Works of the Order in Action: "Give Me a Boost"
The voicemail came as our family had just arrived at a campground outside Bryce Canyon, Utah, on a dry and dusty June afternoon. After we parked, the rest of the family was in our trailer setting up, while I went outside to return the call to the Archdiocesan office. I sat on the concrete picnic table, grateful for the rusty tin roof providing shade from the scorching sun. Our family had been eagerly awaiting news of my next assignment, having completed three blessed years in residence at St. Innocent Orphanage near Tijuana, Mexico. After leaving Mexico, we traveled around the Western United States both to enjoy some family time after the move from Mexico, and to fill the time as we waited with great anticipation to hear which community in this vast Archdiocese we would next call home.
“There’s something special going on in Bowling Green, Kentucky,” Fr. George Kevorkian, Assistant to the Metropolitan, said with excitement over the phone. As I racked my brain trying to figure out if I had ever heard of Bowling Green, Kentucky, he added, “I think you may want to check it out.” He explained that there was a fairly new mission that had really impressed him, and they were hopeful that they were financially ready to support a priest. Having been given the phone number of the coordinator of the mission, in one phone call I knew Fr. George was right.
Dr. Kevin Burt had found his way to Orthodoxy with a small but growing number of others searching for the Church. They wanted a community that would match the expectations they had when they read the words of the Evangelists, of St. Paul and of our Lord Himself when speaking about the Church as He had founded her. They had found that home in Orthodox Christianity. With the support of clergy from both St. Michael’s in Louisville, Kentucky, and St. Ignatius in Franklin, Tennessee, they began to worship regularly in the fall of 2008. By the spring of 2010, they were hopeful that they were ready for the next big step of asking for a priest to be assigned to lead them. Our family flew to Kentucky and enjoyed a beautiful visit to explore the possibilities. Amazingly, the community, with fewer than two dozen families, almost doubled their pledges to the point where – with God’s help – they could take that next step. Something special was indeed happening in Bowling Green, Kentucky.
It was only a few short weeks later that I found myself driving my family across country to begin our new life in this new mission. I had a few thousand miles worth of time to contemplate the reality of being a mission priest. While my previous experiences as the priest of an established church, as the Camp Director at the Antiochian Village and as a mission priest in a foreign country would all prove helpful, this would be a whole new ballgame.
There would be much to be done, and very limited resources with which to do it. After arriving and settling in, I began to sort through the priorities. As I looked at the budget, I realized we barely had enough just to keep open the doors of the auto body shop-turned-sanctuary, to keep the lights on and to allow me to care for my family. When I began seeing advertisements for the coming Parish Life Conference and Archdiocesan Convention, I quickly assumed that I would not be able to attend. Quite simply, there was no money.
Then I remembered hearing about a program of the Order of St. Ignatius that helps clergy from our missions attend the annual Parish Life Conferences and the Archdiocesan Convention and Clergy Symposium held in alternating years. At the time I heard about this program, I was already very familiar with many of the Order’s projects. I had personally overseen the distribution of hundreds of thousands of scholarship dollars, which were transformed into countless life-changing experiences of our young people at the Village and each of our Archdiocesan camps. I had seen the transformation of our boys at St. Innocent’s Orphanage – one of the Order’s first projects – that provided a home for boys whose families of birth did not recognize what the members of the Order did: these were God’s own sons and deserved nothing but the best we could give them.
When I heard about the program to enable mission priests to attend the Conferences and Conventions, I remember thinking how unique the Order was. They always seemed to find the gaps that others missed and to provide the means to fill them. Some might question why it would be so important for a mission priest to attend these gatherings. Wouldn’t there come a time later when they could begin to participate? The Order, however, doesn’t wait for an easier, more convenient time. This program allows our missions to grow from their earliest days not as independent communities, but as part of something much greater. Through the Order, missions are given the stability and identity one can only have by experiencing firsthand our connectedness as members of our Diocese and Archdiocese, and, through them, our connections to our brothers and sisters in the Orthodox faith around the world.
I remember being a kid and playing on the playground at school. When we were really young, we often needed some help to get up onto the monkey bar ladder or the jungle gym. To this day I can walk by a playground and still hear that familiar request: “Give me a boost.” That’s what the Order does though its support of mission priests and through its other programs. It gives a boost to others who aren’t looking for a free ride as much as just a leg up. Their helping hands enable others to help themselves, and eventually to turn around and “give a boost” to others in need. That’s why my wife and I made the decision years ago for her to join the Order.
The trepidation I felt when I first learned about an assignment to a mission on that hot afternoon is a distant memory. I have learned once again that God never sets a task before us for which He does not also supply our every need. That help sometimes comes directly from Him, but most often it comes through those who seek to do His will by being His hands, feet and voice in a world so needy of His love. I thank God that the members of the Order of St. Ignatius have stepped forward to do for our mission what they have done for so many groups and individuals: giving just the boost we needed, right when we needed it most.
Very Reverend Michael Nasser
Pastor, Holy Apostles Mission, Bowling Green, Kentucky