The following article was co-written by Fr Marc Vranes and Barbara Lacey. It will appear in an upcoming issue of O.N.E.
Centennial of Holy Trinity Orthodox Church, Willimantic, Connecticut
A rainy day did not dampen the joy or the spirits of celebrants at the 100th anniversary of Holy Trinity Orthodox Church in Willimantic, Connecticut, on Sunday, October 9, 2016. For a small parish, an extraordinary number of about 150 people, consisting of clergy and faithful from the diocese and beyond, were in attendance.
A Hierarchical Divine Liturgy was served by His Eminence, Archbishop NIKON, helped by the many priests and deacons who had volunteered to assist. Morning prayers, a meditation, and thanksgiving were offered. The Archbishop was vested in his liturgical garments before administering the sacrament of Holy Communion to the Orthodox. Young acolytes were gently guided by older ones, while the chanting of the choir, as directed by Mr Jason Geeza before, during, and after the service, was both solemn and vibrant.
At the conclusion of Divine Liturgy, several awards were given to members of the parish. Reader Stephen Bradford was presented with the St. Elias Scouting Award, recognizing him for over two decades of involvement with Scouts. Others who were presented with lavishly decorated certificates of achievement include: Dr. Mary Ellen Junda, Choir Director from 1992 to 2015; Zlotnick Construction, Inc., supervisors of construction and maintenance at the church since 1957; Treasurer Frank Kaputa, officer of impeccable financial records; Webmaster and photographer Timothy Fetzko, creator of a website that has given Holy Trinity a world-wide presence, and Mrs Sonja Chowanec, choir member for 55 years and person in charge of nearly every major banquet, luncheon, and coffee hour at Holy Trinity since 1960.
The final award was given to the University of Connecticut Orthodox Christian Fellowship, in recognition of the men and women who, when they were students, made a commitment to Holy Trinity in the early 2000’s that helped save this community from extinction. As Fr Marc remarked: the students came, they served, they sang and they still do; they read and they helped to transition the perception of Holy Trinity from old, irrelevant, and dying, to young, passionate, and full of the Holy Spirit. With the OCF as our new cornerstone, young families with children began to attend. Something very powerful had begun, and continues to take place: love of God, love of the gospel, and deep passionate love for one another. This is the foundation on which the new Holy Trinity has been built.
Following the church ceremony, a Centennial Banquet was held at the Lake View Restaurant in nearby Coventry, Connecticut. The misty setting of autumnal trees around the lake looked lovely through the wrap-around windows of the dining room; the food for the feast was abundant and delicious; and the gentle melodies performed by a flutist provided a subdued background for the lively conversations among the many dozens of cheerful guests who attended the dinner.
After dinner, several speakers addressed the significance of the Centennial event:
--His Eminence, Archbishop Nikon extended congratulations to Fr Marc and parishioners, and asked that the clergy and faithful in the past who labored on behalf of the church be remembered.
-- Mr Robert Dolan, Chairperson of the Centennial Committee, thanked the committee, and all who contributed time and effort, for the hard work they did to make the day so special and successful.
--Dr Mary Ellen Junda praised the service as joyous and the reception as inspiring and full of friendship; she thought it was the perfect way to honor the memory of her departed husband, Joseph M. Hutnik.
--Mr Timothy Paproski, student representative from the UConn OCF, spoke movingly about Holy Trinity as a home away from home for Orthodox students in residence at the University.
--Mr Timothy Fetzko, Parish Council President and Webmaster, told of the personal spiritual journey that brought him and his family to become members of Holy Trinity.
-- Mr Greg Zlotnick, Past President, spoke passionately about his lifetime at Holy Trinity, recounted memorable moments and remembered many people who gave so much of themselves before passing into eternal rest.
--V. Rev. Marc Vranes, Pastor of Holy Trinity, described Holy Trinity as a small church that places a high value on relationships in which parishioners feel needed and nourished. Though small, it has had positive influence and outreach, and participatory relationships have been built with the Covenant Soup Kitchen and the Windham Area Interfaith Ministry. “Mission . . . Mercy , , , Ministry,” is the mainstay of our work and the key to our strength.
Fr Marc briefly sketched the history of Holy Trinity Orthodox Church. First organized locally on August 16, 1916, the small community began meeting in a converted house, then in St. Paul’s Church on Valley Street. Land for a building was purchased in 1948, the foundation poured in 1950, but due to financial limitations, construction was not completed until 1957. For 58 years, the altar has been the packing crate in which the original icons were shipped, now being replaced by a new altar table constructed by parishioner Mr Jon Matcheson. Holy Trinity, as one of the smallest churches in the Diocese of New England, has always known struggle and sacrifice. Church records include many references to the possibility that the parish might dissolve. Yet, it did survive, build, and gain in strength. The full story of the church’s history can be found in the booklet, “Holy Trinity Orthodox Church 1916-2016,” given to everyone attending the banquet; it can also be read on the church’s website: www.orthodoxct.org
Fr Marc drew the event to a close by offering “what I am able to offer . . . that is, my unconditional love –and the fullness of my heart—for all of you here today—and for our humble and blessed 100-year old Holy Trinity Orthodox Church in Willimantic, Connecticut. May God bless each of you, and keep you safe from harm.”