It was a long Summer.
It all started when I got an e-mail from someone asking if he could come to Liturgy. He also asked about membership and taking Communion. I did my usual thing, underscoring that everyone was welcome to experience God and fellowship here, and explaining what I would do to help him prepare for Communion and membership.
A great start, right? Well, it ended well, but it wasn’t easy.
Come to find out, Tom (not his real name) was born and baptized at our parish. However, as with many urban parishes, ours went through some serious problems. I won’t go through all of them, but for about a decade the neighborhood was dangerous (no parking lot, cars broken into, people threatened on the street even during Pascha and Nativity) and membership dropped. For a while we even went without regular priestly coverage. During that time, his family joined a parish in the Northern suburbs that was safe, was growing, and offered regular access to the Mysteries. Still, it wasn’t easy. Tom’s family never fit in. When, as an adult, he finally got sick of people making fun of his accent and calling his family racists (they were originally from the South), he left and worshipped on his own. That was fine until he had kids. As with many in this situation, he wanted his children to be brought up in the tradition of their family. His wife was up for it, too.
He went once, by himself, to the suburban church and was attacked by the priest (the priest confirmed that Tom was excommunicated according to the Canons of the Church because he had voluntarily refused to come to Communion for more than three weeks and had worshipped for so many years on his own) and the laity (the lay leaders of the parish reminded him that he was twenty years in arrears on his dues and he was not welcome until he paid up; they also made fun of his pickup truck). They all wanted their pound of flesh. I’d love to say that this was out of character, but that is the culture of that parish. I guess it works if you’re on the inside.
Tom did some research and found out that our neighborhood was now safe and that our parish was thriving (we haven’t done great about getting our neighbors to come, but we have attracted many families from various other areas of the city and Western suburbs) and that’s when he decided to get in touch.
I invited Tom and his family to start worshipping with us and we worked out a program of individualized catachesis/preparation to bring him back into Communion and to prepare his wife and children for Baptism and Chrismation. I’ve done this before, and it’s awesome to be a part of. So awesome. It went better than you can even imagine.
However, when the other priest heard about it, he started a smear campaign against me, against my parish, and against Tom and his family. This was very painful, but that pain was completely trumped and transformed by the joy of bringing a family into such a deep relationship with God through Christ and the Holy Orthodox Church (Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia)!
Due to the way they demonized us and the many walls they built between us (Canons! Propriety! Parish Order! Pound of Flesh!), I doubt that the relations between that priest and me and between our parishes will heal any time soon, but who knows? I look forward to the restoration of our brotherhood. Until then, they do their thing and we do ours.
Looking back, I don’t see how I could have acted any differently. This was a family that needed Christ and there were just too many stumbling blocks put in their way at the other parish (and remember, he was baptized here!). And they have really thrived and we with them, Glory to God!