“Christians today are seeking the first century Church,” says Father James Worthington of Holy Apostles Mission here. “In the Lansing area, they are finding what they seek at Holy Apostles, a mission parish serving the Finger Lakes region of central New York.”
The apostles and the first few generations of disciples gathered in each others’ homes to worship the risen Lord Jesus Christ.
“As these small communities grew, they began to erect beautiful churches and many newcomers flocked to them,” Father James continues. “This has been a model for the Orthodox Church for generations: several of the faithful come together, create worshipping communities, grow their presence in a place and become witnesses to Christ’s love to their neighbors.”
Holy Apostles Mission is part of this tradition.
“What began as several friends yearning for a church of their own has blossomed into a community of some 40 members with its own dedicated, albeit rented, worship space, a full education program and community outreach.”
In August 2010, the community transformed an unused Roman Catholic church into an Orthodox temple.
“Two icon panels were placed by the altar to act as an iconostasis, and the people sang from books that were created by the mission planting parish of Saints Peter and Paul in Endicott, NY,” says Father James. ” In the almost three years since then, we have seen the placement of a full-time priest and many new faces coming to the divine services and social events!.”
Father James explains that through the sacrificial giving of its members and supporters throughout the Diocese of New York and New Jersey, funds were raised for an iconostasis.
“As an example of the faith and mutual love within this parish, the unfinished iconostasis was set up in my garage, where it was sanded and stained. Almost everyone from the parish and some other friends came out to attend to the work. This was a true community effort showing the love and support we have for one another.”
With the iconostasis placed into the sanctuary and some temporary icons affixed, the community embarked on its next journey: raising more funds for new icons to place on the screen. Within a short amount of time, all of the icons were sponsored, and work has begun on the new icons. “We see this project as an outgrowth of the faithfulness of the parishioners and the blessings of God on our mission parish,” says Father James.
The iconostasis was one visible manifestation of the beautiful spiritual community that is forming in Lansing.
“As part of our training up a new community for the Orthodox Church, we read in the Mission Planters Resource Kit, ‘For the Church to grow there are certain priorities, or prerequisites, that must be met. The first of these is not acquisition of new members. That comes later, and only if other spiritual conditions are met by the existing members. The first and most important priority is for each and every member to know God.’ Therefore, very early in our community’s life, services were offered at least six days a week. In addition to Great Vespers and the Divine Liturgy on the weekends, Morning Prayers are offered Tuesday through Friday. All of the major feast days are celebrated, as well as liturgies on as many namesdays as possible. During the seasons of increased devotion, the opportunities for gathering around the Lord’s table expand even further. This culminated recently in a very full Holy Week and Pascha schedule, which was heart-warmingly well attended. It is the belief of the missionary parishioners here that liturgical services are not one of the ‘aspects’ of the Church; rather, they express its very essence, are its breath, its heartbeat, its constant self-revelation, as Fr Alexander Schmemann has said.
“We also come together for less solemn occasions,” Father James continues. ” Last December, we held the Christmas eve Holy Supper at the parish for the second time, and shared many traditional foods from the various ethnicities that are represented in the parish.”
Holy Apostles is situated near Ithaca, NY, where two large colleges exist.
“Cornell University in particular has been one of the focuses of the ministry of Holy Apostles Church, and I act as one of the chaplains of the Cornell Orthodox Christian Fellowship, which has grown by leaps and bounds through the last two years,” Father James continues. “The OCF now offers two lectures each academic year and hosts retreats for other area OCFs at Saint Andrews Camp, Jewell, NY. Additionally, OCA members take their calling to provide service to the community very seriously. For two years now, they have collected supplies for the Advocacy Center, a shelter for battered woman and others in need; and they have volunteered at the local soup kitchen.
“It is through the OCF that Holy Apostles has seen some of its growth throughout the last few years,” says Father James. “Three students and a faculty member have been chrismated so far. These folks have added a depth to the community that makes us all thankful to God. This also leads to our greatest challenge as a community. With so many students being served by our parish, it is inevitable that many of them will move on to other places after they graduate. We pray to God that a steady flow of new students—both Orthodox and seekers alike—will find their way to Holy Apostles Church.”
Also in December 2013, the mission opened a building fund.
“We did this so that when the community is ready to either build or purchase a temple of our own, we will be in a position to give our mission a permanent home to gather the prayers to our Lord,” explains Father James. ” There is great hope for the future of Holy Apostles Church, as the parishioners, the Diocese of New York and New Jersey, and the Orthodox Church in America work to establish Orthodoxy in this place. A mission parish cannot be built solely through the few people in a distant location, or a small group left on its own. As a Christian family, we come together and use our God-given talents and material blessings to build up our brothers and sisters. It is through the generous and sacrificial love that so much has been accomplished in Lansing—and how so much more is yet to come!”