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A Congregation’s Gift Former Episcopalians Find New Church, New Creed, New Patron Saint And All In Time For Christmas

Powder blue isn’t exactly St. Nick’s color.

But that’s the hue of Spokane’s new St. Nicholas Antiochian Orthodox Church - inside and out.

“We’re going to change that as soon as possible,” said the Rev. Anthony Creech, pastor of the congregation. White walls, dark maroon carpet and a gray exterior will be more dignified, he said.

Former Episcopalians, Creech and more than 200 adults and children converted last April. They were kicked out of their historic sanctuary, Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, during an ensuing court battle.

They changed their name to St. Nicholas and bounced around temporary locations until last month, when the old Queen Avenue Free Methodist church at 1325 E. Queen went on the market.

After raising $100,000 in cash in a week’s time, St. Nick’s congregation began moving into its baby blue building.

The move came just in time for the holiday season. But more importantly, the new congregation can celebrate the feast day today of its patron saint.

Tonight members of the church will host a high Mass at 6:30 p.m. in honor of St. Nicholas.

“St. Nicholas sort of embodies the spirit of charity and good will. And he’s the patron saint of children,” Creech said. “That’s why we picked him as our patron saint.”

Nicholas, who lived in the fourth century, was the only son of wealthy parents. As a priest, he was known for his charitable deeds. When his parents died, he distributed all he inherited to the poor.

The most famous story has Nicholas giving three young girls each a bag of money in order to save them from a life of prostitution.

His reputation for giving, particularly to children, led to the tradition in many countries of giving gifts on the Dec. 6 feast day of St. Nicholas.

Over the centuries, the tradition has been fused with the birth of Christ and ultimately the celebration of Christmas.

“St. Nick symbolizes the whole Christian principle of giving gifts,” Creech said. “That’s true giving, expecting nothing in return.”

Tonight’s ceremony at St. Nick’s will be a traditional Mass, with a special anointing of children. Creech said he expects most of his congregation - 260 adults and children - will be present.

“It’s kind of like a welcome home,” he said.

Although they have a new building, St. Nick’s parish has not yet finished its journey. In addition to the paint, a lot has to be changed about the church.

A formal altar and crucifix, surrounded by 8-foot icons, will be the centerpiece of the sanctuary.

In one corner, a shrine will be built to the Virgin Mary, surrounded by devotional candles. Another corner will be dedicated to St. Nicholas, along with an actual relic, a gift from an Orthodox congregation in Portland.

Eventually the church will be as noble as the 100-year-old building the congregation left behind six months ago when the members decided to change affiliations, Creech said.

The priest said he worried that without a building, without all the opulent icons and the beautiful surroundings, enthusiasm would wane in the congregation.

“That was a fear that never materialized,” he said. “If you have a positive outlook on who you are, you don’t have to live on nostalgia.”

Remaining together as one congregation was important, said Anne Kluckhohn. She grew up in the old Holy Trinity parish and made the move with many of her lifelong friends.

“That’s one of the main things about his whole move,” she said. “The church is really people, not a building. We know that better than most now.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo

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