Attending Greek church was one thing Matthew Magoulas counted on growing up in Augusta. The close-knit Greek community studied its faith and heritage every Sunday, and that’s something the 25-year-old doesn’t want to forget.
“It’s part of me. Something I love and enjoy being part of,” Magoulas said. “I’d like it to stay with me forever.”
In 1911, 162 Greek immigrants came together to establish Augusta’s Greek Orthodox community. After a decade of meeting in homes and halls and a former Presbyterian church, the parish built its own church, which it still calls home today, in 1921 at 921 Telfair St., according to the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Atlanta Web site, which includes a history of the Augusta church.
Magoulas returned to Augusta after college and resumed his involvement at the church. He plays on a young adult softball team and chaperones high school events. But the age and ethnic demographics of the Greek church have shifted in recent years, leaving some concerned about the community’s enduring legacy.
Immigrants from other European countries – including Bulgaria, Palestine, Serbia and Georgia – pushed the church to focus more on Orthodox religiosity rather than Greek ethnicity. The church pastor, the Rev. Vasile Bitere, is from Romania.
A member of the church for 67 years, Esther Parrish, 83, said younger generations of the founding families have left Augusta. She worries that youth aren’t taught Greek traditions or language. A few hymns are sung in Greek at Sunday liturgy, but children can’t participate.
“Young people mouth the words, but they don’t know what they’re saying,” said Parrish, who was born in Greece and came to Augusta with her parents in 1945.
Bitere said Holy Trinity mimics trends across the United States, where many churches are less associated with ethnicity compared to the years after waves of European immigration.
“Our Orthodox churches in the U.S. are no longer a church of the immigrant people,” he said.
While more inclusive of other nationalities, Bitere said his congregation makes efforts to educate young people about their faith and their ethnicity. About 45 children from kindergarten through high school attend Sunday school, and other programs are designed for college students and young adults.