“It is truly awe inspiring to see how wonderfully God has blessed our mission over the last three years,” reflects Priest Andre Paez, Rector of Saint John the Evangelist Mission, Tempe AZ. “When we applied for the OCA Mission Grant in 2014, we had only 23 adults and 13 children—a total of 16 pledging families—and our combined worship and fellowship space totaled a mere 2,300 square feet. Now, after three years, we have 78 adults and 34 children and 32 pledging families, and we are enjoying our beautifully expanded 6,650 square foot space for worship, education and fellowship.”
While not without its challenges, these past few years have been “an absolute joy,” Father Andre says as he serves with an overwhelming sense of gratitude to God for the increase He has provided Saint John’s, and to the leadership, guidance, and generosity of clergy and parishioners who have so graciously supported the mission. “Every day I am humbled and inspired knowing that I and our community are working in the North American mission field cultivated by the great saints who have come before us.”
As the community has blossomed, so have its ministries.
“Under the leadership and tireless enthusiasm of my dear wife, Matushka Samantha Paez, our mission started Arizona’s first Orthodox ‘Catechesis of the Good Shepherd’ children’s education program,” Father Andre explains. “Just this past summer, our dedicated children’s education team hosted a Catechesis of the Good Shepherd formation course with an Orthodox facilitator from Alaska. Seventeen participants from area churches attended and learned how to implement the CGS Montessori-based program into their own parishes. We also have thriving men’s and women’s groups, a robust choir with over 15 singers, a dedicated parish council, a marvelous hospitality team, and loving volunteers who care for those in need, including the homeless at ‘Andre House,’ single mothers at ‘Maggie’s Place,’ and many other charitable organizations.”
The community also has hosted powerful spiritual retreats with Deacon Mark Barna, who shared insights from his book, A Christian Ending, and Father Josiah Trenham, whose presentations on the “Good Husband and the Good Wife” were live-streamed.
Father Andre believes that the community’s labors have been so fruitful because, at the heart of all its ministries, is Christ Himself, Who empowers the members of Saint John’s to be His hands and feet in the Phoenix valley.
“Our catechism and inquirers class is always expanding, and this past Lent, we had the great joy of receiving 12 new members into the Church,” states Father Andre. “We now have 11 catechumens and we are looking forward to receiving them this coming Lent 2018.”
Looking back at the past three years, Father Andre and his flock are grateful for the “dynamic journey” they have taken as they prepare to “graduate” from mission to parish status. “We feel well equipped to begin this new phase in our community’s growth and are anxious to return a portion of the blessings we have received as a result of the Church Planting Grant.”