“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matt. 5:16)
St. Mary’s Church  was founded in Iron Mountain, Michigan in the mid 1930’s by immigrants of many nationalities. It is a jewel of the north, in what the Archdiocese could call “America’s Midwest Alaska.” It was visited by St. Raphael himself on regular occasions. It has deep snowy winters, scenic wilderness, unlimited wildlife and short picturesque summers. Our church serves people of all backgrounds and nationalities in a 48,000-square-mile area. Michigan's Upper Peninsula contains almost one-third of the state's land area, but just three percent of its total population. Parishioners travel as far as 100 miles on any given Sunday (even in deep snow) to attend Liturgy.
As with many other small Orthodox churches founded in America, St. Mary's immigrant founders had more than their fair share of struggles and made huge sacrifices to bring the faith of their fathers to their new home. To survive, they did as other churches across the nation have done. They sold enough food to feed the entire U.S. Army for a year. They have worked booths at the county fairs, sold raffle tickets, and held bingo in the church hall for many years - all of this so that the precious faith could bless their lives and the lives of their children.
Under Bishop MARK’s direction, we have focused more on our identity as a missionary outreach church to the people of the region. We began to struggle with tithing, outreach, and changes within our church community. We were not just surviving in Iron Mountain, but bringing the fullness of faith to an entire region. We are missionaries in the truest sense. We are no longer the church in Iron Mountain, but see ourselves with a shifting focus on being the Orthodox mission to Iron Mountain.
The results are truly an outpouring of God’s grace. We have baptized and chrismated over 30 people in the past five years amongst a small population of people. We have 4-5 inquirers now, with 2-3 catechumens. Where no other orthodox jurisdictions have survived, we seem to grow. We believe it is because of our outreach in the community, our witness, and our focus as a mission church engaged in the community. The Archdiocese and Diocese of the Midwest can be very proud that this type of missionary outreach exists here in America. You do not need to travel to Alaska to see mission work, just come to Iron Mountain.
We believe that a church should be seen with its hands out giving to others, not begging or taking from the community. As Bishop Mark has said, “The Church should be seen as administrators of Charity, not recipients of charity." This is following the example of St. Innocent who was sent to bring the Faith to the people of Alaska.
Five years ago we purchased a 5-acre property to build an outreach center and church. Our parish council decided that a church would have to wait as our community was in desperate need of a youth facility. We began a community wide outreach program to utilize our five acres of property and build a much needed youth facility that would have two soccer fields, restrooms, a picnic shelter, concession stand, paved parking and a walking trail.
Response by Community
As a result, our parish took a leadership role in the community as organizers, fundraisers and facilitators for our community youth center. News of the facility traveled fast and we worked tirelessly to make a dream in the community become a reality. We asked God to help us and we have watched as the Iron Mountain and surrounding communities embraced us and our vision. We have gone from obscurity to the front page of the paper, television, and forefront of community conversation for our service to the community. We were given VIP status in the local papers, schools, 4th of July parade, television, etc. People were shocked that a church still existed that would utilize its precious resources for others. As a result, many people have been asking, “Who are these Orthodox Christians?”
Under the leadership of our church and by the efforts of our parishioners, we have watched a small community pour out its love for children by donating over $225,000 towards the youth facility in money, time, talent and involvement. Our community labor unions, businesses and individuals have donated over 1,000 hours of service toward this project to make it one of the largest projects of its type anywhere. Imagine, a church with barely a $30,000 budget and 65 active parishioners, doing such a large project.
We will need to raise an additional $80,000 to complete the project. The soccer association has pledged to help with fundraising in the coming years, but our need is immediate. We trust that God will be with us and help us complete our project.
To find out more about how God pours out his grace in abundance on this growing Orthodox community, take a minute to check out our website at www.imorthodox.org , or maybe just take some time this summer to visit the Antiochian Jewel of the North.