UKRAINIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH OF THE USA
CONSISTORY OFICE OF PUBLIC RELATIONS
THE FUTURE OF OUR UKRAINIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH
Strategic Plan Process is under way!
By Very Rev. Fr. Anthony Perkins + Photos Elizabeth Symonenko
Many of our parishes languish and, as a result, broken people do not receive healing, those in darkness never see the light, and the faith of many grows cold. Lay leaders who have known decades of nothing but money troubles and declining membership have all but forgotten the joy they were meant to have and witness to their community. We have priests who are growing weary of proclaiming the faith to people in the pews who seem to care about everything except “Christ, and Him crucified.”(I Cor. 2:2) The distance and lack of complete trust between clergy of all ranks and the people increases and we – as individuals, parishes, and dioceses – fail to live up to our calling to live a life of unity, love, and service.
The resulting stress shows up in many ways: arguments about language, money, and politics; apathy and a lack of commitment towards worship and education; despondency; declining baptisms, weddings, and membership rolls; and serial attempts to come up with silver bullet fixes. Our bishops see our distress and feel our pain. Rather than dealing with the symptoms of our problem, they diagnosed the disease itself: we have forgotten who we are and what we were created and called to do. They brought in an evangelist of the old school, Bill Marianes (aka “Oz”), to remind us and equip us to re-energize our parishes and fulfill the great commission to spread the Good News.
This is the second stage of a Strategic Planning Process with the goal of transforming the life of our Church and her faithful. The first step was the invitation to a few hundred Church members asking for their thoughts about the present status of Church life, organization and administration at all levels. From these numbers approximately half of the respondents were invited to this second stage Retreat held at the Metropolia Center. It was a grueling process. Many of us had our doubts that such a diverse group could come to a consensus on what kind of coffee is best (Starbucks? Dunkin Donuts?) or whether to use the Oxford comma, much less on the situation of our Church and a plan to reorient it. But whether is was because we had faith in “Oz”, faith in the Holy Spirit, faith in the traditional Ukrainian process of sobornopravnist (conciliarity), or simply because we wanted to be part of something important and bigger than ourselves, 70 members of the UOC-USA gathered together Sunday, November 8th – Tuesday, November 10th to:
- Objectively discern our strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats;
- Describe the values that are core to who we are and what we are called to do;
- Summarize what it is that motivates us in a “statement of why”;
- Come up with a mission statement to describe what we do; and
- Offer a vision statement that sets out what we plan to accomplish.
The “Strengths,” “Weaknesses,” “Opportunities,” and “Threats” teams worked well into the first night to go over and summarize the data. They found that, while we had much to work with, there were some problems within our institutions that would need to be dealt with. Here is a summary of our findings (in no certain order):
Strengths: Certain youth ministries, excellent servant-leader hierarchs, certain charitable ministries, church assets and properties, seminary and clergy programs, our use of communications and technology, Orthodoxy, flexibility and responsiveness to the linguistic and cultural needs of our communities and parishioners, Ukrainian heritage, internal identity (shared experience and shared struggle) and external perception of progressive social values, and our national unified administrative structure.
Weaknesses: Language can be exclusionary when only one is used, heavy emphasis on ethnicity can be exclusionary to those who are not able to identify with that ethnicity, insufficient numbers of U.S. clergy, insufficient pastoral care education and care for clergy, insufficient trust between clergy and laity, decline in parish size and membership, parish geographic challenges, apathy of clergy and laity, and ineffective retention of youth.
Opportunities (outside the UOC-USA): People are needy and vulnerable, people have a need to belong, people long for truth, social media, technologies, other Orthodox Christians can be united, connect the dots between faith and science and logic, answering the falseness that exists in the world, serving the growing needs of the youth and empowering them and immigrants.
Threats (outside the UOC-USA): Lack of understanding of the Orthodox faith, lack of structure in society, tension between intellectual integrity and faith, other faiths are perceived to offer more meaningful solutions to contemporary problems, external perception of alignment to one ethnic culture could be a barriers to entry and welcoming, legal threats from outside the church, and external economic pressures impacting church stewardship.
Sunday evening’s gathering concluded (at 11PM!) with prayer and one of the greatest benefits of being part of this program: socializing. It was heart-warming to see how much the members of our UOC-USA love each other! The next morning, after lots of coffee, we reconvened to continue our prayer and discernment.
Bill Marianes supplemented our findings with some sobering yet hopeful data of his own: Orthodox Christians earn more than almost all other religious group in the USA, but give less (in both absolute and proportional terms) than almost every other religious group in the USA. Nor is this just a money problem: commitment to worship, Bible study, and even Christ Himself is falling in America. While this is hard to take, the silver lining is that there is plenty of room for growth!
Our reorientation required that we remember who we are. It took quite a while, but after discerning our values (Christ-centered, charity and stewardship, compassionate, fidelity to Holy Tradition, ministry of service, active prayer life, community, inclusion and respect, education, humility, sacramental life, sharing the Gospel & evangelizing), we were able to summarize our self-understanding with our statement of Why? we exist:
We embrace those who hunger for love, comfort, fulfillment and hope.
While this is very general, it describes why we hold services, pinch pyrohi, and participate in the life of our churches: we have found love, comfort, fulfillment, and hope in Christ and Ukrainian Orthodoxy – and we naturally want to share it with others! Over the next several hours, we developed that into a more specific mission statement for the UOC of the USA:
The Mission of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA is
to offer healing, comfort, wholeness, spiritual fulfillment and joy
as we work together to reveal the beauty of God’s creation
by proclaiming and living the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Everything we do, from our kitchen sessions to our Ukrainian Schools, from our camping programs to our worship, must flow from this mission. Everything that we do that does not flow from this (or actively opposes it) such as gossip, apathy, divisiveness, fighting old battles, and gate-keeping will pull us from its accomplishment and must be redirected or removed.
Next, we used our Why? and mission statements to come up with a vision statement of what we know must be the path to follow into the future. That vision statement reads:
The Vision of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the U.S.A. is to transform lives
through Christ-centered, compassionate and welcoming communities
that embody Sacred Scripture and Holy Tradition
while serving and ministering to people
as they navigate contemporary life.
You will notice that there is nothing in the mission or vision statements about the English language, the Ukrainian language, new immigration, money, or other important issues. The idea is that we offer “healing, comfort, wholeness, spiritual fulfillment, and joy” to everyone that we can find and in the most effective way possible. In communities with significant numbers of Ukrainian-speakers, this will require the use of Ukrainian; in communities with significant numbers of English-speakers, this will require more English. The goal is to create “Christ-centered, compassionate, and welcoming” parishes that will naturally follow the example of Saint Paul and become whatever is needed so that “some may be saved.” (1 Cor. 9:22) As for finances, parishioners who are in love with Christ will be more active in the ministries of the parish – and studies show that money takes care of itself in communities that get everyone involved in “loving God” and “loving their neighbor”(Mat 22:36-39) through parish ministry. Another set of issues that did not make any of our lists or statements were those (such as Orthodox unity in Ukraine or America) that the UOC-USA could not accomplish independently.
While the new UOC of the USA mission statement will be used to evaluate all areas of Church activity, we finished our work Monday night and Tuesday morning by identifying nine areas to focus on:
- National and Regional Administration
- Family and Youth
- Healthy Parishes
- Outreach and Evangelism
We brainstormed ways to apply the value, mission, and vision statement to each of these areas and combined them with the earlier data from all the participants. For stage three of the planning process, each of us was then assigned to one of the nine areas above so as to form nine committees that will meet regularly over the next several months to develop a handful of measurable, time-lined goals. In March, we will meet again in Retreat – stage four of the planning process – to go over all the goals and develop plans to achieve them. The goal is to have a well-defined plan to present to our Regular Sobor, which will convene in October of 2016.
His Eminence, Metropolitan Antony finished the conference by praising Bill Marianes for all his selfless work for our UOC of the USA and the entire Holy Orthodox Church and commissioning all of us to go out and share our enthusiasm and plans with our parishes and to find others to join us in this process. We departed on Tuesday afternoon exhausted, but full of the hope and joy that comes from turning our lives over to Christ and knowing that we are members of a Church that does the same.