Thanks to R.D. Hohenfeldt at The Rolla Daily News for a great article on the establishment of the mission! He interviewed us on Tuesday evening, and we had a very enjoyable conversation. You can read it on the Rolla Daily News site, or here below:
The newest church in Rolla is the oldest church in the world. “We’re not a split-off, and we didn’t come about as the result of a protest,” Deacon Joel Wilson said of St. John the Wonderworker Orthodox Christian Mission, which will hold its first service in Rolla at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 9, at the Knights of Columbus building, 201 Newman Road.
Deacon Wilson, who prefers to be called Deacon Joel, serves St. Thomas the Apostle Orthodox Church in that city. A priest from that church, or priests from other churches interested in helping establish an Orthodox church in south central Missouri, will conduct the Divine Liturgy here on Saturdays.
On any Saturday that a priest is unavailable, Deacon Wilson will conduct a non-Eucharistic service.
Given the history of the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church, it might seem unusual to outsiders that the Knights of Columbus in St. Patrick Parish would be so willing to help the mission.
“It is incredibly generous of them,” said The Deacon.
Deacon Wilson, who lives in Springfield, said the Orthodox Church traces its history back to Christ, just as the Roman Catholic Church does.
In fact, there once was no Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox church. There was just the early church that had grown to have leadership in five cities in the ancient world.
“There were five Patriarchs – Rome, Jerusalem, Constantinople, Antioch and Alexandria,” he said.
Although the Roman Patriarch was seen as “first among equals,” the makings of a schism began when the Roman Patriarch moved to become a pontiff, superior to the other four.
“The Roman Patriarch declared himself pope,” Deacon Wilson said. That led to the East-West Schism of 1054, dividing the one holy, catholic and apostolic church into two branches, the western Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church.
“Christ is our pope,” Deacon Wilson said.
Roman Catholics came to the New World in 1492. Orthodox missionaries showed up in North America in 1794.
Orthodoxy has grown slowly and steadily since, and it has an appeal to people who come from an evangelical background. Such was the case with the Wilson family.
“I grew up Baptist,” he said, but his parents, like other young couples looking for a deeper, richer religious experience had already begun looking for other ways to worship. They “stumbled across” an Orthodox movement that was an offshoot of the evangelical Campus Crusade for Christ.
When Wilson was four or five years old, his family began to leave their Baptist congregation and worship with a congregation of something called the Evangelical Orthodox Church, which wasn’t really an Eastern Orthodox church.
“It didn’t happen overnight,” he said, because the extended family was strongly Baptist.
When he was 19, “our episcopacy fell apart,” and he and his parents began looking for a truly Orthodox congregation. Most were associated with immigrants from Greece, Russia or Serbia and conducted the Divine Liturgy in their own languages.
The family found an Orthodox Church in America, and ultimately, Wilson began to study for the priesthood.
“I’m originally from a small town in Indiana,” he said. “I went to seminary at St. Tikhon’s, which is in a small town outside Scranton, PA.”
The Orthodox church has married clergy. Deacon Wilson is married and he, his wife, and three children (with one on the way) live in Springfield. They hope to move to Rolla and serve a permanent Orthodox Christian congregation.
The closest Orthodox church is two hour away, either in St. Louis or Springfield.
“There’s just not one here, so we’re here because of that,” he said.
Deacon Wilson is a bi-vocational clergyman who operates a web design company, too. He has a website for the Rolla mission up and running at orthodoxyinrolla.org.
Deacon Wilson has been involved with missionary work before. He assisted a friend two summers ago who began a mission work in Weatherford, Okla. While driving from seminary to Oklahoma, he came through the Ozarks and was struck by the beauty of the land.
After graduating from seminary in May 2012, he sought assignment at St. Thomas with the hope of starting a mission in Rolla.
“We feel it is very providential,” Wilson said of the new work.
He invites people looking for a depth and richness of the Christian faith to attend the Saturday service. The Divine Liturgy will begin at 10:30 and will last until about noon.
Be prepared to stand. Although there will be chairs around the wall of the building for people who don’t want to stand, the service will be conducted while most congregants stand.
“We stand in the presence of God,” Deacon Wilson said, “so we worship while standing not while seated in pews.”