Source: The Church Belongs to Everyone
It is said that we are all made in the image of God. For Christians of African-American heritage, that statement can sometimes ring hollow as they find themselves feeling ignored and excluded from many faiths including the Orthodox faith. Given the dark skin color that even our Lord was believed to have had given His own Palestinian Jewish roots, this exclusion, whether intentional or inadvertent, is an obstacle to the true faith that one OCA priest seeks to overcome. Father Moses Berry, an African American priest who ministers to the faithful at the Theotokos “Unexpected Joy” Orthodox Church in Ash Grove, Missouri shares his own story of finding a place in a church that has struggled with inclusion for a people that don’t fit the typical ethnic mold.
Having left St. Louis with his family in 1998, Father Moses returned to his boyhood home of Ash Grove to help launch the new mission. A tiny chapel served as host to the initial services; by the year 2000 the mission was received into the OCA and a temple arose by 2003. One part of Father Moses’ ministry includes extensive travels to talk about the African roots of Orthodoxy, a little-known piece of the church’s rich history.
His own journey to Orthodoxy came about after the self-described prodigal son emerged from a period of incarceration to keep a promise made to serve the Lord. The journey led him through many different Christian and non-Christian groups. He eventually found his way to the true faith and was ordained to the holy order of the priesthood in the year 2000. Ordained by the Archbishop Job, the newly received priest was told that while he had traveled far to get to the Church, he hadn’t arrived.
A fitting part of Father Moses’ journey included the passage of a resolution in 2011 for the OCA to invite African Americans to the Lord’s feast. He wanted to see real efforts being made to plant the seed of Orthodoxy in the African American community. Using his own appearances at various venues during Black History month, Father Moses introduces people to the history of the Church that they might not hear otherwise. He also promotes annual events such as the Annual Ancient Christianity Conference and the Afro-American Conference.
The greatest challenges that Father Moses attempts to address for all members of the clergy and the faithful are to remind everyone that the true Church must be open to receiving all those who would come to know Christ. Churches of all sizes must be planted in cities and towns of all sizes and the doors must be open to all. Rather than focusing on how to minister to one ethnicity or one race, we must minister to all souls who seek to members of Christ’s body. As all the colors of a rainbow contribute to its beauty, so do all the members of God’s human creation contribute to the beauty of His Church.