How We Got Here
Reconciliation Services [RS] was born on Troost Ave. from a love that was itself living reconciliation, a marriage of opposites…
David Altschul, a white, three-piece-suit-wearing, insurance salesman from Johnson County, KS, was inspired by the Scriptural command to love and serve the poor. He began to take food and to assist families after work at the LaSalle Apartments, which were a block off Troost on Linwood. In the mid-1980’s this apartment building was a snapshot of the complex, multi-generational poverty and trauma that had taken hold of the east side of Kansas City following desegregation.
In the lobby of that apartment David first met the woman who would become his wife, Thelma Gardner. Thelma, a small woman with a mighty personality and 12 years his senior, could not have been more opposite of David. She was African American, raised in poverty in Texarkana, Arkansas, and lived a life riddled with trauma, violence and addictions. But in spite of her struggles, Thelma had the heart of a saint. In addition to raising her family she was housing strangers in her small apartment and feeding them with whatever she had.
David quit his job in insurance and he and Thelma committed themselves entirely to caring for the residents in the apartments and neighborhoods along Troost. Against the wishes of family, church and friends, David and Thelma were married in 1987. Together they founded Reconciliation Ministries in the building at 3101 Troost. They served hot meals to the community on a daily basis and offered compassion and assistance as best they could to prostitutes, addicts, homeless, lonely, mentally ill and anyone in need.
In the 1990’s David and Thelma felt the need to focus deeply on prayer as the basis of their work on Troost. Eventually, their small community at Reconciliation Ministries became an Eastern Orthodox Church called St.Mary of Egypt Orthodox Church (named for a 3rd century prostitute who converted to christianity and lived a miraculous life of repentance and reconciliation) under Bishop Longin of the Serbian Diocese of the Midwest. David’s name was changed at his priestly ordination to Father Paisius and Thelma took the name Matushka (an honorific title for a priest’s wife) Michaela, after the Archangel Michael her patron saint.
After Fr. Paisius earned his Masters in Social Work from UMKC in 2005, he transitioned Reconciliation Services into a nonprofit agency, functioning separately but as an extension of all the Orthodox Churches and other communities of compassion in Kansas City. As such, the mission of RS took root in the deep prayer and theology of the Orthodox Christian faith and redefined its mission according to the profession that all people are made in the image of God (Gen. 2), living icons of Christ worthy of profound and authentic veneration, dignity and respect.
After Matuska Michaela passed away in 2012, Fr. Paisius began pursuing a life of monasticism and was tonsured Hieromonk Alexii Altschul and founded a monastery in Weatherby, MO.
Father Alexii passed the task of directing RS and leading St. Mary’s on to Fr. Justin Mathews, who had been actively serving the poor as a volunteer with RS and before that as the founding Executive Director of FOCUS North America and the Vice President of Communications at the Nashville Rescue Mission. Fr. Alexii continues to be connected to RS, supporting the ministry through prayer and counsel. In the years since he became the Executive Director of RS, Fr. Justin has worked with a dedicated staff and many volunteers to strengthen RS programs and further define its mission to “cultivate a community seeking reconciliation to transform Troost from a dividing line into a gathering place, revealing the strength of all.”