St. George Church  in Altoona, Pennsylvania was delighted to be able to welcome His Grace Bishop Thomas (Joseph) for his annual parish visit over the weekend of December 9-11, 2011. Due to Sayedna’s additional duties as locum tenens for the Diocese of Toledo, the original plans for an October visit had to be postponed. In addition to celebrating the usual cycle of services from Great Vespers to the Divine Liturgy, Sayedna joined the Fr. Stephen Lourie, pastor of the parish, and the Dn. Gregory Roeber and many parish families for an Advent meal hosted by the Ladies’ Society. Sayedna singled out the Society and especially its officers Lydia Kachur and Rebecca Edmiston for praise for the dinner, program for the children, and recognition of the other hard-working women of the parish.
The weekend was also marked by the presence of eight deacons who gathered at St. George for their annual retreat. This year, in addition to deacons from the Diocese of Charleston, Oakland, and the Mid-Atlantic (Dn. Glenn McIntyre, St. Ellien, Brownsville, PA; Dn. Thomas Underwood, St. Paul, Emmaus, PA; Dn. Peter Maris, Holy Cross, Linthicum, MD; Dn. Douglas King, Saint Patrick’s, Warrenton, VA; Dn. David Jacobs, Antiochian Village), a deacon from the Diocese of Toledo (Dn. Macarius Tolbert, St. Matthew, North Royalton, OH) also made the journey to Altoona. Several other deacons had to send regrets since they were either substituting for priests attending the consecration of the new auxiliary bishops at Balamand Monastery in Lebanon, or were themselves part of the Archdiocesan delegation in attendance there. The retreat master, Archdeacon Seraphim Solov from St. George Cathedral in Worcester, MA, led the deacons in reflection and discussion of the challenges involved in reconciling clergy ministry with secular employment. The deacons prayed the Hours and Compline with Sayedna and His Grace joined them for a session of questions and answers about serving in the Liturgy and other services and about how best to respond to the needs of parishioners, priests, and of non-Orthodox who approach them in the workplace. The deacons and Sayedna have agreed to meet at the Antiochian Village for next year’s retreat during the St. Thekla Pilgrimage. With Sayedna Thomas’ blessing, they intend once again to extend the invitation to deacons in other dioceses and jurisdictions to join them in what is (as far as we know) the only retreat opportunity in the United States that is designed specifically for deacons.
The parish also gathered on Saturday morning for the funeral service of one of its stalwart, long-term members, Alex Faris. Alex, a retired UPS employee and veteran of military service to his country, began his life of service in the Church as an acolyte and continued to serve as needed right up to the day of his repose on the feast of St. Nicholas. Alex and his devoted spouse Rosalie have been the supporters of all the priests assigned to St. George parish. Alex worked together at the Antiochian Village with the now-bishop Thomas Joseph and his own former pastor, the revered Fr. John Namie. The near-capacity congregation heard Sayedna Thomas point to Alex’s long ministry and example of unstinting generosity and kindness that marked his life and made especially appropriate his falling asleep in Christ on the feast of St. Nicholas of Myra, the hierarch especially beloved for his pastoral heart.
With gratitude for Sayedna Thomas’ continued support and love for his people in Altoona and the surrounding communities, St. George looks forward to greeting him again soon.
The Reverend Deacon Gregory Roeber