I’m not usually one for nostalgia and I tend to squash most “this-reminds-me-of-the-good-old-days” moments; but this is different.
This is not about what I have done or we have done; this is about what God has done and that is worthy to be remembered and declared.
“Come and see the works of God; He is awesome in His doing toward the sons of men.” (Psalm 66:5)
This past Tuesday marked the three year anniversary of the opening of St. Timothy & St. Athanasius church (aka STSA, aka GREATEST CHURCH EVER!). STSA first opened its doors on April 28, 2012 and it’s been an “awe-inspiring” journey in the truest sense of the word.
So I figured it would be fitting at this time to look back on the past three years and jot down some lessons learned. There certainly have been plenty of them, for example:
- The smoke alarms at the Hilton do work and are more sensitive towards incense than you’d think.
- There isn’t anything you can’t outsource or learn how to do on online, including how to make communion bread for the Eucharist.
- They’ll invite just about anyone to speak at the White House these days.
All joking aside though, I wanted to share some real lessons learned – ones that God has specifically taught me over the past three years through His work at STSA. Let me know if you agree or disagree.
LESSON #1: EVERYONE NEEDS COMMUNITY
I don’t think I ever fully believed in the power of community because I had never really experienced it myself. I talked about it. I read about it. I preached about it and even told others how important it is for them; but it wasn’t until recently that I actually starting experiencing it myself.
I’m not talking about the kind of community that meets together for an hour on Sundays and shares some small talk over coffee and donuts. I’m talking about the kind of community that we read about in the book of Acts – the kind that rolls up its sleeves and gets involved in the messiness of one another’s lives, and then opens the door to allow others into their messiness as well... the kind of community that loves one another, supports one another, forgives one another, esteems one another, shares with one another and "does life" with one another.
Community like that isn’t easy. It takes time. It takes effort. It takes vulnerability. It takes commitment…
…but man it sure is worth it! Because everyone needs community.
LESSON #2: ORTHODOXY WORKS FOR AMERICA
There’s a temptation to think that Orthodoxy can never flourish in America and that it’s too “traditional” or too “antiquated” or too “orthodox” :)
We think that people only want things that are new and cool… hip and trendy… easy and watered down. And Orthodoxy is none of those things. But trust me - and I say this with all my heart - Orthodoxy is just as relevant today as it has ever been.
In the Nicene Creed, we declare that we believe in the “One, Holy, CATHOLIC, and Apostolic Church…” Do you know what “catholic” means?
(hint: “catholic” is not the same as “ROMAN Catholic”)
We usually define the word “catholic” as “universal.” That works most of the time but it doesn’t truly capture the meaning of the word in the context of the Church. Catholic means universal or all-encompassing across TIME (2015 vs 1915 vs 2515), SPACE (New York, Los Angeles, Mexico City, Timbuktu) and CULTURE (American, Spanish, Norwegian, Myposian, etc).
In other words, the Orthodox Church is above all cultures… above all eras… above all languages. It was designed and established by our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, who knows and cares for the needs of His children in the 1st century and the 21st century as well. The Orthodox Church is therefore a direct link between the world today and the world that Jesus lived in 2000 years ago; it connects me to Him in a very real way.
WHO DOESN’T WANT THAT?
Come visit STSA and you’ll quickly notice that we have people from all kinds of different cultural and spiritual backgrounds – people that you’d think to yourself “this person would never be interested in joining an ancient church like this.”
And here they are – not only joining the church, but becoming active members and participants in the life of the Church, and becoming champions for Orthodoxy in their communities and families. One even considered naming her child “Athanasius” but I told her that might be a bit much :)
Orthodoxy works for America!
LESSON #3: NEVER UNDERESTIMATE ANYONE
From the outside, people look at STSA and see how we’ve grown and how many great things are happening and usually say “Fr. Anthony is really doing a great job.” And while of course I can’t disagree with that statement (the truth hurts right?), it’s ridiculous to think that it’s only about me.
I promise you… I promise you promise you promise you… this past three years is not about me. Yes, I played a role in it, but the truth is that SOOOOOOOO many others did as well. And the church wouldn’t be what it is without the contributions of so many others. And the best part is that many of those contributions came from unexpected sources – people that you wouldn’t expect to be so committed or so willing to help or so “into church.”
We all kinda have this preconceived notion in our minds of what a “volunteer” or “servant” should look like in the Church – someone who looks a certain way and talks a certain way and says the right church buzz words.
But trust me, you’d be surprised at the people God will use in your church if you simply get rid of these preconceived ideas.
I’ve learned that God wants to use all kinds of people to build His Church – some that you might expect and a whole lot more that you wouldn’t. I have witnessed that phenomena with my own eyes every single day for the past three years.
Never underestimate anyone.
Three years ago, during the inaugural service at STSA, I said “today is more than the start of a new church. Today is the start of a tidal wave!”
Three years later, the tidal wave is still picking up steam. It hasn’t consumed all of Arlington or all of the United States (yet), but it has consumed me... and several others as well. And I believe that it’s just a matter of time before this tidal wave of Extreme Love, Ancient Faith and Real Community washes over many many more in this great nation of ours and brings many more into God’s eternal family.
In other words, if you didn’t read any of the above post, I’ll sum it all up in one line...
I LOVE MY CHURCH!