By Ann Marie Gidus-Mecera
Charitable giving has been an important part of the life of our mission parish for several years now. It begins with designating 10% of our annual budget for that purpose. Additionally parishioners cheerfully give beyond that when a special need arises. How did the importance of charity become a priority at St. Gregory of Nyssa Orthodox Church?
Four years ago, the parish council made the commitment to create a vision statement which would provide a focus for all decisions pertaining to parish life. Out of this vision statement came five top priorities that were to get immediate attention. One was charities.
Our charitable undertakings take us halfway across the world to Indonesia, a country comprised primarily of Moslems, and where the first Orthodox mission was established several years ago. Archimandrite Daniel Byantoro, a native of Indonesia, and once a devout Moslem, came to Ohio State University here in Columbus to further his education after completing studies at Holy Cross Orthodox Seminary. He began serving at St. Gregory’s as a deacon and made a lasting impact on us. This multi-talented man believed it was time to take Orthodoxy to Indonesia, but such an endeavor took a great deal of commitment and financial assistance. The mission was started and since its inception, St. Gregory’s has been contributing to it on a monthly basis. Fr. Byantoro says the donations have kept the mission going, as they are the only consistent donations being received.
SISTER PARISH IN VITIPSK
Closer to home (but not my much!), we have been linked with a “sister” parish in Vitipsk, Byelorus. About three years ago, we learned that there was a pressing need for food, medicine and other aid for Orthodox parishioners in this remote city. We responded to this request, along with churches of other denominations and various organizations. As a result, four truck-loads of goods made their way to the parish in spite of the KGB’s attempt to intercept.
Shortly after this, we received a letter issued to all OCA parishes announcing the formation of the “Parish-to-Parish” Program. According to Fr. Robert Kondratick’s letter, this program would give American Orthodox parishes the chance to “explore direct communication with a sister parish in the (former) Soviet Union.” It seemed that we could fit right into this program by being officially hooked up with the parish in Vitipsk.
Fr. Joseph Fester, Director of the “Parish-to-Parish” Program, considered St. Gregory’s a “pilot parish” for the program and asked us to assist him in developing a handbook that would help parishes in establishing a relationship with their sister parish. We worked on the book with him and now it is distributed to all parishes that join the program.
We presently continue to collect contributions and pledges for the parish in Vitipsk from others who have heard of our endeavor and want to help out. We forward the donations we receive, along with our own monthly contributions. As a result of the overwhelming interest and response from those outside our parish, we publish a newsletter that updates contributors on the situation in Vitipsk and Byelorus, along with related stories.
AID CLOSER TO HOME
Here at home, St. Gregory’s makes regular donations to the Clintonville Resource Center, a local non-profit agency funded by United Way. This organization provides services including meals, food and clothing to senior citizens and needy families in the immediate area. We supply them with canned goods and non-perishable food items that parishioners collect on a monthly basis as well as give them a cash donation of $250 per quarter. At Christmas we adopt a family through the Center, and supply the family with food and gifts.
Although we are not currently in a position to sponsor refugees coming into the United States, we have agreed to work with the Interfaith Refugee Services of Ohio in supplying refugees with items parishioners donate that help them set up housekeeping.
Located near the Ohio State University campus, our church building is in an area comprised largely of low income households. For this reason, we are often approached at Vespers or Liturgy by needy people. Rather than give money, we decided to offer them food certificates that they can redeem at local groceries. To those who return on a regular basis, we have given small jobs such as picking up trash on the church grounds or doing light cleaning in the church in exchange for the food certificates. One woman returns weekly, and even though she does not attend the Liturgy, she likes to help set up for the coffee hour and talk with parishioners. We are certain that God brought her to our door so that we might really know our neighbor.
Working with the needy on a regular basis can be very time consuming and often roves frustrating. We recognized the need to develop a charities committee solely for the purpose of dealing with these challenges. Our priest, Fr. Daniel Rental, is a member of this committee and worked with it to set up its policies. Presently chaired by Michele Brosius, it meets regularly and reports to the parish council at monthly meetings. Heading up such a committee takes dedication and perseverance, especially because all requests for local assistance are referred to the committee chair. Michele must be able to determine the validity of each request and be able to tactfully refuse a request when necessary. She and Fr. Rental work m close consultation in this area.
Should St. Gregory’s not be able to offer assistance for any reason, the committee feels it must be prepared to refer the needy person to an appropriate organization. Its plan is to learn more about private and public assistance for this purpose.
Besides these endeavors, we most recently learned of the remarkable efforts of the International Orthodox Christian Charities, and plan to include a donation to this organization in our charities budget. In any type of charitable undertaking, it is wise to develop a focus or purpose because people are more eager to donate for something specific (a printing press for our Orthodox parish in Vitipsk) rather than something ambiguous (the general operating fund for charities).
There is no doubt that in spite of all we have been able to give to others, we have received much more in return. The ability to look beyond our own needs has helped lay a firm foundation for our mission. There is a complete sense of strength and faith within our community, with worship at its center. Because Christ served others during His time on Earth, we must do the same if we are to be considered the true Orthodox Church.
The possibilities for charitable giving are endless. Perhaps you have gained an idea you can use in your own parish, or have been given the inspiration to set out on your own unique undertaking. God bless you in your quest.