By early 1989, an Episcopalian priest named Father Bill Olnhausen and about twenty of his parishioners had discovered the wonders of Orthodoxy. They left their former church and, guided by Fr. Peter Gillquist, began preparations for a new Orthodox mission in the northern suburbs of Milwaukee. In September 1989, when His Grace Bishop Antoun came to chrismate us and ordain Father Bill, he looked at our little group and whispered to Father Peter, “Is this all?” But we were quickly joined by about fifteen “cradle” Orthodox, and so our Orthodox Mission began.
For five years we rented space: first at a women’s club which was sold giving us only three weeks notice to move out, then since nothing else was available, in a dingy basement in a former schoolhouse out in the country. We had to set up and take down everything each weekend; even drinking water had to be carried in. Our first thought was that we must get out of here quickly; we’ll never grow here. But we did grow. One of our members said, “This basement is more ‘church’ to me than anywhere I’ve ever attended.” During those five years, all of us learned what the Church really is - the people, not the building.
In December 1994 we purchased a spacious old former Lutheran church building in downtown Cedarburg. Saint Nicholas of Myra had been intimately involved in our founding, and as it turned out our first services in the new building were on Saint Nicholas Day. Then, to our delight, His Eminence Metropolitan Philip named us Saint Nicholas Church.
From the beginning, we have tithed 10% off the top each month to the Archdiocese, and also another 10% of our operating income to charity. Has this left us pinched? No. God and our patron have supported us: we have never had a bill we couldn’t pay, and sometimes when we needed it money has arrived in the most unexpected ways. Our treasurer coined the term “the Saint Nicholas factor” to account for it. Likewise, when Father Bill realized we had far too few children in the parish, he petitioned Saint Nicholas, and within two weeks the flood began. We now have over 50 youth. To brag a little, our SOYO team won the Midwest Bible Bowl last year, and our own Lydia Newhouse won the Midwest oratorical contest this year.
St. Nicholas Church , Cedarburg, now has about 235 members. From the the beginning we have been about half cradle Orthodox and about half converts. Our converts come from every possible background. About half our cradle Orthodox are Arabs born in the old countries and about half are second or third generation Greek-Americans, with also a few folks of Slavic origin. Our church suppers are wonderful!
Three priests have come out of our little church: Hieromonk Barnabas (Bulloch) of Karakallou Monastery on Mount Athos, now departed; Fr. Matthew MacKay who served at St. Joseph Church, Houston, newly departed far soon - may their memory be eternal) - and Fr. Ignatius Valentine who is pastor of St. Raphael Mission in Iowa City. Deacon John McQuide was ordained at age 70 and served faithfully at St. Nicholas for nine years before his death.
We have been blessed in so many ways: with a wonderful mix of people, many strong personalities and excellent lay leadership, a spirit of cooperation, and forgiveness when necessary. Our parish iconographer Katherine deShazer has written gorgeous new icons for our icon screen. On our Twentieth Anniversary last fall, both His Grace Bishop Mark and His Grace Bishop Antoun came to celebrate with us. What a blessing they have both been to us!
God and Saint Nicholas have been good to us. May they continue to support us as we move through our third decade!