New York.- By Vicki James Yiannias
Leadership 100 Grants for Parish Development and Stewardship were awarded to four Greek Orthodox parishes in the United States in 2017. One of the parishes fortunate to receive a grant is St. Elias the Prophet, in Dubuque, Iowa. Singularly picturesque, Dubuque, in northeastern Iowa, the geological “Driftless Area”, where glaciers didn’t level the ground (as happened in the rest of Iowa, which is flat), is built on the bluffs of the Upper Mississippi River.
St. Elias the Prophet Orthodox Church just finished the second year of the Leadership 100 Grant. The grant was spread out over three years: the 1st year, $50,000, was just completed. The 2nd year is $35,000, and the 3rd year will be $15,000. Father Lyon writes quarterly reports that are read by those overseeing this program. “This has been a huge blessing for us and we are very thankful to the Leadership for their support,” said Fr. Dustin Lyon, priest of St. Elias.
Fr. Dustin was a factor in Leadership 100’s decision to award the Grant for Parish Development and Stewardship to St. Elias. The grant was awarded to St. Elias the Prophet Orthodox Church under the conditions that St. Elias is a small parish in need of growth and has a full-time priest who is evangelically-minded. “This grant has especially been a blessing as we transition into a new building with many evangelical opportunities,” Fr. Dustin Lyon told the GN.
A reason for great pride in the small parish of Dubuque, the original St. Elias the Prophet Greek Orthodox Church, facing east and situated on a slight promontory in the fashion of many churches dedicated to the Saint, had a presence. The church was built in 1955 and consecrated on a bright, joyful day in 1957. During the harsh winter of 2014, however, the roof of the small, tastefully designed church collapsed under the weight of snow and ice. When the walls bulged, and pulled away from the iconostasis in the first alarming sign of complete collapse, the parish knew they had to choose a new beginning.
In April 2016, the Parish Assembly voted to demolish the nearly 60-year-old St. Elias the Prophet building. Metropolitan Iakovos, the presiding hierarch of the Metropolis of Chicago, gave the parish permission to proceed. Using insurance proceeds, St. Elias purchased the former Grandview Methodist Church building on North Grandview Avenue in Dubuque.
“Though we’re a small community, God has blessed us with some very dedicated parishioners,” he said Dustin said about the drive and dedication to the faith that has been demonstrated perennially by Dubuque’s small Greek Orthodox community. “Their commitment to a flourishing Orthodox community in Dubuque has been a great inspiration to me. In fact, I’m extremely proud of the hard work they’ve done to successfully transition to our new location. With a group like this, I know we’ll have a bright future.”
“Our new location is very centrally located, which has given us great exposure in the community. As a result, our Gyro Day sales have been outstanding. We simply put out a sign and it’s seen by 19,000 cars a day! You won’t believe how many Dubuquers are looking for a good gyro!” Elias is located across the avenue from a large hospital.
“As we settle into our new home, our Evangelism committee is starting to become more active,” said Fr. Dustin, mentioning a simple gesture, the gift of a a mug with a photo of the St. Elias that he gives to each visitor to the church at the end of the service, with the invitation, “Join us for Fellowship after Liturgy to fill your new mug with coffee.”
“As of last Sunday, we’ve been in our new building for an entire year. This new location has been a huge blessing for us for several reasons,” he said, “First, the church is located at one of the busiest intersections of Dubuque and the parishioners believe that the new location provides an excellent opportunity to expand significantly into outreach programs and to assist those in need. Secondly, the purchase preserves a historic Dubuque building with beautiful architecture. Finally, along with the church the parish inherited several rental tenants, which helps the parish to remain financially responsible. “All this is to say that we’re really excited about our new building and all the opportunities that it allows us to live out our Orthodox Christianity and share it with others.”
The next step is the launching of St. Elias’s capital campaign for funds to help renovate the building with upgrades to the HVAC system, bathrooms, kitchen, fellowship hall, and making the building accessible to all, the re-installation of sanctuary items that were salvaged from the old St. Elias building, among them the iconostasis, bishop’s throne, chanter’s stand, and icons.
“We will have our own wonderful experiences here as an Orthodox faith, but at the same time we want to preserve something which is really special to Dubuque, really special in this neighborhood,” said Mantea Schmid, Parish Council President.
“As a humble church with an important, and large vision, we have prayerfully considered and chosen to take a ‘leap of faith’ by purchasing a facility across from Finley Hospital with a short walk to the University of Dubuque. We chose this location to amplify the beacon of hope to the world by sharing our faith, culture, literature, art and of course, our proclivity for celebrating life with food and festival,” said Nickas J Yiannias, Honorary Capital Campaign Chair and Leadership 100 member.
Father Dustin Lyon and his Presbytera, Nikki converted to Orthodoxy before they met. It is clear when speaking with them that both came to the Church with deep faith and fullness of spirit, which Fr. Dustin conveyed beautifully when he said, “The more I learned, and experienced Orthodoxy Christianity, the more I became convinced: THIS IS HEAVEN ON EARTH.”
Fr. Dustin was born in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa and grew up in the United Methodist Church. While in college he participated in archaeological excavations for two summers at Ancient Messene, near modern-day Mavromati, in the Peloponnese, where they were rebuilding a Heroon. Seeing Orthodox churches, hebegan to think about Orthodoxy and pursued his interest in the faith. He fell in love with Orthodoxy and converted to Orthodox Christianity which, he says, “was actually coming home.”
Presvytera Nikki was born in a suburb of the Twin Cities, Minnesota, and grew up in various Protestant Churches. After high school, she traveled to Mexico to work at Project Mexico and St. Innocent Orphanage, a ministry of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops, for two years. There she was moved to convert to Orthodoxy.
Services at St. Elias are in English; the Lord’s Prayer is said in the various languages of the Orthodox world.