OCA “Town Hall” Meeting Notes: Edmonton, AB, July 3, 2008

The meeting was called to order at 6:00 pm with the arrival of Archbishop Seraphim and Bishop Nikon

Approximately 49 laity and clergy were present, representing six parishes.

Both bishops were introduced as well as Michelle Jannakos by Archbishop Seraphim

It was noted that St. Herman’s has more people in attendance than Ottawa had for the same meeting.

The comments from this meeting will be posted on OCA.org.  Scroll down to the AAC blog and you may view the minutes for all the Town Hall meetings.

The theme of this year’s council is “Members of One Another in Christ” Eph 4:25-32.   Michelle read the entire passage which is very relevant to our church’s present situation.   The goal of these meetings are to hear what people have to say.  The PCC wishes to be as inclusive as possible in the planning for the upcoming AAC.

There are 4 ground rules:

  • No recording or attribution of names to comments
  • Respect each other
  • No judgment of ideas
  • Balance the air time

You may add your comments to the blog at anytime or email them to ideasforaac@oca.org.

The discussion centered around three main questions:

1.  What is working well in the OCA?

Communication has increased through the internet and chat sites. This has been positive in that they increase dialogue.   However, having so much information from various sources can have both good and bad results.

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Having the town hall meetings is a positive step.

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Our recent problems have forced us to re-examine ourselves.

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We are working in a language that is understood

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All the resources on the website are good.  Especially church school and music

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Getting youth involved

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We have a hard working Bishop

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We have wonderful working, worshipping parishes that, on a regular basis, hold bible studies, Sunday schools, education, and vespers, etc.

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We adhere to and maintain the Tradition of the church.

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We do have a vision for the North American church

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We tend to be welcoming of new people from all backgrounds.

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Our bishop in our archdiocese does listen to the faithful and is very approachable as are the clergy.

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We acknowledge the rich histories of our rural parishes. We have traveling congregations going to all the parishes to support each other.  Instead of 6 people, there are 35-40 people attending.

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There is much more cooperation between the parishes and across jurisdictions.

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Church planting concept seems successful and in line with our mission

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OCA in Canada is very mission oriented

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Our parish is very welcoming to people from all walks of life and all economic groups

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We have young, educated, and welcoming clergy

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We have done a good job in making a seminary education more accessible, especially with St. Arseny here in Canada

2.  What are your concerns and suggestions for the church?

Evangelism and the lack of it, we don’t do a whole lot that I am aware of and we don’t support our local tools, e.g. Welcome Home our Orthodox radio program, it has been running for 4 years and people aren’t rallying around it.

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OCA Silence on social issues

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There have been times where it seems we don’t call on the collective wisdom of the past 20 centuries and we compromise it. It seems that everything is negotiable and subject to a vote. The church has lost the vision of authentic conciliarity.  Why aren’t we using what have we learned over 2,000 years?   There is uncritical acceptance of present-day culture values that are not in line with Orthodox Christian values (e.g. Bringing the civil authorities in to clean house, calls for big brother state in the church, everything being submitted to a democratic vote).  The Church did not follow when the majority were Arians, rather it was the minority that stood for the Truth.  We are supposed to be counter-cultural and stand up to the world around us. We don’t do it.  We are too concerned with numbers, that success equals big numbers and budgets. Just because the church is full or empty isn’t the proper assessment of how we are doing our job.

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Words like accountability and transparency are dangerous words in the church; using democratic thinking will undermine us. We are in danger of losing the hierarchical and conciliar aspects of our church.

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We have no process of conflict and dispute resolution from top to bottom (in all levels of the church). We need to look at the ministry of reconciliation in a serious way.

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The example of the bishops is not one of servant-leadership.  The Holy Synod does not seem to communicate with each other and they don’t lead by example.

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We are poor, small, and wounded, and we need to act that way. We have to admit that we are not Greek or Antiochians.  We don’t have their money or numbers, but that is OK.

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My impression is the OCA, as a whole, fully bought into Fr. Schmemann’s vision when we received our autocephaly. That vision has been lost.  We are trying to gain credibility from others and not acting like an autocephalous church. We should behave like one, not have an inferiority complex, and not worry about how we align with other jurisdictions

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There is concern on the operation of the Holy Synod. According to the official minutes, something would be decided at a Synod meeting and immediately afterwards, a bishop would write on the internet that he didn’t agree with the decision. It’s tough to have unity in the Church if there is no unity apparently in the Synod. The synod appears to back pedal all the time in public. The synod is a group of equals one should not override one another.

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There are official minutes taken and if consensus is reached how does the consensus fall apart after the meeting and release of those minutes?

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(Response from the hierarchs) How does the Synod work? – we don’t vote, we talk until we all agree. We discuss an issue and we make decisions and agree even if we disagree. If we decide we don’t agree later we should go back to the brother bishops and say I disagree and not do it over the internet

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The role of the Metropolitan is very unclear.

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We need to see that all of us as fallen and sinful and we don’t do the reconciliation, we punish instead. Priests and parishes are in fear in the states, we don’t live with that here

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Our church leadership has been absent and has responded with silence.

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Our bishops, priests and lay leaders must be taught leadership skills.  We must not assume that everyone has this type of education.

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We don’t know the whole story of what happens at Syosset.  There is the perception that no one has acknowledged the mistakes and things have simply been “swept under the rug.  Our perception is our reality, but it may not be the true reality.

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(comment from the hierarchs) The investigative committee will release their report to the synod and the metropolitan council at the same time so there is not the perception of the report being edited.

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My perception is that we are not a small, poor, wounded church and we should not feel that or believe it. We need to be victorious rather than be victimized.

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We are having full disclosure of an incident this fall 2008 and if it wasn’t for the internet we probably would never have found out about the problems in the Syosset. Apparently Met. Theodosius was involved so why did this take so long to come out?   We deserve to know.

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(comment from hierarchs) Where did all the money go?  I am afraid we will never know. It is cash and has disappeared. Most of the dealings were in cash so we may never know unless the person who took it tells us. We have been too trusting and there were no visible clues to believe otherwise.  Part of the issue is Met. Theodosius’ discretionary account. No one knew how large it was. There was no record of size of discretionary funds or a limit.

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I look at the church and it is the foundation of the faith. This foundation is good even though some the issues are not positive. People make mistakes and now safeguards are in place. One bishop made a mistake and we have many other bishops who are positive.  We must pray to remain faithful.

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Don’t put your trust in princes and sons of men

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How can the Metropolitan appear to commit to spending large amounts of money before Synod approval (Proskauer Rose)?  Revising the statute a few years ago, appears to give the Met. quasi papal powers. The statute needs to be revised and brought into line with the canons.

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Problem with fair share concept and the need for true stewardship. Where is the free will in this type of giving?  Let’s live within our means.

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Bishops are overextended and so busy with “stuff” that they cannot be effective.  They need support.

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It’s been said that the problem is primarily about money. I take exception to that, money is not the problem. The money given to central office is a stewardship issue and has to be handled very carefully. If the money is not used for what it is intended, it means some needy person is not getting that money.  This is a moral problem that is deeper than just “money.”

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What has happened is a serious breach in the level of trust in the leadership of the church. It can’t be resolved quickly or easily. One step to repairing the trust is take the suggestion of Paul Meyendorff that all the bishops resign and only those that are re-elected should be allowed back.

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It is time for us to have a new metropolitan given the amount of scandal. Not so much because he is the most culpable, but he can no longer be an effective leader as the problems have gone on too long under him.

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It has always bothered me to say I am in the Orthodox Church in America. Canadians are not Americans. The ultimate slap in the face was when we were at the last AAC and I went to the mission booth.  The map only had the US missions.  Canada and Mexico were not on the map. The reply was that they couldn’t find a map of Canada. I hope that the issues of central office will be resolved.  I hope we put our efforts into building the Orthodox church in Canada.

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For our Archdiocese, being second class citizens has to stop. We have to be given autonomy to run ourselves.

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Have you noticed in the US that we are referred to as the National church? It is an international church. There is a lack of understanding between Canada and the US.

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Canadians have a different mindset of how to do things which is different from the US. We went through the process of getting an auxiliary bishop and the process was dismissed by the Metropolitan and the Synod. It was not explained to us why this happened. It was not handled well at all and we don’t understand it

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(comment from the hierarchs) There are two weaknesses in the process that Paul Meyendoff has suggested that have not been thought through. The election of a bishop must not be a popularity contest.  He should be living out what he has been called to do.  If all the bishops resigned there is no episcopacy and therefore no Church. What happens if all the bishops decided to live in retirement?

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The problems have forced us to re-examine ourselves and figure out why we are here.

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I have a concern about our process to select bishops. How do we end up with some bishops whose mental stability is questionable?  Two of these undermined the process of elected our auxiliary bishop. We have to have a more stringent selection process. Why don’t we take bishops from widowers? I don’t know what the criteria is. Do we do psychological testing?

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(comment from hierarchs) We have to be careful of the discretion of the process. We have learned from our selection process in the past.

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In light of numerous events that have happened in the OCA in recent years that have created much distress I would like to point out the six key components of a strong organization. These elements can apply to any organization (church, non-profit, charitable organization, business, school etc.).

The 6 key components are: Strong leadership, Common Goal, Rules of the Game, Action Plan, Support Risk Taking, 100% involvement/inclusion

STRONG LEADERSHIP

Leadership is defined as the art of influencing others. Strong leadership means someone that is taking us somewhere and is willing to make decisions. In the past few years the Synod of Bishops in time of crisis appears to be doing not much of anything. I have heard is said that the rule of thumb coming from people in Syosset is that of “when in doubt, do nothing.” If a decision is made to do nothing, then at the minimum, leadership is letting the people know that you are doing nothing.  Do not remain silent. This is why so many of the issues of the past few years have moved into the public forum so someone would make a decision about something. What is our vision and where are we going?  If we are supposed to be the church of North America, why are we not being the Church of North America?  Leadership is taking a stand and taking responsibility.  It is showing people the way, even if the way is not popular. I am not aware of us teaching clergy or the faithful leadership skills anywhere, yet we are called upon to lead all the time.

COMMON GOAL

A common goal is something that everyone can rally around and work towards. The only common goal we appear to have is to maintain the status quo or else lobby everyone to accept our autocephaly, which no one appears willing to do. So what is the common goal we are working towards in the OCA?  Let’s clearly set that out and let everyone, Bishops, Priests, Deacons, and laity know what that common goal is.

RULES OF THE GAME

Rules of the game must be established for everyone and everyone must be held to them. Some of the things have been allowed to carry on for extended periods are amazing, given the outcry for various incidents to be dealt with. If we set out clear rules of the game, hold everyone accountable to them, and enforce them, we probably would not have had many of the problems the OCA is dealing with today. Organizational discipline, albeit with Christian love, is a part of these rules of the game.  Loving parents set rules and do not let youngsters run amok, hoping they’ll turn out okay.  In the OCA clear rules must be set out because of love. The consequences of breaking the rules must also be carried out because of love.  Being “nice” means nothing inside of me cares enough.

ACTION PLAN

An Action plan would say what we are doing by whom and when. Where are we going? Just maintaining the status quo or doing damage control is no action plan for any organization.

SUPPORT RISK TAKING

Supporting risk taking is definitely not something that is happening now or in the past. If we want to be the Church of  North America, we must step out of our ethnic comfort zone and stick our necks out.  The Apostles and Church Fathers took risks, as did many of the saints, because this is sometimes the only way to grow.  Risks that are thought out and necessary are worthy of taking and need to be supported, even with major outcry.

100% INVOLVEMENT/INCLUSION

100% involvement/inclusion – this is actually happening with these town hall meetings. This is a good start and a good thing. We also need to unleash the skills and ability of everyone within the church.  Many times I have met and talked with others who are thoroughly frustrated by clergy and parish councils who will not utilize the God given talents of individuals in a parish. So let us now go forth and start acting on the other 5 key elements..

3. What would you like to say to the All North-American Council?

Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand

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Educate Americans to regard the needs of other countries within the Church.  Changing the US perception of Canada and Mexico so they understand that they are not the centre of the universe and do not think themselves superior.

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We need to focus on mission and growth and all that is good and pure.  We need to get back on track as Christians in a visible way.

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Encourage patience. We don’t need to solve all the problems in one swoop.  We must not panic into quick fixes that will ultimately not work. If we are patient, prayerful and faithful, we will get through this.   God and the Church are larger than the OCA.

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The importance of the sacrament of confession. Each person has the responsibility of working out their salvation.  One indicator, that I have seen, which denotes movement in the positive direction is the relationship between deeds and how they line up with truth being eternal.  (The anecdote of Diogenes with a lamp going through the streets of Athens looking for an honest man, is an excellent picture of the relationship between truth and light).

As we know, how life ought to be isn’t always that way.  So, with the sacrament of confession being the best option to get back to life as it ought to be, I would like to ask this: what hasn’t been used to encourage people to use the sacrament of confession more often, other than recognizing that there is an eternal authority.  For it is very easy to exercise authority (Kissinger’s definition of leadership overlaps with this, namely that leadership is the courage of one’s convictions and a sense of direction), but the activity of people is only part of the total package of authority.

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I am seeing here what I have experienced in the past. All this stuff is a smoke screen to the real issue. The Orthodox seem to have a huge identity issue. Rebuild an eroding foundation of faith.  Canada has an identity crisis and it has filtered down to our faith. I thought Orthodoxy had an ethinic issue. We have to use one word only for the church:  Orthodox, not American or Canadian, etc.  Start somewhere and get going. Put the money issue behind and move on and build up the faith.

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We need to work on developing communication skills. We did some of this work at the AAC in Toronto. I don’t know where all this went, so it appears it was a waste of time. We need to see the results of all our talk and work.

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Many good things happened in Toronto that didn’t get off the ground

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After the last AAC came the publication of the scandal and everything else that happened in Toronto was forgotten. We have new people in Syosset and they didn’t know what happened in Toronto.

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Foreswear vengeance, declare an amnesty.  What is done is done. Stop flogging the dead horse and move on. The bloodthirstiness seen on the net is counterproductive and wastes energy. Get over it

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Restore to our bishops the concept of being a father instead of administrator of the diocese, let’s help the bishops do this for us.

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Please do everything you can to keep the church from becoming a business. I don’t want to be a part of Wal-Mart. I want to be part of the body of Christ. Have faith that the answers are in Christ.

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We need practical papers and “How to” steps in reconciliation to prepare for the Council and also coming out of AAC.

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The council has to understand the disparity of the rural to urban parishes. The idea of a parish that sees a bishop all the time is different from a parish where the bishop is not there very often. Educate people on the role of the bishop.

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What I would want to say can be summed up in three Prokeimena:

Arise O God and judge the earth, for to Thee belong all the nations!

Who is so great a God as our God?  Thou art the God who doest wonders!

God is our King before the ages! He has worked salvation in the midst of the earth!

The Bishops each gave short, concluding remarks of thanks for everyone’s participation, candor and openness and the meeting was closed with prayer.   The parish provided a wonderful buffet and many participants stayed for fellowship.

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1 Comment

Filed under Orthodox Church in America 15th AAC, Town Hall Meeting Notes, Town Hall Meetings

One response to “OCA “Town Hall” Meeting Notes: Edmonton, AB, July 3, 2008

  1. Matthew Francis

    Thank you for posting this account from the meeting. I could not attend that night, and am thankful for the wholesome discussion that took place. May God bless this effort as the Church prepares to meet in the All-American Council.

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