Delegate Report - 43rd Midwest Diocesan Assembly
Written by Andrew Lukashonak
Over 100 clergy and lay delegates gathered at Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church in Livonia, MI to attend the 43rd annual Midwest Diocesan Assembly on October 4-6, 2004. Taking the lead from Archbishop Job's annual report, the assembly concentrated on the topic of mission, evangelization and church growth.
The Archbishop's Report
Archbishop Job's report was serious, to the point and urgent. He spoke of the need to stop and reverse the decline taking place in many of our older, more established parishes. He noted that while the Diocese of the Midwest has started over 20 mission communities within the past ten years, some with impressive growth & potential, many of the older parishes continue to lose parishioners in increasing numbers. We are growing but we are shrinking at a greater rate and this is a problem that must be addressed. His Eminence stated we are at war, a spiritual war for souls and we cannot sit back and wait for the people to come to us. Like the apostles, we must go out to them.
The Chancellor's Report
Very Rev. John Zdinak, diocesan chancellor, reminded those present that there is much more to church growth than just numbers. It is however, a strong indicator of how we are doing in this regard. In speaking of church growth, he writes, "It is imperative that every one of our parishes be willing to do an honest self-assessment. We need to identify our strong points and our weak points. We need to be honest with ourselves and with each other. There is nothing that the diocese or the central church administration can do to help a parish if it is not willing to go through the painful process of self-assessment."
Church Growth Presentation
Picking up on this theme of self-assessment, Fr. Jonathan Ivanoff (rector of St. John the Theologian Orthodox Church in Shirley, NY and a member of the OCA's Dept. of Evangelization and Church Growth) addressed the assembly and made a presentation on possible strategies to deal with this problem. Fr. Jonathan set the stage by showing that although every parish is unique and every situation is different, there are still general observations & realities that are true across the board (Orthodox and non-Orthodox parishes alike) concerning the "life cycle" of a typical parish. If a parish possesses strong leadership and is properly diagnosed, the chances for success are great. The key to this approach is to make the necessary changes in a parish before the parish reaches a plateau level or begins the downward spiral in church life and/or membership. He suggests that in order to be proactive, every parish must on a regular basis (preferably annually) be willing to scrutinize its vision and resources. This common sense approach borrows from a typically business oriented "only fix what's broke." This type of "turn around ministry" is about change, recovering the essential elements. It's a process sensitive to the past but focused on the future. First it entails finding out what your parish does well and what it does poorly, then focusing your efforts only on that which needs improvement. In other words, work smarter not harder. Studies show that there are a number of characteristics that seemingly healthy parishes universally possess.
1. Empowering leadership
Fr Jonathan suggests that either he or someone appropriately trained then lead the parish priest and about 25 to 30 core/active members in a parish evaluation. This survey grades or ranks the parish in the above categories identifying strengths and weaknesses. Appropriate actions would then target the areas in need of improvement. This is important because sheep are the work of ministry, not the reward. Parish growth is alive and must be treated accordingly, hence the strengths and weaknesses would likely change from year to year as would the parish's efforts and response. What worked one year might not be appropriate (or work) the next year. The right medicine must be applied at the right time and at the right spot.
The underlying belief here is that programs (no matter how well intended) don't grow the Church, God grows the Church. The question then has to be asked. Are we actually preventing this growth? Are we preventing the Holy Spirit from working in our parish? Are we ourselves obstacles to the growth we so ardently say we desire?
Personally, I came away from the presentation imbued with enthusiasm. Whether we use Fr. Jonathan's program or just take and use some of the key concepts, I believe that it can definitely help us here at St. Luke's improve the quality of our parish life. Fr. Jonathan will be sending a number of booklets describing the program in detail as he runs it. I would recommend the council at least look into this further as a possible tool to assist us.
Mr. John Sedor presented the report on behalf of Mr. Robert Koncel, diocesan treasurer, who was absent. The 2005 budget reflected a 2.7% cost of living increase which will also be reflected in the per member fair share fee of $73 per adult (an increase of $2). The auditors reported that the diocesan financial matters were generally in good order with no discrepancies. Overall financially, the diocese is on sound footing although cash flow problems still exist and hamper the work of the Church.
OCA Chancellor's Report
Protopresbyter Robert Kondratick presented a very frank and honest report outlining many of the difficulties facing our national church. Relations with the Synod in Exile have improved as they move towards reunification with the Moscow Patriarchate. This is a good thing but it also has put us in a precarious position. It seems lately that the Russian Church and a number of the Patriarchates are attempting to further expand their presence in both Europe and America. Much has yet to be seen how this will play itself out. Meanwhile, the OCA has maintained a vigorous presence within all world Orthodox gatherings and is committed to preserving its autocephalous (self-governing) status.
A number of important events are scheduled to take place in the coming year, including the 40th anniversary of Metropolitan Herman's priestly ordination (which actually took place the end of October) and the 100th anniversary of St. Tikhon's Monastery.
The next day we were blessed to have Metropolitan Herman with us for Divine Liturgy and to present his address in person. In his report he reiterated the seriousness of the membership crisis we are facing. He stressed the importance for growth and revitalization of the Church on every level. He also likened the Orthodox Church in America with our sister church, the Orthodox Church of the Czech Lands & Slovakia which he just recently visited, stating we face many of the same problems and challenges. The church there is undergoing a renewal in the face of extreme adversity. He encouraged the faithful of the diocese to follow their example and not grow discouraged, but respond with the love and conviction of the many missionary saints who have faithfully labored in the American vineyard.
It was decided to have an abbreviated diocesan assembly during the All-American Council in Toronto, Ontario July 2005 in lieu of a separate meeting next year. This would result in saving both time and money.
This concludes the report for the Midwest Diocesan Assembly by Andrew Lukashonak.