The Gift is in the Giving: Fr. William Rettig and Holy Resurrection Church

Ginny Nieuwsma

Although originally hailing from Washington state and Chicago, respectively, Fr. William and Matushka Jillian Rettig have counted the Upper Midwest as home for over fifteen years. They met and married in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis/St. Paul and were parishioners of Holy Trinity, St. Paul before being prodded to consider seminary in 2013. After graduating from St. Vladimir's in 2016, Fr. William was assigned to Holy Resurrection Mission (now Holy Resurrection Orthodox Church) in Fargo, ND. The Rettigs make their home just across the Red River of the North in Minnesota, where they keep busy caring for their two children, Adelheid and Eben, and their sprawling garden.

During The Very Rev. Dr. Chad Hatfield’s Parish Administration class at seminary, Fr. Chad issued a challenge that stayed with Fr. William Rettig when he assumed the leadership of Holy Resurrection Church in Fargo, North Dakota.

Fr. William and Matushka Jillian Rettig and their two children, Adelheid and EbenFr. William and Matushka Jillian Rettig and their two children, Adelheid and Eben“When Fr. Chad was talking about a parish budget, he noted that if every church in the OCA gave 1% of their budget to OCA seminaries, all three of them would be fully funded! His point was that with a small amount—if every parish did its part—we could fund a seminary education for every worthy candidate.”

Continues Fr. William, “We are so grateful that our sending parish Holy Trinity in St. Paul gives to the seminaries; between this and the St. Vlad’s debt-free tuition program, Mat.  Jillian and I started our ministry unhampered by debt.”

Father William believes that parishes should create an atmosphere of charity. In his very first year at Holy Resurrection, the parish council embraced the challenge to offer a 1% tithe to St. Vladimir’s.

“My experience at St Vladimir’s was stellar and the education, world class—I wanted to make sure that opportunity would be available to other potential clergy.

“The mission of the Church extends way beyond our corner of the world here in Fargo, North Dakota,” he adds. “We are part of the universal Church. Since that first year when we took a leap of faith to give out of our budget, our parish council has increased our donations to organizations. Rather than suffering financially, this practice has encouraged our relationships with others outside the parish and increased our cohesion with other ministries within the Orthodox Church. No longer in ’survival mode,’ our bishop and dean aspire to see us become a missional presence to the whole of North Dakota and northwestern Minnesota.

“We’ve learned that the gift for us is in the giving and in the sacrifice, when we let go of that thing we realize was never ours to begin with. God has blessed us with this opportunity to be in the place of God, the Giver. We don’t want to be like the ungrateful servant who, when he was released from his giant debt, turned around and demanded money from his debtor; instead, we seek to be generous after the model of Christ.”

Theophany prayers over the Red RiverTheophany prayers over the Red RiverIn response to the question, “So how is life in North Dakota?” Fr. William laughs.

“Some people make a comment to the effect of, ‘Just what did you do wrong to be sent to the American Siberia?’ But actually, Bishop Paul (OCA Diocese of the Midwest) made a good case for us of why we would fit here and he was right. We both grew up in colder, northern US states so this is our comfort zone; by God’s grace, Mat. Jillian and I both feel at home in the culture and we believe we are meant to be here.”

When the Rettigs arrived at Holy Resurrection, the parish had been without a priest for over a year. However, a small group of committed parishioners had been conducting reader services so that a foundation was laid and the laity felt invested in the parish.

“We were told we would be ‘mission planting’ when we came, but God has blessed us beyond what we expected,” Fr. William says. “That first Sunday we ministered to a hundred souls rather than the forty we were anticipating. We’ve already outgrown our facility and we’re in the process of purchasing a new building.”

Holy Resurrection’s “culture of outreach” also extends to local college students.

“Many college students come through our doors and we’re at a point where we’re hoping to see an Orthodox Christian Fellowship (OCF) started. We’re also a very young parish with as many as 30-40 children on any given Sunday; sometimes Sunday morning liturgy ‘has to be shouted’ but we welcome the awesome responsibility of raising the next generation in the Faith.”

Somewhat unexpectedly, Fr. William says that the largest single ethnic group at Holy Resurrection is Eritrean/Ethiopian.

The growing and pan-Orthodox parish of Holy Resurrection, Fargo, NDThe growing and pan-Orthodox parish of Holy Resurrection, Fargo, ND“Here in Fargo it’s a happy accident that we get all ethnic groups. Because we're one of the only Orthodox communities in town, everybody comes through our doors. It's such a picture of what Orthodoxy should look like.”

Father credits St. Vladimir’s with modeling ecumenical engagement for him “…in the proper, truest, best, sense of the word. The Seminary doesn’t water down the differences between Eastern and Oriental Orthodox, for instance, yet recognizes the common ground and has formed lasting partnerships with institutions like St. Nersess Armenian Seminary. Now that I’m dealing with various Orthodox ethnic groups in my parish, I’m very grateful for that example.”

Many St. Vladimir’s Parish Partners give as a result of the resolution passed by the OCA in 2011 encouraging the support of a “seminary of its choice through a sacrificial gift of a 1% minimum of its annual operating budget." Organizations become our Parish Partners, investing in the mission of the Church by providing a monthly, quarterly, or annual contribution to the Seminary. If you would like more information about this program, please contact Maria Kouloumbis at 914-961-8313, ext. 360, for details.