Mary Ann Khoury, a lifetime Antiochian Orthodox Christian from St. Mary Orthodox Church in Wichita, Kansas, felt drawn to Alaska long before she ever visited there for the first time.
Aided by a series of divine appointments, she planned her first trip to the state in 1999 with the blessing and assistance of the Antiochian Archdiocese’s Bishop Basil (Essey) in Wichita, and the Orthodox Church in America’s Bishop Innocent (Gula) in Alaska.
“I was told to follow the path of the saints,” she notes about that first visit. “Bishop Basil gave me the OCA Sourcebook and helped me connect with OCA priests. Up until that point I had never heard of the OCA — I had always been in an Antiochian parish.”
Mary Ann’s first visit exposed her to the unique culture and Orthodox heritage of the people of Alaska, as well as some of the difficult issues facing the Church there. Her personal pilgrimage completed, she returned to Wichita and began laying the groundwork for a new ministry which would eventually be called Outreach Alaska.
“The bishop told me, ‘You have seen the needs here — now go tell them in the lower 48.’” Initially, Mary Ann worked mostly through her parish in Wichita, raising funds by selling goods at the parish festival and by giving presentations locally. Later she travelled to parish life conferences and to the All American Council. From the start, Outreach Alaska succeeded through cooperation between jurisdictions (primarily the Antiochian Archdiocese and the OCA), and between Orthodox ministries such as the OCMC and the IOCC.
In the years since the organization’s beginnings in 1999, it has reached out in many ways. Outreach Alaska has provided clergy with free, lightly used vestments, sponsored a program in Kodiak to help the community deal with substance abuse issues, aided in the planning of pilgrimages to Spruce Island, supported the building of St. Sophia Church in Bethel, Alaska, and organized the St. Innocent of Alaska Missionary Prayer Society.
Over time, Mary Ann and other Outreach volunteers began to recognize the central importance of the St. Herman Theological Seminary in Kodiak, since it provides formation and training for Alaska’s future leaders. As such, the organization chose to focus on support for the Seminary’s facilities and students. “We redesigned classrooms, added new flooring and furniture, and improved the library,” she explains. In the Adopt a Seminarian program, parishes and individuals would sponsor seminarians, providing them with both financial and prayer support.
Additionally, Outreach Alaska opened The St. Juliana Food Pantry in January 2006. The Pantry provides free food, diapers, toiletries and personal supplies for seminarians and their families. Matushka Beth Dunlop, Professor of Patristics, New Testament, and Christian Education as well as St. Herman Registrar, regularly stocks the food pantry, and Outreach Alaska foots the bill.
Notes Outreach Alaska’s website, “Alaska is the heritage of American Orthodox—the land of the Saints of America—St. Innocent, St. Herman, St. Juvenaly, Peter the Aleut, St. Yakov. As St. Innocent traveled beyond his limits among the Alaska native peoples, it is time to recognize the heirs of his spiritual legacy.”
For more information, visit the website.