Bishop THOMAS Visits Holy Spirit Church + Huntington, WV
On April 17-18, 2010, Bishop THOMAS made his annual pastoral visit to Holy Spirit Church in Huntington, West Virginia. Sayidna THOMAS was consecrated bishop of the Diocese of Charleston, Oakland and the Mid-Atlantic in 2004, and this was his first visit to Huntington that did not involve discussions of building planning and construction.
In 1999, our parish made the decision to sell our church building, which had been our home since the early 1970’s, and move to a new location. Being a community of fewer than 100 members, it was a huge challenge. The existing property, however, was in need of significant renovations and concern was raised over the decline of the surrounding residential neighborhood. The church property was placed on the market for sale and a committee was established to raise funds and search for a suitable location. In a surprising move, a buyer was found for the current church building before a new location could be agreed upon. In the spring of 2000, the parish voted to accept a purchase offer and moved into temporary quarters that were graciously provided by Fifth Avenue Baptist Church. The parish utilized this chapel for the next three years.
In 2001, in order to encourage the parish to move ahead with planning and free up additional funds for construction, parishioner Richard Dixon was ordained to the Holy Priesthood, taking the name of John. He would continue his secular employment until the parish could once again afford a full-time priest. On August 1 of that year, he was assigned as pastor of Holy Spirit. That same month, parish Deacon Mark Hagan was ordained to the priesthood and assigned as pastor of St. Mary Antiochian Orthodox Church of Iron Mountain, Michigan.
In May 2002, the parish purchased two tracts of property located at Woodhaven Drive and 5th Street Road totaling 2.4 acres. In the spring of 2003, Bishop DEMETRI blessed the property and construction commenced in May. By Christmas of that year, the building was completed and the parish family moved into their new home. After serving almost four years as part-time priest, Fr. John was able to resign from his secular employment and became full-time priest in May 2005.
Our goal in constructing the church was to return to a fully functioning church for worship. This required that space for the church school and a social hall must be delayed, with only a small multi-purpose hall being included. In 2005, Bishop THOMAS consecrated the church and returned the holy relics to the altar. Although there was much desire to construct the social hall and church school addition, it appeared that the next phase would be many years in the future. A parish tragedy, however, served as an impetus to continue.
In 2008, Sarah Saad, daughter of Julian and Jihad Saad, fell asleep in the Lord after a courageous fight with cancer. Sarah had coordinated several of the Paschal feasts in our cramped social hall and one of her great desires was to see a more spacious hall constructed. In her honor, several parishioners began raising enough funds to begin construction. In 2009, a social hall accommodating 240 people was completed, with existing space converted into space for the church school, office, and a library.
After these busy years of focusing on construction and keeping the parish united, Bishop THOMAS’ visit this year took on a very different character. Since completing our construction projects, parishioners have expressed a desire to move beyond the walls of the church, particularly in obeying Christ’s command to serve the “least of the brethren.” Sayidna joined us on Saturday at the Huntington City Mission where parishioners provide lunch on the third Saturday of the month. Holy Spirit is also a member of the Christian Associates, which operates a downtown food and clothing pantry. Fr. John has served as president of Christian Associates for the past two years. Additionally, the parish has a long standing commitment to Information and Referral Services, providing funds for utility payments for low income residents. Sayidna encouraged us to continue these outreach efforts and even suggested that we organize a walk-a-thon to support additional outreach activities.
Following the Sunday Hierarchical Divine Liturgy, Sayidna visited with Bishop GEORGE and the brethren of the Hermitage of the Holy Cross (ROCOR) in Wayne, WV. Since moving to the Huntington area in 2000, the monks have become an invaluable part of the Orthodox community. Vladyka GEORGE was consecrated an auxiliary bishop in 2009 and lives at the monastery. This was the first time to two hierarchs have had a chance to meet and everyone was edified by their warm exchange.
Sayidna’s visit was a grace filled weekend. We hope to fulfill his parting admonition to “continue to reach out to the people of Huntington with prayerful faithfulness and neighborly love.”
Fr. John Dixon