Our first vespers in a hotel room.
Our little mission of Holy Apostles began in 2008, I believe. My husband Kevin and I had been Orthodox for nearly a year, driving to Nashville every Sunday with our four little girls to attend Liturgy. We realized that our kids would be growing up without any other Orthodox kids in their community.
That was a distressing thought, so my husband reached out to the priest of the huge Antiochian church in Louisville, Fr. Alexander Atty of blessed memory. He invited us to come to visit and talk with him. At first, he said we should consider moving to Louisville to join an already-established church. We didn’t want to do that for several reasons, not least because Kevin’s parents had recently moved to BG to be near us. Kevin pointed out to him that BG is a college town with enough people and enough diversity to be an excellent place for an Orthodox Church potentially, and he said, “if everyone interested in Orthodoxy moves away, there will never be an Orthodox Church there.” Fr Atty looked and him and nodded, and said, “ok. Let’s do it. I already have parishioners who live around there. Let me call them.” And right then and there, he picked up the phone and called three people- people who, with their families, are still part of the backbone of our church. He told them that he was going to plant a mission in BG and hoped they’d consider joining it.
Our first Liturgy.
Then he planned a vespers service in bowling green at a hotel. There were maybe 20 people there. Soon after, he served a Liturgy in the gym of St Joseph’s Catholic Church on a Saturday. He brought his own choir and readers, so we just got to stand and listen. St Joseph’s was so good to us. They offered their fellowship hall on Saturdays so we could have regular Liturgies. Pretty soon, we started Saturday liturgies. The first time, there were singers from St Michael’s, but after that, we jumped in and did it ourselves. St Michael’s would send priests (I think it was every other week?), and we would set up everything each time and tear it down afterward. We put up icons every time and collected all the millions of little things we needed. I remember the first time I led the choir, we didn’t think to buy a music stand, so I set my notebook on a garbage can! It was difficult because there was so much to learn. My husband and I have backgrounds in music, so we did all the singing and chanting. We gathered a few willing souls to become a choir and started having choir practices. My husband and I started practicing like crazy to learn how to chant. We both sight-read music pretty well, and we had purchased (or been given? The details are hazy) a fat notebook of sheet music of almost all the Sunday chanting hymns, which saved us. Eventually, we learned to chant for real rather than just read someone else’s chant set down in notation, but it took a very long time.
We met in my living room on Tuesday nights in those earliest days. We had been doing so for a couple of years as a Bible study, and it slowly became more and more Orthodox. We read a few church Fathers and theology books and sometimes listened to podcasts. Most people who ended up becoming Orthodox and joining our mission were students, usually religious studies or folk studies majors, who would be invited to that Tuesday night get-together and get interested in the amazing stuff we were digging into. We Protestants had never heard anything like it, and it was reshaping everything in our worlds! The Tuesday night thing would start with dinner and hanging out, and then we’d get into whatever we were studying and then sit and discuss, literally until the wee hours of the night. I would put the girls to bed and then return to hang out with everyone. So we developed deep friendships and learned this new, mind-blowing theology and history.
When we officially became a mission, Fr Atty and Bishop MARK came to our house and sat and talked with us. They offered us a lot of what we would need, like a chalice and candle stands, etc.- things they had extras of or could gather from other churches. They told us they’d send a priest to us on Sundays every other week, and they asked us to be thinking of a name for our mission. Soon after that, a dozen of us were discussing it in my living room. We wanted a name that wouldn’t be too off-putting for converts (you know, nothing about Mary) and represented more than just one culture. We came up with Holy Apostles because they had a universal mission to the world. We decided to present that name as a suggestion to Fr Atty. When we did, he laughed and said, “Just this morning Bishop MARK said to me, ‘What would you think of Holy Apostles as a name for them?’” So we all felt like God’s hand was in it.
We rented a crummy little place on Russellville Rd, next to a tattoo parlor. It was right on the train track, and we regularly found distasteful things in the parking lot, like hypodermic needles. When Fr Atty saw the place, he said, “well, this lacks curb appeal.” But we reconstructed the inside to be a church and a few classrooms, built an iconostasis, painted, put in carpet, and hung some icons, and it just wondrously transformed into a sacred space. We advertised all over to get the word out and slowly started to grow.
Once we had our building, we could start Sunday Liturgies instead of Saturdays. St. Michael’s would send a priest every other week, and on the odd weeks, we would either have another priest, Fr Bob Sandford from St Ignatius in Franklin, TN (who jokingly called himself the rent-a-priest), or we would do a service called the Typika instead of Liturgy, which doesn’t require a priest. We had some hiccups- for example, our building flooded badly once, and we had to move out for a few months. We started having Liturgies in a funeral parlor, which was awkward and strange and made everyone uncomfortable. But it was short-lived, and eventually, we were able to come back.
Then the archdiocese sent us our own priest when we were able to (at least partially) support one. The priest they sent, Fr. Michael Nasser, is one of the best priests and men I’ve ever known. He did so much for us and was such a stabilizing force. He helped us become an actual Orthodox Church with more structure and a deeper connection to the larger church, rather than a confused bunch of newbies trying to figure it all out. After he had been our priest for a year or two, we bought the land and building we are now in on Smallhouse Rd. We renovated it and moved in, and it was just glorious to have our own place with no train tracks or tattoo artists in sight.
When Fr Michael moved to Michigan, Fr Jason Blais moved here. We continued to grow (with a few bumps in the road: for instance, we lost some people during covid, but for the most part we’ve continued to grow. The main problem with losing people has always been the transitive nature of a college town. Many people have come to Orthodoxy at Holy Apostles but then they move on to other places). We paid off the mortgage on our property under Fr Jason’s wise guidance and began looking at ways to find room for our ever-growing parish. In 2022, Fr Jason moved to Oklahoma and Fr Terry was assigned to Holy Apostles. We continue to grow and reestablish ministries that we’re paused during Covid. We’ve been SO blessed from the very beginning; so provided for.
We’ve been involved in the BG community over the years in various ways, mostly service. We have a food pantry, clothing drives, worked with other ministries for the needy such as serving food at the Salvation Army shelter, partnered with HOTEL, Inc on the community garden, and Room In The Inn (providing shelter, showers, and meals for the homeless). We’ve cleaned up roads with Adopt a highway and sung at nursing homes, neighborhoods, and in front of stores during Christmas time. We also have run a booth at the International Festival for the past several years (until covid hit) selling gyros and just trying to let people know there’s an Orthodox Church in this town. Our choir sang in a program called the Stained-Glass Series at St Joseph’s several years ago. It was the inaugural concert of that program. And our ladies society does a lot in the community. Just one example is that we have a yearly (though paused for covid like everything else) dinner called Festival of Tables with a silent auction, delicious food, and dancing. We also have internal ministries that are meant for our parishioners, such as a frozen food ministry- meals that are prepped and frozen ready to throw in a pot and cook, meant for sick people or new moms. We have an excellent children’s program with classes, a Facebook page, and vacation church school. We help pay fees to send our kids to Orthodox Church camps, which has been hugely helpful and influential for some of my kids. And we’ve had several mission trips to Mexico to build homes for homeless families (Project Mexico). There’s probably so much more that I’m just not thinking of at the moment.