The Church Growth (1986-1990)

IMPORTANT DATES

  • Sunday School, Alhan and Bible study Services
  • His Grace Bishop Antonios Morcos—1988
  • Abouna Daniel Rizq—1988
  • Abouna Bisenti Girgis—1988
  • Considering buying a Church building—1988
  • Meeting with His Holiness Pope Shenouda III—1989
  • Abouna Athanasius Iskandar—1992
  • Abouna Moussa Mattar—1992
  • Feast Celebrations—1993

There was hardly any growth in numbers at that time; but every family or individual who came and left had some kind of impact on the Church community. Gradually, the Church activities that were limited to the Liturgy Services when Abouna came and the family Bible meetings, were not enough. With the arrival of new families with young children came the need for Sunday School. But because of the small number of families, there was only one classroom for all ages and it was up to the servants to accommodate all ages. Within the same period the children of the first families became teenagers and a Youth Group was started. The family prayer/Bible meeting started to be a real Bible Study meeting with a regular study that started with the Gospel of St. John. Thanks be to God for the arrival of a family of a servant who was gifted in conducting Bible studies. Another area was covered by yet another newcomer who started teaching the group the Liturgy responses in English handed down to him by Tasoni Mary, Abouna Tadros’ Malaty's wife. Since then the use of English in the Holy Liturgy became more common. Also, the Chorus of Deacons was never without one who was talented in using the instruments. If the will of God allowed such a member to be transferred elsewhere, He was sure to provide the Church with a replacement.

Looking for Alternatives


Unfortunately, during the same period, specifically in the summer of 1988, Abouna Shenouda was transferred to New Jersey, and he was no longer available to serve Winnipeg. Abouna Tadros Malaty arrived in Chicago to take care of the Church there. He was contacted and he visited Winnipeg two times. After that Winnipeg was not to be covered by the Church in Chicago, so other areas were sought. One of the new members at that time who had come from Ottawa, contacted Abouna Bisenti Guirgis, who was serving Ottawa at the time, and Abouna Bisenti graciously agreed to serve Winnipeg. He offered one Saturday morning every month. He kept that commitment as much as he could, but since the Ottawa congregation was growing much faster than the Winnipeg one, the demand on his time started to make his visits to Winnipeg more difficult. God did not allow his flock to be without a shepherd for long. In 1988 Abouna Danial Rizq was ordained to be the priest for the Churches of Edmonton and Calgary, AB, and the Church of Vancouver, BC, with some services for the Church of Seattle, WA, in the United States. He willingly added Winnipeg to his long list, alternating services with Abouna Bisenti. This gave the Church in Winnipeg a more regular and stable service pattern, despite the complicated travel arrangements. The number of families in the Church was around 15 families during that time. The financial aspect of the Church started taking a more serious form rather than the leftover monies from the priest travel expenses to more regular donations to a Church fund, and more specifically a building fund with the idea of accumulating monies towards acquiring a house for the Lord.

First Fundraising Event


The first Church fundraising was encouraged by Abouna Bisenti and was called “Dinner with Abouna”. It was a BBQ in the backyard of the member who suggested the idea. He had three BBQs going and the flames and the smoke billowing made the neighbours call the fire department who surprised the group by rushing to the backyard ready to douse the said fire. They examined the BBQs and assured their safety and left. They did not accept a dinner invitation since they were on the job.

Initial Features


During the same period, the same family dedicated their basement for Church meetings, and that expanded to building an altar with curtains and some of the Liturgy services were celebrated there. With the larger number now, meetings could not be accommodated in homes, and the distance to St. George deterred people from attending. We started looking for a local meeting place since most of the community was clustered in the southern part of the city and St. George was located in the north eastern part of the city. Fort Garry Mennonite Fellowship in Fort Richmond became available for meetings but it was not equipped for Liturgies due to the absence of an Altar.

Considering the Purchase of a Building


In 1987 a Church building in Fort Richmond, at the corner of Dalhousie & Silverstone came up for sale and the asking price was $400,000.00. Abouna Bisenti celebrated a Liturgy in the Church to give a chance to the congregation to see it first hand. After the service Abouna recommended to have a general meeting and cast a vote for purchasing the building. He also recommended that the “Yes” vote should constitute at least 70% to proceed. The first General Meeting of the Church was held and a motion was make: “Do we buy the Church building?” An amendment was made to the motion to read: “Do we need a Church building in Winnipeg?” With a fund of less than $4,000 in the bank that motion proved to be impractical to some. Less than 70% voted yes, and the motion was defeated. A positive directive came out of this meeting that a Church “Building Fund” be started with donations and activities geared towards that purpose, and by the end of 1990 the “Building Fund” balance was $8497.66, the General Fund was $4232.23 to a total of $12, 729.89. Alleluia!

First Meeting with His Holiness Pope Shenouda III


The time was October 1989 and the occasion was the first hierarchal visit of His Holiness Pope Shenouda III to North America after his release from the house arrest in the monastery that was ordered by the government. Two Church members went to meet him during his visit to Ottawa, and through a meeting with one of the accompanying Bishops, it was recommended that it would be more effective if a folder containing all the information about the Church be prepared and presented to His Holiness. So, returning with this idea a folder was made that contained:

A. a letter addressed to His Holiness

B. A membership list (this was the first membership list compiled for the Church).

C. A group of pictures of the Church meetings.


It was decided that a good time to present the folder to His Holiness would be when His Holiness consecrated the Church in Minneapolis. Arrangements were made and three families went to meet with him. Seeing the crowds, His Holiness directed them to meet him at the hotel (to the surprise of the accompanying Bishops). The group went to the hotel, met with him alone where he focused on them, and they presented the situation to him, and his response was “fifteen families and you want to have a priest. Do you think I have a box that produces priests?” So the delegation was dismissed with his blessings and gifts. The only outcome from this meeting was that St. Mark Church of Winnipeg became known to His Holiness. (Father Mirone Klysh of the Romanian Orthodox Church was very anxious to meet His Holiness, so he joined the group and until this day, he frequently speaks of the impact of this visit on him).


The following years saw little growth in the Church membership. It was more of a substitution process rather than a growth, every person or family who came to Winnipeg and stayed for a variable period of time left a mark on the Church. One of the main sources of supply to the congregation was the University Graduate students or researchers, and with the decline in University funding for such programs, the numbers went down. The Province had not opened her doors for professional licensing yet, therefore, the incentive was not there for foreign graduates. At the same time, the spiritual needs were increasing as the children of the first generation were growing up and in need of guidance and spiritual nourishment.


The Church was served by Abouna Bisenti from Ottawa, Abouna Danial from Calgary and Abouna Moussa, recently ordained, from Edmonton. Even with three priests serving St. Mark, the Services did not exceed one every two or three weeks, taking into consideration that the three priests were sole servants in their own Churches and expected to attend to the home Church’s needs first. And, of course, there were no Services in St. Mark’s for major feasts.


Some of the Church members had approached Abouna Shenouda Anba Bishoy in New Jersey to officiate, for the first time in Winnipeg, the Services of Good Friday, Abou Ghalamsees and Resurrection of 1991. He accepted the invitation and came. (The Holy week Services were celebrated in three different locations subject to availability of space). We knew later that such delegation for the feast services was supposed to be through His Holiness and not through individual invitations. So as a result of the initiative taken by the members, Winnipeg was not served the following year. Instead, a group set out to Minneapolis to attend Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Resurrection Eve there. Letters were sent to His Holiness entreating that Winnipeg would be considered and included in the delegation of priests for the Holy Festivities.


Abouna Danial Rizq made a plea on our behalf to His Holiness while attending the annual priests’ seminar, and His Holiness delegated blessed memory Abouna Mikhail Dawood of St. Mary’s Church of Rod al Farag for the 1993 Resurrection Services.


That was the beginning of regular Services for the Holy Feasts that carried on without any interruptions until St. Mark had the first appointed priest in 1999.

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