Funeral reunions...

There was a reunion in LaCrosse yesterday and like so many it was a reunion at a funeral.

For the largest part of its existence St. Elias has had no resident Priest. Although founded by Saint Raphael of Brooklyn, the parish of Middle Eastern and Greek immigrants in the early 1900's never seemed to be able to take the leap from mission to church and the small body of believers sank into that horrible catch 22 where there was no support from outside to help them obtain a Priest and so no Priest could help them stabilize and since they were not stable they could not get a Priest...

In those days mission policy seemed to be all about gathering a group of people from the old country, sending them a Priest, and then stepping back to see if they sank or swam. St. George in St. Paul, Minnesota had the people to swim. Down river in the much smaller LaCrosse, they sank.
For decades after the founding of the church the only services at St. Elias were whatever could be provided by traveling Priests serving an occasional liturgy, celebrating marriages, and burying the dead. It was often too much for the small group of Orthodox to endure. Numbers dwindled.

Many of St. Elias first American born generation became Episcopalians. Before the ravaging flames of heresy burned through the Episcopal Church it was not uncommon for Orthodox to, in the absence of a local Parish, seek some sustenance from the Episcopal Church. And many of the first generation of American born Orthodox at St. Elias attended and then joined the Episcopal Church. It would be hard to blame them. People need a regular church life and there was none to be had at St. Elias. Had there been a plan. Had there been outside support to help the mission along in its earlier years. Would have, could have, should have.

And so now we have reunions at funerals, reunions where the scattered children of St. Elias come together, people from the same town, with the same names, and often the same baptism but a community sundered apart by the ravages of neglect. My heart aches. It aches for what could have been if just one person or group of people or Hierarch would have said "We need to make this Parish work, we need to help, we need to find a way." At every funeral I meet dozens of people who had been part of St. Elias but who are now lost to us, perhaps forever, and their children, because there was little for them in the years that followed the Parish's founding.

To the extent my heart aches for what could have been I admire the people who stuck it out, those who stayed Orthodox through it all. The people that restarted the Parish in the middle 1970's are warriors although they would probably not describe themselves that way, and martyrs of a kind, bearing witness to the Faith alone on the far edge of the diocese sustained only by faithful Priests who took precious time from their overwhelming schedules to bring life giving sacraments. May their memory, if just for that, be eternal!

And what can we do? For some the mission field is a far off land where people have never heard the Gospel but one part of our mission at St. Elias is to pray for and reach out to, those, who for whatever reason, have been lost to us over time. They are many and there will be things that cannot be undone. But in a way they are still a part of us, dear to our hearts, near to our prayers, our own flesh and blood.

Who knows what can happen in God's timing and will?

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