CONWAY—The Grand Strand Byzantine Fellowship finally have a place of their own for worship.
On Nov. 14, about 35 people turned out for an open house at the site of the fellowship’s new mission church, located at 3059 S.C. Hwy. 90 between Conway and Myrtle Beach. Deacon Dennis Prestash of State College, Pa., held a special prayer service.
The property includes a brick house and a three-car garage that is being converted to a chapel for prayer services and Byzantine Masses,
which are known as the Divine Liturgy. The house will serve as a meeting space and a place for visiting priests to stay.
“We all feel so great that this has finally happened,” said Jean Wirth of North Myrtle Beach, one of the founding members of the fellowship. “People that were coming to our liturgies just can’t believe it. We’re all very happy and anxious for this to move forward. I also think Byzantine Catholics moving into the area will be excited to know we are here.”
Wirth said one man from North Carolina came to the open house and told her he may move to the Conway area because Byzantine liturgies would now be available more regularly.
The fellowship started in 2004 after a meeting between Wirth and Elizabeth Moehringer of Conway. The two women were raised in the Byzantine rite and wanted to attend the liturgy, which was largely unavailable in the area. The closest churches are in Atlanta and North Carolina.
They soon met other Byzantine Catholics who had moved to the Grand Strand from the Northeast.
Until now, members of the fellowship have attended the Divine Liturgy three times a year, with the location rotating between St. Andrew Church in Myrtle Beach, Our Lady Star of the Sea in North Myrtle Beach, and St. Michael in Garden City. Father Conan Timoney, pastor of a Byzantine Catholic church in Baltimore, visits to celebrate the liturgies.
To establish the mission church, the fellowship received approval from South Carolina Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone and Bishop William Skurla, of the Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Passaic, N.J.
The eparchy governs churches and missions in New Jersey, the District of Columbia, and 25 other areas on the east coast, including Myrtle Beach.
“One of Bishop Skurla’s intentions is to give people what they really want and to go where the people are,” Father Timoney said. “This is such a positive thing because up north, they’re closing and consolidating many parishes.”
Father Timoney said he has a list of 90 people who are interested in eventually attending the mission church, and he has heard from a woman in Savannah who is Byzantine and would like to have her baby baptized in the Byzantine rite at the mission.
Father Timoney will visit to celebrate the Divine Liturgy each quarter and on special holy days. Father Titus Fulcher, who leads the Melkite Greek Catholic Community in Charleston, received permission to periodically celebrate a Saturday Divine Liturgy at the mission.
Moehringer, who serves as one of the cantors, said she had always dreamed of helping to start a new Byzantine church in South Carolina.
The Conway property was purchased with funds from the eparchy. Wirth said fellowship members would repay the money through fundraisers and donations.
Some items to furnish the chapel and house have been donated from Byzantine Catholic parishes in the northeast, while fellowship members, their friends and families, are donating others.
Many Byzantine Catholics trace their roots to countries in Eastern Europe such as Slovakia, Ukraine and Hungary. The Byzantine Catholic Church is in full communion with Rome, and the seat of the church in the United States is in Pittsburgh.
For more information about the Grand Strand Byzantine Fellowship, contact Jean Wirth at (843) 249-9502.