- Last Updated on Wednesday, 04 August 2010 05:00
- Published on Wednesday, 04 August 2010 05:00
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It’s always a good day at the beach when you get to spend time with Father Ron Okrasinski, Rector of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church. Father Ron, as he is known throughout town, is passionate about his congregation and his ministry, even after 42 years in service. His office is full of newspaper clippings, books, photos and artwork, all memories he has gathered and kept safe.
This past Sunday, August 1, Father Ron and his congregation celebrated his 30th year as rector with a special service, a luncheon and presentation of a special lead crystal plaque etched with the words “Presented to Father Ron in appreciation for 30 years of loving service.”
Father Ron is a familiar face
at the beach. In his words, “I enjoy spending time walking the town and stopping to visit with people I meet along the way.” It gives him the opportunity to minister to folks who may not feel comfortable seeking out a word of advice or comfort. One of Father Ron’s favorite stops during his walks is the Espresso Station where he can be found enjoying a cup of black Sumatra coffee in the morning or a lime Italian soda in the afternoon. In his words, Father Ron said “I do what I do because it’s what Jesus did. I meet people where they are, not where I expect them to be.”
During the past 30 years while living and ministering at the beach, Father Ron and his wife, Claudette raised their son, Jeremy, and their daughter, Martha. He has also buried his dad and his mother-in-law, married his now-grown son and daughter, and baptized his granddaughter, which was one of his “greatest joys” to date.
Father Ron has counseled many residents of the beach over the years as “pastoral care has always been a priority” of his. As testimony to his commitment to pastoral care, two months ago, after 32 years of working with Mary Washington Hospital to provide a resident pastoral care chaplain, the hospital recently received national accreditation in the area of pastoral care and now offers a chaplain 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
You can find Father Ron at Mary Washington Hospital at least one day each week and once a month he volunteers at National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. where, on one occasion, he officiated at then Vice-President Al Gore’s daughter wedding rehearsal, complete with a full secret service detail.
Father Ron is also a 14-year cancer survivor, which he sees as a blessing as the experience “helped me in my ministry to help fellow cancer survivors.” He also has a heart for animals and performs a Blessing of the Animals once a year at St. Mary’s. Several years ago, during Hurricane Isabel, Father Ron noticed that the town-opened shelter was not pet friendly. Thinking of his own pets, an 11-year old black lab, a beagle-lab mix, and Yurtle the turtle, and knowing that, for many people, pets are an extension of their family, it was decided that the parish hall at St. Mary’s would be made available as a pet-friendly shelter in case of another weather disaster.
The doors of St. Mary’s church are always open, according to Father Ron. He believes that “churches have no right to have buildings if they don’t share them.” Anyone can go in to the church for quiet prayer or meditation any time -- it’s what Father Ron calls a “ministry of presence.” St. Mary’s allows use of their buildings to many groups for many purposes, including Alcoholics Anonymous, aerobic classes, dog training classes, probation interviews, anger management classes and luncheons. The church runs an op shop and a food pantry on an as-needed basis. All church employees and volunteers understand that when someone is in need, they stop what they’re doing and help.
In 2004 Father Ron received the Liberty Bell award presented by the Northern Neck Bar Association. It is given to individuals who have provided outstanding public service with their lives and through their work, an individual who encourages and exemplifies respect for our laws. Valerie Mayo, a local attorney, who had the honor of presenting the award to Father Ron, noted in her introduction that he “has provided a constant presence in support and counseling of individuals and families in long term as well as crisis situations throughout the community.”
According to Father Ron, “I believe in Colonial Beach. I’ve had many opportunities to leave here; but I’m here by choice.” And Father Ron’s choice makes Colonial Beach a better place to live.