Giving God’s Love: An Interview with Alyssa Loutsion, Pastoral Assistant (St. John the Divine Church, Jacksonville, FL)

Our newest interview series is meant to highlight the work of those people who have been called by God to assist his Holy Church as pastoral assistants/Youth Ministry directors .

The first such person is Alyssa Loutsion. Alyssa is a graduate of Hellenic College Holy Cross, with a Master of Divinity. She is currently the pastoral assistant of St. John the Divine Greek Orthodox Church in Jacksonville, Florida.   

Tell us about your position and what is the most interesting part of it?

Alyssa: In my parish, I am the Pastoral Assistant. My main job is overseeing all ministries within our parish, whether they be youth, outreach, specified groups, etc. I have become very active in GOYA, attending retreats and camps and running their events that are within the parish. I am also in charge of setting up for services along with our Deacon, as well as chanting and helping Father Nicholas Louh in any capacity he needs. There are many more things, but those are the major parts. The most interesting aspect to me is seeing the Church from the other side. I’ve always been one to join a church and participate as a parishioner. I’ve never had such a hands on approach with a parish before. It is interesting to see the inter-workings of a parish. Sure, we learned about it at school, but seeing it in action is completely different. I have such a deeper appreciation now; it really isn’t just services. It’s so much more!

What led you to work as a pastoral assistant/youth ministry director?

Alyssa: The abridged version? God. He had this amazing plan for me that I refused to acknowledge until I finally slowed down and listened. However, my love of working at Orthodox Summer Camps definitely led me to this. I grew up in the Metropolis of Pittsburgh, attending Camp Nazareth since I was 8 years old. Upon graduating high school, I continued to work with camps as a staff member. Soon, I found myself attending other programs, such as the Metropolis of Boston, Ionian Village, and Antiochian Village. I was spending my summers and my spare time doing some form of youth ministry. God had a plan and I soon went to Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology where I learned even more about my faith and upon graduating with a Masters of Divinity, knew I wanted to keep working with youth in some capacity. While at Holy Cross, however, I gained a much deeper appreciation for our Church and felt that I wanted to take that even further. So, I looked for a Pastoral Assistant position specifically, knowing it would touch upon the most important aspects in my life, such as liturgical, youth and administrative duties.

Using a specific example or two, in what ways have you seen your work as a pastoral assistant/youth ministry director impact others: the participants, and the church as a whole

Alyssa: I must begin by saying that I don’t want to take credit for anything. I know that it is God who is leading me through this entire process, and by His Grace, things in Jacksonville have been very positive for me.

I remember one time, a GOYA parent approached me and just randomly thanked me. It was a typical Sunday, nothing special going on. Confused, I asked what for. She told me that her kids have been asking about GOYA and when the next event was because they were excited to go. They apparently had never done that before, so she thanked me for whatever it is I was doing that got the kids excited about being a part of this group. I believe this is happening because I have turned our GOYA Meetings into programs. We begin in prayer, we eat together, our President reads over the agenda and discusses upcoming events, we have a fun activity and end each meeting with a ‘Be the Bee’ video and theological discussion. That way, our kids get a bit of everything!

I also remember when I first began, some people were skeptical about having a female pastoral assistant. How can she help in the altar? was a big question I came across. Plus, the 4 who came before me were all men. But, I have shown the parish that gender should not effect a position like this one. I am able to participate at the chant stand, teach Sunday School, and help set up the nave, narthex and solea. It’s beautiful to see people’s opinions change. Even more so, to see young girls in the Church look to me as an example and understand that they are also important in the Church and play vital roles.

What are your short-term goals in this position?

Alyssa: My main goal is to make Fr. Nicholas’ life easier. Think about your parish priest for a moment. There is so much they have to do behind the scenes that people just don’t realize, and working for Fr. Nick has really opened my eyes to that reality. I pray that by my being here, he is able to sleep a little better each night and get the rest he so much deserves.

I also hope to inspire parents through their children. So many times, we experience parishioners coming late to Church. Most of the children I work with are unable to drive, so they are at the mercy of their family. I want these kids to want to come to Church, and in turn, encourage their families to do the same. It’s so easy to get caught up in life and forget what’s REALLY important. I hope that we all, including myself, are able to become more Christ-centered as the years roll on. Granted, this won’t happen overnight but if I can get just one, then I know I must be doing something right.

What advice can you give to readers whose parishes might be lacking in a pastoral assistant/youth ministry director?   

Alyssa: I think it is so important as a parish to have at least one of these positions within your parish. No matter how large or small, there will be many people within your Churches who can benefit. Clergy need help; our youth need direction. What better way to do this than to hire someone who is theologically trained and able to work with young people? We forget, sometimes, that the children are the future of our Church. They will be the ones to run for parish council and serve on the Philoptochos Board when we are too old to do so. The world as we know it is a scary place; we need to offer an outlet for these children, and anyone in the parish really, to find Christ and know they are ‘home’. A priest is one person, but with help, so much more can be accomplished, and so many more people can be inspired.

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