By Fr. Samuel Haddad
During the weekend of May 1st, 2010, His Grace, Bishop THOMAS made his annual pastoral visit to St. Nicholas Orthodox Church in Beckley, West Virginia. Because of a severe winter with record snowfall, Sayidna THOMAS’ visit was rescheduled twice, and it was good to have him with us during the beautiful Pentecostarian Season, with spring in full swing and no possibility of snow.
Sayidna’s THOMAS’ visit included meetings with the Parish Council, the Women of the Holy Myrrh Bearers (the parish’s women’s organization), Vespers, and the Hierarchical Divine Liturgy on Sunday morning. It was truly a celebration weekend with the tonsuring of our Choir Master John Stroud as Reader, and the ordination of George Lowen to the Subdeaconate. Both men are strong leaders and ministers in the parish, and their work of service to God will only increase with His help.
The Faithful of St. Nicholas reviewed with Sayidna THOMAS the many activities that have brought vitality to our parish community, especially the liturgical life of the parish, and outreach projects such as Carpenter’s Corner, a downtown soup kitchen the we had the blessing to help bring into existence with Fr. Samuel serving as a member of the founding board of directors. Carpenter’s Corner now involves over 18 local area churches in the preparation and serving of food for the hungry and homeless of Beckley. The work of the women of the Holy Myrrh Bearers solely focuses on humanitarian outreach and the up-building of the church. With their efforts, the parish is able to support programs which include IOCC, Birthright, OCMC, projects of AOCWNA, and many other worthy endeavors.
However, there was a time when the survival of St. Nicholas Church was in question. Because of a decline in the Beckley economy in the 1980’s and an aging parish community, a sharp downturn in parish membership resulted putting the future of St. Nicholas in question. Considering all of this, combined with an aging facility needing attention, very few pledging members, and an extended time without an assigned priest, even the most hopeful among the remaining few members were discouraged. When it seemed futile to continue, then Parish Council Chairman Ed Corey recalls giving the parish keys to the former Bishop DEMETRI during one of his visits in 1998, telling him the parish was finished. The Bishop handed the keys back to him saying “as long as all of you stay faithful and trust in God, this church will never close!” This was a true prophesy because Ed, now in his 80’s is still a very active member of St. Nicholas serving God – and St. Nicholas Church is still a beacon of Orthodox Christianity to southern West Virginia, revived during the intervening years with a renewed vigor and growth.
It was time for a new generation of Faithful to do their part. The interior of the church built in 1956 is a beautiful worship space, but the support facilities, such as classrooms and a parish office were lacking. Also, the exterior of the church did not look like a church, much less, an Orthodox Church with its plain box style. Being a downtown church, the parish did not own a large plot of land, so the best had to be made of what we have. With a little demolition and the addition of a new front on the building, our support facilities and the exterior of the church was transformed. Completed in 2005, St. Nicholas now has new and adequate classrooms for the Church School, a fully outfitted office, and a conference room/library.
The exterior of the new construction was designed to identify our building as an Orthodox Church with the addition of a dome which was formerly installed on St. George Orthodox Cathedral in Charleston, W.V. Badly in need of repair, the dome was fully restored by its original maker.
It has been almost eight years since St. Nicholas was assigned a full-time priest, Fr. Samuel Haddad. With the new building project, and many efforts of outreach St. Nicholas Church’s presence in the Beckley area is now widely known, exposing Orthodox Christianity to Beckley and southern West Virginia. As a result, the parish is growing and hopeful about the future, with God’s help and faithfulness of the beloved parishioners.
In his advice to our parish, Bishop THOMAS’ was at the same time encouraging and affirming. His affirming expression of satisfaction for the work that has been accomplished in the recent years was followed by words of encouragement that we can and will do more. As the parish moves forward, additional effort will be given to reaching out to the Beckley community, proclaiming Jesus Christ and His Holy Church, opening its arms to all who wish to embrace the faith of the apostles.