IF the Shakovskoys were around in Jesus’ time they may have had half the seats at the Last Supper.
When Jesus was gathering his disciples with the call “Come, follow me”, he had Peter and Andrew from one family and James and John from another taking up the invitation, but the Shakovskoy family has responded in double the numbers.
Thirty-eight years ago when Greg Shakovskoy discerned that God was calling him to leave his home in Perth and move to Brisbane, four of his siblings joined him.
It was not a move about lifestyle, climate or a yearning for something different; it was all about faith.
The Shakovskoy siblings had been part of a vibrant Catholic Charismatic Renewal-style youth group in Perth and then joined a covenant community.
Two members of the group attended an international meeting of similar groups in the United States where they met Shayne Bennett and Brian Smith, of Brisbane’s Emmanuel Community.
“And they came back with the belief that God was calling them to come to Brisbane,” Greg said.
“They shared that and we spent some time talking that through and praying, and Brian Smith came over and talked about what (the move) would mean, and 70 of us ended up going across.
“We just felt like God was calling us.
“But it was an extraordinary time because that wasn’t just us (who were joining Emmanuel) – people came from Adelaide, Townsville, Ayr, Sydney, Melbourne.
“It was a time when the community here grew very rapidly – where similar people just began to feel that call.”
That was 38 years ago, and now Greg is Emmanuel’s moderator – the third, after founder Brian Smith and Shayne Bennett.
He succeeded Shayne in March.
Accepting the role is just another big decision for Greg in a family where big decisions are part of life.
Greg’s father sets the example, having made the choice to flee Europe after the Second World War.
“My father’s Russian. My mother’s German but born in Costa Rica. My dad grew up in Estonia,” Greg said.
“They met after the war, after my dad escaped, and came out from Europe – just because of the mess Europe was in.
“He actually had to leave because he was in danger of being shipped back to Russia.”
Faith led Greg to his first big decision. It had been brewing for a few years.
Even though he had been raised a Catholic and educated by the Christian Brothers, a conversion experience at the age of 16 changed the way he lived his faith.
“It (happened) through a prayer group, and it was a Carmelite priest (Fr Des Williamson who was influential),” Greg said.
“This very faithful Carmelite priest began to run a little youth group (in) the early days of Charismatic Renewal in Perth.
“He spoke to me about the possibility of a personal relationship with God.
“I certainly believed, but (this) made it very real. It was quite a moment for me. It was a life-changing moment.”
Greg had been involved in Young Christian Students who used a method of reflection and Bible readings at their meetings.
“I remember reading the Bible and it just not making any sense,” he said.
“And then I just had this moment when I realised that there was a possibility (of a personal relationship with God) … and I made the little commitment of myself to him and we prayed for me.
“And the next morning I couldn’t stop reading the Scriptures.
“It was one of those real signs that something actually had shifted inside of me.
“And life changed from then on.”
Five of the six Shakovskoy siblings joined Fr Williamson’s youth group.
“And it flourished under his leadership and he got some young people to lead it, and there was a period when we had 100 young kids going every week,” Greg said.
“So it was quite an exciting and dramatic time for us.
“And then a small community started out of that youth group.
“The youth group joined with a more of an adult group and we formed a (covenant) community for a while and then we moved across to Brisbane.”
That move as a 21-year-old changed everything for Greg.
“It marked my life,” he said.
“You make a big move like that; you make a big ‘I’ll do anything for God’ kind of step and … after that, … it’s characterised my life really.
“I’ve done all kinds of things that probably are a little unusual but … I haven’t been too afraid to step out and do some interesting things for God.”
It was an exciting time for many people.
“There was a lot of young people who were keen to go off and do anything for God,” Greg said.
“It came out of young people who’d all had a very personal experience of the call of God on their lives, and it was a very exciting time in community development and lots of things happening.
“I look back and I go ‘Wow. Um … Very interesting … um.’ But it shaped our lives in the sense of people were prepared to do whatever that they felt that God was calling them to do.
“I think by that stage we were very committed to the notion that lay-led communities had an important role to play in the Church – either movements or communities – and I felt called to be part of that and then I found a home in Emmanuel that really did fulfil that call.”
Greg said the roots of Emmanuel Community had led him “to an adult faith experience, and that’s the most important thing in my life”.
“Then, it has helped that to grow and be sustained,” he said.
“So I’ve learned to pray, I’ve learned to serve, I’ve learned to raise a Christian family, I’ve learned to manage relationships well, I’ve learned about the Church and what God is doing in the Church.
“It’s given me the most important thing in my life and then it’s also given me a place to serve, given me a place to use my gifts.”
Greg met his wife Margherita through Emmanuel and they have four children, and now they can witness young people in the community repeating the cycle of committing their lives to serving God.
“One of the things that we consider a blessing is that we were able to raise family with like-minded people, strongly committed to the Church, strongly committed to their faith and yet (with a) very grounded, very real kind of spirituality,” he said.
And when does Greg feel closest to God?
“The really simple answer to that question is in prayer – just my regular prayer every day,” he said.
“And of course, I have some dry times, but that’s the simplest answer.
“I just experience that that’s my life-blood and that’s where I get my energy and my strength.
“And even when the hard times come – the dry times in prayer – even then there’s a deep peace that’s with that.
“There are other times when extraordinary things have happened and I think quite amazing kind of things, but really the real answer is that it’s the prayer that keeps everything in perspective, keeps me going.”