Parish-To-Parish Program In Action
By Fr. Basil Grisel
The beginning of our Parish-to-parish outreach was established slightly before my coming to St. Nicholas Church in Norwich, Connecticut. Our parish had already received an assigned parish through the national church Parish-to-parish Program in conjunction with the Moscow Patriarchate. Contact had already been made.
Our sister parish is the once prestigious Cathedral of St. Nicholas in Pavlovsk, outside of St. Petersburg. The initial exchange of information was excellent. We were sent some wonderful photographs of the church before and after the Revolution. Through correspondence we learned a great deal of the local history; we heard through their own words of the struggles taking place. In this way our parish had a rather clear picture of the plight of the people and the church following the demise of communism. It was the icon of the suffering servant.
The correspondence also detailed the needs of the church, its members and the community at large. As a typical OCA parish, existing in economically unsettling times ourselves, we had to determine how to approach this without placing too great a financial burden upon our own parish.
Initially, we had sent parcels of food and clothing through the national OCA program of gathering humanitarian aid. But then we wanted to help our sister parish directly. We round out that the US State Department has a program in place which would enable us to ship food, medical goods and clothing to Russia at the government’s expense. We would need to fill a forty foot sea container, eight feet wide, eight feet high. It sounds like an overwhelming space, and at first, it was frightening.
FILLING THE CONTAINER
Clothing was the easiest item to begin with and required no output of money from our parish. Through letters to surrounding churches of various denominations, through the newspapers and the media in public service announcements, the word went out. We found one very sympathetic ear at our local newspaper office, and that journalist did much to further our cause. All the donated clothing required careful inspection for cleanliness and usability.
We contacted a local moving company that supplied us with used moving boxes. A small grocery store was happy to save boxes for us also (which freed them from recycling burdens). Our parish has a very limited space to work in so the problem of storage had to be addressee. God provided the means. A local shipping company loaned us an old tractor trailer, the same size as the container we would have to fill, in which to store our boxed clothing until pick up time.
We also wished to send food with our shipment. At first individuals brought in basic staples. But then we had a slightly greater goal in mind. We made an appeal for monetary donations. In addition, we held a concert of Russian liturgical and folk music. We contacted a local Russian choral group of renown, “Eterna Muzika.” The concert proved to be quite successful; it raised awareness of the needs in Russia and also raised awareness of the presence of our tiny Orthodox community. Altogether we raised close to $3,000 which went for bulk purchases of flour, sugar, rice and other non-perishable items. We worked out deals with local food grocers and wholesalers to get the best prices.
Our first container was filled within eight weeks. We contacted the Fund for Democracy (the shipping agency the State Department uses for humanitarian aid) and a sea container was dispatched. The trailer was repacked into a sea container, inspected, sealed and left the harbor on December 6th, the feast day of our patron saint, Nicholas the Wonderworker. With God, all things are possible.
Two days before the Feast of the Nativity, we learned that our container had arrived at the port in St. Petersburg from where it would make its way to Pavlovsk. With this news, I thought that our work was over for awhile. Much to our dismay, complications developed at the port that made me decide to go to St. Petersburg myself to see that the container got safely through.
Eight days passed before our shipment reached the doors of the St. Nicholas Cathedral in Pavlovsk. Nothing can replace the joy of unlocking the truck doors and unloading the same shipment that had left home, now three thousand miles away. Our shipment was greeted with smiles, tears of joy, and unbelief that such a gift came to them “all the way from America.”
The priest of the parish had invited me to stay with him while I was there and took me to visit his parishioners. Witnessing the difficulties of Russian life firsthand will remain in my memory all the days of my life.
EFFORTS OF THE PAVLOVSK PARISHIONERS
Our sister parish was also taking its own initiatives to get on its feet. The parish sisterhood undertook to sew vestments, the sale of which would provide funds not only to help rebuild their church structure, but also to help the impoverished members of the community. In spite of the sadly crumbling church building, the parishioners saw beyond it to help provide food and sustenance to those who were without.
The sisterhood ladies in Norwich set out to provide working capital to fund the vestment production. From the proceeds of one bake sale, they raised almost $700 which they sent to the sisterhood in Pavlovsk to buy commercial sewing machines, cloth, and embroidery thread.
In June of 1993, our parish held a fund-raising dinner to help fund a new roof for the Pavlovsk cathedral. In July we sent over a second sea container with well over six tons of good, clean, sorted clothing. (This container arrived in Pavlovsk with no problem). We’ve managed to raise another $3,000 with which we’ll purchase food for another container of rood and clothing that will go out in early December.
We now have another challenge. Our sister parish is petitioning the Russian government for the return of the former St. Mary Magdalene Hospital that had been closed after the Revolution. The small local hospital had served the communities of Pavlovsk and Pushkin (Tsarskoye Selo) and was church sponsored. If the hospital is returned to the church, we are hoping to provide them with medical support by linking it up with our local hospital in Norwich.
We have also recently contacted a large vegetable seed producer who has agreed to donate the “leftovers” from the 1993 growing season. Two pallets of seed will be forwarded to us shortly that we’ll include with the Fall sea container.
REQUIREMENTS AND PROMOTION
In order to solicit charitable donations publicly, we first sought and received “Charitable Organization” status through our state offices. In soliciting donations outside our parish community, we are beginning to investigate the use of local cable television. Each area of the country has public access channels on which time is available to qualified groups at no charged.
Programming may be submitted to the station ready for viewing, or may be produced with the station’s help. A call to your local cable companies will get you the information and the necessary application forms. We are presently working on an informative video advertisement about our humanitarian aid campaign to air on a public access channel.
Our life as a small New England Orthodox Church has grown tremendously through our experiences in the Parish-to-parish Program. God has blessed us with new friends far across the sea and has enriched our life as Orthodox Christians, meeting the needs of our brothers and sisters in our sister parish, St. Nicholas Cathedral in Pavlovsk.
(Editor’s Note: For more about public access to cable TV, see “Public Access TV and Evangelism” by Fred Davis in the Resource Handbook, Volume 1.)
Questions For Discussion:
1. Does your parish have a sister parish in Eastern Europe or in America?
2. If so, what contact has been made? What has been shared between the parishes? Has any help been given? What have been the positive experiences, the problems? What are your plans for working with them in the next year?
3. How has the parish-to-parish relationship been shared with the parishioners?
If you do not have a sister parish and would like to establish a relationship with one, either in Eastern Europe or with an OCA mission in the United States, call the OCA Chancery (516) 922-0550, Ext. 126.