Most of us lead fairly settled lives. We have our homes, our jobs, and the routines which bring us, if not happiness, at least comfort. When life brings us changes, it is usually because we have instigated them: a promotion we have been working toward, time off for a long-awaited holiday, or perhaps the birth of a child we have been longing for. There is, however, a group of people for whom life’s settled way is not part of their reality — the priests who serve us.
Take, for example, the life of Rev. Greg Faryna. His story is not unique, but it does serve to remind us that these men have dedicated themselves to a way of life which often brings unexpected change. It is a life which does not necessarily revolve around their own desires, but rather around obedience. At the time of his ordination, every Catholic and Orthodox priest takes a vow of obedience to the local bishop.
For the past four years, Father Greg had been pastor of the Ukrainian Catholic parish in Camrose, a rural centre about 100 km southeast of Edmonton. Although not guaranteed the posting, he had requested it as a change from the challenges of being Eparchial Chancellor. The Camrose parish actually consists of the home church along with nine other mission parishes stretching over a distance of 195 km from end to end.
Needless to say, travelling became a major part of Father Greg’s new ministry, as he explains. “The challenge was to try and spread my ministry equally over that area. I needed to balance my travel time so I would be able to give all of my parishioners the attention they deserve. In the end, I divided the area into three sections in order to make the travel more manageable.”
There were dividends for Father Greg serving in Camrose. He had grown up on a farm in the district, so the assignment had the feeling of coming home. Many of the parishioners remembered him as a boy, so it really did feel like coming home to family. “I can say that I was well received and enjoyed the ministry.” The posting was expected to last for the usual five-year rotation, standard in the Edmonton eparchy and every priest has the right to expect this to happen. An extension for an additional five years was quite possible. The rational for this is that it brings stability not only to the parish, but the priest as well, in such considerations as domestic arrangements.
Unfortunately for Father Greg, that changed. Earlier this year Bishop David Motiuk determined St. Stephen’s Parish in Calgary needed a change in ministry before the five-year rotation came due. He approached Father Greg and asked him to reflect on whether a move to Calgary was something he might be called to do, and whether this was the proper time to do it. Although it was a request, not an order, Father Greg still felt the strong devotion of obey Bishop David.
“Sometimes things happen in mid-stride and unexpected changes need to be made,” he reflects. “It is important as a priest to remember that my calling is to the church. I am called to serve Christ where I am needed most. In my heart I have accepted Calgary is where I am needed most right now.”
Although Father Greg accepted the new direction, it was not easy. “From a personal standpoint the timing was unfortunate, but I fully understand and honour the decision that was made.”
The Calgary assignment could not be less different from Camrose. “St. Stephen’s congregation is twice the size of all 10 parishes I had in the Camrose area combined. In that small community I was often recognized as the Ukrainian Catholic priest. “It was wonderful to be greeted with a ‘Good morning father’ or even a simple ‘Hi padre’ from total strangers. In a large city like Calgary I’m afraid that just will not be so. That anonymity will be a new reality for me, not that it is a life-changing consideration.”
After three weeks in Calgary, Father Greg has learned he is now pastor of a vibrant community, with active lay involvement in all areas of parish life. For him, the new challenge is to relate to the people spiritually and socially where they are, and not to expect them to come to him.
“It is my responsibility to meld into the existing structure and not disrupt the good work that is being done,” he remarks. “The people here are very good and devoted to their parish; they have been very generous to me. Now it is up to me to meet the sacramental needs of the parish and continue the good work that has been accomplished by previous pastors. Eventually I will be looking to continue to build up the community and further nourish its spiritual life. The Holy Spirit often calls us to the unexpected. We pray that we’re attentive to the call and respond in faith.”
Kostyniuk, who lives in Edmonton, has a bachelor of theology from Newman and is a freelance writer. He and his wife Bev have been married for 39 years and have eight grandchildren.