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OCA Priest, Fr. John Brown, retires from Federal Correctional Chaplaincy

Fr. John Brown, our only OCA Federal Corrections Chaplain, celebrated his last Divine Liturgy at the Federal Corrections Facility in Atlanta Georgia, on Saturday, October 15th, also his last official day of work there. V. Rev. Steven Voytovich, D.Min., Director of the OCA’s Office of Institutional Chaplaincy, concelebrated, along with Protopresbyter Panayiotis Papageorgiou, Ph.D., pastor of Holy Transfiguration Greek Orthodox Church in Marietta, Georgia. Fr. Thomas Alessandroni, Rector of St. John the Wonderworker Church in Atlanta, assisted his choir members in singing the responses under the direction of Matushka Rebecca Myers. A number of Fr. John’s family members were also present for this celebration. Fr. John indicated several times during the course of the morning: “how moving it was to have all the significant members of my family and those related to my ministerial life together in one place!”

Several incarcerated persons joined those in attendance from the community in the celebration of the Liturgy to say goodbye to their chaplain. Fr. John preached a moving sermon offering many Scriptural connections to incarceration, especially encouraging the incarcerated persons present to keep the faith through the coming time of transition. Fr. Steven thanked Fr. John, on behalf of the Orthodox Church in America, for his dedicated service as a chaplain, and led those present in singing “Many Years” to Fr. John.

Fr. Thomas invited all to return to St. John the Wonderworker Church for a celebratory lunch, including ribs! As cell phones and many other items are not allowed in the facility, no photos were taken during the Divine Liturgy. The photo of clergy celebrants was taken at the church.  (From left to right:  Fr. Panayiotis, Fr. Steven, Fr. John, Fr. Thomas)

Fr. John was born in Atlanta Georgia. After completing high school, Fr. John enrolled in Auburn University, in Alabama, graduating with Bachelors’ Degrees in English literature and economics in 1982. While completing his coursework, he completed Army ROTC training, and upon graduation was received a commission as a Lieutenant in the National Guard.

Fr. John married the former Patrice O’Gwynn in March 1983. They are blessed with three sons: Nicholas (now age 27), Andrew (25) and Aaron (16). Matushka Patrice, Nicholas, and Andrew attended the Liturgy, Aaron was unable to as he was not yet 18 years of age.

Fr. John attended Dallas Theological Seminary 1984-1986 and then enrolled in the Reformed Theological Seminary, graduating with an M.Div. Degree in May 1988. Later he received a Masters of Theology Degree in May 1990, with a concentration in Church history. While completing the ThM, he was ordained a deacon in the Episcopal Church in 1989. Upon being ordained “Priest” later in 1989, he entered active duty in the US Army as a Chaplain, where he subsequently was deployed and served in Operation Desert Storm August 1990-1991. He was released from active duty in May 1996, and returned to the National Guard as Chaplain.

Fr. John began service as a Chaplain in the Federal Correctional Institution in Pekin, IL January 1997, arriving just days before his 37th birthday, the cutoff for Federal Corrections employment! He recounted his travel by car in inclement weather, wondering if this was the right move for him and for his family. Due to his own historical research in college and dialogue with Orthodox clergy, he began the OCA Late Vocations Program that same year.   Fr. John was baptized into the Orthodox Church in May of 2000, and ordained a priest on February 10th, 2001. He was assigned Priest-in-Charge of Holy Apostles Mission, Bloomington, IL, and was endorsed for reserve military and prison chaplaincy that same year. Fr. John was deployed a second time, serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom 2003-4 as a Reservist Chaplain.

With the creation of the Office of Institutional Chaplains in 2005, Fr. John became a member of the Institutional Chaplain community in November of that year. He was transferred to the Federal Correctional Institution, Aliceville AL, August 2012. Released from duties at Holy Apostles Mission, he was received into the Diocese of the South and Atlanta Deanery. Fr. John was again transferred to the United States Penitentiary, Atlanta GA, August 2014, and with this move was attached to St. John the Wonderworker Church.

Fr. John will officially retire from the Federal Bureau of Prisons, January 2017, at the mandatory retirement age of 57, and will be contemplating next steps as his official retirement date draws near. Fr. John returned for Liturgy at St. John’s Church together with Fr. Thomas and Fr. Steven on Sunday. The congregation sang “Many Years” to Fr. John, continuing the previous day’s celebration.

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