Odyssey Reflection 2
Working Together Builds Our Community of Faith
by: Steven Yates
Throughout the year, we, the parishioners of Saint Barbara, have many opportunities to interact with each other. Of course, we worship together each Sunday and on special holy days. The Ladies Philoptochos Society promotes charitable, benevolent and philanthropic outreach. The Golden Years Club meets and travels for fun and enrichment. JOY and GOYA groups meet and provide positive activities for our youth. But the preparation for, and work during and after, the annual Odyssey festival is unique in our church community. Every parishioner, from the very young, to the very “not-so-young” is called to help make this major event in the life of our church a success. No other single event mobilizes so many members of the community, takes so much time and effort, and helps to bring our community of faith closer together.
Planning for the next Odyssey begins as soon as the last Odyssey ends with a “post mortem” discussion of what went well or not so well and what can be done to improve the event. The planners and chair-people of the event put in uncountable hours and make this event the centerpiece of their year. They sacrifice precious vacation days, drive many miles in their personal vehicles, and make trips to Costco, Home Depot and restaurant supply stores. It is impossible to list their many activities in this space. Think of every single item you see at the Odyssey from the tents to the soft drinks, from the grills to the folding chairs, from the children’s rides and games to the porta-potties. All of it must be planned and coordinated. Years of experience and trial and error have taught the past organizers of the Odyssey the lessons they have passed on to the current organizers.
Baking of pastries and preparation of the specialty dishes begins weeks and months before the Odyssey begins. Seniors, young people, and anyone who can help contribute many days of careful, skilled work to make many thousands of pastry items and many hundreds of trays of food.
When the day comes to extract the counters and walls and cooking gear from their storage places, dozens of young men and not-so-young men give up their Saturday morning to do this heavy work. Pick-up trucks and strong backs lift and carry the pieces to the sites where they will be assembled. Smart and careful plans have been made in past years to assure that everything is set up properly. No detail is too small. It all fits together like a jigsaw puzzle.
Once the tents are delivered, the pieces are assembled in their proper configurations. This work takes place during the days and evenings leading up to the festival. A relative handful of dedicated workers, always including the chair-people, take vacation days from their jobs to do these tasks. Gas for cooking must be installed. Electricity must be supplied. Water must be supplied. Drainage lines must be installed. Signage must be hung. Painting must be done. The hours spent getting the venue prepared for the first visitors are incalculable.
As the Odyssey’s opening draws near, food preparation swings into high gear. This year 1400 pounds of pork was cut, seasoned and skewered by hand. Dozens of legs of lamb were seasoned, roasted, sliced and portioned. Likewise hundreds of trays of gyro meat was portioned and packaged. Large refrigerated trailers are put in place and filled with produce, milk and whole lambs for the spit.
Before many of the workers who participate in the four-day festival itself put on their nametags and aprons, a mountain of labor has already gone into Odyssey’s preparation. The scale of it is truly mind-boggling. Of course, the four days of the Odyssey are filled with even more work. Every booth from the Book Store to the Pastry Shop to the Greek Grocery Store to the Junque ‘n Treasures Bazaar to all of the food venues are manned (and wo-manned) throughout the festival. Young people collect trash and used food trays. They supply napkins and clean food trays. The dancers, who have been rehearsing for weeks under the guidance of volunteers, don costumes and perform. Let’s not forget the musicians and raffle ticket sellers and PA announcers and cooking demonstration presenters and dishwashers and those who order more food as needed and those who donate and supply such items. The list goes on and on.
And what is the effect of all this work on the parishioners who do it? Surely so much effort and stress against a deadline with the uncertainty of weather and crowds must take a toll on the good will of so many people doing so much work for no pay. Strangely, these wonderful people actually seem to enjoy it! Smiles outnumber frowns. Laughter is heard throughout the Odyssey. Hugs and kisses and handshakes and high-fives are everywhere! Oddly, it turns out that there is no better way to get to know someone than to work with them. And the harder the work that is shared, the closer the bond that is formed. The dirtier the job to be done, the more the people doing it laugh once it is done. Yes, there are moments of frustration. We are only human. But we are all working toward the same goal. We all want the same thing. We are all one family.
What greater joy is there than watching a grandmother supervising her daughter as her grand-daughter helps out? What is more rewarding than seeing grown sons doing the work their father did the year before? How can one feel anything but happiness when a cousin or uncle is helping out an aunt or a godparent? The joy of friend helping friend is infectious. Just when the grind of cooking or serving tray after tray of food gets to be too much, a friend is there is offer you a cool drink or a helping hand. When one of us is high on a ladder to change a light bulb, another is there to steady the ladder.
New parishioners quickly find a place to fit in and someone happy to “show them the ropes”. “Old timers” fill the hours of work with stories of past festivals at Racebrook Road or at Lighthouse Point. There are remembrances, large and small, of the Odyssey workers who came before us, some of whom have passed on. A toast is offered each year. And I was astounded to learn that George Faracles’ calculations of the numbers of trays of each type of food consumed each day of the festival remains a nearly 100% accurate guide! In such ways, our predecessors are always with us.
Working at the Odyssey festival provides us, the parishioners of Saint Barbara church, with the opportunity to see each other in a different light than we would otherwise ever get to experience. It breaks down barriers that separate young from old, Greek from convert, and teachers from students. When we are all working together, we are all the same. When we all put the cause of our church above ourselves, we are truly brothers and sisters in the church. Jesus called upon His disciples to elevate themselves by becoming servants of all. Through their labor, all of the workers at the Odyssey festival are answering His call.
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