Saints Peter and Paul Russian and Greek Orthodox Church resides in St. Helena, NC about 26 miles outside of Wilmington. I was introduced to the church by my parents a while back when they found out that I was writing and taking pictures of churches.

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Called The Disappearing Church, there are currently only three members: Ann Debaylo Mizerak, her son, David and her sister, Mary. When Ann and Mary are no longer able to help care for the church, David will care for it along with some cousins. They have not had a full-time priest since 1998, but they meet loyally every Sunday at 10am.  *Check out the short video documentary at the link above for more details. I personally found it rather haunting in a good way.*

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According to an article in Our State Magazine Sts Peter and Paul church is the oldest Russian Orthodox Church in North Carolina. In 1905, a developer from Wilmington, Hugh McRae, purchased land in Pender County, NC for the purpose of creating small, European-style farms. He hired immigrants from various ethnic groups to do the farming and between 1923-1932, several Ukrainian and Russian families made their way to St. Helena. In 1932, McRae gave them a deed for land so they could build a church. The church was once thriving, but throughout the years, as families moved away or children assimilated and moved on, attendance began to wane.

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Some unique features of the church, at least for this area, are the gold dome architecture associated with Byzantine churches and the triple-barred cross. The triple-barred cross has three cross-beams: the top one is a title bar where “Jesus, King of Jews” was written, there is the center beam standard to Christian crosses and the bottom beam which is a foot rest.

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Currently, Sts Peter and Paul Church is in the process of being placed on the National Register of Historic Places. I would like to see that happen as this church contributes a unique and fascinating story. It would be a shame to forget it.

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