I. The Genesis of a Mission
St. John the Wonderworker Orthodox hhurch began in May of 1991 as the St. Paul the Apostle Eastern Orthodox Mission. Two families – the Lubliners and the Dyers – moved to Eugene in order to share Orthodox Christian spirituality within this, the second largest of Oregon’s metropolitan areas. Fr. David Lubliner had wanted to leave Atlanta, Georgia in order to start a mission. After researching possibilities, by 1988 he decided on Eugene, which was two hours south of where he had grown up in Portland; his parents were still in Portland and Eugene did not have an Orthodox priest (there was a Greek Orthodox mission without a priest in Eugene at the time, but the Lubliners and Dyers would only become aware of it after their move to Eugene in 1991, a mere few months after it was first assigned a priest; this mission would later be dedicated to the Great-martyr George). In 1989, he petitioned his diocesan authority to begin a mission there, which was granted. It took two years to complete the preparations to accomplish the move to Eugene.
Eugene’s distinctive culture unites the legacy of a pioneer logging town with the political influence of the University of Oregon (estab. 1876) in a kind of cultural fault line: rugged individualism and a rural sensibility adjoin activist politics (Eugene was called the “Berkeley of the North” in the sixties and seventies) and carnival sensuality (which became tribalism and anarchism in the 1990s). The culture emerging from these rough edges was ripe for Orthodox Christianity – which is both ultra-traditional and ultra-radical in its veneration of Jesus Christ and His teachings. Orthodox Christianity bridges Eugene’s fault line with a spiritual path deeply rooted in a two thousand-year heritage of radical traditionalism.
The Lubliners moved from Atlanta, crossing the country in two vehicles: Fr. David bringing one child and driving a U-Haul and Presvytera Esther driving a Dodge Caravan with their other two children (they would have two more children in Eugene). Fr. David brought with him his bathroom and kitchen resurfacing business (Color Coordinators) that he had started in Atlanta. This profession gave him the flexibility and means to establish and support a mission. The Lubliners planned to finance their move and cover start-up costs for the mission by purchasing a beautiful but rundown large craftsman-style house across from Grant Park in Atlanta, restoring, and then selling it. They purchased the house and spent two years with the restoration; however, they had to leave Atlanta with it unsold because it went on the market the very week that the Persian Gulf War began in January 1991, at which point the housing market slowed to a standstill. The Atlanta house would not sell for a year-and-a-half, but when it did, the timing providentially assisted the fledgling Eugene mission.
During the Lubliner’s two years of preparation for the move, the Dyers became aware of the intention to start a mission in Eugene. The two families knew each other from years before, but did not know each other well; the families conferred by phone while they were still across the country from one another. Stephen and Irene Dyer had both been involved in Christian mission work their entire adult lives; Stephen moved to Portland from Boston in 1986 with the desire to be actively involved in a Christian mission. He and Irene, who were married in Portland, helped both at Holy Apostles Orthodox Mission in Portland (now in Vancouver, Washington), where Stephen was a reader, and Church of the Annunciation in Milwaukie, Oregon, but they desired to be more involved in a mission from the ground up. When V. Rev. Archpriest Nicholas Letten told Stephen that Fr. David would be starting a mission in Eugene, the couple visited Eugene, found it a nice place, and Stephen sent out resumes. He was hired by Temple Construction and the Dyers moved down to Eugene from Portland with their son on May 1st; the Lubliners arrived May 30th, 1991. The Dyers would eventually raise three children in Eugene. Within a year, Stephen started his own business in Eugene (Dyer Remodeling). Later, he developed an expertise installing skylights and produced the Eugene-Springfield area’s foremost skylight business (Dyer Skylights). Being a self-employed contractor, he could make his own hours in order to help with the mission and be available for services on Saturday night, Sunday, and Feast days.