Good News

Sermons by Father Michael Oleksa



St. Alexis Orthodox Christian Church




Our Crossroads - June 2011

By Father Michael Oleksa
After nine years at 5801 Arctic Blvd., St. Alexis parish is at a crossroads. We have been worshipping together, praying with and for each other, embracing each other in times of joy and sorrow, crisis and celebration. We have gotten to know each other, appreciate each other and forgive each other. We have, I think, become a community, a large family, people who care about each other and are committed to each other and the future of our community. We also care deeply about others and give generously to those in any affliction, distress or need.

This is what a Church, a parish, must be. Before we discuss facilities or structures, we must first of all be people who pray for and care for and love each other. This sort of formation takes time. So the first question that we ask ourselves must be, "Are we committed to this community and are we willing to offer something of ourselves to maintain it, and to sustain it into the future?" My own assessment is that we are, but that is not my decision or my opinion. We need to discern whether that is our common assessment. We need to agree among ourselves that we really do care about each other and about the future of our parish, together.

If this is true, then the next issue that confronts us is our facility. We pay about $1,400 a month to rent the space where we worship. We pay another $1,500 in housing allowance for the parish priest's housing. So we are spending almost $3,000 a month, more than $30,000 a year, to continue as we are, and we have nothing, in financial terms, to show for nine years of rent. We have spent a quarter million dollars already and have nothing except a few icons and two sets of priest's vestments to call "property of St. Alexis." Even most of the icons on the walls of our chapel do not, in fact, belong to the parish. The large, blue and white enameled chalice is on loan from the Cathedral. The smaller gold and silver chalice is a gift. We are now in the process of having unique and original icons written for our iconostas, so the parish, thanks to the Sisterhood, will soon "own" a few more valuable items. But we have not focused on acquiring anything, owning anything. Like a newly-wed couple we have concentrated on making our relationship strong. But like all families, who often must rent an apartment when they first get started, there comes a time for a parish to move to the next level, to buy a permanent residence.

And just like newlyweds, this leap from renting a place to owning a house is stressful and filled with anxiety. However, unlike buying a house for an individual family, moving from a rental property to land and a building of our own is a collective decision. No one person has the authority to involve or encumber any other person or family to participate. We will need to arrive at a fairly unanimous consensus on this next decision, if we choose to take it.

We have found what seems to be as perfect a location and property as we are ever likely to find. The house has eight bedrooms and five bathrooms, a four-car garage, a fenced garden, a view of Turnagain Arm on one side and the Chugach Mountains on the other. This house has a rounded apse, exactly like what most Orthodox Altars require, and a second story balcony, a ready-made choir loft. There is a free-standing bathtub on the second floor which would serve perfectly as a baptistry, where adult converts could be baptized and chrismated, appropriately in our Tradition, by immersion.

The lower level, with two bedrooms and two baths, could serve as a church school or private school level. There is a surround-sound theater for viewing films and offering educational lectures and even little plays and skits from the students. The three-car garage includes a workshop and is larger than our current rental space. The kitchen, near what would be the Altar, provides ample space for preparing dinners and meals, and the deck outside invites the entire community to enjoy an outdoor picnic without leaving the grounds.

All this sits on 2.48 acres, with room, in other words, to build a separate church building whenever the community might outgrow the worship space already available within. The zoning for this house is suitable for a church -- identical to the zoning in the areas where St. Tikhon Church and Holy Transfiguration Greek Orthodox Church both stand. The price is now set at $1.4 million dollars. Considering that 3 acres of land in Anchorage regularly costs one million dollars, this property could accommodate all our needs for the near and long range future immediately. If we were to buy raw land, and take thirty years to pay for it, we would need another 30 years to raise the funds to build a church on that land. This property is "ready to go."

Additionally, the current builder and owner is an Orthodox man. He has invited us to move in and begin using the facilities right now. Of course, without assurance that we have a commitment to purchase this house and the land around it, we cannot relocate there. We might decide to stay right where we are. That means remaining for the foreseeable future where we are and continuing as we have for the last nine years exactly in the same condition. There will be no room for any additional members, no room inside the door. On the other hand, we will continue without any debts, without any pressure to raise funds, without any responsibility or sacrifice. And when emergencies (like the Japanese earthquake and tsunami) occur, we will be able to respond generously, as we always have in the past.

My own assessment of the situation, therefore, is this: we can move forward to purchase this 8,500 square foot house and secure it for our children and grandchildren, have an appropriate place for meetings, classes, dinners, and even fund-raising activities, a place where we worship and that also houses the rector of the parish and potentially rents space for a private school as well. We can secure this building as a holy place, bless and beautify it and have the finest Orthodox temple in the city, on the most extraordinary site and with a magnificent view. Or we can stay where we are for the foreseeable future.

How can we afford $1.4 million? We have $150,000 in the building fund. My intention would be to double that. How? By asking each family and even every member of the parish, of all ages, to offer, to sacrifice, this year's Permanent Fund check to the St. Alexis Building Fund. PFD income is not something we earn or deserve. It is a gift we are free to accept or pass on. The money comes from oil we had nothing to do with, oil we did nothing to create or from which we should earn anything. If 150 of our own people pledge their PFD check this year, and the check is at least $1,000, we will have doubled our fund.

With $300 K, I would then personally approach various village and regional Native Corporations. I think we could identify 20 of them who have supported other Orthodox parishes in the past. I would ask them to contribute as a "Founder, Builder and Benefactor" of the Church a specific amount, probably $25,000. This would result in a total of $500,000, and bring us to a total of $800,000. That would mean that in order to buy this property, we would still need to borrow $600,000. A mortgage in that amount could require monthly payments of $3,000-$4,000, depending on the interest rate we can negotiate. That is the same as what we are paying now, for rent. Why not buy a place that will increase in value over time instead of renting a storefront unit? Why not move to a place that is ten times larger, that provides housing for the rector, a church school, a social hall and a chapel all in one building if we can do this at no increased financial burden? That would be my goal. At that point, buying this house is, as they say, "a no-brainer."

So the first question is, "Does the parish want to consider this opportunity?" I do not think it is appropriate or fair to ask this question now. No one would buy a house without first touring it, examining it, inspecting it. So I think the next step in this process should be for the entire parish, or at least as many as are interested, to tour this house on West Dimond Boulevard, just beyond Sand Lake. It sits on a cliff (anchored in rock) on the south side of the road, dominating the land it overlooks. I have received from the owner his permission for the entire parish to tour the house on June 19, after Liturgy. We will do this after coffee hour on Sunday, 19 June.

But I think this is where we will come to our crossroads. After visiting the house we will need to tell the owner that we are interested and willing to commit to this effort, or we are not. My own sense is that if we are not satisfied with this property now, we will most likely never be satisfied with any property later. We will be, in fact, deciding to remain at 5801 Arctic for the foreseeable future, perhaps forever.

This is the crossroads we have reached. Let each of us prayerfully consider the alternatives and reflect
upon our own love for God, for His Church and for each other as we ponder the questions before us and
ask God to inspire and guide us in our discussions and deliberations.