REPORT ON EDMONTON'S TOWN HALL
(The following report on the OCA Town Hall held in Edmonton on July 3rd. 2008 was provided to OCANews.org by a participant who wishes to remain unidentified.)
Last evening's Town Hall meeting at St. Herman of Alaska Sobor was remarkably frank and open.
Facilitated by Popadia Michelle Jannakos and attended by Archbishop Seraphim of Ottawa and Bishop Nikon of Boston, the two-hour working session numbered some 60 participants, both clergy and laity, from city and rural parishes. Discussion, conducted in a relaxed and more informal way, was quite intense and covered three main areas:
1. What do you think is working well in the OCA?
Perhaps surprisingly, the list was quite long, with heavy emphasis on what is working well in the Archdiocese of Canada and in local parishes. The Central Church Administration fared less well, but received some kudos for the variety of information available on www.oca.org. More than one layperson commented positively on the way in which Archbishop Seraphim and the clergy of the Archdiocese generally are open and approachable, and listen to the faithful carefully.
2. What are your concerns and suggestions?
Most obviously, there was a broad consensus that our current problems are about far more than money and what one or more individuals may have done with it; that, rather, the Central Church Administration and the Holy Synod (as opposed to individual Bishops) had forfeited the trust of the clergy and faithful; that for re-building that trust there is no quick fix, but the need for openness, honesty, honest admission of faults, and the end of ineffective leadership.
In regard to that last, one well-respected cleric stated bluntly the Metropolitan lacks effective leadership skills and has so lost the trust of the Church that a new Metropolitan is needed urgently. He also supported the call for the resignation and re(election) of all the hierarchs. Other participants insisted that only with full disclosure of all the details of the scandal, including any malfeasance by present or past primates, could real healing begin.
Other concerns related to
- the erosion of the Orthodox mindset in favor of contemporary secular values, particularly in the operation of the Central Church Administration and in the calls for secular intervention into the affairs of the Church;
- the extent of the Metropolitan's actual authority and his ability to commit the OCA (e.g., Proskauer Rose) to large expenditures without any oversight; the failure of the OCA to be honest with itself about its real size;
- the out-of-control spending so that the OCA would look "just like the Greeks and importance;
- the failure of the OCA to act like an autocephalous Church instead of perpetually looking for pats on the head from other Churches and worrying about how other Churches would receive this or that action.
One concern which seemed to catch Popadia Jannakos and Bishop Nikon somewhat by surprise was the depth of anger and bitterness over which the Church in the U.S. stubbornly refuses to recognize the unique identity of Canada and Mexico. More than one cleric pointed out the difficulty they find in "selling" the OCA to Canadians simply because of its name: "Orthodox Church in America," noting that Canadians certainly use "American" to refer only to the U.S. Others recalled gaffes at the last All-American Council (the very name of which is an irritant), during which one speaker, referring to "this country," meant the U.S., not the country he was actually in; or the display of a map of missions which omitted Canada or Mexico, much less the OCA missions in either of those countries. Changing the OCA's name to "The Orthodox Church in North America" would be a start to repairing that breach (along with sprucing up liturgical texts); but what is required is a fundamental shift in U.S. attitudes away from rampant self-absorption.
It is worth noting that one participant's urging of Archbishop Seraphim to focus his efforts on the creation of an administratively-united Orthodox Church in Canada coupled with administrative separation from the Church in the U.S. was met with vigorous and sustained applause.
Concern was also raised about the selection of candidates for the episcopacy, and particularly about their emotional fitness; concern was also raised about maintaining confidentiality about the reasons why a particular candidate did not "make the grade," and how to achieve balance between that confide the well-established and publicly-known criteria.
3. What would you say to the next All-American Council?
There seemed to be a consensus that while as complete a report as possible on the scandal is necessary, and that the election of a new Metropolitan is essential, the need is also to move on: to fix what is broken, to forgive what needs forgiving, and to focus on the essential work of the Church, particularly evangelism. One participant called for a general amnesty, noting that while flogging a dead horse may be good exercise, it does nothing for the horse. But along with more carefully controls and accountability, especially in the realm of finances, the need is for a revision of The Statute which, while safeguarding the proper authority of the hierarchs, restores the OCA to true conciliarity.
It is crucial to note that both hierarchs present listened intently to each speaker, sometimes offering comments or asking questions, but always indicating that they "got" the point being raised. It is also worth noting that Popadia Jannakos facilitated without becoming intrusive. Overall the atmosphere was loving rather than angrily or confrontational, and the dialogue was genuinely open; and most participants seemed to walk away from the meeting feeling their concerns had actually been heard.