Hartford Town Hall Held
The Diocese of New England and the OCA posted the same summary of the Hartford Town Hall, held Wednesday evening, July 23rd, on their websites yesterday afternoon. That summary reads:
"On July 23, 2008, approximately seventy-five laypeople and clergy from the Diocese of New England gathered at All Saints Church in Hartford CT, for the OCA Town Hall meeting. His Grace, Bishop Nikon of Boston, New England and the Albanian Archdiocese, along with OCA secretary, Archpriest Eric G. Tosi and Archpriest Andrew Jarmus the Director of Ministries and Communications for the OCA were present. Fr. Tosi served as facilitator for the meeting which lasted close to three hours. A number of people stood before the microphone to offer honest and open reflections on the situation facing the OCA; how it has affected them personally; what they feel is the best case scenario for the OCA; and to offer concrete suggestions for what should be addressed at the upcoming All American Council.
The opinions, reflections and suggestions that were offered included heartfelt expressions of anguish and frustration; pleas for conciliarity and forgiveness; and concrete suggestions for action that the OCA should take in order to once again be faithful to its mission of preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ and building up His Holy Church. Several times people expressed a desire that Metropolitan Herman retire so that the Church can regain credibility in its hierarchical leadership. A number of suggestions were made regarding the AAC including: establishing a concrete vision for action in the OCA; developing a goal driven budget; reexamining and modifying the Statutes; and investigating more deeply the role and function of the episcopacy in the Church. Some speakers lamented the bitterness and vengeful nature of discourse within the OCA, while others called for total disclosure of past wrongdoing. Yet, while there was some disagreement as to the best path forward, all seemed to agree that the OCA is in a perilous situation, each speaker conveyed a fervent desire for true healing, reconciliation and honesty, for the good of the Church.
Bishop Nikon and Frs. Tosi and Jarmus listened to everyone who spoke, and occasionally Fr. Tosi asked for clarification from speakers as he wrote down key points from every presentation. Finally, at about 9:45, after repeated requests from Fr. Tosi for additional speakers—having taken every care to ensure that everyone present who wished to speak had an opportunity to do so—Bishop Nikon offered closing remarks in which he confessed that the Church faces a serious crisis, and that it has not been addressed as well as it could have been, or should have been. Yet he stated that he has great hope for the faithful of the Diocese of New England and for the OCA because even in the darkest moments Christ is always alive and active in the hearts of the faithful. His Grace offered profound thanks to everyone who attended the meeting, some of whom had driven considerable distance, and he was especially grateful for the honesty, candor and charity expressed by all who spoke and who attended the meeting."
A Second Perspective
A participant, a member of the Diocese of New England, offered the following description:
“The meeting began at 7:18 pm, ended at 9:43 pm. No one was rushed, interrupted, brushed off, minimized, or invalidated. About 70 people in attendance. Fr Eric Tossi moderated, Fr Jarmus took notes.
Four ground rules were stated and respected throughout the meeting:
1) no attribution: if anyone wished to speak anonymously, not giving their names, they were welcome to do so;
2) have respect for one another, especially those with differing opinions;
3) no judgment of one another; and
4) balanced time: use time effectively to give everyone a chance to speak.
The best speaker of the night was Fr John Hopko
To Question #1 (‘What impact have the events of these past few years had on you?’) Fr Hopko began by citing two connected things:
1) a massive failure of leadership and mishandling of money due to willful wrongdoing, incompetence, and ignorance; which resulted in
2) the current one-directional aspect of our Church: that is, the bishops wanting to be served by the people, but not themselves willing to serve the people.”
The participant went on to describe the statements of others:
“Fr Sergius Halvorsen (Middltown CT) noted the indescribable pain and betrayal on the part of the people, to the point of its being irrational, like a sick person who has a fever.
Ms. Diane Dounouk stated there were no checks and balances in place. +Herman was previously the Treasurer, so how can we trust him?”
Turning to Question #2 (‘What do you see as a “best case” scenario for the Church?’) he wrote:
“Ms. Mary Ann Sporcic said it is time to rip off the band-aids and expose the wounds. ‘We have been given promises of reports, delays, etc. Take care of the problem! Enough is enough! Time to clean house!’
Nancy from New Haven, CT, said that there is no personal sin: it has a corporate effect. She compared the handling of this crisis to the parable of the emperor’s new clothes. It is time for healing.
Fr John Pawelchak (Salisbury, CT) quoted a recent Sunday Epistle reading from St Paul, who said that perseverance produces character, and character produces faith. Handled correctly, this crisis could facilitate repentance.
As an ‘antibiotic’ to the wounds Mary Ann just mentioned, Fr Pawelchak said we not only need honesty, but need to look at things and measure them in the context of the Kingdom of God. We need to pray for each other and to be proactive.
Fr Hopko spoke again, and said that ‘the victory was won on the Cross. The question is: how do we enter that victory, and what do we do until Christ comes again?’ He then offered 6 key points that need to happen:
1) Metropolitan Herman has to retire. Someone who was part of the problem cannot be part of the solution
2) We have to have a moratorium on new bishops; there are no current viable candidates, so we shouldn’t “make” bishops just for the sake of filling vacancies
3) There needs to be total transparency in everything, not just the financials: we are as sick as our secrets.
4) We need to re-examine our Tradition and cleanse ourselves of traditions (customs).
5) We need to respect education and learning once again: we need to let go of our romantic view of a potential bishop being an uneducated monk who always smells bad and
6) We have to do whatever is necessary for Orthodox unity in America. On this last point, Fr John said the only ones with the authority to bring this about are the bishops. ‘The bishops need to have the courage and desire to bring this about.”
Question #3 (‘How can we address these issues at the All-American Council?’) drew additional speakers:
“One layman made multiple suggestions:
- He said we need changes in the Statutes of the OCA to plug the holes that allowed these problems to begin with
- He suggested that the Metropolitan, Chancellor, and Treasurer not be permanent positions, but on a three-year rotation and
- That the Chancellor and Treasurer should be elected by the Metropolitan Council, which he suggested should be renamed the “Executive Council”
- He suggested that Auditors should be professionals
- Members of the Metropolitan Council should follow the OCA Statutes, and not be “yes” men to the Metropolitan
- As to resolutions, he said the Holy Synod should retire +Herman, reprimand +Theodosius, and should apologize to the Church at large for all the problems, including letting Kondratick run loose.
A woman then added two caveats for the auditors: they should be outside auditors, and they should be bonded.
Fr Steven Voytovitch (Clinton CT) then described two methods of chaplaincy work called ‘Microsoft’and ‘Macintosh’. He said ‘Microsoft’ states: ‘Ours is the only way. Get on board with the program!’ The ‘Macintosh’ method states, ‘We are all relational, and should work together!’ Fr Steven said the ‘Macintosh’ model should be what we follow. He suggested spending time at the All-American Council “mid-wifing” one another for the needs of the Church.”
As the meeting concluded, Bishop Nikon spoke.
“He said: “We are all the Church, and we are here to face and rectify wrongs.’
He stated, ‘Perhaps we haven’t faced it [the crisis] as we should have, but we are facing it now: clergy, laity, hierarchs. Syosset is not the Church.'
'We are addressing where we have fallen short. We will go on. We pray for our own repentance. Yes, we were all betrayed. Yes, we were all lied to. Yes, we were all made to look foolish. But That will not stop us from being the Church!’”
A Third Account
Another participant, who is not a member of the New England Diocese but a member of the OCA, had a different take on the Town Hall. She wrote:
“Fr. Tosi stated the purpose of the meeting was to ‘turn talk into action at the AAC.’
Fr. William DuBovik (Hartford CT) :
Due to the internet, everything has snowballed.
Everything is on the internet.
Real issue is bigger than what can be discussed at the AAC.
We all make mistakes
Fr. John Hopko:
There are 2 big issues:
There is a MASSIVE failure of leadership. They said they were doing one thing and did another. Leaders are not selected carefully enough.
Essential that we realize we are serving the church. Leaders have become the served and do not offer their services.
A lay person:
Malaise has set in. We were so busy worrying about 5 year plans that we forgot what church life is all about. We have lost our zeal.
Fr. Sergius Halvorson:
We have all been betrayed and feel an indescribable amount of pain.
How can we say the problem is corrected when +Herman is still in power?
Deacon Patrick Donovan (Springfield, VT)
If sin is tolerated all that results is alienation, confusion and loss of trust.
He read a statement as well.
A lay person:
Hatred is spewed forth and is abhorrent.
His heart is broken
Those who speak do not speak on his behalf
Pleads with everyone to not despair
We have hope every time we approach the chalice.
In 1999 he had a vision of autocephaly. We are now on idle and watching the rest of the church go by.
How responsible have we been?
A lay person:
Always looked to the clergy as an example.
Now he is demoralized completely.
Disappointed and shocked.
My diocese is doing things “right” and I don’t want to look outside. (obviously from NE diocese...)
What is the best scenario for the church?
A lay person:
Financial and spiritual matters need to be separated
A lay person:
Leadership has been in a state of decline
Concerned there won’t be a church for his children.
We are missing the big picture. Christians are under attack in the US.
We need to combine forces in humility and figure out how to function instead of just survive.
Gave these statistics: from1990-2007:
- the NE diocese has decreased by 38%. ( Not one person flinched or gasped.)
- in 1990 there were 3345 members. In 2007 there were 2076. If decline keeps going, by 2020 there will be less than 1000 in the diocese…(Again no reaction)
-Diocesan budget is $371,000. Of that, $119,000 stays in the diocese and $261,000 goes to Syosset. (Again no reaction.)
We need to see in a concrete fashion, how this money is being spent and on what.
Fr. Dennis Rhodes (Waterbury,CT)
We are in a crisis. We are being pruned by the Lord to make us stronger
Holy Spirit still works in the church.
Holy Spirit is in charge
I believe He is guiding us despite all the garbage
A lay person:
Best scenario would be the second coming!
I have not been following all the details of the crisis
Financial giving has changed
Lessons should be learned from this
I do not see the vigor I did as a member of the south in San Antonio.
A lay person (Mary Ann from Meriden,CT)
It’s time to rip off the band aid and expose the wound regardless of how difficult it is
I have been to many AACs and resolutions are never carried through
We can pray all we want but people are leaving
We need to say “Enough already and clean house”.
A lay person (Read statement as well)
Convert from Roman Catholicism to Orthodoxy
Greed, power and lust has taken over
Time for healing
All she hears from older folks is that is too much for them already
Fr. John Pawelchak:
I carry many scars in my own life
God works in everyone
Live in the reality of the Kingdom
Fr. John Hopko:
(This was the highlight of my evening)
Victory has already been won. When the Lord comes again, He will ask….”What have you been doing while you’ve been waiting for Me?”
These six things are necessary ….Ask +Herman to retire. When Eric Wheeler was fired I was there in the building. +Herman became the treasurer. I helped Eric put his belongings in his car. Now it’s time for +Herman to “take one for the club”.
Moratorium on elevating Bishops….”Few are called….all are chosen”. We are better off without them in many cases.
Total transparency- everyone needs to have acces to financial reports if they so chose. That’s the way it is at my parish. Everyone knows my salary. The reports are on the candle stand to be picked up if one so chooses. We are as sick as our secrets.
Re-examine tradition- We are so worried about the litte t traditions. Priests can be the worst offenders. Look at my riassa…it’s Russian style. No one knows I don’t have a cassock on underneath and am only half dressed. Laity are just a crazed with ethnicity….matroshka dolls, foods. And all the while we don’t know anything about bigT. They don’t like different languages spoken during the liturgy.
Respect education and learning. We are ignorant.
Do whatever is necessary to unite the Orthodox. Right now, we would fill ½ of Yankee Stadium. As long as the Bishops fight over who is Bishop of who and where, it will never happen. Want to see disunity? Put the Bishops in one room. They can’t even look each other in the face.
I do not want full disclosure
I just want a sketch, so “I do not enter into the sin”
A lay person
Change the statutes. Too many holes in them
Primate should rotate every 3 years amongst the hierarchs. It should not be a job for life.
Treasurer and Chancellor should be elected by the AAC
Change our name to the American Orthodox Church
Task force should be included in the statute
Auditors should be trained and look at all reports within the church
Metropolitan Council should not be “yes men”.
Ther should be one Bishop for each diocese. One Bishop should not be a diocesan bishop, a locum tenens and an administrator of a third diocese.
Same lay person as above then presented ideas for resolutions:
Synod should retire +Herman
Real problems began with +Theodosius. We need to examine this
Ask the Bishops to apologize
Bishops did not do their jobs
Ask for a secret vote of confidence in the Bishop of each diocese
Metropolitan Council should look at all law suits and investigations and decide to settle those that are costing too much or causing too much damage.
For the good of the church- forget about the money
Move out of Syosset – it’s a nice building but we don’t need it.
A lay person
Auditors should be from the “outside”. No conflict of interest then
All financial officers should be bonded.
A lay person
Expanded roles for women in the liturgical life of the church should be discussed
Fr. Halvorson asks yet again...
What do we actually DO?
Release the budget on the internet
Have concrete plans for the budget
We need to unite in prayer before the AAC
We are in disarray and disunity.
Perhaps insert prayers into the Liturgy
A lay person
She was a delegate in Toronto and stunned by the extravagances. She felt she didn’t deserve it.
We lead by example
Here I was in all this extravagance and widows were struggling to give their donations.
We need to live the Beatitudes.
Everything at the meeting was preordained. Bishops, clergy and laity in separate corners. We need to act together and not be separated,
Question from a lay person
Have the discretionary funds been done away with?
Fr. Tosi answered he didn’t know - but perhaps the Bishop knew. +Nikon said they still exist, but are audited. Metropolitan and the Treasurer have access to them.
We are here to face and acknowledge wrongdoing (No apology, however)
Humbled by serving the NE diocese,
There will be other crises,
We didn’t face this head on when we should have – we are now,
We didn’t trust the previous administration,
Metropolitan Council has taken up their full responsibilities ( What about before?)
SIC report to be read simultaneously to the Synod and the Metropolitan Council,
We can not allow ourselves to fall short of “being living icons of the church”.
We will go on from this.
Honored to serve as New England’s Bishop.
Yes, we “were all fooled, betrayed and lied to but it will not stop us.”
And he concluded: ” We do it right in New England.”
She then added this comment:
“I have never felt more disheartened than I did during this meeting. It was a mutual admiration society. More clapping on the back and priests kissing each other. (Fr. Hopko is not part of the club from the look of things, though.) For sure, it was a pleasant meeting for +Nikon since he was clearly in friendly territory. Fr. Jarmus didn’t speak at all; Fr. Tosi spoke too much. Not one person approached me.... I just sat there and took notes.”
Another Town Hall took place in Chicago, July 24th.
The next two Town Halls will be next Thursday, July 31st in Indianapolis, IN and in Carnegie, PA; with a third held on Saturday of that same week in South River, NJ on August 2nd.
-Mark Stokoe compiled this report from the notes of participants. Thanks to all who assisted.