On Sunday, September 17, His Eminence Hilarion, Metropolitan of Eastern America & New York, visited St. Alexander Nevsky Memorial Church in Richmond, ME, where he celebrated Divine Liturgy and performed a priestly and diaconal ordination. The visit was scheduled around the parish’s patronal feast day, which had taken place the previous Tuesday, September 12, as well as the 30th anniversary of Archpriest Chad Williams’ service as rector.
Before the beginning of the service, parish acolytes Patrick Kimball and Matthew O’Donnell were tonsured readers. After the Great Entrance, Deacon Nathan Williams was ordained to the priesthood, while after the Eucharistic Canon, Subdeacon Joseph Kimball was ordained to the diaconate.
The feast was featured in a local newspaper, the Kennebec Journal, which interviewed several of the faithful, including Metropolitan Hilarion:
"Today is a remarkable day," the Metropolitan said after listing triple reasons to celebrate.
"When Fr. Chad came here 30 years ago, it was a dying parish," the Metropolitan recalled after Sunday’s services. "Now he’s brought in a new flock with many children." He noted that the congregation had changed from one of predominantly Russian émigrés to one that is more longstanding American.
"Two-thirds of us are not Russians," said Fr. Chad. "It is a church for all of us, for all people, many of whom who have chosen the Orthodox Church as their spiritual home."
He said currently the Orthodox Christian community is made up of some Americans, some Russians and some people with other ethnic backgrounds. "There’s been an interesting transition over the past 30 years."
The rector said the church has about 140 people listed in its congregation, with about 75 people for most services… On Sunday, given the triple celebration, more than 100 people, including young mothers with headscarves, circulated in and out of the church during the hours-long service, conducted mostly in English and Church Slavonic.
Speaking to the Herald, the newly ordained Priest Nathan Williams said, "I was asked by my father if I would consider ordination because the parish has grown and there is a need for a second priest," as his youngest brother, Andrew, pulled on ropes to start the church bells pealing. His mother, Matushka Cynthia, conducted the choir Sunday.
Fr. Nathan Williams lives in Gardiner, ME with his wife, [Matushka] Anna, and their three children. He’s a certified interpreter of Russian and does written translations of [the divine services]. He received congratulations from many in the congregation both inside and outside the church…
Helen Raymond of Pittston spent some of the service sitting on a bench in the cool yard. "I was brought up Orthodox in Connecticut, so it was natural to seek out this church here." A member of the Richmond church for 22 years, she too has seen it grow and attract what she described as "a lot of people who’ve been seeking a deeper knowledge of belief, tradition."
Another woman sitting near her, Janet Anna Clement of Richmond, concurred.
"I grew up Methodist," Clement said. "I walked into the church 15 years ago on the feast of the Transfiguration and was totally overcome by the service and almost immediately became a catechumen."
She saw others joining the church as well, becoming involved in the choir, as catechumens, being baptized and married and now bringing their children to the church.
"We just have people who are hungry for something else," she said.
Joanna Willmarth, one of the Fr. Chad’s daughters, returned home for her brother’s ordination to the priesthood. Her husband, Priest Ephraim Willmarth, was in the altar for the service and unable to help her chase their four children, ages four months to five years.
Willmarth is assistant dean at Holy Trinity Seminary in Jordanville, NY, which Fr. Nathan and his brother, Deacon Anthony, attended.
"It’s a wonderful, rich life," she said. "Our entire life revolved around the church."
She recalled that. when the Williams children were young, they were the only children at the church.
"Now it’s like there are more kids than I can count and many of them related to me," she marveled, counting eight nieces within eyesight.
Jared Brewer, his wife Natalie Zelensky, and their son Nicholas, of Waterville, were among the congregation Sunday. They have been coming to Richmond for services for about five years and watched the growth, which Zelensky said has expanded beyond ethnic lines.
And while they mostly attend St. Alexander Nevsky, the family sometimes goes to Holy Archangels Church in Waterville, which is also a parish of the Russian Church Abroad, but uses the Western Rite rather than Eastern, Byzantine Rite.
Priest Matthias Brookes, parish administrator at the Waterville church, had come for Sunday’s ordination service as well. Deacon Abraham Fortier, a cleric of that parish, is to be ordained a priest on Monday, October 9 in New York City.