BEAVERTOWN - Eastern Orthodox churches may not be uncommon in Pennsylvania, but they are in Snyder County.
Up until recently, the county never had one.
In the past few years, though, a small Orthodox congregation has been growing and gaining more recognition in the mainly Protestant community.
Members of the Chapel of the Holy Spirit participate in a blessing of Beaver Creek in Beavertown on Feb. 26. The congregation, an extension of the Holy Trinity Orthodox Church in State College, meets in members’ homes for worship every Sunday.
The Chapel of the Holy Spirit, a branch of the Holy Trinity Orthodox Church in State College, now welcomes between 30 and 40 members to worship in Beavertown each week.
To the knowledge of the Rev. Basil Biberdorf, who serves the congregation, there has never been another Orthodox church in Snyder County.
The population in this area does not have roots in the Orthodox church, he said. The Beavertown group began with a former Protestant pastor, David Smith, who began exploring Orthodoxy, Biberdorf said.
Smith contacted the Rev. John Reeves from the State College church, and soon after, a small group of interested people began to meet with Reeves once a month.
"They were a group of people searching," Biberdorf said. "They found and were taught."
In 2009, the small group took steps to become members of the Orthodox faith, the priest said.
The chapel draws families who used to travel to Huntingdon, State College or Harrisburg to attend church, he said.
Worship is a vital part of the Orthodox faith, and the hour-long drive or more was a big barrier for the families, Biberdorf said.
"This parish took them under its wing," he said.
Smaller sister churches like the group in Beavertown often are established to make the distance easier for the members, he said.
The Beavertown house church holds services three weekends a month, plus regular weekly gatherings like Bible studies and special holiday celebrations.
Orthodoxy emphasizes a personal level of worship by praying, worshipping and cultivating an Orthodox life, Biberdorf said.
"The beauty of the church is found in her people - the way they live their lives," Biberdorf said. "Orthodox is not just a head thing. It's a whole life experience."
Members' thoughts turned toward building as their congregation grew.
Last summer, the congregation purchased a half acre of ground in Beavertown for the purpose of building a chapel. Biberdorf said it's too early to say when.
"It will be a modest church, yet we want its design to be a credit to the community," Biberdorf said. "We want it to be pretty."
They chose a lot just off of U.S. 522 in Beavertown because it is easy to find and to access, the priest said.
Lots in Selinsgrove were expensive or near the flood plane; other properties in western Snyder County were off the highway in hard to find places or would be difficult to get to in the winter, he said.
After the chapel is built, the congregation wants to employ a priest who will live in the community and serve just their congregation, Biberdorf said. He travels between the State College and Beavertown congregations, serving both.
For those who want to learn more about Orthodox worship, Biberdorf recommended that they attend a Saturday vespers service at the State College church. Afterward, people usually have the opportunity to speak with the priest and ask questions.
"The Orthodox Church" by Bishop Timothy Ware also is a great resource for people who are curious about the faith, he said.
For more information about the Beavertown church, visit holyspirit-oca.org or call (814) 231-2855.