OCA “Town Hall” Meeting Notes: San Francisco, CA, June 26, 2008

His Grace, Bishop Benjamin of San Francisco and the West opened the meeting with prayer and introduced Michelle Jannakos, member of the Preconciliar Commission and facilitator of the evening. Forty seven participants were present and several email responses were received. The vast majority was from the Bay Area, but some members of the Diocesan Council from other areas of the diocese were in attendance.

The theme of the upcoming All American Council – “Members of one another in Christ.” was put into its scriptural context, also serving as a foundation of this Town Hall Meeting:

“Therefore, putting away lying, each one speak truth with his neighbour, for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin.  Do not let the sun go down on your wrath nor give place to the devil. Let him who stole, steal no longer, rather labour working with his hands, for this is good that he have something to give to him who has need.  Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but what is good and for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.  Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamour and evil-speaking be put away from you, with all malice.  Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another just as God in Christ also forgave you.” (Eph. 4:25-32)

The goals of the PCC, the planning process of the AAC thus far, and the objective of being inclusive instead of exclusive were briefly reviewed. Ground rules for discussion were also given. Participants’ comments and ideas were recorded on a flip chart, and a local volunteer was enlisted to take written notes.

The questions from the original press release of the Town Hall meetings had been posted on the Diocese of the West website and had been sent to all parishes for consideration. Therefore, even though the Ottawa Meeting used slightly different versions of the questions, it was decided to be consistent with what had been released in the DOW.

What is working well in the OCA?

Parish life

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Diocesan Life in the Diocese of the West

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Liturgy and liturgical practice offers beauty and inspiration

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Iconography, its study and practice, is flourishing

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My interaction with the OCA is, like that of most people, though the parish and our bishop.  My bishop, my parish, and all of the priests that Bishop Benjamin has appointed here are excellent.  They teach the Tradition. They help me become more like Jesus. 

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St. Vladimir’s Seminary might be the brightest spot in the OCA.

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The OCA has done very well with evangelizing and bringing the Orthodox faith to people on this continent and starting missions.  The services are in English in most parishes, and converts and people of traditionally non-Orthodox ethnicities are accepted and welcomed into the Church, and is accepting of people of all ethnicities.

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The website of the OCA is very good, supplying music downloads, lives of saints and many resources.

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There is evidence of growth

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The OCA central administration has improved as it has been streamlined

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The current work of the Metropolitan Council is encouraging, especially in regard to the church living within its means.

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The Orthodox Church in America does not get inappropriately involved in controversial social issues.  Specifically mentioned as an example was the Gay Rights Movement.  The statement made was that while the Orthodox Church in America does say what we stand for as Orthodox Christians and does make needed social statements about such areas of concern on the level of teaching and dogmatics when necessary, the Church, however, does not get inappropriately drawn into such issues as gay rights and other such hot point issues. 

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The OCA embodies the overall vision of the local American Orthodox Church.

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The Church is learning to adapt to the North American culture, while still remaining the True Church.

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As a result of our recent crises, we have developed a new vigilance and alertness; not being “asleep at the wheel” any longer.

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The OCA in its autocephaly has a high degree of conciliarity that is not found anywhere else in the world. It is a reflection of American culture. The church is not a democracy, nor dictatorial; we have used this conciliarity to deal with difficult situations in Alaska and are doing the same in handling problems church-wide.

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Support of charities is positive, namely Raphael House, IOCC, OCMC

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Good job of informing its members

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Good emphasis on evangelization to North America; to people of all ethnicities

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Bishops and priests teach the Tradition of the Church

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Training clergy of all jurisdictions

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The expansion and support of missions

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My response, on behalf of my family, would be that Jesus Christ is working in The Orthodox Church in America.

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We have great opportunity in our crisis. In the aftermath of church-wide problems, we have the impetus to make necessary and positive changes. “The egg is broken; the omelet can be made.”

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The Divine Liturgy works well with the Orthodox Church in America.  This statement is not intended to be taken in a flippant manner nor has it been submitted jokingly.  The point was simply made that while there is, has been, and may yet be, controversy over issues, i.e finances, structure, order, discipline, etc., meanwhile the Divine Liturgy continues to be celebrated on a regular, daily basis throughout The Orthodox Church in America.  This is the principle source of strength and spiritual nourishment.  This is the strength of being The Orthodox Church in America.  We ARE the local indigenous worshipping Eucharistic Community.  

What are your concerns and suggestions for the future of our Church?

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The basic “unit” of the church needs to be discussed and clarified. Is the AAC a meeting of parishes or dioceses?

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Determine and clarify the identity of the OCA as an organizational entity. The Statutes need to reflect this structure.

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There needs to be more transparency about what is going on.  I realize that there are things that need to be kept confidential, but there should be strict guidelines regarding this, so that this doesn’t get abused.  I don’t believe that there should be any accounts that are not at least being audited.

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Concern over lack of financial resources and cost of the central administration of the OCA. The national administration needs to identify and justify the work it does, especially when efforts are duplicated on the diocesan level.

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Strict guidelines need to be put into effect so that money goes to the specific purpose it was collected for and that guidelines are established to keep track of where the money is going and for what, so that people can’t embezzle money or use it for their own personal use.

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In the Diocese of the West, there is a sense of cohesiveness. This is true to a lesser or greater extent in other dioceses.

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The fear that each diocese will function totally on its own with a lack of a church-wide cohesiveness. This situation has the potential for schism and regionalism.

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Processes and government and management issues are eclipsing the sacramental, pastoral, doxological, and evangelistic work of the Church. It is time for EVERYTHING that is known to the investigators, whether they be lawyers or bishops, to be made known to the faithful. Then, after we have asked God to forgive us, repaid the money we stole from ADM, turned over evidence to prosecutors, and deposed clergy (I am sure Mr. Kondratick did not act alone.) we can get on with the work God has given us to do.

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Shortage of qualified bishops

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There is a lack of communication with individuals. As a new convert, as far as I know, the diocese and central church do not know I exist.

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Regarding communication, more specifically, the OCA does not control its own message. There is a lack of “official” response to many issues. In the absence of news from the OCA itself, people turn to anyone with information, whether it is right or wrong, true or false. Clarity and continuity in our reporting is necessary.

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Lack of candor / transparency / accountability. The correct idea of stewardship is crucial. There must be no more cover-ups or silence.

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Lack of cohesive vision of the OCA. Do we still have the vision of one, unified church in the Americas? How do we begin to “get back on that horse” of leading and growing into unity?

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Our vision must drive our administration and organization, not the other way around. In concentrating on fixing administration, we forget about the Book of Acts and the creative power of the Holy Spirit.

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Diocesan boundaries should be reassessed. “Right-sizing” of dioceses.

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The US Constitution offers one model of fair representation to deal with conflict in having two parts of Congress. The Senate having equal numbers and the House according to population. This could reflect the Parish/Diocese components.

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Concern of parochialism – Many lack knowledge of the wider church (diocese, national church) that exists outside of their own parish.

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Some functions of the church work best at a church-wide level. There must be a balance between functions of the diocese and central administration. Duplication of efforts is unnecessary and wasteful.

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Concern of adapting Canons to American culture. This cannot be done according to secular models.

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Metropolitan Herman controls too much. How can he function being the head of so many dioceses?

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Concern that church-wide problems and problems in other dioceses will spill over and harm healthy dioceses. How can stronger dioceses help troubled ones?

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The truth needs to be told, mistakes admitted and responsibility taken for these mistakes. God will see us through the healing process.  It will show us whether we are really willing to forgive the wrongs done to us.  And it will help us to see our weaknesses and let Him do what is necessary to fix those weaknesses and make us stronger.  We can either let this destroy us or we can let it make us stronger.

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Re-work the Statutes of the OCA. Very complicated and comprehensive task.

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Loss of trust and confidence in central church administration. If something happens on a person’s watch, it is at least partially his/her responsibility to resolve it.

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Concern of the location of All American Councils. It has never been in the West.

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Clergy do not have enough support. Clergy must be generalists. They need others to help them with specialized tasks.

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Concern of having the right people in the right jobs and functions. In the past, filling positions was mostly clergy-centered. Today, we have many trained and capable laypeople that should be considered.

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We rely too much on a “short list” of people to get things done. We need to tap the resources of a larger laity skill base. Higher qualifications must be necessary. We must change our “volunteer” mentality to one of professionalism. For example, auditors who are trained in accounting principles.

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We have outgrown our old way of doing things that we have relied on in the past. We have a change of generations, more diverse membership, society is different, laws and standards have changed.

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ALL dioceses should financially support the church equally. Non-financially participating dioceses deprive the church of support. The non-participants are also depriving themselves of blessings. There is not equal respect for all ethnic dioceses.

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The Church needs proportionate assessments. We must get away from per capita assessments. There are no accurate census figures in this system.

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We need to take the risk of tithing as a biblical principle. Each parish contributes 10% of its income, excluding charities. This goes to the diocese and to the central church. Then we must live within these means.

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Because there is a lack of vision of what the church IS, there is confusion on how the church raises and handles its money.

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We need a more sophisticated system of income streams. How to raise it, how to use it, how to invest it, how to be wise stewards of it.

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If the vision of the OCA is 19th century Russian practice in English, we cannot expect full participation from people of other ethnic backgrounds.

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We are asking for bishops, priests, administration and laity to ALL be committed Christians.

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The OCA lacks an influential public voice. We have lost our ability to be “on the scene” in American life. For example, during the Serbian war and conflict, there was no Orthodox voice in the media.

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Individually, we need to be mindful of the great influence each of us can have on others. We should live our faith. All of us need to learn to communicate: on an interpersonal level, in small groups and in public.

What would you want to say to the All-American Council?

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The Proskauer Rose report should be made known at the AAC, with the exception of those things that create liability issues.

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It is time to unify with the other Orthodox Jurisdictions.

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We need a change of Metropolitan and election of a new one at the AAC

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Withdraw from the National Council of Churches.

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We must have effective ways of presenting at the AAC

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Restore the need for prayer and real love within the church, in dealing with each other. Forgiveness cannot take place without first openly admitting what was done wrong and then asking forgiveness.

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Discussion on the role of the Metropolitan and his relationships with the Holy Synod, dioceses, etc.

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The AAC must be a healing one rather than just an expose of revealing ugliness with no accompanying solutions.

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Our system broke down. Our trust has been violated by church leadership. We want to know why. A key element of the AAC must be to restore trust. How? By electing a new Metropolitan.

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Establish a committee to scour the world for English speaking monks so that we have a larger pool from which to select bishops.

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It is time for the truth to be admitted and for responsibility to be taken.  It would be nice if those responsible if those who are responsible would ask for forgiveness, but we need to be willing to forgive whether or not it is asked of us. 

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The OCA is worth fighting for!

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Adequate support of the seminaries and late vocation programs must be solidified.

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We must remember the lessons learned by the Roman Catholic Church and the dangers of secrecy and burying problems instead of dealing with them.

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Put some “teeth” into how accountability will be measured and violations dealt with.

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The Metropolitan had an opportunity to provide leadership. He resisted all attempts at openness and thereby made himself culpable. He needs to step down.

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The phrase, “for the good of the church” prompts people to keep silent. This is much more damaging than openness.

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We should study solutions to crises and how to change negative culture that have worked in other organizations

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Re-iterate the request for more communication to parishes and individuals from the diocese and central church.

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We must find ways to clean up our act. We have the warning signs of the Romanians leaving and Moscow not advising ROCOR to unify with us.

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OCA must have enough vision to stand up to political injustices worldwide (i.e. the attacks against Serbia). Shared outrage against these attacks probably helped unite ROCOR and the MP.

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If we had had this meeting 5 years ago, there would have been 3 people attend –there are 50 now –We all need to participate. We were all asleep at the switch: laity, clergy, metropolitan council, Holy Synod, central administration. It is good to be able to talk openly about difficult issues. This is an American trait.

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We are American. We are happy to be Americans. We CANNOT risk losing our vision. We CANNOT allow our autocephaly to be lost. This must remain a top priority.

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Corruption cannot produce vision.

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In our “information age,” we need to learn to use information appropriately and correctly.

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Don’t forget that we are dealing with a fallen world and not just a few fallen individuals. Even if the Metropolitan retires before the AAC, we must still do the hard work required to protect our church.

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Organization of the AAC will be more effective if it is seen as a meeting of dioceses rather than numerous, individual parishes. A wider diocesan voice, presented by a spokesperson has much more impact than hearing separate people speaking on their own.

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We need education and awareness of our OCA history. Who are we? We must embrace our saints, strengths, feasts (i.e. All Saints of North America this week). Let us not be afraid to be the true, faithful Orthodox Church in America

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We are at a critical point. Do we choose life or death? We must choose life.

In closing, participants were reminded that the notes from this meeting will be posted on OCA.org, where there is a Blog for additional comments and input. Bishop Benjamin closed the meeting

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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: San Francisco, CA, June 26, 2008

  1. A Note from the Facilitator:

    Piecing together notes from different sources is a difficult task. I hope that I have accurately captured the essence and spirit of the comments made. If there are any comments/ corrections from the participants, you can contact me through the AAC email address: ideasforaac@oca.org.

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