A few weeks ago my wife, my daughter and I traveled to Valdosta to worship with the folks at Valdosta Orthodox Christian Mission. It’s about a two hour drive so we drove over the day before and spent the night in a hotel.
They meet very early in a room provided by a Presbyterian congregation. Once a month a priest and a reader from St Justin Martyr drive to Valdosta to conduct the Divine Liturgy. Other weeks they have a layman’s service. This particular week the priest and reader were there so there were about a dozen people all together (including us) gathered in a converted Sunday school room. Essentially it is church in a box. Every week they lug their supplies out of a closet then put them all back in when the liturgy ends. Compared to the beauty of a traditional Orthodox church the place was pretty Spartan, but the essentials were all there, with icons of the Theotokos and our Saviour.
Being there stirred up brew of memories, some good, some not so good. Prior to discovering Orthodoxy I was the church council president for an ELCA Lutheran congregation that finally ended its long slide to oblivion. We had been meeting together for about a decade, but due to a variety of circumstances the congregation was never really economically viable. It was nice meeting with a small group of people on a very regular basis and becoming thoroughly entwined in each others lives.
The down side was that we were stagnant. We tried everything, sometimes by mandate of the ELCA and sometimes on our own, but we did not survive. Sadly, the lack of growth caused much anguish to the core group. Many people came and went but there were about a dozen of us who were there from beginning to end. Going though the process of disbanding was like attending a funeral that never ended. We are now scattered to the proverbial four winds with most everyone ending up in a Lutheran or Episcopal congregation.
So the folks in Valdosta have a long row to hoe, but they have the advantage of having a very supportive mission partner at St. Justin Martyr. The winds of adversity will only makes their roots grow deeper.