Carla Thomas was our first-ever Woman of the Week four years ago, nominated because of her work as an emergency room physician, a parish founder, and a board member on different Orthodox Christian nonprofits (including ours!). You see her here speaking at a conference and spending time with her mother and her caregiver. We asked her to tell you what has changed since September 2019:
“One of the biggest changes in the last four years is that I have become full-time caretaker for my 88-year-old mom. One recent evening, I fed her and then we all gathered around the piano to sing spirituals. After a few songs, I sneaked in the song by Fr, John Finley, ‘Rrejoice, o Virgin.’ My mom didn’t sing, but she listened. Who can resist the Mother of God?
“At my church, the main changes over the last four years have been what I have been learning about parish development. Our parish had been started after I called His Eminence Archbishop Dmitry’s office and said, “I might be interested in starting a parish.” I didn't know at the time that he used to live here in Anniston. He had been given a revelation to start a parish here but had gone to Japan and other places abroad. When I called, I had no idea how long he had been waiting for my call.) I certainly didn’t know what I was walking into! A week later he was in my office, planting his staff on the floor.
“I certainly didn't know what I was walking into! There was no priest or anything. About a month later, we were given William Henry, who had graduated from St. Tikhon’s Seminary. He was a deacon but–phenomenally–over the following sixty days he was ordained a priest and agreed to move to Alabama.
“Now we’ve evolved from holding services in my waiting room to having a parish with its own building. I’ve had to evolve from someone who directs everything and is responsible for everything to becoming someone who has to get along with people who might want to do something differently from me but achieve the same outcome. So I’ve been facing that dilemma, because I'm a little bit of a tyrant. I’ve had to learn to see others' perspectives, and appreciate their needs, even though they weren't my needs. It's been a growth process, and even a transformative process.
“Let me give you an example. If I see a weed in front of the church, I'm going to go pull it. But other people who might also have seen it, ignored it, saying, “Oh, Carla will do that.” But I can’t do everything! So I'm having to come out of my shell and be willing to share the workload, and share it in a pleasant manner.
“Coffee hour has been another area where I’m growing. I tend to think about fried chicken when it comes to coffee hour. Other people in the parish have developed the ability to bring different types of salads and things like that that I could never do. It has been really a pleasant change to see where other people's talents blossom when you don't try to do everything yourself.
“And so I have discovered another attribute of God. Even last week, I learned how to be more prepared to serve God–and this week I learned that the more you prepare to serve, the greater are your opportunities to serve.
“I’m still involved in working with the Fellowship of St. Moses the Black, and I’m also still on the board of Orthodox Christian Prison Ministry. Right now we are determining what aspect of prison ministry we want to focus on. Do we want to be local, or do we want to be national? We are trying to find our identity in that respect. There's a bishop on our board to ensure that we're in line with our jurisdiction’s policies. I’m also still involved in the Sts. Cosmos and Damien Ministry, which supplies free medicine for people who can't afford it.
“I want to share for a moment a memory of the recently departed Fr. Moses Berry, founder and visionary behind the Fellowship. Fr. Moses always tried to have a community service/community center event at the conferences. One of my favorite memories comes from the Anniston conference, I had made t-shirts to sell with that had a St. Moses saying on them. I walked into the lobby with the t-shirts in a box. He eyed the box and said, ‘Let’s go.’ ‘Go where?’ I asked. He said, ‘Take me to the kids.’ So off to the community center we went . He gave away every t-shirt, while missing the basketballs and sharing the Gospel of Christ. It is better to net souls than to net basketballs. I really miss him.
“If I had to summarize, I would say the difference four years has made is the difference between a sapling and a fully grown tree. In St. John’s gospel, when Christ talks about a mustard seed, he said it’s the smallest of the seeds, but it becomes a tree where the birds can come and nest in its branches. That's where I am. Now that the tree has grown enough branches, other things have arrived that I didn't even perceive could happen, things that have nothing to do with the maintenance of the tree trunks or the roots. That's very encouraging to see in our church.
“In 2006 we had three people in the parish. Now we are up to 92. 50% of the people in our parish are under 50. 25% are probably under 12. So when you wonder, is the church going to be here in 50 years? Well, we can look at that and also be encouraged!”
Thank you Carla!