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Diverse congregation thrives in Northland

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  • Bill Samsonoff
    http://www.kccommunitynews.com/articles/2008/01/02/sun_gazette/news/doc477bf69373698370621422.txt Diverse congregation thrives in Northland By Ray Weikal On
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 2, 2008

      Diverse congregation thrives in Northland
      By Ray Weikal

      On any given Sunday morning, in a Northland strip-mall store front
      wedged between a check cashing place and a tanning salon, a small
      group of dedicated Christians can be found chanting.

      St. James Brother of the Lord Orthodox Christian Church, 516 N.W.
      Englewood Road, is a time machine. Visitors step through the glass
      door into an ancient world of sweet incense, vivid icons and
      harmonies created thousands of years ago to voice something
      intangible about the relationship of God and humanity.

      Father Gregory Dye said the church was started four years ago to fill
      a need north of the river after a Serbian Orthodox church left
      Parkville. Dye was commissioned by Overland Park's Holy Trinity
      Church to lead a mission in the area.

      "There were no orthodox churches up north," Dye said. "The idea was
      to see if there were enough people to sustain a church up there."

      The mission started meeting at a school in Liberty. When the church
      moved to the mall, the space was completely reborn as an Orthodox
      place of worship.

      Icons of gold, blue, red and green paint surround the congregation,
      which stands for nearly the entire service. A room with three doors
      was built to hold the altar, which is flanked by life-size icons of
      the Virgin Mary with the baby Jesus, Jesus as king guard and the
      archangels Michael and Gabriel.

      At the beginning of every service, Dye circles the room and swings a
      gold censer that burns lilac incense. Toward the large storefront
      window, congregants face the altar and chant hymns and Bible passages.

      It engages all the senses. That's the point Dye said: to turn all
      senses to worship. He said the incense had a particular impact. Two
      thousand years ago, burning incense was a sign of respect and honor, he said.

      "The sense of smell is one of the most acute and important of the
      senses," Dye said.

      Visitors to Dye's mission might also be surprised by the spectrum of
      faces that show up. Dye counts people from Greece, Romania, Ireland,
      Ethiopia, Serbia, Ukraine and Russia among his flock.

      Church member David Johnston is an American real estate agent who
      married a Russian, Svetlana.

      "I don't think the average person is aware of how international the
      Orthodox Church is," Johnston said. "It's very open and welcoming."

      Dye was an Episcopal clergyman for about 10 years, starting in the
      late 1960s. The history and liturgy of the Eastern Orthodox Church
      caused him and his family to convert in 1977.

      "We discovered the beauty and liturgy and something of emphasis of
      the Orthodox Church," Dye said. "A lot of things joined together that
      caused us to decide to make that transition."

      Dye's journey from mainline Protestant to Orthodox is similar to
      several of his congregants. He said many people thought that the
      liturgy was watered down in American churches. They come to the
      Orthodox Church to rediscover that spiritual DNA.

      "It feels like we're part of a community," said Johnston, who spent
      nine years in Russia. "I found it was much more personal than going
      to one of the megachurches."

      The liturgy is central to Orthodoxy, Dye said. In the same way that a
      great musical can transport the audience to a different reality, the
      liturgy allows the congregation to act out the story of faith as told
      in the Bible.

      "You could say, in a way, that Orthodoxy is sort of like child's
      play," Dye said. "Rather than an intellectual, theological view of
      these things, we do things that mimic and seal the meaning of the
      Gospel in to our memory."

      The Details

      - What: St. James Brother of the Lord Orthodox Christian Church
      - Where: 516 N.W. Englewood Road, Kansas City

      - When: Sunday morning services start at 10 a.m.
      - Contact: Father Gregory Dye at (913) 782-1487
      - More information: visit www.midwestdiocese.org

      Staff writer Ray Weikal can be reached at 389-6637 or rayweikal@....
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