improbably tucked between a gas station and a pizza place, no sign out front and the shades drawn to protect the interior from the sun. You could drive by it a hundred times and not know it was a church, but it is. It’s a mission in Anoka, MN, a place for Orthodox Christians to gather in what had once been a remote farm town now completely engulfed as a suburb by the Twin Cities.
I was the guest that day, called to serve because the interim pastor needed to fill in at another church and I was available. The drive north was short and familiar. The highways were clear because it was Sunday morning and I had driven in this area many times over the decades I’ve been in St. Paul. Arden Hills, Shoreview, Mounds View, Coon Rapids, and Blaine all passed by my window as, early, I was the first in the parking lot.
Soon cars began to arrive and I was let in. Such an interesting and beautiful place. What had once been a 7-11 store was now a church complete with an apse carefully constructed where the dairy products or pop might have been. It all looked hand made but in the best possible sense of the word. The iconostasis was open and wonderfully unlike a fortress wall. A kitchen had been built inside and even small rooms on either side of the sanctuary that had everything needed for worship. Icons were posted on all of the walls and the altar stood in holy simplicity, an older tabernacle and a Gospel book without an elaborate metal cover.
As people came in there was noise and talking. The choir was gathering, a small Sunday school class sat at the floor in the back, and the kairon, proskemedia, and censing proceeded apace. When all you have is one larger room everything that must happen does so in one place, a reverent noise born of necessity that dissolved into the prepatory readings.
As the service began it became clear that this was a place of worship. Some stood, some sat, and the choir was small but very proficient at its work. There was a Deacon with me, an older and extraordinarily helpful man making sure that I could make the transition into serving in the Slavic style. Altar boys peered out from the side rooms. Folks lined up, so many of the group, to partake of the life giving mysteries. And even here it seemed that God had honored us with His presence.
As I drove home later after something about this place occurred to me. There are grand cathedrals out there, structures of imposing size where equally imposing people seek to guide and direct larger affairs. There are boards and commissions, committees and organizations, a confusing array some times and fertile places for pride and the business of the world to intrude on the holy. When these places and the people who preside at them are troubled that trouble seems to fill the air, the spiritual breathing space of the Church, and even their pathology is assumed important.
Yet the promise is given that the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church and now I understand in part why this is so. It is not because the great have gathered to wrestle, ponder, and decide, rather it is because the small have gathered in an old 7-11 in Anoka, Minnesota.