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Just A Simple Question

April 9, 2010

In the most recent edition of the Orthodox Observer, the monthly publication produced by the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, a photograph is displayed on page 5, of the ‘Holy Trinity Archdiocesan Cathedral Board,’ together with Archbishop Demetrios of America, another bishop, and the parish priest.  I count, excluding clergy, 29 lay people in the photo — are they all on the ‘parish board?’  It is commonplace for the constitution of a ‘board’ to be provoked by the ability of those people to give financially to the organization (hence, the main reason many organizations have large boards with big names); however, outside of a fund-raising scheme, does anyone actually believe that any work can be accomplished with 29 people on a ‘board (remember, Jesus only had 12, and 1 flaked out)?’ …let alone the work of the Church?  The term, ‘dog-and-pony-show’ does comes to mind.

Now, let’s move toward the simple question…  The very nature of addressing this group as a ‘board’ instead of a ‘council’ provides an environment of corporate culture.  This environment has plagued Orthodoxy in America for decades, as multiple ethnic groups have, through their experience of Church, attempted to proclaim their exodus from ‘poor immigrant’ status to ‘arrived American’ status.  Conforming to corporate structures, expectations, and experiences are not the only effects this dynamic has had on the Church in America — pews, organs, etc… all surfaced from related intentions.

Getting closer to the simple question… With this type of institutional mentality existing and prevalent in the Church, is it possible that it has crept into our ‘spiritual experience’ at the Church as well?  Remember the pews and organs?  They limit interpersonal contact, relational spacing, and proximity during the celebration of the Sacraments… not too Orthodox.  But let’s go beyond these tangible examples, and ponder the greater understanding that many people have of the Church and its role in their lives.  Is it the foundation, or simply some trim?  Has the Church become compartmentalized in the lives of Her people, as they determine where to ‘add in Church’ when scrolling through their DROID, iPhone, or Blackberry?

Prefacing the simple question… In no way do I believe that administrative functionality and structures from the corporate models of America are evil, in fact I believe that many of them can be useful in the life of the Church.  In keeping with the ‘honey bee’  mentality of Saint Basil the Great, I believe that structures and functionality of corporate America have a place in the Church when they are fueled by the desire to receive and offer the Love of God through the Mysteries of His Church.  It is however, extremely difficult, and we have not done it, to arrive at a spiritual level of maturity where we may differentiate between the motives of the Church and the motives of capitalism or ego, when working through the mediums of corporate America.

Simple question… Is it possible to address the experience and mentality of the corporate institutionalization of the Orthodox Church in America, and again return to teaching, offering, and experiencing the Church as the Body of Christ, and the source of healing in this World?

What say you?

Who Is the Guiding Coalition?

March 29, 2010

After establishing a sense of authentic urgency, an effort to effectively lead change, necessitates the development of a guiding coalition, comprised of a diverse grouping of individuals who believe in the mission of the Church, and are secure enough to embrace change when appropriate.  This leadership group can best serve the Church if it is unified in an articulated mission — in the case of Orthodox Christians in America; a mission that is focused on American soil as a mission field, including the ‘established parishes.’  The mission consists of bringing the essence and spirit of historic Orthodox Christianity to America, not as a museum piece of cultural caveat, but as the medium of divine sanctification, and true experience of God.  Therefore, I ask again, who will be this guiding coalition?

SCOBA – The Standing Conference of the Canonical Orthodox Bishops in America?

The Greek Orthodox Synod of Hierarchs?

An Archdiocesan Council?

A Metropolis Council?

Vicariate Leadership?

A Clergy Synaxis?

A Parish Council?

Do any of them have the urgency to move?  Do any of them have the ability? Do any of them have the guts?  Who are the true leaders of the Orthodox in America, those who work tirelessly to be vessels for the Holy Spirit to work through?  I surmise that it may be the same way that it has always been — from the ground-up.  Local parishes, to local clergy groups, moving their way through the Vicariates, to the Diocese, with enough of a groundswell to make the top half move.

I say again, ‘Who are our leaders?’

What say you?

Saint Ignatius Weighs In

March 2, 2010

Let everyone reverence the deacons as an appointment of Jesus Christ; and the bishop as Jesus Christ, who is the Son of the Father; and the presbyters as the Sanhedrin of God and assembly of the apostles. Apart from these, there is no church.
– Ignatius (c. 105)

Saint Ignatius references the importance of full representation of the Major Orders of Clergy, in order for the Church to be fully realized and experienced. The Hierarch, the Priest, and the Deacon all have distinct roles, as even the three persons of the Holy Trinity have distinct roles, all intent on bring the experiences of God to the faithful, through His Church.

Imagine a V8 engine, when all 8 cylinders are functioning, the motor runs at its most optimal level – fulfilling its mission. In the same way, when all three Major Orders of Clergy are present and functioning, the Church functions at Its most optimal level — fulfilling Its mission to bring people to the experience of God.

Although all three Major Orders are present in the Church in America, I pose the question, ‘Are they functioning well?’ Do the bishops have the opportunity to function pastorally as teachers and shepherds with their local communities? Do the priests have the opportunity to intently focus their role, as described in the 390 AD patristic text, Apostolic Constitutions, “…the presbyter is only to teach, to offer, to baptize, and to bless the people.”? How many of you have seen a deacon at all, let alone on a regular basis?

Would the Christian Church have a greater link to Her tradition, history, and service to Her people, if institutionally, changes were made to bring back a full experience of the Major Orders of Clergy at the local level? What if… your bishop visited your parish frequently throughout the year? …your priest was able to focus on extending the Mysteries of the Church to the people? …and Deacons were present at the local parish?

Would this open the way for full representation of Christ’s Church in America? Without this, is there a Church?

What say you?

Let’s Point This in a Direction — Clergy!

February 19, 2010

So, the topic of change has been spoken of in numerous forms of theory, perhaps it’s time to point it toward an experience in the Church in America. Clergy. Holy Orders, one of the Mysteries (Sacraments) of the Church is a central necessity to the life, order and function of the Christian Church. “Major Orders” include the Episcopacy, the Priesthood, and the Diaconate. In order for the Church to holistically actualize the experience of the Church through Holy Orders, all major orders of clergy must be present and experienced.

Each major order of clergy has a distinct role, which has been defined through a continuity of Scripture, tradition, and historical need. In over-simplified terms; the Bishop is called to teach, and pastorally shepherd the gathering of communities under his trust, the Priest is called to pray the sacraments and tend to the spiritual needs of the local community, and the Deacon is called to a role of practical service, bringing the Mysteries of the Church to those homebound, in the hospitals, prisons, etc… These descriptions are in no way complete or definite, yet are offered to provide an initial insight to the holistic ministry offered through the Holy Orders of the Church when fully represented. Under such a model of holistic ministry through full representation of major orders, each faithful is addressed by the Church in specific and numbered ways.

In Orthodox jurisdictions, in the United States, the holistic experience of Holy Orders is seldom witnessed. In this initial glance, our aim is not to explore the reasons why, but rather a recognition of what is. With unbelievably large geographic regions under their trust, hierarchs in the United States are rarely able to visit individual communities with any regularity, let alone establish pastoral relationships as shepherd or teacher. This is an unfortunate reality when Metropolis or Diocese regions are of such geographic size; a reality that handcuffs the local hierarch from the pastoral application of his episcopacy, rather the local hierarch is given the opportunity to actualize his Episcopacy as an administrator.

The Diaconate; in Russian-based traditions, deacons are still commonly present in the life of the Church in America, yet many times with limited function, as often times these men are employed in secular professions during the week, only serving in their clerical role on Sundays, and major feasts. In the Greek tradition, deacons are rarely witnessed for more than a token week or month, before being ordained priests, due to the severe lack of priests serving the Church. With the absence of deacons in the full-time life of the Church in America, clerical roles of service outside the walls of the Church are limited.

The Priesthood; with regional sizes prohibiting traditional hierarchical experience, and a lack of deacons serving the outreach functions of the Church, the priest is often found as a ‘jack-of-all-trades.’ Attempting to fulfill the pastoral and practical roles of ministry at the local parish, without the practical compliment of hierarchical and diaconal support, the priest’s focus and effectiveness is often times diminished. This dynamic then prohibits the experience of the local priest to fully actualize his priestly ministry.

Institutional Change? What if… If Metropolis, or Diocese, geographical sizes were significantly shrunk (possibly even allocating hierarchs from varied jurisdictions to the new dioceses), initiating the opportunity for hierarchs to function as hierarchs, not merely administrators? Initiating change from the top of the institutional pyramid, the hierarchical experience would again be pastorally applied to the life of the Church. The priestly function would have the opportunity to be more focused on the traditional role of the priesthood. In turn, as the faithful are being served with greater attention to traditional experience of Holy Orders via the Episcopacy, and Priesthood, perhaps more men will be inspired to answer the calling to the priesthood — addressing the need of priests, and allowing opportunity for a greater experience of full-time ‘permanent deacons.’ With all three major orders of clergy functioning in traditional roles, the effectiveness of ministry would be significantly enhanced.

This initial observation, and plea, for institutional change in the Church; the decreasing of the size of Metropolis and Diocese regions, the potential for greater ministry actualized through the traditional experience of Holy Orders is recognized.

This is an initial line of thought in an introduction to how ministerial effect can be produced through institutional change in the Church.

What say you?

Leading Change

February 10, 2010

As a constant dynamic, rather than a variable reaction, change is an experience that is here to stay, and affects institutions of all natures. The difference between change that impacts as opportunity, and change that impacts as crisis, is how the change experience was embarked upon: consciously or unconsciously, with urgency or complacency, with developed vision or purely reactionary — was the change experience being lead toward opportunity, or was change itself leading the organization toward crisis?

If the experience of change is to bring fruit to any institution, including the institution of the Church, it must be lead! The process of leading change establishes opportunity for sustainability, progress, and growth.

John Kotter, professor emeritus of the Harvard Business School, and internationally recognized ‘Leadership / Change Guru,’ offers the following eight stages of Leading Change:

Establish a Sense of Urgency
Creating the Guiding Coalition
Developing a Vision and Strategy
Communicating the Change Vision
Empowering Broad-Based Action
Generating Short-Term Wins
Consolidating Gains and Producing More Change
Anchoring New Approaches in the Culture

With this open, yet directed eight-stage process, Kotter offers a guide to the shepherding process that provides the institution of the Church a powerful process to lead change and continually produce fruit in the Lord’s Vineyard.

More blog thoughts will follow, further developing Kotter’s eight-stage process, and its potential in the Orthodox Christian Church.

What say you?

Change in the Church

February 3, 2010

The Body of Christ is perfect, and needs no changing. It is common and disappointing that when ‘change’ and ‘church’ are spoken of in the same breath, a mentality often follows that is contrary to all that is foundational in Christianity. The assumption that the substance of the Church must be altered to fit within a construct of man’s understanding of his needs and God’s role in his life and society. This ignorance and arrogance has led to the sinful experience of masses deviating from God’s substance, becoming schismatic and heretical, while still maintaining the title of Christian. Yet, authentic Christianity affirms that the relationship between God and man is one of dependance, where man by creation is dependent upon God, praying continually for His mercy. This dependancy is nourished through the substance of the Christian Church, which provides healing through sanctification by the Mysteries (Sacraments) of the Church. A lifestyle and institution that strives to find its place in God’s plan, rather that God within our plan.

No, the substance of the Body of Christ does not need change; however, the institution of the Church, which is a manifestation of man’s stewardship in response to the grace of God extended through the Body of Christ, with continuity has continually experienced change. Responsible stewardship mandates that the institution of the Church not react to change, but lead change in the effort to effectively offer the substance of God’s grace to the faithful. The Church has experienced healthy efforts in leading change at varied points in history, including: the establishment of Ecumenical Councils in the 4th Century, the initial efforts of the All-Russian Church Council of 1917-1918, and numerous non-titled efforts in local parishes across the globe.

Change in the Church is a good thing. Change in the Church does not impact the presence or embodiment of God’s grace, i.e., the substance of the Church. Change in the Church is quintessential stewardship, supporting the healing and sanctification of the faithful by the love and mercy of God. When responsibly lead and experienced, change in the Church is what delivers the sustaining presence and work of the Holy Spirit.

How may the institution of the Church change today?

Stewardship of Institutional Change in the Church

January 26, 2010

The Biblical term, ‘Stewardship,’ refers to man’s response to the grace freely given him by God. Divine grace manifests itself in limitless forms, as God Himself can not be limited. Individual and communal examples are experienced at every moment, and as children of God we react in one way or another; positively, negatively, with gratitude, with entitlement, responsibly, irresponsibly, with returned offering, with greed. Regardless of the response to the grace God gives, it is a form of Stewardship – either good or bad.

The historical Christian Church is a constant offering of God’s grace to all of His creation. Mankind has been entrusted with God’s house, which serves as our spiritual hospital, sanctifying and cleansing the souls of mankind, through the continued offering of Divine Grace. As taught by the holy Apostle Paul, the Church is the Body of Christ, and perfect in every way; however, the worldly institution of the Church has been entrusted to man, who is imperfect, to grow the medium through which God’s grace is invoked for the faithful. The way in which man, clergy and laity, respond to this great commission must be understood as Stewardship, as it is response to grace offered by God, to all of His creation, through His Church.

Today’s post-modern, globalized world is one of extreme speed, interaction, and segregation, where ‘change’ is no longer a response to opportunities or crisis; rather, ‘change’ is a constant to be engaged as either opportunity or crisis. The institution of the Church is not exempt from this dynamic of ‘change.’ The Church’s approach to institutional change must be viewed as an integral component of Stewardship, in forms of response to the grace that God has entrusted us through His One Holy, Universal, and Apostolic Church.

This blog will serve as a forum to introduce conversation shedding light upon the dynamic of institutional change in the Church as Stewardship in the Lord’s Vineyard. Your prayers and thoughts are welcomed and appreciated.
Lord have mercy on us!