In the fall of 1999, a group of Orthodox Christians met at the First Congregational Church to begin discussions on the feasibility of an Orthodox mission church in Northern Michigan. This project was spear headed by Harriet Rennie with the cooperation and blessing of His Eminence Metropolitan Nicholas (then Bishop Nicholas), Father John Paul (Ann Arbor) and Father Jim Bogdan (Grand Rapids).
In October of that same year, the first Divine Liturgy was held and our first church newsletter was published. Before 1999, services had been held on a very infrequent basis and the closest Orthodox church was a 3 hour drive in Grand Rapids, MI.
Prior to this, we were a rag-tag group of Orthodox Christians worshipping willy-nilly all over the state. However, we decided that what we needed could only be provided within the church—a spiritual family to support, protect and challenge our collective belief in God. While we always dreamed of one day building a church, that reality seemed light years away and we focused our energies on finding other Orthodox Christians and welcoming anyone who was seeking God through our beautiful worship traditions. Day-by-day, year-by –year, we took one step at a time. We met on Thursday nights with priests who were sent up here to lead us in worship. We then on met Saturdays, and finally we were assigned our first temporary priest (Father Andrew Walsh) and met on Sundays in a rented chapel at the First Congregational Church. Father Nectarios Rozadilla was assigned to us as our second temporary priest and then in 2008 we were assigned Father Iakovos Olechnowicz as our first permanent priest. In 2010, Father Iakovos left and we were assigned our beloved Father Ciprian Steza, who is our current parish priest. On November 15, 2009, Traverse City Greek Orthodox Mission Church became Archangel Gabriel Greek Orthodox Church sanctioned under the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.
Since Father Ciprian’s arrival, our parish has flourished and grown and we are currently up to 60 active families. However, we still longed for our own permanent place of worship. In order to find the perfect property site, we drove off-road, flew an airplane and analyzed maps to finally find a piece of land that was worthy of a great vision while being accessible, visible and most importantly inspirational. We settled on a beautiful 5 acre piece of property overlooking east Grand Traverse Bay in Williamsburg, MI. Since we were not ready to begin a building project, in the spring of 2012 we built what would become a landmark for the Traverse City area – Angels Organic Community Garden, which has made a tremendous impact on so many people in need of healthy food. In addition, we have a greenhouse on the property and have celebrated many services there. In July of 2013, weekly Vespers services were held in on the property during the summer. On September 15, 2013, the parish was presented with four proposals from various architectural firms out of which the Vision Team recommended Plus Line Design. The first major building fund matching challenge was delivered on October 13, 2013 by Robert and Theresa Underwood which ultimately raised $350,000 by December 31, 2013. In June 2014 our first official final rendering was accepted by the Spring General Assembly. On July 13, 2014 we held the Capital Campaign Kick Off event. The setting of the Cornerstone Service was held on April 23, 2019.
Many brainstorming sessions and countless design plans later, we have finally begun the building of our church campus. Over the past five years, our small parish has been able to raise 3.5 million dollars of our 4 million dollar goal towards realizing the dream of a permanent Orthodox home in northern Michigan for us and for all Orthodox families for generations to come.
We have teamed up with talented experts to create an environmentally friendly and sustainable campus using state of the art energy systems and integrative designs. Sustainability is a responsibility we have to protect and preserve God’s creation. Some of the highlights of our sustainability plan include: Energy efficient building envelope to reduce energy consumption; Sustainable and environmentally friendly building materials; Minimizing construction waste; Purchasing green energy until we implement our future plan to integrate renewable energy technologies and using natural native landscaping that supports the current mission of our organic garden to limit use of pesticides, fertilizers, and high water consumption plants and trees.
Building a church is a sacred endeavor, a humbling honor and unique opportunity to change lives of people that you do not know or have not been born yet. August 1, 2019, marks the beginning of a new era in the life of the Parish with the Door Opening or Thryanoixia service. What began as a humble group of servants has grown into a vibrant and flourishing Orthodox community right here in Northern Michigan.