Fr. Thomas Begley offers this account of the community of St. Mary Church in Iron Mountain, MI .
Recently, I traveled to Iron Mountain, Michigan for the deanery meeting with the clergy. Our Father in Christ, Bishop MARK, was there as well. His Grace has been with us for at least one of the two deanery meetings we have each year. Having the bishop present was an honor. His wisdom helped guide our discussions giving support to our clergy and our churches. What stood out, however, was His Grace and the clergy came for an additional purpose, which was to bless the soccer field the church built for the community.
St. Mary’s is a small parish in the western part of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. It is an economically depressed area with city and county budgets stressed to the limit. Their priest, Fr. Mark Hagan, saw their parish losing members and unknown in the community. His answer to their dire situation was to reach out in Christ’s love to their community. Fr. Mark looked for a serious need that his church could help address in their community.
Fr. Mark discovered that there were 2,500 kids in and around Iron Mountain who were signed up for soccer. However, there were not enough soccer fields. The fields they used were in poor condition. Some of the kids played on a field given by a local company that had to have toxic gas vented out from beneath the field. Other fields were filled with rocks and had little or no grass. The church’s solution was to give property owned by the church to be leased by the soccer foundation for one dollar!
Many laughed when they heard this small church community was taking on such a huge project with virtually no money. With determination and faith and trust in God they started working on their dream. Many companies, groups and individuals jumped in to help. The result is two beautiful green soccer fields and a wonderful pavilion with a concession stand. When Bishop MARK watched a soccer game in the rain, people came and thanked him for being a bishop who gave to the community. Some had tears in their eyes.
On a beautiful Saturday morning His Grace with a number of his clergy said prayers which concluded with the bishop blessing the soccer fields and the pavilion. Two men from the church who had been suffering with serious illnesses claimed with tears in their eyes that God had preserved their lives so this project could be completed to the glory of God!
Today, people are visiting the church and asking about the Orthodox Faith. The community is now well known and appreciated for their sacrifice of love to their community. Who would have felt this would be the way God would lead this church to reach out to this community?
As we work on our festival, I hope we will see it as a service and witness to our community in the Twin Cities. Hopefully, someday we will also use part of the proceeds from the festival towards a specific outreach. As I was able to see with the Iron Mountain Church, service can be a true light to the community and draw people to the Holy Church to the glory of God!