On Saturday, February 17, 2018, Saint Nikolai Mission here will celebrate the fifth anniversary of its founding with a renewed commitment to ongoing growth and the future.
“The mission was formed with the blessing of His Eminence, Archbishop Alexander, in 2013 by several area families who wished to worship in the English language, welcome a diversity of ethnic traditions, and actively engage in community outreach,” said Priest Mikel Hill, who was assigned as the mission’s first full-time priest in 2017. “The mission initially found temporary homes at a local university chapel, a Byzantine Catholic church, and even a barn. As the community grew, it quickly became apparent that a space of its own was necessary. In October 2015, the mission opened the doors of a small but beautiful new church.
“However, these first five years certainly have brought their share of challenges to the community,” Father Mikel added. “Recently, Saint Nikolai’s once again appeared in a front page article of the local newspaper, with the opening sentence calling the mission ‘a church blessed by adversity.’”
It was on August 27, 2017, explained Father Mikel, that a local resident broke into the new church, poured diesel fuel over the altar area and set all on fire, resulting in the complete loss of the structure’s interior.
“The event shook the community greatly, and the subsequent months were very difficult,” Father Mikel added. “However, as the recent article announced, we will celebrate our first Divine Liturgy in our church since the fire on February 17. Reconstruction is almost complete and, thanks to the enormous generosity of both the Orthodox and broader community, the costs have been covered in their entirety. The ‘blessing by adversity’ has been witnessed in the tremendous outpouring of love by the wider community.”
The event has also brought the members of Saint Nikolai’s closer to one another.
“Expressions of forgiveness toward the arsonist have shown a level of spiritual growth that has been inspiring,” said Father Mikel. “Shortly after the fire, a weekly Bible Study was inaugurated with enthusiastic participation. The community also started a tradition of gathering once a month at a local restaurant for food and fellowship. In December, we all went bowling!”
In the tumultuous months that followed the fire, Father Mikel and the mission faithful received news that Saint Nikolai’s had been awarded a Church Planting Grant from the Orthodox Church in America.
“The encouragement afforded by this news was critical, offering us a clear way forward and a token of stability,” Father Mikel explained. “It communicated to the fragile and confused community that the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church in America, in cooperation with the Department of Evangelization, believed in the vision of Saint Nikolai’s and were confident that indeed we could be a viable, self-sustaining parish in three years.”
Father Mikel and his flock, in becoming recipients of the planting grant, feel a great measure of responsibility and hope to multiply the talents given to them. Father Mikel has become very active in the Alliance community by singing in the local university chorus, serving on the Board of Directors of the Alliance of Churches, volunteering at the free weekly community dinners, and serving as President of the local Orthodox Clergy Brotherhood.
“Receiving the Church Planting Grant will allow us to continue such involvement in the wider community, thereby building relationships and giving opportunities to share our Orthodox Christian faith,” Father Mikel concluded. “The grant also will allow a very injured community the space to heal and, in due time, to grow. As we celebrate our fifth anniversary on February 17, we are grateful for the planting grant, which offers assurance, financial support and the dawning of a new day for our mission as a beacon of Orthodoxy, in the English language, in Alliance and eastern Ohio.”
Follow Saint Nikolai’s ongoing growth on the mission’s website.