Gayle Woloschak: How would you describe the situation and activity of the Church when you first became an active participant in Church life?
Elizabeth Mitchell: Life was difficult in our parish when I was young. At the turn of the century many Latin practices crept into our local church. As a result, a split developed in which some members believed the parish should be Greek Catholic and others believed we were Orthodox. This resulted in a court case in 1946 with members of the parish suing the executive board for turning the Church into a Greek Catholic parish. I was called to court as a witness to testify that Roman Catholic catechisms were not used in our parish and that the Pope of Rome was not commemorated. Eventually, we Orthodox won the case, but it was a hard time for the parish; there are still wounds. At that time we had over five hundred families in the parish, we all lived close to the church, and we were all wrapped up in Church life. We learned about the Church in Ukrainian and taught in Ukrainian.
G.W.: How would you say that things have changed since that time?
E.M.: Now things are different. The parish is half the size in terms of membership, but there have been many improvements. Because we use English in church school and in the Liturgy, most of the younger people understand more about the Church than when I was young. We are also not as self-centered as we were in the past - we have food drives, Thanksgiving dinner for the homeless, drives for the needy.
G.W.: Throughout these years, what needs of the Church did you feel needed to be addressed and how did you address them?
E.M.: Whenever a need arose within the parish, I tried to fill the need. I became a church school teacher because at the time, we needed them. When we needed readers in the church, I became brave and decided to do the readings. Now we have several readers, but when I took it on we had no one. I think the most important thing is that when there was a need for leadership, I was not afraid to undertake a new project - the Lord always provides.
G.W.: Why did you take on the various responsibilities you have over the years?
E.M.: My vision for the Church has always been for growth. If we live a Christian life, live how Christ taught us to live, then the Church will grow. I felt it was important to be an example for others and to be not afraid of failure.
G.W.: What are some of the obstacles that you encountered over the years? What are some of the successes?
E.M.: Due to the Greek Catholic influence, we had many practices in the parish that were not truly Orthodox. I worked with Fr. Beck (long-time pastor of Ss. Peter and Paul parish who reposed in the Lord in 1990) to try to teach the church school children the correct practices, such as when it was proper to kneel during the Liturgy, frequent reception of Communion, and other similar practices. It was a challenge to adhere to the Orthodox way in the Church. There was also the language obstacle. The St. Nicholas plays had always been done in Ukrainian in the parish; when I wrote them, I did it in English to reach out to the youth. I also changed the format of the plays. In the past, they were based on frightening children about Satan; I reversed it and made the plays teach about love. . . .
G.W.: During the past few years you have been active in your parish iconography project. Could you tell me a little more about it - its goals, and so forth?
E.M.: In our parish of Ss. Peter and Paul we have a project to cover our entire church with one hundred twenty-two icons - on the walls, the ceiling, behind the altar, and in the vestibule. The money for this was raised totally by donations, and I was responsible for raising the funds and for advertising it locally. The work is being done by Michael Kapeluck, an iconographer from our parish. In three years we have collected enough money to complete the project. We have had publicity in the Pittsburgh papers and we have also had broadcasters from TV station KDKA come to see the project. We are hoping to have Ss. Peter and Paul added to the list of parishes toured in the Pittsburgh area. This project has been a big challenge because some people really do not know what an icon is and how it is supposed to look. While all of these things have presented challenges, the fact that they have all lead to positive accomplishments in the end has also made them successes.
G.W.: What work still needs to be done in the Church today?
E.M.: Leadership among and for the youth is probably paramount. We also need to develop more outreach programs, especially for the elderly and the house-bound. This is a growing population in our parishes that is really not cared for adequately. I think our Ukrainian Orthodox Church needs more interactions with our jurisdictions; too many of our people are more Ukrainian than Orthodox. We must realize we are Orthodox and that in order to grow we must gather together as one family in Christ with all Orthodox. Finally, I think we need to be more welcoming to visitors in our parishes, extending ourselves to others regardless of whether they are Orthodox or not. People need one another and have to work together as Christ taught us to live.
G.W.: What do you envision as the contribution and ministry of women in the Church for the future?
E.M.: We need women in the Church to assist with the sick, to help the needy, to assist the priest in ministering to those in need, to assist in church school programs and in the growth of the parish. I believe we need women deaconesses and hope we will have them in the future. There are some instances when a woman relates better to another woman than to a man - I think it is often difficult for priests, for example, to relate to women's illnesses. The ministry of a woman would be especially useful and important in those situations.