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Tobaccoville, NC: St. Thomas the Apostle Mission celebrates first Divine Liturgy in New Church

On Sunday, October 9, the congregation of St. Thomas the Apostle Mission gathered for the first Divine Liturgy in their recently purchased church building located in Tobaccoville, NC. Some 80 people attended the services on a historic Sunday for a community which has endured many trials since its inception.

St. Thomas the Apostle Mission was officially born on July 28, 2019 at the home of Reader Joseph Sprinkle. Led by the indefatigable missionary-minded Archpriest Onouphry Keith, along with Reader John Plyler, the mission gathered unto itself a small number of local North Carolina Triad-area Orthodox Christians.

In less than a year, the number of those attending services began to steeply increase, as many Orthodox began seeking to exercise their God-given right to freely worship without the artificial burden of countless COVID-era restrictions. The mission began to grow rapidly and, very soon, a 200 sq ft shed in the Sprinkles’ backyard was being used as a chapel. As many as 30 people, many of whom were children, began to attend on a weekly basis.

As the mission grew, zoning concerns were voiced from certain neighbors, and the rustic "shed church" had to be abandoned in March 2021. Thus, the members of the mission began a long search for a more suitable location. Many non-Orthodox churches were contacted during these months in an attempt to find a more long-term rental space. Most had nothing to offer, and others were simply not interested in renting any extra spaces which they had.

During this difficult period of searching, the faithful connected to the mission were warmly welcomed by the local Serbian parish of St. Basil of Ostrog and their wonderful pastor, Fr. Boris Colovich. Fr. Boris graciously invited Fr. Onouphry to serve with him in the altar, and they often concelebrated Liturgy during this time.

In August 2021, the mission found a home which would last for a solid year. On August 19, 2021, the great feast of the Transfiguration was celebrated at 819 Williams Road in Lewisville, NC. The building where the people met was once part of a Quaker community. Sadly, soon after the celebration of this feast, Fr. Onouphry underwent a downturn in his health, making it necessary to serve Typica regularly on Sundays. Still, the number of faithful continued to grow.

The dean, Archpriest Mark Mancuso (who was assigned as temporary rector to the mission at a time when Fr. Onouphry was undergoing serious health challenges), began serving Liturgy one Saturday a month. Although unable to serve Liturgy alone, Fr. Onouphry heard confessions, taught catechism classes, and offered prayerful counsel to the ever-increasing number of people who sought out the worship and fellowship of the youthful community.

In December 2021, with the blessing of our hierarchs, Fr. Mark Mancuso contacted Archpriest Mark Tyson, who had been laboring with his family and a small number of parishioners for three years at Prophet Elijah Mission in Pigeon Forge, TN. Fr. Mark served his first Liturgy at St. Thomas on January 9, 2022. What started as a temporary measure to increase Sunday liturgies at the mission became a full-time assignment a few months later.

On March 28, the ever-memorable Metropolitan Hilarion attached Fr. Mark Tyson to St. Thomas on a full-time basis. On September 5, he would be named rector of the mission with the retired Fr. Onouphry Keith very capably assisting as his health allowed.

The year’s Lenten season arrived and flew by. The divine services for Passion Week and Pascha were well attended and magnificently sung by the large parish choir, skillfully directed by Reader Daniel Kowalcheck (who also serves as parish warden). Immediately after Pascha, with the knowledge that our time at the Lewisville location was limited, a new search for a more permanent location was begun. Deacon Daniel Brown and his Matushka Cecilia were assigned to the mission during this time and were warmly welcomed by all. They also began to participate in our search.

Trying times began again. As in the past, the actively searching members of St. Thomas (both the parish council and the building search committee) had to endure months of refusals and many disappointments. When all the doors seemed to close, the present building in Tobaccoville was discovered. Interest in the property quickly intensified as it became clear that this was the door that God had planned to open all the while. Solidly built in 1947 by a conservative group which broke away from the mainline Methodist denomination, it was the perfect size and price for our young community.

The sellers had built a much newer and larger church complex some two miles up the road and had rented the property for a few years to a number of smaller Christian congregations in the hope that one of them might be moved to purchase it. During the period of negotiation, the conservative Methodists allowed the congregation of St. Thomas to celebrate Liturgy in their spacious gymnasium. Agreements were solidified by the pastors and parish councils of both communities, and on October 2 of this year, the Old Richmond Evangelical Methodist church voted unanimously to sell the property to St. Thomas Mission.

After three weeks of preparatory labors, our faithful people gathered on the feast of the Holy Apostle & Evangelist John the Theologian in their newly renovated space to attend the first Liturgy. The rector’s message on that day was focused on developing the inner life of our mission by applying the last line of the prayer of the Optina Elders to our everyday lives: "Guide my will; teach me to pray, to believe, to hope, to suffer, to forgive and to love."

After Liturgy, a large group of parishioners and a fair number of guests enjoyed a lovely meal on the grounds in perfect autumn weather.

St. Thomas is planning to celebrate its patronal feast on October 18/19. The deanery clergy, along with Fr. Boris Colovich, have been invited for this holy day. Our plans for the future include the initiation of a full liturgical schedule and the continuation of catechetical classes (as of the present moment, 15 catechumens, including children, are undergoing instruction to be received into Holy Orthodoxy).

There is also a firm desire to intensify religious education for all ages and to deepen our personal ties with each other by participating together in the renovation of our new church building, pilgrimage to holy places, and the development of activities for our younger members which will be both instructive and enjoyable.

St. Thomas Mission would like to humbly and sincerely thank all who have assisted the community in any way, and we ask for the prayers of our hierarchs, clergy, and the ROCOR faithful as we move with faith into the future which is known to God alone.

May His will be done in our lives!

Archpriest Mark Tyson


Tobaccoville, NC: St. Thomas the Apostle Mission celebrates first Divine Liturgy in New Church - 10/08/22

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