Your Grace, Fellow Concelebrants, Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
We invite and welcome all of you to attend the 2017 Pastoral Conference, which will be hosted in February this year by St. George the Great Martyr Orthodox Church located in Pharr, Texas.
The church is among the oldest in the Diocese of the South, and has been active since its founding in 1979. See our website at: http://stgeorgetx.org/. St. George’s is located in what is called the Rio Grande Valley, just a few miles from the Rio border of Texas and Mexico. Although quite hot during the extended summer months, during winter time, the RGV is normally a very comfortable and lovely destination. Wintertime here means some of the best birding and nature experiences in the world, coinciding as well as the peak of local citrus season. This region is well known for its strong blend of Mexican and Texan culture and cuisine, which we hope to highlight for you during the Pastoral Conference and its meals.
Although this year’s conference schedule is itself rather compact, we invite any who may wish to stay longer to do so. We also encourage you to bring your spouse and/or family. While here, hopefully you can take some down time to enjoy the region and take advantage of the warm climate, as well as the opportunity to visit any of the local World Birding Centers or other nearby destinations, such as South Padre Island or perhaps a border town in Mexico. See more detailed information below regarding these popular regional destinations.
Arrival of Bp Alexander for pastoral visit to St George – Great Vespers, 6 pm – Dinner afterwards, TBA – All are welcome!
Hierarchical Divine Liturgy at St. George’s followed by Brunch - All are welcome!
Arrival of Administrator, Chancellor and Deans (no later than Sunday evening).
Arrival of Diocesan Council members (no later than noon)
9 am - 11 am Bishop's Breakfast and Meeting with the Deans
12 Lunch Diocesan Council Lunch with the Bishop
Arrival of DOS clergy
1 – 5:30 pm Diocesan Council Meeting
6 pm Vespers - Registration
7 pm Opening Reception – Dinner & Local Entertainment at Church Hall
9 am (Hierarchical) Divine Liturgy
Brunch at St. George Church Hall
1 pm Session I Bishop with Clergy
5 pm Vespers
6 pm Dinner at Hotel or on your own (Hotel provides food between 5:30-7:00 pm-local restaurants available also)
7:30 pm Session II Bishop with Clergy-open to the Public
8 am Matins
Fasting Breakfast at St. George Church Hall
10 am Session III Bishop with Clergy
12 or 1 pm Fasting Lunch – At St. George Church Hall
Departure of DOS clergy – Or beginning of post-conference fellowship
2 pm Spiritual Court in the afternoon
6 pm Vespers
Reservations can be made at the Drury Inn
The hotel’s amenities include free Wi-Fi, free parking, a gymnasium, pool, plus complimentary breakfast and dinner. The hotel also provides a shuttle to and from the airport, and locally, to St. George Orthodox Church, since it is located less than three miles from the hotel. The local number is 956-687-5100. Our group number is 2288409 and the price per room per night is $89.00 plus tax. Reservations must be received before January 21, 2017.
The airport located just minutes away from both the Church and the Hotel is McAllen International Airport, with MFE as the airport code, website is: http://www.mcallenairport.com/
Either the hotel or some of our parishioners can shuttle people from this airport to the church or to the local lodgings if needed.
Some airlines, such as Southwest, don’t come to McAllen, but do fly into the Valley National Airport in Harlingen, which is about an hour drive from the Church. If you choose to fly from Harlingen, this is the website: http://www.flythevalley.com/. We do have a parishioner in Harlingen who may, with notice, be able to shuttle people over from Harlingen to Pharr.
Nearby Walking & Running Trails:
For those who enjoy an early morning or late day run or walk, some very nice trails are available nearby the church and hotel. Find out more at: www.mcallen.net/parks-recreation/city-parks/hike-bike-trails. The McAllen Second Street trail is the closest of these to both the church and the hotel. Fireman’s Park also has nice walking trails and is also quite nearby. See: https://www.mapquest.com/us/texas/business-mcallen/firemans-park-369396589
Local Contact Information, Questions & Assistance:
Please contact Father Antonio Perdomo if you need directions or any further assistance or if you have any questions. Email at: firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 956-358-8875. Also, if any Clergy wives, Diocese Council members or spouses or families are planning to attend, please contact Matushka Elizabeth at email@example.com or call her at 956-358-1362.
We look forward to seeing all of you this coming February.
Fr. Antonio Perdomo
GREAT THINGS TO DO WHILE IN THE RGV:
World Birding Opportunities
The Rio Grande Valley of South Texas is one of the best birding regions in the entire world. Bring your own binoculars (or borrow some from some of the local venues) and catch some new species for your birding Life Lists, or just for fun. There is a cooperative effort called the World Birding Centers, with a number of sites to choose from. See their collective website links at: http://www.theworldbirdingcenter.com/ In addition, nearby Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge (our daughter works there), has a tram ride and lots nature trails. If any are interested, we can arrange for a special guided tour/hike on Tuesday afternoon, February 14th. See more at: http://www.fws.gov/refuge/santa_ana. For any who choose to stay and go towards the coast, there are great birding sites on South Padre Island (one free; one a minimal charge – ask Matushka). Ana, on the mainland near the coast, the Laguna Atascosa Wildlife Refuge, one of the last places in the US which still has an endangered population of ocelots. See: https://www.fws.gov/refuge/Laguna_Atascosa/
Crossing into Mexico
While in former times, the experience of crossing the border into Mexico, for shopping, eating and such, was a “must” for any who visited this region, this has become much more dangerous and more complicated in recent years. We do not recommend anyone crossing into any border town, with the exception of Progresso. See: http://www.shop-progreso.com/ Please, only consider visiting during the morning/lunchtime or early afternoon hours. Absolutely NO evening visits for your own safety!!! Besides tourist arts and crafts and local eateries, many people like to buy the wonderful local Mexican vanilla and duty-free products when they cross the border. IMPORTANT NOTE: If you wish to cross into Mexico, now you MUST have and show a Passport! This was not the case when some of you visited here many years ago. If you have questions about this, please ask Father or Matushka.
South Padre Island
South Padre Island is about an hour and a half drive from St. George’s in Pharr. It is a wonderful wintertime destination, with lovely beaches, great places to eat, and again, some exceptional birding venues. There are some wonderful seafood places, both on and off the Island (in Port Isabella). One of our favorite places is the South Padre Brewery, for those who like local made beers. See: http://www.pibrewingcompany.com/. Any of you who like to support local owned bookstores are in for a treat as well. Check out Paragraphs Bookstore at http://paragraphsonspi.blogspot.com/. Besides beaches and birding, some people enjoy charter fishing trips, dolphin watch outings or to take the old-time Pirate ship replica tours. For other South Padre Island information, check out this site: http://www.sopadre.com/
Local Grown Citrus
The Rio Grande Valley is famous worldwide for its citrus fruits, which include luscious Rio Red Grapefruits, both Juice Oranges and Navel Oranges, Tangerines and Valley (Meyers) Lemons. For any of you who are driving to the region, be sure to pick up some bags of these to take home! The prices are very reasonable when you buy them and don’t have to ship, and you’ll love these sweet and tasty fruits. But, some places do ship as well: http://giftfruit.bellsfarm.com/why-texas-grapefruit/ Two of our favorite places to pick these up are at: Bells Farm to Market, on Ware Road in McAllen, (http://www.superpages.com/bp/mcallen-tx/bells-farm-to-market-L0101848651.htm) and Valley Baptist Retreat Center, in Mission (http://www.manta.com/c/mmn6v6p/valley-baptist-retreat-center).
Museum of South Texas History
This museum is the perfect place for you to learn more about this unique region and its history. Those of us at St. George’s participate in their annual Pioneer Ranch and Craft Days. The museum is located not far from the University in nearby Edinburg. See their website at: http://www.mosthistory.org/ If spouses or families come along and would like to go, we can arrange for a guided tour of the museum on Wednesday morning, February 15th.
OTHER SUGGESTIONS: POST PASTORAL CONFERENCE RETREAT OPTION:
For those who are interested, as an example, Isla Grand Resort on South Padre Island (1 and a half hours drive East of Pharr, TX) - rooms at that time will run $139 - $179 a night (depending on the view) and will house up to four people per room. Another option would be to rent a two-bedroom condominium which accommodates up to six people for $259 a night. This would be an opportunity to have a few days post-conference to relax and enjoy the warm weather at the beach in February (average highs during the day are in the 70's). Reservations can be made by calling 1-800-292-7704 or online at http://islagrand.com .
Better priced hotel rooms and condominiums are available by checking at http://www.sopadre.com/ or looking for hotel deals on line. Another possibility is available by calling La Copa Inn Beach Resort at 956-761-6000 they will give you a 30% discount if you tell them that you are calling them for this instead of the online hotel deals . Their web page is http://lacoparesort.com/.
This isn't a parish expense or a required part of the conference - it is just a time for additional fellowship. Please find your own roommate(s), book your own room and depart for home at your convenience. Meals are "on your own."
Please talk to each other to make arrangements for fishing trips, Dolphin Watch and Pirate Adventure boat rides, and more if any are interested in that.