WILLIAMSBURG — Stephanie Long was in on the ground floor of the Archangel Gabriel Greek Orthodox Church, before there was a floor.
The educator had moved with her family to Suttons Bay from a thriving Greek Orthodox community in Flint.
Here, Greek Orthodox families traveled long distances for services, with the nearest church nearly three hours away.
"A group of us got together probably in the early winter of 1999, and we wrote a letter to see if anyone would sponsor us," Long said.
Almost two decades later, Long's family, along with nearly 70 others, broke ground on what's to become the new location for the Archangel Gabriel Greek Orthodox Church. The April 22 ceremony commemorated the new beginning, and recognized the chain of events that led the initial small gathering of families to embark on a $3.9 million church construction project.
The group progressed from monthly weeknight services at different area churches, to holding a full liturgical calendar at a rented space at 1030 Hastings St. The group started in "mission status" and is now sanctioned under the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.
"We were guided by God's miracles all along," said Father Ciprian Streza, the 37-year-old married father of two who presides over the church.
Phase one of the construction will build the 150-seat sanctuary and administration building, and is set to complete next year; phase two adds a community center and expands the capacity to 220 people, Streza said.
But the large garden, which was started when the parish purchased the Acme property in 2012, will remain. It was a priority to leave the garden undisturbed during the building, as the produce is donated to organizations like Goodwill, the Father Fred Foundation and local food banks, and the service is important to the parishioners, Streza said.
"It's a beautiful metaphor," Streza said, of feeding people's bodies and souls through the church.
Long, who has held many duties over the years, said she gets emotional when considering the progression of events that led to Sunday's groundbreaking, when their church's cornerstone was anointed with holy oil. She downplayed her role, and said that all of the parish worked hard to realize this day.
"It's a beautiful thing to have been a part of something from the beginning, to know that it was always meant to be ... and then to see it happen," Long said. "It's more than a dream come true — that sounds so trite — but when you have this belief, you feel a tremendous sense of calm. I can exhale now and feel this great sense of joy."
The new church's location is at 7111 N. U.S. 31 in Williamsburg, and the ribbon cutting is anticipated in the spring of 2019. Until then the church will continue to hold services — including divine liturgy at 10 a.m. Sundays — at 1030 Hastings St.