Fr. Bratso’s Pastoral Letter to the Parish
Dear Parishioners and Friends,
I thank my Lord for giving me this opportunity in writing to all of you, in order to convey my pastoral thanks, care, love, and heartfelt words as we all continue working out our salvation in Jesus Christ our Lord. (cf. Ephesians 2:8-9; Acts 4:12) As you all know, our parish was established in 1952; in 2002 we celebrated the 50thanniversary; in 2012 we celebrated the 60thanniversary. Looking prayerfully toward the future, we are readying ourselves to celebrate the 75thanniversary in 2027. It is only nine years away, and as you all know, time goes by fast, especially if we remain focused on all those matters pertaining to our blessed work. Therefore, I take this opportunity after having reflected on our past, to write to you briefly about my pastoral visualization of our parish work in the next several years.
Our parish history
Our parish has a proud and rich history. People have always felt at home here regardless of their ethnic background. This is a place of prayer, gatherings, healing, celebration and joy. Here families and individuals created friendships and found joy and happiness. This is where generations of our people made history with their lives, their participation in this community, and their unselfish love and sacrifice. We must continue the journey of faith begun by our ancestors and parish founders whose love and sacrifice made possible the parish we enjoy today. They established the strong sense of identity as members of St. George Parish. When we go through the pages of our books and bulletins, we realize how much St. George Parish is a part of our people’s lives. I always enjoy stories from our elderly parishioners reminiscing about the ‘old times’ of fellowship, working together during Festivals, putting on ‘their best Sunday clothes’ and participating in the Liturgy and all services. We honor our past and all those who played a very important part in it. We will continue doing just that. That is why it is necessary now to prayerfully look at the future.
Being a welcoming church
What makes us a welcoming parish? Is it having the priest welcome each visitor by name at the end of the service? Or is it asking visitors to join us for our regular lunch and fellowship in the hall? It is both of these, and much more. A church signals how welcoming it is by the appearance of its facilities and maintenance of its properties. Our church property is generally clean, but as we all know, it needs some major improvements, such as heating and air-conditioning in both the church and the social hall. Our social hall also needs some improvements as well. We all know this, right?
Another aspect of a welcoming church is the first person that our visitors see as they enter the church. That person is not the priest, but our tutors (tutori) at the candle stand. It is so important that they welcome each person walking in the church with a warm greeting (Good morning! Welcome to St. George! My name is… Are you visiting us for the first time? Allow me to help you get oriented while you’re here during the Liturgy, and afterwards we would be most honored to have you with us during our lunch. Also, Fr. Bratso would love to have you fill out this visitor’s card, so that he can welcome you after the Liturgy during his announcements, etc. Please, let me know if you have any questions…).
Last year I proposed that we send complimentary entrance and meal cards to our neighbors with different value levels based on the proximity to our property. I am happy to say that I heard positive responses from our neighbors. Many of them came to the Festival. We will continue reaching out to them. But, I must ask you all to do the same in your own neighborhood. Please, take the Festival cards when they become available and invite your neighbors to come. Invite them to come not only for the Festival, but also for any of the services that we have. To belong to something, to be a part of something, and to know that something belongs to you is a basic human desire and need. We humans must belong to something; we must find a home somewhere. Belonging is a basic part of our existence. With this in mind, I ask you to join some of our parish organizations. Be active. Give something (i.e. time, talent, treasure) to the organization, because through giving, you will experience the joy of living. Our parish has a variety of organizations. Join some, revitalize these organizations, and bring someone with you as well. Let us initiate a more welcoming spirit within our changing neighborhoods (homes around our church property are being sold and some neighbors are moving away; new ones are moving in) or we shall become a ‘stifled church’, only perpetuated and cared for by yesterday’s endowments.
Who are we?
This is a basic question that we must ask collectively and individually. Who are we? Who am I? We are Orthodox Christians called to be the people of God, the body of Christ, worshipping, learning, witnessing and living out the Gospel of Christ in this world. Who am I? I am an Orthodox Christian, a member of St. George parish, called to be a member of this God protected community and with my words and actions, I am called to encourage others on the road to salvation as I work out my own salvation in Jesus Christ. Ourparish is a part of the Orthodox Church worldwide. We are members of the New Testament Church – The Orthodox Church. As such, we are called to experience a new Pentecost every day, every Sunday and every Feast day as we gather for the Liturgy when the Holy Spirit guides us into uncharted waters.
With all that has been said so far, we’ve arrived at some very important questions that must be asked. These questions are: what are our core values and beliefs? I am not talking about the Faith itself; our Orthodox Faith is, of course, the most important and we must do everything to continue our own growth in the knowledge and understanding of it by reading a basic catechism (available in our church, social hall, etc.), participating in the sacramental life of the Church (confession, communion, etc.), reading Scriptures and the lives of saints, etc.
With our core values and beliefs, I have in mind the way we understand ourselves and the way we operate as a church. Are they derived and shaped by our Faith or something else? Are we individually motivated to work in our parish by something other than the Faith? Certainly, those matters that are essential to the church’s vitality should be kept, but those that hinder the church’s growth need to be pruned. As previously stated, we are the ‘people of God’ called out to proclaim our faith in the crucified and resurrected Jesus Christ, to teach and to baptize others (cf. St. Matthew 28:19), to love others, and to be good Samaritans in this world. We are the people of the cross. As such, we must be prepared to bear the cost of discipleship, knowing that the cross always leads to our resurrection and salvation. One thing is for certain, we must daily through prayer reconsider our behaviors and practices.
Our parish ministries
From the very beginning, St. George parish maintained and fostered Orthodox Christian Faith and some ethnic traditions. When I read what our fellow parishioners and my predecessors wrote of the events in the parish over the decades, I was proud that the various organizations (choir, the circle of Serbian sisters, folklore groups, etc.) gathered people and kept the community together. We now need to take an honest look at our current activities and charter our plan for the next nine years, until 2027, when we will celebrate the 75thanniversary, and beyond. A prayerful reflection and serious planning must take place. North America is the new mission field for Orthodoxy; San Diego is the new mission field for our parish. It is essential not only improve on yesterday’s accomplishments, but we must charter new ones. We must become the parish (and each organization within our parish) of caring, trust and teamwork. Reality resides in our relationships; we need to nurture authentic and supportive relations with each other. This does not mean we need to only abolish conflict, but we must work toward constructive outcomes from our disagreements. Further, planning for all parish ministries is underway. Please, see me with any suggestions, questions and ideas. We must become the parish of listening, as we seek to communicate with one another. We must become the parish of engagement and participation. We must become the parish of affirmation by encouraging each other in the work that we do; the parish that embraces all ages and differences; the parish that looks beyond itself as we are guided by the precepts of Orthodox Faith.
Apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome: “Let love be genuine, hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor… be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord… persevere in prayer… extend hospitality.” (Romans 12:9-13)
As we uphold one another in prayer and as we take mutual responsibility for each person’s daily walk in faith, let us, my beloved parishioners and friends, take St. Paul’s words to heart. Indeed, we are called to be the parish of love, nurtured by the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Let us dare to discard the old wineskins, discovering and embracing new ones to lead us onward to the promised kingdom of our loving Lord, as we become a vibrant parish in the 21stcentury city of San Diego, California.
With all of my love in Jesus Christ,
Father Bratso Krsic