St. Athanasius Parish History
St. Athanasius was formally established as a mission of the Orthodox Church in America on the Feast of the Meeting of the Lord (February 2), 2002.
The history of our community, however, extends beyond this “official” and canonical beginning. When the 25 founding members (including men, women, and children) formed St. Athanasius in February 2002, they came not only as new members of a new mission, but, also, as newly received Orthodox Christians.
Their broader journey into the Orthodox Christian Faith began in the 1990’s with the personal journey of David and Rozanne Rucker. The Ruckers—formed in the Wesleyan missiological institutions of Asbury College and Seminary in Wilmore, KY—had been posted to Hong Kong as Protestant missionaries. While there, they had come to realize the limitations of their Protestant heritage in conveying the Gospel of Christ to people not steeped in Western culture. The Ruckers’ struggle to preach the Gospel in ways that would “translate” into the cultural idiom of the Chinese people led the missionaries to explore ancient forms of Christianity.
After returning to the United States, they began to delve into Orthodox theology and found that, not only was Orthodox teaching something they could offer non-Westerners in presenting Christ, but it was also something that nourished their own souls, hungry for a rich spirituality in continuity with the early Christian Church.
Through their explorations of “things Orthodox,” the Ruckers discovered Holy Trinity Cathedral in Indianapolis, a community of the Evangelical Orthodox Church (EOC). The EOC was founded in the late 1970’s by Protestant Evangelicals who were trying to “recreate” the early church. The EOC borrowed many forms from the Eastern Orthodox Church, while retaining a Protestant character. Over the years, many Evangelical Christians have found their way into authentic Orthodox Christianity through the portals of the EOC.
In 1996, David and Rozanne Rucker formed a mission parish of the EOC in Nicholasville called Christ the Life-Giver Orthodox Church under the aegis of Holy Trinity EOC Cathedral (now St. John Forerunner OCA parish) in Indianapolis. As their journey continued, the members of the mission increasingly felt the spiritual call to become fully and authentically Orthodox. After a period of discernment, the mission in Nicholasville decided to seek entry into the Orthodox Church of America (OCA) under the omophorion (pastoral care) of Archbishop Dmitri of Dallas. And so it was that the faithful of Christ the Life-Giver EOC mission became the nucleus of St. Athanasius Orthodox Church in February 2002. Several months later, David Rucker was ordained to the Holy Priesthood in Dallas at the hands of the ever-memorable Archbishop (“Vladyka”) Dmitri.
In 2003, St. Athanasius was awarded both a diocesan and an OCA church-planting grant. The planting grants allowed Fr. David to leave his secular employment and devote himself completely to the needs of parish ministry. In the years that followed, the parish grew rapidly.
In December 2006, Fr. David received a blessing from Archbishop Dmitri to become Associate Director at the Orthodox Christian Mission Center in St. Augustine, Florida. Vladyka Dmitri sent Fr. Justin Patterson to become the pastor of St. Athanasius. The same month that Fr. Justin arrived also marked St. Athanasius’ graduation from the church planting grants.
In the years that followed, St. Athanasius continued its fast-paced growth. Recognizing that St. Athanasius had passed certain milestones with regard to liturgical life, ministry, attendance, and tithing, the metropolitan granted St. Athanasius “parish status” in 2009. In 2011, St. Athanasius came under the omophorion of Archbishop Nikon of Boston (our current locum tenens).
One of the major challenges the parish faced in its first decade of existence was the need to get out of its storefront space and into a proper church building with accompanying church campus. In 2011, St. Athanasius launched a capital campaign to help realize this vision. The capital campaign and property search were both successful. Bishop Mark led the parish in breaking ground on the phase one construction in August 2013. Most of 2013 and 2014 were devoted to realizing the vision of the new church. In July 2014, the St. Athanasius community took up residence in its own free-standing church, having dedicated worship space (and proper altar, nave, and narthex), a large parish hall, and classrooms and offices for use in parish education and administration.
Our parish has continued to refine its specific vision for ministry in Central Kentucky and to grow both numerically and in terms of ministry. Worship remains at the heart of all that St. Athanasius does. On average, we hold some kind of liturgical worship five days per week in our parish. We have also striven to maintain a real sense of community by hosting weekly parish meals after Liturgy, as well as regular social events among our men and women. Among the ministries that St. Athanasius Church has continued to develop is a vibrant program of total parish education, including Sunday School for children and adults, classes for inquirers, ongoing catechetical instruction, and youth group. St. Athanasius is also fully engaged in service to those in need in the Bluegrass. First among our labors with those in need is our weekly Bread Ministry. For the last six years, we have served Panera Bread to people from our church doorstep–first from our storefront and now from our new church. We generally serve between 10 and 15 families per week and take the remainder of the bread to the local Rose Terrace adult resident home in downtown Nicholasville. In addition, we have engaged in regular jail ministry, refugee ministry, and are developing a “ministry day,” in which church volunteers serve the needy in various ways one day a week.
The faithful of St. Athanasius take seriously the call to bear witness to Christ and the preaching of Him in an Orthodox manner. We encourage anyone living in the Bluegrass and beyond who might be interested in learning more about Orthodox Christianity to contact us. We are here for only two reasons—to grow in Christ ourselves and, in serving others, to share this precious gift of our Faith with all those whom the Lord brings to us.