When Kim Krawizcki joined Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church four years ago, the first question people asked her was, “Why are you joining the Greek church?”
Krawizcki, whose ethnic background is Ukrainian, was raised Roman Catholic and later tried different denominations. Then, being “unhappy spiritually,” she looked deeper into Orthodoxy and was immediately drawn to the church’s ancient faith traditions and worship style.
Krawizcki is part of a surprising percentage of the local parish, founded in 1921 by Greek immigrants, that is not Greek: at least 20 percent, according to the Rev. Alexander Goussetis. He is pastor of the Hershey Avenue congregation, which has 600 member families, or about 1,200 people.
Yet in Lancaster, many people equate Orthodoxy with being Greek, Krawizcki pointed out. Therefore, she added, it’s important for people to know that “the reason we gather on a Sunday morning is not because we’re Greek, but because we’re Orthodox.”
Krawizcki and others hope Orthodoxy becomes better known here through Annunciation’s latest outreach ministry: the Lancaster County Orthodox Mission in the Lititz-Ephrata area.
Only Orthodox here
“We felt it was time to branch out, because we’re the only Orthodox parish in this county,” Goussetis said. “This is an opportunity to expand our ministries, to offer an opportunity for other Lancastrians to be exposed to or become familiar with the Orthodox Christian faith.”
Since last December, a small group has been meeting at 7 p.m. two Thursdays per month at Lititz Mennonite Church for worship, study and fellowship. Plans call for the group to have its own worship space eventually.
The group of 15 to 20 people includes Annunciation members and supporters from Orthodox parishes in the Reading and Harrisburg areas, along with a handful of “seekers and inquirers,” as Goussetis put it.
An event to introduce the mission parish to the public will be held Saturday, Nov. 14, at the Keystone Villa in Ephrata (see sidebar).
While the LCOM is under the auspices of Annunciation Church, which is part of the Metropolis of Pittsburgh in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, “Greek” is not part of the name.
“We want to make clear that, just as Annunciation is open to people of all ethnic backgrounds, the mission parish is also open to people of any ethnic background,” Goussetis explained. Of the 300 million Orthodox Christians in the world, fewer than 15 million are Greek, he noted.
Among the Annunciation members attending the LCOM gatherings is Jan Schaefer, who is not Greek. She joined Annunciation after 50 years as an Episcopalian.
“It’s exciting, because I became Orthodox 10 years ago, and it’s my spiritual home,” said Schaefer, who is committed to “prayerful support” of the mission. “I would love to be a vessel to bring others into this worship and church.”
Another supporter is Cliff Jekel, of Holy Apostles Orthodox Church of Mechanicsburg. Started 11 years ago as a mission church, Holy Apostles is the model for the LCOM, Goussetis said.
Jekel learned about Annunciation’s mission parish and wanted to get involved because his experience as a founding member of Holy Apostles was so meaningful. In addition to attending the semimonthly gatherings, Jekel serves as chairman of the LCOM’s organizing committee.
Jekel also came later in life to the Orthodox faith, which, like Roman Catholicism, traces its roots to the time of Christ and his apostles. (The “Great Schism” of 1054 divided Christendom into the Eastern Orthodox and the western Roman Catholic churches.)
“I found that Orthodoxy was the existing stream of the ancient church, and I could still be a part of it, and that was extremely exciting to me,” Jekel said.
“To find something that’s so consistent and so ancient, and yet … it feels so contemporary and accessible at the same time — it seems almost a miracle. I enjoy sharing that with people.”
Physical presence key
While Annunciation is grateful to Lititz Mennonite (Goussetis is a friend of its pastor, the Rev. Rodney Martin), it hopes to find a facility to lease within six months. Plans are to turn the space into an Orthodox worship space, complete with iconography and other Orthodox architecture.
“Orthodoxy really requires a physical presence, a worship space,” Goussetis said. “All of that together creates an ambience and an environment that expresses our Orthodox beliefs and worship.”
Goussetis has been leading the gatherings. Eventually, he said, a priest will be assigned by the Metropolis.
Once the mission officially becomes a church, it will be given another name, likely honoring a saint, Krawizcki said.