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Closing St. Vladimir’s Ukrainian Orthodox Church a painful but necessary step for members

'We were down to five members. It was taking more of a toll on us … . We tried other things to keep it going, but it just wasn’t viable'

Closing St. Vladimir’s Ukrainian Orthodox Church was an emotionally painful decision for the parish’s remaining members, but low membership and high maintenance costs were the deciding factors in shuttering the 68-year-old building.

“We were down to five members. It was taking more of a toll on us … . We tried other things to keep it going, but it just wasn’t viable,” Jean Tkatch, president of the church board, said recently. 

The board attempted to convince other Ukrainian Orthodox people to attend, but they declined, aside attending at Christmas and Easter. Meanwhile, it became expensive to maintain the building, especially with services one Saturday a month — and fewer during the pandemic. 

While five people were on the membership roll, only Tkatch and treasurer Amy Jane Lunov were active. They spoke with their head office and were told closing was the best decision.

“It was hard (to close) because rationally, yeah, it’s the right thing to do. Emotionally, it was really, really hard. And I still feel I should go there and check it when I drive by,” laughed Tkatch, a member since 1964. 

“The guilt of closing it is enormous,” she added. “It’s a loss; it’s a loss for the community (and) it’s a loss for us.” 

Twelve members of the Ukrainian Orthodox community founded the church on July 21, 1953. The building became a fixture at 673 Grandview Street West on South Hill, with its Byzantine architecture symbolic of Ukrainian churches worldwide.

During the nearly seven decades that the church operated, members held fundraisers, suppers and activities to support the community, while they also helped heal the bodies, minds and souls of Moose Javians. 

However, the decision was made in 2021 to close, and the final service was in November.

Describing herself as a devout Orthodox Christian, Lunov — who attended the church for about three years — explained that she grew up in the Yorkton-Canora area where there were Orthodox churches “every country mile.” 

“It never really feels good when a church closes, but … since I moved here, I had tried to get it rejuvenated and going again,” she said. “Many of the people who were of the generation who helped build the church have long since passed. 

“And unfortunately, the generation that followed them just didn’t seem to follow the same beliefs and take up the faith as much as their parents and grandparents have.”

The church had enough money to keep going, but without new members, the remaining parishioners thought they should donate those funds, Lunov said. So, the church board split $60,000 among Riverside Mission, Moose Jaw Transition House, the Downtown Moose Jaw Association, Moose Jaw Health Foundation and Kidsport.

Closing the church was not something the board took lightly, Lunov said. The board spoke with Holy Trinity Orthodox Church about buying the building, but that parish declined. So, St. Vlad’s board prayed, and fortunately, The Redeemed Christian Church of God stepped forward to buy the building.

“As much as you always hate to sell a church, it’s always really great if another church is able to take it over,” she said. 

For Tkatch, some of her fondest memories are when the church had weekly Sunday services during the 1960s and ’70s and its own priest. She will miss attending the church itself, the liturgy, and singing and praying in Ukrainian. 

Lunov liked attending St. Vladimir’s Ukrainian Orthodox Church because it reminded her of home. She enjoyed the activities the parish held and the conversation with members. She also liked the parish’s basement, which was like an old-fashioned town hall, and where she held birthday parties for her son.

Historically, St. Vladimir was born around 956 A.D. in Kyiv, Ukraine and died in 1015 A.D. He was known as Vladimir I or Volodymyr I, was called the Great, was the prince of Novgorod, Russia, the Grand Prince of Kyiv, and ruler of Kievan Rus’ from 980 A.D. to 1015 A.D.