OCA “Town Hall” Meeting Notes: Bethlehem, PA, July 19, 2008

The Town Hal Meeting at St. Nicholas Orthodox Church, Bethlehem, PA, began at 10:05 a.m. with the singing of “O Heavenly King”.

His Grace, Bishop Tikhon made brief introductory comments and welcomed everyone to Bethlehem parish.  He explained that we are here to listen to people’s comments and to share ideas humbly and in love and reminded the gathering of St. Seraphim’s feast day today.  He thanked everyone for making the effort to come.

Fr. Andrew Jarmus also greeted everyone, reminding them that the notes from meetings are posted on the 15th All-American Council blog.  If anyone has a statement, please limit same to 500 words so that the meeting does not lose momentum.  More housekeeping: there was an anonymous request to have the meeting recorded, and the group reached consensus that recording the meeting was acceptable.  Fr. Andrew mentioned the importance of openness and dialog leading up to the All-American Council.  He explained the history of these town hall meetings and said that they are part of a broad dialogue with the faithful.   “We want to hear from you—your relationship with the church, your faith, where should the church go from here in terms of programs, AAC  ideas, etc.”  He reviewed the basic ground rules as stated for each town hall meeting:  no attribution, no judgment, respect each other, and balanced “air time”.

Question #1:  How have the events in the OCA in recent years impacted you?

I teach and have time this summer and have been traveling and spent the week at St. Tikhon’s camp; the people I see are largely serious Orthodox; they have been in the church faithfully, whose lives were shaped by Orthodoxy.  There is a huge discontent within this group; a crisis of confidence in our hierarchs and the way the church is now.  Imagine the OCA as the Titanic: are we in blue water, or have we hit the iceberg? When the Titanic hit the iceberg, everyone was confident the boat would never sink, yet it sank in two and a half hours; you can’t raise it. My sense is that we’re at the 2nd hour.  Another naval illustration:  Admiral Nimitz was commander of all American forces in the Pacific when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.  It wasn’t his fault but that of bad translations, slip ups, time differences, and bad luck, but he resigned.  He understood that if he was going to ask his people to give their utmost, he must himself be beyond his career; he had the intelligence and integrity to step down.  I don’t hear this from the Orthodox, and I felt it was my duty to voice it today.

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I have been a member of the church for 77 years and have never seen guidelines as to how to provide for a parish priest; what are the church’s obligations?  A home?  Pension?  Furniture?  Etc.

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Communications are a concern; Christ is “logos,” the communicator of the faith; then you see internet things or other means; when it is communicated, it’s sometimes one-sided and spun a certain way.  At the same time, the representation of the church hasn’t been voiced.  Thank you to Fr. Andrew for improved communications to the clergy, but that’s only recently.  The national church has been silent; in this crisis, it’s problematic and detrimental to not say anything, because what’s said on the other side is not always true.  When nothing is said, people don’t always see it as favorable; there are certain things he would rather NOT know for his salvation, but there are other things that we do need o know to help the people.

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We need more communication because in the past few years, so much of what we have read, especially on the computer, is on the “other” web sites; this is very upsetting because we’re not being told the truth; I’ve been traveling to other churches, etc; I hear “we’re do tired of this”; somehow the new administration has to resolve it because our OCA is dying and being fragmented.  That’s what I hear from other deaneries and dioceses.  Our leadership has to keep us moving forward; people are quitting, not donating, going to other dioceses, individual parishes are suffering, it’s snowballing.  Somehow between our synod of bishops and central administration, we need to have something to look forward to.

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One of the things which bothers me and has for many years is that things will be decided at the Metropolitan Council or at various levels and when people go back to the diocese there is not a unified following of directives/decisions. Two weeks later there’s a message from diocese or bishop contradicting everything that was done at the previous meeting.  Recently an official diocesan statement came out which directly contradicted that done at another meeting.  If a unified message does not come out from the head; there has to be unity all the way down.  Also, e.g., in the situation with the retired bishop in Alaska we had to retreat; people don’t understand these things because they don’t see what went on behind; it’s an issue of follow-through;  the national church tries to do something as a united front and gets crossed up as it goes down the line.

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My wife and I are converts from the Episcopal and Roman Catholic Churches; we spent most of time in the Episcopal faith until a lot of prayer and searching led us to Orthodoxy.  This was the only place to worship God in spirit and truth.  If we lose that as a body of Christ, we will both now and later suffer “big time”.  I have not read every blog but they go on and on about how things are or are not being dealt with; it’s a crying shame that we are going through this kind of suffering.  At different times in my life I’ve had to stand up within my personal career and take on issues that were not pleasant to do.  If I didn’t, how could I face my people in the morning? I guess the question I have now is, what is your mission statement?  Where do we go from here?  My God, we have a new, English-speaking Orthodox presence in this country!  I was watching Tears of the Sun with Bruce Willis; there was a quote at the end of the movie; it was about the bad racial cleansing.  In it was a quote from an 1800’s philosopher who said “evil prevails when good men sit by and do nothing.”  There’s so much info out there, but if we can’t get back to what initially drew us to the church, it’s gonna be really sad.  There are a lot of good people in this church; you see the dedication of men, women and children who give their whole lives to the church; it would be a shame if what the saints and martyrs  gave was all for naught.  It’s not the OCA that I’m attached to; it’s the mission of Christ that we’re attached to!  It’s spreading the gospel, establishing mission.  On the way here we see ads from churches, billboards; how do people even know we’re out there?  How do we evangelize?  The church that’s the true evangelizer doesn’t even evangelize.  St. Andrew’s camp isn’t even being utilized; we used to go up there with youth; we need to wrap our arms around that which really does count.  I don’t worry about some bizarre doctrine and that the truth is going to change; this Church needs to return to being the true anchor.

[At this point, Fr. Andrew asked the speaker to expand on spirit of truth, delegation of time, our faith being jeopardized.]  The participant said if I said to someone come and look at us—(Mormon church ads are wonderful and obviously it’s another whole situation)—God forbid they look us up on the internet and see what’s going on in the chat rooms; how do you bring someone that doesn’t know the church and say we’re wonderful?  We ARE wonderful, we have the spirit of truth, but we’re lacking in vision, in evangelization, and in having a clean slate.  God forbid they find out about our scandal.  We have a wonderful priest and we do 98.9 percent of our liturgies in English, and thank God we can understand what’s being said; this baggage is crippling us.  I don’t have the answers; I had 17 years with a company and then lost my job. The church should not be the thing we worry about; not like retirement, or about my kids in college, etc., but I worry about what I’m supposed to be doing in terms of Christ.  The OCA does have an important mission as an English speaking, evangelistic presence in America.  After being in the Episcopal church for awhile, look what they’re suffering with; look what the Roman Catholics are suffering with.  We need this Church, and it needs to function optimally.  We have a worthy adversary, and if we don’t beat this, he’ll eat us alive.  I sometimes wonder if the dedication of the martyrs and the saints, that their sincerity in prayer is what carried us down through the ages.

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A few words mentioned by the last speaker triggered what I’ve been thinking about here in the Catholic Allentown Diocese; they are closing close to 40 churches.  I sometimes wonder, no offense, but what are you priests doing; what are we doing about bringing these people into the fold?  We’ve never done anything about billboards and bringing these people into Orthodoxy.  I love my faith, and what’s been happening in the church, I can honestly say, I only know a little about; I don’t follow the internet, but my responsibility as an Orthodox Christian is to worship the Lord and use the talents given me.  I will be judged for what I did and not what others did with the money; look at the closing of 40 churches; isn’t this a great opportunity to see our church grow?  That’s how I feel.

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I’ve been trying to deal with the problems of our church; it’s really interesting because the things we come up with are the things we see everyday; we talk about various outreaches and various ways to invite other people to our church; we have a lot of meetings, not unlike today where we say a short prayer and get down to work.  I always look to business concepts and ideas. When you get right down to it, it’s not us who are going to build the Orthodox Church; it’s God.  It’s God’s church and He’s going to build the Church.  Is it our role, really, to put up billboards, or is it to walk the walk in the Christian way?  In other words, the Christian example will be what attracts people to the Orthodox Church and is why I became Orthodox after being Presbyterian for so long.  We’ve missed the point; we always fall back on the worldly things and we forget worship, adoration, prayer; that’s what God asks us to do.  You’re not going to witness that love of God until you feel the love of God in a real way.  If someone says why are you so happy, we can answer because we’ve got God next to us?  At the All-American Council, we’re going to come up with projects, activities, etc., and I would challenge the AAC to teach the concepts of prayer, as Jesus did, so we can attract other people.  They’re only going to join if they see it as something good, valuable.  We can say the Baptists have billboards, the Catholics have this or that, but they’re not necessarily the example we would want followed.  We will succeed when we start doing it God’s way and stop doing it our way.

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In our parish in the last two years we’ve added 30 people to the parish; we didn’t put one billboard up, only an article in a small paper, but it was the people in our parish inviting their friends to “come and see”.  It’s not just the priest; of course we have responsibility, but it’s not just other people watching to see what we’re doing.  Sanctify the place where we’re at, and people will come to you.  People are STILL coming to Alaska because of St. Herman, because it’s a holy place.  People will come by default and will be attracted to it.  Right now our church is a hornet’s nest and there’s no peace there, and so we need to get back to what God has given us and we will be saved.

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I appreciate the ability to speak.  What I hope we can fix—I came into the priesthood after a long career in business.  I saw what blind power does; I saw what playing politics was; and when I came to the church, I thought I left that behind.  But if we look at what we’ve been doing, it’s destructive to our whole lives.  At first when this started, I thought it was about money.  As Archbishop Seraphim said, my older and more experienced parishioners say it’s just money. So I thought oh it’s just money and we can survive.  Then, I thought it was about morals; but now I think it’s about the failure of the basis of the church, like love—I don’t mean love in a fuzzy sense.  We have come to the point that the only way we can show love is to tolerate stuff; I’m talking about dying for each other, to speak the truth to each other, love.  It’s the very basis of what I believe Christ to be as He walked through this life.  It’s like when someone said to me, “Father, you’re going over a cliff.”  Thankfully I took their advice, and that’s one of the most beautiful things we can do; when we’re going over the cliff, someone comes to help us.  The culture certainly has lost the ability; we’re supposed to tolerate everything because we’re so loving; but not in the church!!  I used to hang around Syosset; I went to all those meetings that accomplished nothing, be it diocesan council, MC, or AAC; there was another conversation in the hall.  The truth was in the hall; in the room was a sham, because no one wanted to speak truth.  The things we are dealing with were rumored; it became a joke; we watched our brothers go over the cliff because we couldn’t say “Friend, you are killing yourself and your church.”  So we went in the hall and laughed at them and we lost the ability to love our brother, in a die-for-you kind of way.  When we lost that, we lost the very basis of what we’re supposed to be.  If I love you, I will admonish you; if you love me and see me going over the cliff, you may admonish me.  You may lose a friend, but you will perhaps gain a brother.  In all these meetings, nobody speaks the truth.  When I was a junior priest, at 40 years, with senior priests around me, whenever you asked a question about these things that are now scandal, the answer was “go take care of your parish, Father; get out of here, we got this handled.”  That was the answer over and over again; or you got a phone call from Syosset: “you’d better keep your mouth shut”.  This is what we became; these things were known or ignored, and when we questioned, we were told to be quiet.  We can’t love each other enough today to admonish one another.  And when we see a brother say publicly that he is not afraid of judgment or to admonish people who disagree with him, ignoring all advice, and we vote to support them and tell them they’re doing a wonderful job, we don’t love that brother, we’ve abandoned that brother.  The leadership of our church directed us to take care of our parish. By doing that we abandoned our brother; I suggest to you that the “conventions” with parties, shopping, etc., will cause us to explode.  Let us reinstate an attitude that we can simply as  brothers and sisters speak the truth, receive it, and deal with it as best we can, and that there will be no more threats;  believe me, I worried more about all kinds of things instead of what I was supposed to be doing; but I am imploring someone to bring us to the point where we can speak the truth to each other, and as we do in the business world, go have lunch, and still be able to talk to each other.

Question 2: What would you like to see for the church?  What could the church be at the end of all of this? What would you envision as a “best-case” scenario?

A prepared statement was then read by Dr. David Ford (see comments section below).

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I am a convert, baptized 6 years ago; I don’t know how I found you guys.  Thank God you’re here. My only choice was Protestantism or Roman Catholicism; I went to Russia and saw pious people; then I learned about saints, Mary, whom I was taught not to venerate; I came to a majestic, proud heritage, and then became a brother.  I’m a farm boy who finished the 12th grade.  I understand now what my father used to admonish me about on the farm—be careful, don’t be complacent, because it can kill you; “wake up and die right”. Our paradigm as Orthodox Christians is death, judgment, heaven, and hell. That is the paradigm of every prayer we say every day.  Not only do we worry about the judgment, but we must worry about dying right, because that is where the judgment is placed.  I do not have a public speaking background, but have an admonishment from my father that I did not understand until I became an Orthodox Christian.  It is our responsibility to live right; we are not supposed to be spending the church’s money on the Marquis Marriott.  Wake up and die right!

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This is about common work; we’ve all had hard times and one thing we can do is give ourselves a goal. I have two–one is fairly simple.  A lot of us are aging; it would be wonderful to have an Orthodox retirement home on the grounds of the monastery; a lot of us would like to be there, and it’s an easy task. Second, a lot of people in the Synodal Church have not accepted the Moscow Patriarchate. I suggest we reach out to them.  It will focus our energies, bring us together in spiritual uplift, and will give us common work.  We will be better; our service will help them and us.  These people are near us; if you have friends in the Synodal church, talk to them and the clergy.  Ultimately it will help us.

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One reason I joined the OCA in the 70’s is that I saw the vision of an American church: an American church, served by American priest, using the English language.  One goal could be to go back to the original vision, mission statement that we will serve as an American church.  I have nothing against my Russian heritage, but since the break of communism the thought has been to go back to the mother church, take care of the people coming over, etc.  I have no problem taking care of these people, but let us serve as the American Orthodox church; not  Serbian, Russian, etc.  I get a bit tired when the mother churches attack us.  I would like us to once again serve our people as an American church.

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Speaker had two questions: As our Holy Synod meets, is there going to be anything more on THEIR feelings and conclusions on how we move forward?  I saw the days of the AAC (program) beginning Monday with Akathist, etc; will something be coming out from these town hall discussions prior to the AAC so that the followers will know how to prepare for the Council?

Question 3: How can your concerns be addressed at the All-American Council?

As a physician we need to be looking at our situation. We cannot come up with ideas, etc. until the source of our disease is identified and treated.  It has to be done before anything else can heal us.  We are dying and need to be dealt with.  Is it true/false?  If it is true, it must have consequences.  It has to be transparent and apparent; the only way to do that is to face it and cure the disease.  Many people are more afraid of the cure than the disease.  I don’t think that’s the case here.  Spiritual death is happening every single day.  I see children cutting themselves, hurting themselves, because they have nowhere to go.  Vladyka, please help us!

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We’re all waiting for a report; think it’s gonna be out in September.  We’re all expecting great results.  I think we’re going to be discouraged.  I don’t see how a report can resolve the problems that the Church has.  We have a lot of constituents we have to deal with: those who quit coming/paying or expressed continually their disregard for the hierarchs of the Church; we have the cynics who say wait, you’ll see, it’s just a matter of time, and those who say wait and see, it’ll be okay.  Some have been workers who say let’s get going and get it done; and there are many people who are wallowing in the moment.  All of these people must have their needs met in order to come back to the church and feel everything’s okay.  We want to know what to do now so that this comes together at the AAC.  I suggest we spend more time in prayer, reviewing  our fundamentals, and less time reviewing our emotions, with a mission for the next couple of years which says let’s have prayer retreats, across the country, and that that become the real goal; that we start living and working an Orthodox life every day.  Anything else is putting up billboards; other churches will want to be part of a church that is spiritually based, the real church, and that’s the Orthodox Church; we can’t lose sight of that, because that’s what makes us different from all the rest.  We are a spiritually based church as we live and breathe.

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Positive mentors have an impact on the youth of the Church; they instill discipline, motivation for people, like the speaker (for college age, especially); they act as good examples/models because the youth learns things from their friends (both good and bad things) and need our support and guidance to instill discipline, motivation, and hope.

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I was Chrismated on Pentecost ’07; what I heard today is all leaning in the same direction.  I haven’t listened to any contradictory address to each other; let’s hope that we are not just a debating society, but that something will be done about it.  (i.e., the leadership problems in the church)

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Question:  You’ve all been working on this for awhile; can you say, what’s the plan? What’s it gonna be: part 1, part 2, part 3?  What’s the plan?  It seems to me at this meeting the current situation has not been addressed; let’s talk about it.  If the plan is to forget it and move on, it’s not gonna fly!

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I hope that when Christ returns we’ll all be part of His Church and that the gates of hell will not prevail.  This has been 3 years of discussing this stuff, coffee discussions with me and my wife; all of us have made the decision to be Orthodox, and we need a nice, clean place for our grandchildren; nothing can sway me from the church, at least with the grace of God.

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Where has the money gone, who spent it, and why?  The result of all the scandal is that the clergy are demoralized.  I’m disgusted by the fact that there are only a handful of us from our deanery.  They won’t cooperate with each other, won’t discuss this; we had a deanery meeting a month ago; there was the host pastor and me.  Where was everyone?  This is not only true of the OCA.  We have Orthodox 60 priests in my area and if we have 10 attend a clergy fellowship meeting we’re doing really well.   Complete bewilderment of the faithful.  People have asked questions for years now, and there are no answers.  Not just silence, but worse—no answers.  They see the hierarchs and the priests just have contempt for us.  People start to think that it’s all about money, but it’s worse than that—there’s no vision.  If there is a vision, why haven’t we been told what it is?  IF the vision is only the scriptural one—naked, thirsty, prison, fine; we already do it anyway, but not everyone is as strong as that.  People are falling by the wayside because they’re not getting guidance from the clergy and above.  The priests are saying it’s no fun to be a priest, and that’s pretty sick in my book.  When I was a seminary student, we got to take part at the Sobor on 2nd Street and got to sit up in the balconies and hear what was being said; there was a lot of discussion from the floor.  People got a chance to say what they wanted to say.  NOW, what do you get; all the reports are being read to you when you have it in front of you, and you’re not invited to speak or argue with anyone you disagree with, and you’re told to see the town, go to the zoo, and the worst thing is that stupid banquet that we have to go to.  I’m sorry, but I see absolutely no value in those banquets. The food is bad, the speeches are way too long, and there’s nothing to do there.  It’s a big expense!  Why do we do that every time?

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In the diocese of New Jersey, New York and Washington, D.C., we have a question about the release of the report of the SIC.  Fr. Eric has said it will be released in entirety, but at our diocesan assembly in Nov. ’07, several priests raised questions about the scandal.  We were all told that we were out of order by the chair, and there came a clamor on the floor of the assembly, almost a riot.  In order to quell the riot, the treasurer of the diocese, also an attorney, said we cannot reveal these things; we cannot release this info because it will destroy the church.  Now because there is an ongoing FBI investigation, I wonder how we can reveal what the scandal is all about.  Is it no longer going to destroy the church, or will the report be reduced or redacted to generalities?  Otherwise, we have not made much progress.

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Someone was missing from my parish, so I went asking where she was, just like Christ did.  The first question Fr. Andrew asked was reaction to the crisis.  I take issue with the word crisis; to me a CRISIS would be your child is dying.  A SCANDAL would be the child isn’t yours.  For these things to be dynamic and draw attention, they have to use that word.  We have to be careful; we have internet now; announcing the crisis, but it’s really not a crisis at all.  We would be like the blind leading the blind; so the question is, what impact did all this have?  I think it made me a better priest; I never thought about teaching about money or whether our church is run by more Judases than Peters and Pauls; surely these are tremendous ideas for sermons.  Regarding question #2, the answer would be right here; this is the church; in the streets of Jerusalem, the cross didn’t stop Him; all of us are guilty.  If we’re in a marriage, we sometimes misappropriate funds.  I misappropriated my funds on a Harley; my wife had a conniption, but she loves me, so she tolerated my misappropriation of funds.  This is a vision, where people can come together, in this group, as brothers and sisters, laity and clergy.  Every priest should have been here; this is very important about the priest; when he is ordained, the bishop who ordains hands him lifts the consecrated lamb and says “you take this lamb and you preserve it, for you are accountable at the second coming.”  When a priest encounters Christ at the second coming, he says “I am here with my sheep”, and I want all of you to be there.  Unexplainable love and sacrifice are the essence of the church.  The other thing we have to remember is that our church describes itself as militant.  This is never gonna go away anymore than all the good in our life.  The Church will be always militant and never triumphant until we say “Lord, it is I and my sheep” before the dread judgment seat.  None of this will affect us as long as we stay focused and be at the foot of the cross.  The harm is done and we need to move forward in the light of Christ.

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I agree that I’m disappointed that my brothers from the diocese are not here.  I think there’s a misconception that the priests of Eastern PA are forbidden from speaking their mind because the Metropolitan is from our diocese.  I am not afraid to talk to His Grace (Bishop Tikhon); I have no confidence right now in anything.  I am disillusioned that I made the right decision to be a priest in the OCA.  I happened to go to Sobors as an auditor, coming in through some difficult circumstances.  We are rewarding bad behavior.  We are rewarding people who do nothing, promoting ideas that mean nothing.  It’s frustrating that we don’t hear more from you, Fr. Andrew; as director of communications, communicate!  I also know that we have been giving money to heads of departments, and I don’t see accountability.  People feel there’s no accountability.  We’re spending money on all kinds of things and see nothing done.  Regarding evangelization and missions, a program was developed and then put on the shelf.  We wonder why we’re not growing.  What I would like to see is a church where people are held accountable.  I think we need to have people in church who actually know what they’re talking about, and if they don’t, give them a review, and they should not have their position because they know someone.  This would go a long way towards re-establishing trust.  To His Grace’s credit, not one time did he censor us.  Thank everyone else for their wonderful comments.

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I’m very glad the report is coming out; will we rehash everything again?  What about the church as a whole—we’re all waiting for this. Will it result in more anger and frustration?  I think we need guidance.

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Part of above answer depends on how it’s handled; I don’t want to hear anyone’s confession; as I tell my children, a lot depends on attitude, and that’s what we can get from our church: mentoring, teaching, and the more I have seen as a mother, we really need the same kind of parenting little children do.  To pretend the dysfunction isn’t there just breeds more dysfunction.   I sense that merely to change a few names on the letterhead really doesn’t change the way the church has been guided the past few years.  We believe in the church; we want the church to be the church; we’re not leaving the church; we’re hoping in the church.  To be emotional about it is appropriate.  I attended a Catholic education seminar and felt much like a fish out of water, being the only non-Roman Catholic.  For the first time in my life I realized that if it should ever come up, I would be reluctant to be admitting to people that I’m an Orthodox Christian, not because of the scandal, but because of the way we handle/don’t handle things.  Children and dogs can sum up a situation pretty easily; my children can sense the spirit in a church when they visit.  “Please don’t show us how much you don’t believe in the church” when referring to people who have been in charge of a parish a long time.  Please DO get emotional; that’s what we need.

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Albanians have been truly blessed and have learned the church from wonderful priests; if it were not for them, I would not have the hope of salvation that I struggle for every day, so I pray for those priests; it’s almost unfair that they have to answer for my sins. I am very deeply concerned because the priests of our church have been so hurt; by becoming priests they take on a responsibility for teaching and caring for us, healing, living in a Christ-like way; that is an awesome responsibility.  To see them this hurt, I fear for what will happen to all of us; corporately also in our country.  In our parish our priest says if the priest prays like this (placing hands towards the floor), the people pray like this; if the priest prays like this (with uplifted hands), the people pray like this.  I would like to say to all our bishops, we need hierarchical leadership that prays like this (hands uplifted).  Whatever it takes, we need credible, spiritual leadership from our Synod so that our priests will not be demoralized and feel as if they have been abandoned by their shepherd so that they as priests can be shepherds over the laypeople.  All of us desperately need you to be that credible, spiritual leadership for the sake of our very lives.

In his closing comments, His Grace, Bishop Tikhon said that the Holy Synod has learned — especially from recent events such as the situation in Alaska — how important it is to actively address the concerns of the faithful. We certainly need changes in the Church and have seen changes recently. “The reform of our life, our Church, our parish, our family, comes in the context of repentance—all of us—to live the life of repentance; when we repent, we not only say we’re sorry but that we are changing our lives in accordance with God’s commandments.”  We are the Church here, His Grace said; we have bishops, clergy, and laypeople and must first seek the kingdom of God.  The OCA needs to express that faith in the kingdom on all levels—the bishops, the clergy, and the faithful need to be living icons. “It is evident from the openness and honesty of those present that you are striving to follow the gospel as well; to hear, listen and live the Holy Gospel in our lives.  May God bless all of you; please keep me, the Holy Synod, and one another in your prayers so we can walk with boldness towards God’s kingdom.”

The meeting closed with the singing of “It is truly meet” at 12:45 p.m.

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

One response to “OCA “Town Hall” Meeting Notes: Bethlehem, PA, July 19, 2008

  1. Written statement to the Bethlehem, PA, Town Hall Meeting prepared and read by Dr. David C. Ford, St. Tikhon’s Seminary:

    Dear Vladyka TIKHON, Reverend Fathers and Esteemed Matushki, and all my Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

    Glory to Jesus Christ!

    It seems evident that many of us have gathered here today with heavy hearts, as we grieve for our beloved Church, and as we wonder how and when this difficult time in the history of the OCA will come to an end. May it be quickly, O LORD, by Your Mercy!

    Now, as we think about the question “What do you see as a successful resolution to these difficulties?” I would like to offer a few personal thoughts, along with some words spoken by St. Tikhon of Moscow when he was head of the Church in North America. First, I hope we can be very hopeful, ever remembering that our Church is, above all, the LORD’s Church; and that He has personally promised, “I will build My Church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against Her”; and that His Love and Mercy are far greater than all the sinfulness of all of us put together!

    May we also be encouraged by the very process that we find ourselves in the midst of here today. It seems that this whole series of Town Hall Meetings is a strong reaffirmation of the supporting role of the laity and the priests and deacons in assisting the bishops in the governance of the Church – a role that our beloved St. Tikhon of Moscow so firmly established when he organized the first All-American Council in Mayfield, Pennsylvania, in 1907.

    At the symposium entitled “St. Tikhon of Moscow: The American Years,” held at St. Tikhon’s Seminary in September of 2006, Fr. Leonid Kishkovsky gave a talk in which he reminded us of how bold and visionary it was for Archbishop Tikhon to summon such a council in the first place, and then to authorize equal representation of clergy and laity at that council. Fr. Leonid pointed out that this was a very fitting and appropriate adaptation, for the unique American situation, of customary procedures in Church administration. He also observed that the way the council was organized and structured seemed to hearken back to the more active cooperation of clergy and laity with the bishops that was characteristic of the Early Church. (This talk will be appearing in print in the forthcoming issue of the St. Tikhon’s Theological Journal.)

    In the first sermon St. Tikhon preached in the San Francisco Cathedral, on December 23, 1898, he said to the priests of the Church: “I trust that in this my ministry you will do me valuable service by your knowledge of this country and its people, and by your experience; and that you will be, really and truly, my co-laborers of sound judgment and counsel.” He went on to say, “It is not only from the pastors that I request assistance and cooperation, but from my entire beloved flock” (Orthodox America, 1794 – 1976, p. 90).

    Over eight years later, shortly before he returned to Russia in the Spring of 1907, at a farewell luncheon with all the clergy held in the midst of the First All-American Council in Mayfield, Archbishop Tikhon said,

    “And so I shall take advantage of this meeting to thank you for our common work. We acted and worked together. In some matters I initiated things, inspired you, and you in turn went out to bring my ideas to life. In other matters, on the contrary, you suggested the thought to me – I am not ashamed to admit this – and I found the ways and means to realize your idea in practice. I appealed to you for common work from the very beginning, in my first address to you in the cathedral of San Francisco, and my appeal was not in vain. If something has been accomplished here, it was not I alone who accomplished it, but we together” (Orthodox America, 1794 – 1976, p. 99).

    I would like to heartily commend and thank Bp. NIKON for his fine leadership of the Preconciliar Commission – especially for his wisdom to organize and promote these Town Hall Meetings, and his encouragement of all the participants to be forthright and candid with their thoughts and feelings, even if it’s painful. For it certainly seems true that mutual trust cannot be restored among everyone in the Church without the freedom for everyone to express their opinions in a respectful and hopefully prayerful way.

    By the ardent prayers and fervent love of all the Saints of North America, and especially of our beloved St. Tikhon, Enlightener of North America, may our All-Gracious and All-Merciful LORD continue to guide and protect His Church in America. May all of us continue all the more faithfully to pray for everyone in our Church in America, and may we be calm and peaceful enough to sense and discern, by the Holy Spirit, what it is that the LORD is asking each one of us to do to contribute to the well-being of our – and His – Holy Church in this land.

    With love, in Christ,

    Dr. David C. Ford
    Assoc. Prof. of Church History
    St. Tikhon’s Seminary
    S. Canaan, PA

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