“What are we doing about outreach to the Black community?” From the OCA Diocese of New York and New Jersey.
Saturday, July 1, 2017, saw an historic event in the life of the Diocese of New York – New Jersey: the ordination of Subdeacon Samuel Davis, of Somerset, NJ, to the Holy Diaconate. While diaconal ordinations are not necessarily historic, Deacon Samuel is the first – ever – African-American to be ordained to this office in the history of the Diocese, and he is leading the planting and development of St. Simon of Cyrene Orthodox Mission in New Brunswick, NJ, an inner-city mission working on reaching inner-city Blacks and Hispanics. The mission originally started off several years ago in the Coptic Church, but after much prayer and reflection Samuel and his family left the Coptic Church and were united in 2016 to the Orthodox Church in Ss. Peter and Paul Church in Manville, NJ. A recent graduate of Pillar College, Samuel also served in the U.S. Air Force.
Deacon Samuel felt a strong calling to higher orders, and, after speaking with Archbishop Michael, was enrolled in the Diaconal Vocations Program and began his preparation for the Diaconate. Preparing for ordination while planting a new church is not easy. July 1, 2017 could not come soon enough, but when it finally did, Deacon Samuel remembers:
I did my very best to follow our tradition in preparation for ordination. Prayer, scripture reading, and fasting. Around 3 AM I woke up and the reality of ordination hit me. I began to recall the process to getting “here”. I was a bit overwhelmed. In the sense of looking back at what the Holy Spirit had done, not only in my life but everyone involved.
On that day, the chapel set up for St. Simon’s at Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary )NBVM) Ukrainian Catholic Church was filled with 1 bishop, 7 priests, 1 deacon, 2 subdeacons (1 not for long!), and approximately 60 laypeople there to witness and give their prayerful support to the vision unfolding before their eyes. I truly felt the grace of the Holy Spirit while Archbishop Michael laid his hands on me. I felt renewed and a new sense of purpose and responsibility.
Deacon Samuel’s ordination coincided with the completion of the first 6 months of the mission’s history, and a new chapter was now unfolding. St. Simon’s has a “permanent temporary” setup at NBVM, a chapel setup for their exclusive use. The chapel contains the very basics needed to conduct divine services with a deacon or reader. Certainly, there is much more that could be added to the chapel to increase the prayerful atmosphere that already greets members and guests upon their arrival. While the basics may be in place, donations and help are certainly appreciated! Among current needs are donors for the new icons on the iconostas (which can be viewed in pictures in this article): if you would like to sponsor any of these icons (Our Lord and Lady, St. Simon of Cyrene), please contact Deacon Samuel at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Deacon Samuel now serves Typica with Reserve Sacrament every Sunday morning, and Vespers the night before. Adult Education/Catechetical classes take place on Wednesday evenings at Deacon Samuel’s house. Outreach marketing heavily utilizes Facebook event advertising as well as word-of-mouth. Lay leadership is currently being put in place. Subdeacon Henry Hando directs a growing choir and serves as the mission’s primary Reader.
Diaconissa Julitssa is preparing for the mission’s first year of church school. Already, attendance has increased 50% since the start of the year and continues to grow as more and more people seeking the “Ancient Faith” and “Early Church” discover Orthodoxy at St. Simon’s. And, this small but dynamic group of people prepare food and hygiene kits for distribution to the poor and homeless in the New Brunswick area as well as assistance to Syrian refugees via IOCC.
But beyond the basics of planting and starting a new church is the wider vision of the mission’s specific and targeted outreach to Black and Hispanic people in the urban setting of New Brunswick. There is a growing awareness in the Historically Black Churches (HBCs) as well as in the Pentecostal communions of this “Early Church” and “Ancient Faith” – but the OCA has not been able to fully translate this interest and awareness into dialogue and direction. St. Simon’s will be our diocese’s first foray into this unchartered evangelical activity.
Pray that the Holy Spirit will bless this mission and those that will find Holy Faith in it!