank you to the altar servers. I have four serious and responsible young men helping me in the altar. Sometimes they can’t make it to church on Sunday because of tournaments and other events, but when they are here, they do their job well and help me keep an eye on the young boys. Thank you to the Picnic Planning Committee for organizing and running a great picnic. Thank you to our cleaning crew for keeping the church and Ed. Center clean and ready to go every week. And finally, thank you to the R Club for organizing St Nicholas Project for the seminarian family.
Last year at the Annual meeting I presented some ideas for group activities for our parish, like soup kitchen volunteering and visitation committee, and there were a few more ideas that I came up with during the year. However, I did not deliver on them. So, I would like to apologize. It’s easy to talk, it’s easy to float ideas, but it’s not as easy to fulfill them. I will not suggest any new ideas for this year. We need to accomplish at least something before dreaming of bigger things.
As we continue to build upon the foundation Who is Jesus Christ, as I mentioned before, it’s important to acknowledge that we are making some progress in being more visible to the greater Little Falls community. We host local Cub Scouts in our Ed. Center. The Annual Picnic in September is picking up steam. Our famous pierogi remain in demand. And we make nice donations for the local food pantry at St Agnes church.
Now we need to emphasize the most important part of our heritage – our faith, our rich liturgical tradition, our beautiful church. Orthodox Christianity is ancient, it dates back to Jesus Christ and His apostles. Therefore, be a living example of this faith. Practice it daily. Struggle in faith. And grow. Don’t be afraid to share your faith. And love everyone with the love of Christ. If the Lord thinks we are deserving of new people in church, then He will send them here. If not, then we will work with what we have.
And one final point for me today – we can only move forward together, as a community, as a family. One person cannot take us anywhere. It’s either together or not at all. And it’s not going to be an easy road. On average, we are not getting younger. That’s why younger generations have to step up – take leadership roles in the parish, participate in services and events, come up with ideas and execute them. Keep Christ in your heart and let Him lead you.
May God grant us to spend this year proclaiming His glory.