Saints Peter and Paul Serbian Orthodox Church

The History of the Sts. Peter and Paul Serbian Orthodox Church in Atlanta

The first attempts in organizing a parish in the state of Georgia date back to now distant 1985. While flying to Florida, His grace Bishop Christopher, of Eastern Diocese, had a connecting flight in Atlanta and through a conversation with parish priest from Lackawanna, New York, he heard there were some Serbs in this city. Not wasting any time bishop Christopher met with a son of David Simic and a dozen of other Serbs at the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation on Clermont Road. The excitement of meeting the bishop and possibility of establishing a Serbian community in this part of America attracted the attention of newspapers. Many phone calls, meetings unfortunately did not bring forth this idea and desire into a reality.

The initial attempts were not realized until 1993 when a small group of Serbs from Atlanta reunited with the hope to establish a parish and, finally, on Saturday, October 2, 1993, His Grace Dr. Mitrofan, officiate the service in a house of a fellow Serb, Mrs. Pamela (Pam) Collins in Buckhead. This great event officially marked the beginning of Serbian parish in Atlanta. The flame of the Orthodox prayer, that was lit that day still shines brightly and illuminates the path that leads to the Heavenly Kingdom.
Mrs. Pamela (Pam) Collins was elected as the first president. Immediately, a written notice was sent out to other Serbs, who were known to reside in the Atlanta area informing them of events and of the first picnic. The written notices over time evolved into a parish newspaper which, since then, has been published once a month. The newspaper was named "Glasnik” and that was the name that was used until 1999, later the newspaper was changed to “Glas”and this is the name we still use to this day .

As things were taking shape, the spiritual need was indeed something that needed to be addressed. With the year almost over Liturgical life was actualized once a month by visiting Hieromonk Fr. Nikodim. Fr. Nikodim, then Orlando parish priest served as administrator of the newly founded missionary parish. Still having his own parish to care for Fr. Nikodim, son of Vladimir and Margaret Pribojan, would come to visit us in Atlanta on Friday afternoons once a month, after driving for 8 hours. He would always stay with one of our parishioners and on Friday nights he would hold the adult religious education classes. The parishioners rejoiced and always attended these classes. Fr. Nikodim was an excellent preacher and lecturer. On Saturday mornings he would serve the Divine Liturgy, and as humble spiritual leader, he guided our parish through the first steps in these early and most difficult times. He always encouraged us to be positive and to have faith in God and in that our prayers and goals would be answered. Surely, today he would be proud of the results and successes that our church in Atlanta has achieved. (Fr. Nikodim reposed in the Lord on January 2, 2008, in Johannesburg, South Africa).

Until end of 1994 all of our services were held at Salvation Army Chapel - Seminole Ave, and once a month Bible study were held at homes of our parishioners: Pam Collins, Branka Popovic, Vida Burns, Mirjana Brokett, Chris and Mitzi Gousetiz, Milana Vujic Saulnier, Andjela Kesler, Kornicer family, and others. During the same year (1994), Fr. Nikodim also established the first choir that sang responses at Divine Liturgies, and several of these early members are still active in the choir today. Also, 1994 marked the first anniversary of the parish, and on that special occasion, His Grace Bishop Mitrofan officiated the Divine Liturgy together with Fr. Nikodim. That year it was decided that following the feast day of Protection of Most Holy Theotokos this parish will commemorate the parish anniversary.
From late 1994 and until 1996, the Divine Liturgies were held at the Northwest Presbyterian Church - "Adams room". It is important to note the remarkable help of their priest Samuel Paterson who will be remembered always.

And then came 1997, a significant year for this parish. Even prior to this year, there were attempts to appoint a permanent priest and in that regard, parishioners were in a constant contact with His Grace Bishop Mitrofan. It was noted that on one occasion a priest from the old country, whose name was not recorded, was supposed to come. Due to problems with visa his arrival was not realized.

In the last few days of 1996, Fr. Milovan Katanic, was appointed as the first permanent priest of Saints Peter and Paul mission church in Atlanta. His first service was held on Christmas day, January 07, 1997. This great event was a turning point in the life of our parish. The community was gaining visible contours of a living parish and spiritual life with divine services being held every week. That year it was decided that our then missionary parish will be dedicated to the Holy Apostles saints Peter and Paul. And so the same year in July our first church Slava was celebrated. The first Slava was joyously celebrated in the Holy Transfiguration Greek Orthodox Church in Marietta. The first Slava kumovi were Chris and Mitzi Gousetiz. His Grace Bishop Dr. Mitrofan came for this great and momentous day and served the Divine Liturgy with the assistance of Fr. Nikodim and new parish priest Fr. Milovan Katanic. It is noted that 60 people were present at this great event and later stayed for lunch and continued to celebrate our first Slava. Also to make the day even more festive children’s folklore group, which was established on May 11th (1997), had its first performance. As the joy overfilled the hearts of all the Serbs present it is safe to conclude that the first Slava was indeed something to be remember. The kids were rewarded with standing ovations from the audience. The first folklore dancers included: Ana Vin, Danny Wilson, Kristina Saulnier and Andjala Wibie.

Starting in 1997, the Divine Liturgies were held in the Anglican Church of our Savior, located at 1068 N. Highland Ave in Atlanta. In that church our parish received immeasurable help from their priest, Warren Tanghe. Main events such as the Church Slava or Church Anniversary were held at the Greek Church of Holy Transfiguration in Marietta. As an example, Epiphany was held at the Greek Church and we again received considerable help from the Greek priest, Father Sebastian. It’s important to mention that on September 21, 1997 a Sunday school program was started for younger and older children. The main contributors in starting the Sunday school program were: Jasmina Spector, Pauline Bergert, Marjorie Mancini and Popadia Tatiana Katanic. They were also the Sunday school teachers.

As the parish did not have a permanent place of their own to hold services, one of the main priorities was to establish a building fund and a building committee that would start the process with the goal of purchasing property for the church, an existing church or a structure that could be modified for our use. We quickly realized that the main obstacle to reach our goal was of a financial nature. To try to overcome this, we started organizing picnics and other social events with the purpose of raising money for the building fund. Most of the picnics were held on the grounds of the American Legion Hall in Buckhead or in the park of the Atlanta Waterworks Lodge on Bishop Street.

The Circle of Serbian Sisters was established in Atlanta on August 20, 1998 to better coordinate social events and to help our church. Jasmina Spector and her mother, Vanja Cvijanovic were the driving force for the establishing the Kolo. Jasmina was the first president of the Kolo. The same year on Christmas Eve, we had for the first time the blessing and burning of the Yule Log. Goran Jovanovic provided the Yule Log and a Lenten supper was prepared by Simo Tesla and Donna Vudrag. Marjorie Mancini organized a celebration of the Serbian New Year which was well attended by around 150 parishioners who came to the event.
In 1998 we experienced a large growth in the number of church members due to the war in former Yugoslavia. Most of them had lost their homes in their homeland and decided to start a new life in the USA. This was a big challenge for our small parish as we were not yet fully established with a permanent location. Again, Serbian decisiveness was seen through the work with the newly relocated families by helping them to find housing, jobs, schools for the children … This gave us more reason to quickly find a more permanent location for our church.

We checked out many locations, some of them already had buildings. However, the locations and buildings that we liked happened to be too expensive for us, while those that we could afford were not suitable for our needs.
By the words of the Holy Gospel: “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.” Matthew 7, 7-8

In 2001, the opportunity arose when we noticed that a building of a former bank on Beaver Ruin Road in Lilburn was on sale for $283,000. The price was not low, but not unattainable either. Our biggest problem was collecting the money for down payment. That is when our parishioners stepped up. Most of them were new arrivals to Georgia, without good or permanent jobs, even without their own houses, but aware of the importance of church. Exceeding their own means, in the short period of 75 days, they collected around $50,000 for down payment. The significance of this achievement could be understood if we compare it to previous fundraising events, which usually raised between $500 and $1,500. At the end of 2001, we became the owners of the building on Beaver Ruin Road, which represented the turning point for our parish. Eight years after its founding, the parish got her central place. That finally ended constant moving and gathering at different locations, as well as installation/removal of the small iconostas.

It was also the event that gave the impetus to this parish. We renovated the building on Beaver Ruin Road for the purposes of church services. It became the center of parish life and a place of gathering for Atlanta Serbs. That is also when we initiated a series of sports events. In January 2001, Radomir Lakic, Stevo Kujaca (coach), Milenko Culum, and Tomislav Novakovic formed the soccer club “White Eagles.”

Unfortunately, not everything was the land of milk and honey. Life presents to us both good and bad challenges. After the initial enthusiasm we faced a period of stagnation. The reasons were mainly financial, which troubled the parish since its establishment. The additional burden represented the bank loan. In 2003, the parish was not able to support the priest anymore and pay all the bills. Despite his young age, Father Milovan was able to face with bravery the problems of the newly established parish and to remain in fond memories of the parishioners. After he enormously contributed to the organization of the parish in Atlanta, Father Milovan got reassigned to Hermitage, Pennsylvania. That is when the parish faced a serious crisis. Nobody wanted to join the Church Board. However, one of the church “giants,” Mrs. Jovanka Loncaric, was able to persuade her daughter, Andjela Kessler, to become the president of the Church Board. She was also able to convince other members not to step away from the church. Another happy event occurred on March 2, 2003, when Mrs. Milana Vujic Saulnier founded children’s library, followed by the foundation of the larger book collection for all ages. That day His Grace Bishop Mitrofan visited the parish and became the first member of the library.

The parish was able to preserve its continuity. In 2004, it got its new priest, Father Sasa Turkic, under whom the church building got further renovated and expanded. The organization of sports events and social events started, as well as the payments on the loan. The parishioners specifically remember the parish anniversary party, which was attended by the famous singer, Miroslav Ilic. That party gathered the biggest number of parishioner in one place. The accompanying fundraising event was able to collect $5,000. The parish folklore group had its first appearance in Chicago. That was also when we realized we needed to either expand the existing building on Beaver Ruin Road or to look for another location and build a new church.

The church school education that was interrupted in 2004 was re-launched on February 19, 2006, under Tatjana Milovanovic’s initiative. In addition, “White eagles” football team achieved much better results in 2006 and was invited to participate for the first time, in “Serbijada”, which was organized in Tampa, Florida.

In 2007, the remaining loan for the building at the Beaver Ruin Rod was paid off. On November 18, 2007 Serbian ambassador from Washington DC., Mr. Ivan Vujacic and his wife, visited the parish.
The following year, for the first time, the parish was in charge of organizing the Winter Children's Camp for the South-Eastern (St. Petersburg’s deanery).

Year 2008 was also a year when problems unfortunately shook this parish once again. In June, almost the entire Church Committee resigned, so special assembly was held to appoint new members. The finances again became a great challenge for the parish, and as a matter of fact a large sink-hole appeared on the building property, which took about $ 40,000 to repair. His grace Bishop Mitrofan visited the parish several times to find an adequate solution, yet the situation remained status quo. It was easy to conclude that in such environment and with negative financial balance, there could be no talk about expanding the existing building or buying new land. Such a situation with the further deepening crisis remained until 2010, when the Parish arrives to a complete “dead end”.

In December 2010, after Fr. Saša Turkic left the parish and Bishop Mitrofan appoints a new priest from Pennsylvania, Fr. Miladin Blagojevic. At that time the Church Board had only three board memebers: late Nenad Gambiroža, Manuela Mileta and Dragan Opacic. The operational, bulding, and school funds were completely empty, with only a few hundred dollars left in the account of the Circle of Serbian Sisters. There was also debt of several thousand dollars, for candles, to the Diocese, unpaid salaries to the priest etc...
In February 2011, at the regular annual assembly of the parish, a new Church Board was elected. The former long-time member of the church, Mrs. Milana Vujic Saulnier was nominated for the new board president, which contributed greatly in calming and improving the relationship between the parishioners. In addition, Mrs. Martha McJilton with her great experience in running the finances of the church, was nominated for the Parish accountant. On February 27, 2011, His Grace, Bishop Mitrofan visits the parish again, and on that occasion, at the proposal of the Circle of Serbian Sisters and Mrs. Jovanka Loncaric, the building fund was reestablished. The fund donations reached $ 1,764 that day. Upon the advice of Bishop Mitrofan, the idea of a possible expansion of the existing former bank building has been completely abandoned, and the parish began looking for land, for the construction of the new church and associated facilities.

Since temporary church building on Beaver Ruin road had drastic roof and floor damage, both had to be replaced before placing the building on the market. For example, the roof had leaks in thirteen places and hardwood floors were in dreary state. The new Building committee, with: Vera Watkins, late Nenad Gambiroža, Mitch Milovich, Ranko Pudar, Zoran Stamenkovic and Darka Krsmanovic, took up the task of search for the suitable land, for the construction of the new church. The members of this committee looked over fifty potential properties, by the end of that year and spring 2012. In the spring Mrs. Darka Krsmanovic found land for sale on Hewett Rd. and she remembers that when late Nenad (Gambiroza) came to see the property, he cried out: "This is what we have been waiting for all these years, we will build the church here." And so, it came to be. Exactly on the feast of St. Czar Lazar (Vidovdan) in 2012, a new church property was purchased. There are a few interesting facts about this property, such as that it was worth over $ 400,000 before the outbreak of the global economic crisis in 2008. Before Serbian parish purchased the land, a Protestant church tried to buy this land and build on it, but they did not succeed. In addition, one Indian community considered buying the property and building their, Hindu temple, yet the bank rejected their loan application “in the last minute”. In the end, we were able to purchase this property for only $ 185,000.

Before that, Fr. Miladin Blagojevich and the Church board, called up an extra Parish assembly meeting, on which the purchase of the new property was placed for the vote. Everyone was thrilled with the fact that the church is buying new land, in a great location and very affordable price. Members of the board stressed, among other things, that we also needed to be ready that bank might refuse to give us the loans, or that someone else purchases the land, before us. Fr. Miladin said: "The most important is to pray God help us and trust that He will know what is the best for us. If this land is a good choice than we will have it, but if it is not for our good, let's lose it. Whatever happens, may be the will of God! " As the assembly heard those words, the vote for the church purchase was unanimous, as many replied, God willing! After this assembly, everything went well, without any major problems.

During 2013 parish work was focused on the new property, taking care of soil erosion and renovating the older house that was on the grounds of the newly purchased land. Fundraisers, such as sports tournaments in soccer, basketball and table tennis were resumed. All collected funds went towards the mortgage debt. On April 21st, the renovation of the house was completed and the house was blessed. On that occasion, the first picnic was organized on the new land.

On March 9th 2014, collected donations from the parishioners were enough to actually repay the bank loan. With these great contributions to the building fund, we truly become owners of new land that was fully paid off and ours.
At the annual General Assembly, in the early 2015 the parish elected new Church Board, but also new Building Committee, whose goal is to draw up a proposal for the future church's construction and plans, to hire architects, to estimate the costs and plan the method of financing the entire project. Members of the Building Committee were: Vera Watkins, Milica Weeks, Mitch Milovic, Darka Krsmanovic and Martha McJilton. At that moment, the church was not centralized, but divided into two locations, with the old and new property in need of maintenance. In order to increase the overall funds available for the construction, the parish decided, in agreement with the Diocese, to sell the old property on Beaver Ruin Rd., and start renovations of the wooden building on the new estate, to be a place for church Services. After many discussions, the board decided to hire architect Mr. Paul Girardeau, so the design of the future church began. The preliminary plan was presented at the Church's Slava, on July 12, 2015. His Grace, Bishop Mitrofan, who visited the parish for the Feast day, gave a positive opinion, blessing and approval of the new church plans.

Until May 2016. a large part of the seven acres property was cleaned up, and the buildings on the property renovated. On August 11th, the preparation of land began in the place where the church will be built. During this period, the Holy Liturgy was held at a temporary location in a building at 908 Killian Hill Rd., Lilburn. It is worth to commend our parish members and the circle of Serbian sisters, who in December in spite of the construction on the property, successfully organized Children's Winter Camp (for the St. Petersburg’s deanery).

On the great Feast day of the Pentecost (Holy Spirit), on June 4, 2017. all Liturgy Services moved to the parish property, in a beautifully renovated wooden building that people often call “the little church”.
In July at the Parish Feast day of the Holy Apostles Sts. Peter and Paul, the construction of the church begun with a special service that is called the Blessing of the Corner Stone. This event took place on July 22, 2017, when after the Divine Liturgy, His Grace Bishop Irinej, a newly appointed Bishop of the Eastern America Diocese, along with visiting priests from the St. Petersburg’s deanery and Fr. Miladin Blagojevic, laid down the Corner stone and Blessed the future church premises.
Finally, on July 19, 2018. on the Feast of the St. Sisoes the Great all the exterior and interior construction work in the new church is completed.

October 13 and 14, 2018 will remain remembered as the most important dates in the history of this parish. On Saturday, October 13, at 16:00, the Evening Liturgy was served, led by His Grace G. Irinej. and after that, a banquet was organized in honor of consecration of our newly built church. On Sunday, October 14, the consecration of the church began in the early morning of 8.30 am, and the Holy Hierarchy Liturgy was served after that. About 420 people attended a banquet on Saturday, and on Sunday there were over 500 people.
A special guest at the banquet was the folklore group Talija. The speech was delivered by: the parish’s priest Miladin Blagojevic, Pam Collins the first president of the Church Board, the SNF president from Pittsburgh, Vera Vasiljevic Watkins and His Grace G. Irinej. On this occasion, Vera Watkins, Mitch Milovic, Milica Viks, Darka Krsmanovic and the priest Miladin Blagojevic were decorated by the Grammata of the Eparchy. Vera Vasiljevic Watkins, the chairman of the Church Board was also decorated by The Order of the SPC of King Milutin.

** 1993 - 1996 Since October 1993 until December 1996, Arhimandrit velikoshimnik Fr. Nazarius (before going to South Africa, jeromonah Nikodim Probojan) was coming to Atlanta from his home church of St. Peter in Orlando, at least once a month, to serve the Holy Liturgy in our parish. Fr. Nikodim was appointed to this position until Fr. Milovan Katanic, our first permanent priest, arrived. A couple of years later, after spending time in the Holy Mountain and Studenica monastery, Fr. Nicodemus founded the monastery of the Silas of the Holy Spirit in faraway Africa, where he also died in the Lord.

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