By MARTA HEPLER DRAHOS, firstname.lastname@example.org
TRAVERSE CITY — Archangel Gabriel Greek Orthodox Church finally will get a new home.
The 13-year-old church, currently housed in a storefront on Hastings Street, bought five acres of property recently in Acme Township. The parcel is just south of the Music House Museum.
Presiding priest Ciprian Streza said the cash purchase is the culmination of years of searching for just the right church site, a search that intensified a year ago. He said the parcel, along U.S. 31 overlooking East Grand Traverse Bay, was purchased from an Elk Rapids cherry-growing family and fulfills all three of his requirements.
"I wanted it to be accessible, I wanted it to be visible and probably, above all, I wanted it to be inspirational," Streza said. "We have a top location, a piece of land that is waiting to be molded to the needs of the community."
Streza, who is sometimes called the "green priest," said the parish hopes to break ground in the spring on a community vegetable garden, followed by a "green" church within the next few years. He envisions a 5,000-square-feet church with a connected 5,000-square-feet fellowship hall. Each would seat about 200.
"My goal is to start small with the possibility to expand later," he said.
Though there are no plans yet he said the church's architecture will follow Byzantine Orthodox style, a distinct, recognizable style characterized by dome and cruciform shapes, round arches and circular windows. The environmentally friendly building will be LEED-certified and self-sustainable, in line with both the faith's call to "sanctify and improve the whole world around us" and the region's growing commitment to environmental stewardship.
"The Traverse City area has been in line with the theology of creation that the Orthodox church follows: to become good stewards of creation," he said. "The whole project we have in mind will be a good example of that theology."
Streza said the church will seek area farmers and other community partners to take ownership of the garden, which could eventually sustain a soup kitchen. He said the independent project will be a way for the church to help nourish the community physically as well as spiritually.
The Traverse City parish currently includes about 80 families. But Streza hopes the new church will help the congregation reach out to more people in order to share the "richness and beauty" of the faith. The Orthodox Church traces its roots back 2,000 years to the earliest church established by St. Paul and the Apostles.
The church property is located outside the core focus area of Acme Township's Shoreline Preservation Project, which calls for a redesign of the shoreline district in ways that are friendly to foot and bicycle traffic, link the district's businesses, residences and parks, and encourage the redevelopment and re-occupancy of blighted properties with a mix of stores, offices and residences.
The property is zoned agricultural so the church would need a special use permit to build. Acme Township Manager Sharon Vreeland said she hasn't seen an application yet but doesn't anticipate any problems.
"I'm really glad that they've been able to find a place that they can call home," Vreeland said.
Streza said the church plans to define its vision a little more and then start a campaign to raise building funds. Hopefully the congregation will be in its new home in the next four or five years.
"It's a huge boost for our confidence. We can make it," he said. "It's really amazing for the community. It's something we've dreamed about for years."