Chicago Town Hall Held
Some 95 people, of whom 20 were clergy, gathered at St. Peter and Paul Church in Burr Ridge, Illinois, outside of Chicago, for the latest Town Hall on Thursday, July 24th for more than two hours of comments concerning the situation of the OCA.
Archbishop Job and Fr. Alexander Garklavs (OCA Chancellor) were present to listen to the speakers, as well as to make their own comments.
According to one participant, the meeting could be described as "... uneventful. There was one impassioned speech in the mold of Fr. (Vladimir) Berzonsky, but that was about it. There were people who spoke about feeling betrayed by the OCA's leadership, but nothing really fiery... The thing wrapped up at about 9:20 pm. It was like people were really reluctant to get up there and say anything. Archbishop Job questioned that maybe the farther away from New York, the less people were mad at Syosset? I don't think that's true, but it was a very quiet meeting."
Another participant offered the following notes on individual speakers:
"Fr. Garklavs opened, thanking the parish and Father Karaffa for their hospitality. He noted that 'Although we need to speak about that which has affected the Church in the past' the Town Halls were 'more about the future than the past'. The Pre-Conciliar Commission realized that [the voice of people need to be heard.[ Many feel they have not had opportunity to express their feelings, and we are hoping 'for specific suggestions for the All-American Council'.
After speaking of a incredible and mysterious balance in the Church between hierarchy and conciliarity, he stated that the Town Hall meetings came out of the positive experience of Pre-Conciliar Commission meeting when guests were invited to Syosset. (Read that story here). The more such meetings, as the Town Halls, the better.' He then stated that 'There will not be enough time for interaction. This is not a dialogue, but rather a forum for you to speak. We are here to listen and clarify.'"
In response to the first questions ("How do you feel about your life in the OCA today? How have the events of the past several years impacted you personally?") speakers, both clergy and lay, rose and:
"- Thanked +Job for his efforts in bringing 'to light the financial blunders'
- Stated that the financial situation in the OCA has left me feeling very distant and distrustful of the ability of those in charge. 'The lack of information on the financial improprieties going back decades are Òproblems not of the heart but of law.' Finally, the speaker questioned the inordinately expensive headquarters location (in Syosset). An effort should be made to start to seek a new location for the Central Church Administration.
- Began by saying that they were new to the OCA since last January. Came into OCA because they wanted to be part of an American church. Did not want to be answerable to overseas leaders. Our parish is not obsessed with the OCA's problems. We talk about it - but we get along with life. 'I went from the AOCA
( Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese) to the OCA. I love my parish, I love the people. It is the AMERICAN Church.' 'We got into this mess and can get ourselves out.'
A priest stated that there was 'no problem in his parish caused by the scandal.' There was a 'bit' of exasperation in how assessment money has been used. People felt 'betrayed by both the old and new administrations' obfuscations.' There was a clear hesitancy to reveal everything. To rebuild the trust between people and Synod is going to take major work.
Other speakers stated:
-It has been a personal roller coaster. High and lows. We are going through growing pains but because 'We walk together in the house of the Lord' the pain is made so much worse.' Financial problems have been going on for decades. We are being confronted with our own sins. There have been illegal things at the highest echelons. We need to see repentance before forgiveness can be given. We have to grapple with financial malfeasance, but we have to grow in faith and love and mutual repentance as well. The OCA is the presence of Orthodoxy in America. God has entrusted us with a great gift and responsibility. My prayer (is that) we work together; we find out what has been going on and then hold people accountable.
-The next speaker read from a prepared text, comparing the scandal to Watergate, in which President Nixon lied and resigned. President Clinton was impeached because of lying under oath. The sin does not cause the loss of trust, but the resulting lies and cover-ups do. All of the Synod is responsible. Metropolitan Theodosius defended the 'privacy' of the primate (which sounds like Nixon and executive privilege). Now it is left to Metropolitan Herman to say 'we should forgive 70x70' but he never says what we are to forgive for! Members are ready to forgive, but those 'who can not remember the past are doomed to repeat it.' +Herman is 'anaxios' now for he has sold out Christ's Church for money. Quoting Matthew 7 the speaker said Ò We are still here, because here is where the pearl of great price is.'
- After leaving the Episcopal Church five years ago, financial things are important and I thank +Job for being accountable and calling for accountability. In the scheme of things I can't get as excited about money as I did about a Church throwing out the dogma of the Church. When we joined the OCA, we were told 'They will never accept you because you are not Russian' That was not true. We have been welcomed by all. I do agree that financial things are important. 'I joined the Church, and I beg you all to keep up the fight for truth.'
Shortly before 8 o'clock the next question was posed: "What would you like to see happen in the life of the Church?"
- The first speaker, a clergyman, stated what happened and what possibly continues to happen is of great concern and needs to be dealt with. Justice (honesty and righteousness - not punishment) is needed. But our life does not stand or fall with what happens in Syosset. You hear dire doom and gloom. But many parishes are very healthy and great things are going on. A lot of good is being done. Such does not depend on what Syosset did or will do. This is where the promise of the OCA lies, in the health of our parishes. I can hardly get people to take interest in the Syosset affair. They have other things to think about.
Where should we go from here? At the (Diocesan) Clergy Convocation in February we talked about what should the shape of the OCA and the CCA ( Central Church Administration) be in the future. Consensus was that the CCA should change in shape and function. Should do only those things that need to be done by a CCA (such as external affairs) while other things are best left to Dioceses (missions, charity when there is IOCC, education through OCEC, archive could be kept at SVS - a function of that seminary). We need a leaner, more efficient CCA with less money coming in, with less temptation to abuse that money, with most functions being done locally. We considered the way bishops are chosen. We are concerned that we follow our own Statute and that we have real elections. Candidates need to be vetted and nominated by Diocesan Assemblies. We have a chance to chose wisely. This will help to avoid the immobility and rigidity that we have experienced with this Synod. We discussed mandatory retirement for Bishops, but that the diocesan Assembly could vote to keep its Bishop beyond that age if it so agreed. Syosset is not the right place for the CCA, as it is expensive.
Finally, the question was asked: 'What is your best case scenario (for the OCA)?'
- I knew many individuals in Syosset and have had extensive training in non-profits. Syosset is a meat grinder. People go with good intentions and they are lost. If I were the CEO I'd say we have to move geographically, selling Syosset. Move the Metropolitan to his Diocese and simply lease local office space, even in a strip mall if need be. We are here to support the mission of the OCA, we are not here to live unto ourselves. Sell the property, lease space around DC, put the Metropolitan in his own Diocese. Most people don't pay attention to Syosset- but their money is going to it nevertheless.
- Things were not always bad in Syosset. 'There was a time when I started working at the chancery on Second Street.' The Staff was Fr. Pishtey (who worked out of his home) Fr. Hubiak, Masha Trubetskoy, and a janitor. $115,000 were the assessment collections. Things the way we saw them these past 20 years are not as they always were. Where things got wrong was that we started seeing our lemonade stand as a Fortune 500 Company. It is possible to run the CCA with perhaps a more slimmed-down body. The vision of autocephaly is no longer there. 'The excitement when I was a kid is no longer there - there were great things going on.'People love the Church. I don't fear the church is going to collapse. Financial mismanagement is real, and there is a need to ask for/and offer forgiveness We need to understand that our society is in pain, we are dealing with accountability issues everywhere. The Church needs to be a place 'where we lay aside the earthly cares.' Sell Syosset. We are the Church. We are not disintegrating. Our parish is not disintegrating. The Deanery is not disintegrating. We need to ensure that people understand it is better to be a good lemonade stand than a second-rate Fortune 500 Company.
-Best case scenario would be a functional Synod of Bishops. We have individual good bishops. We have a very good Chancellor. I was overjoyed when +Job raised the questions and thought they would be dealt with at the Toronto AAC. Now we need to think about how we choose bishops. Individual bishops are not correcting each other. And not speaking with each other. We could consolidate Dioceses. Do we have 13 good candidates? Do we need 13 Dioceses? The Greeks only have 9. We need to deal with abuse better. Just because we finally dealt with it does not excuse that it happened. The best case scenario is a Synod of Bishops who live in unity with one another.
- I have seen people behaving badly. I feel I have been lied to by people that should not lie to me. To me the most egregious lie is that there has been an attempt to establish one church in this country. There has never been anything but lip-service from the OCA leadership on unity. The desire to keep the money, keep the power eclipsed the desire to be united. Our job is to save souls. I want to tell my 15 year son 'that is someone you want to emulate.' I can't do that with this Synod. We have nothing to be afraid of. Maybe part of the growing pains of having an Orthodox Church in this country is to grow out of what has happened. We must be honest. I don't need to know all the deeds. I am past being scandalized. The challenge for the future is: What is the organization needed for this organism to grow? Two questions: 1. How do we need to be organized to be the one church? 2. Dioceses are vastly different. What is the role of CCA to help bring standards and resources?
The solutions are transparency, checks and balances are needed. Review the process so accountability happens. Restructure the government.
Fr. Garklavs responded to this speaker by stating that 'the Special Commission Report will be released soon.'"
At this point the penultimate question of the evening was raised: "What specific recommendation would you make to the All-American Council?"
"- Synod members must come to Synod meeting with advisors to assist them.
- +Herman needs to apologize on behalf of the Synod. We can learn from our RC friends. In Boston there was a change of leadership. Even the Pope repented. Cardinal LawÕs successor went around his Diocese, prostrated himself and asked forgiveness.
- Have any Statute amendments been submitted? Yes.
If we think this AAC is just going to be about repentance and forgiveness we are deluding ourselves. The money is/is not important. If we come out of AAC just forgiving the past, where is the vision for the future? There is a disconnect between hierarchy and concilarity. In the past it has been more hierarchical. We need more conciliarity. I could be a better choir director if I had more support from the Diocese or CCA. There is a disconnect between Syosset and the rest of the Church. We need to address this disconnect. We need a vision of what the CCA can be.
The final question was then raised: "Why the OCA is important?"
-It is still important as it was in the beginning. Worldwide, the Church is splintering into ethnic jurisdictions. Phyletism that is happening before our eyes. The OCA represents a different vision: it doesn't matter your ethnic group, it doesn't matter whether you American or not, you have a place here. Even if you don't speak English. The OCA represents that Pan-Orthodox inclusive vision of what the Church is to be. It is more important than ever to continue to represent that. Maybe at some time the ethnic will come together, but the solution is not that they will come together under one Synod, they need to be integrated. OCA is important because of conciliarity. The otherChurches are going away from it. This sort of thing, Ocanews.org etc,. would have been shut down under another Church. We may be the only Church that has this opportunity. Maybe the OCA won't be here in 20/30 years because of a evolution of the Church. But this is our opportunity to make something good come out of this.
-We are all righteously indignant. Don't let your anger become sinful (St. Paul). The Church cannot be destroyed. We are the Church. We can self-destruct though. The wolf will have an easier meal. It took us 100 years to get the icons back up. We can't bite each other. We will be wounded. The Church is not imposing. We are doing this to ourselves. The Church needs to be a place where we can find a respite.
Fr. Garklavs then spoke stating that it is a natural human reaction in times of anger ' to kick the cat when you get home syndrome'. We are all 'mad as hell' about what has happened. That priest who spoke earlier is correct in pointing out that people that we knew, trusted and loved were in positions of power and lied to us,. They betrayed our confidence. This is nothing new. This has happened in history before. Someone referred to city governments -this happens everywhere. We are not exempt from the problems and temptations that the world offers. The OCA had 'a perfect storm'. Early in the 90Õs we were all excited. The Russian Patriarch came to America, to our parishes. Now with the Russian Church finding its place, we spent a great deal of effort on trips and diplomacy to Russia, it looks like that didn't all pay off. Who was to know? Complicated and bad things happened. The report will bring it all out. Nothing of the OCA will be the same. That Chancery that you don't trust is nothing like what you imagine it. We are down-staffed, it is people like you and I trying to do the best. The relation of Dioceses to the CCA needs to be articulated for the first time. God is challenging us to deal with issues.
A lot has happened in a very short time. The whole OCA started as a Diocese. It was not so long ago that the other DioceseÕs came into being. A lot is happening as we speak. The OCA is only 30 years old. The non-ethnic Church has never existed in history. Romanians are not jumping ship, they want to be with their Romanian friends. It is hard to be Orthodox and non-ethnic. We want to be conciliar. God is kind of driving us, guiding us into resolving these issues. There is not another Orthodox church that would have 'Town Hall' meetings with a bishop and chancellor listening. It is confusing, painful, challenging. It is a theological time. Maybe our generation is defining through this what it means to be an Orthodox in America. With our ability to forgive, to pray, to commune together, God will led us out of this time of trouble. We know changes need to be made, but it is all on God's time.
Archbishop Job concluded the evening. "I have little to add to the excellent comments made. I want to express my own gratitude for being here.' It was said that people love the Church. In the Cleveland meeting there were similar comments. This one was a bit more easy-going. Maybe because we are further into the Midwest? My own optimism says that we are going to get through this. It is a long haul. In W. PA, where they are interviewing candidates for Bishop (and that is a good thing!), they have interviewed one candidate who has been a monk in Greece for the last 10 years. Out of obedience he came and spoke. One of the questions asked of him was 'What do you think about the crisis?' He said: 'I have been in Greece for 10 years. Greece has had a scandal which make the crisis here look like small potatoes. The difference is they cleaned house in 6 months.' For us it has been 3 years.
The action of our Council in 2005 and the way we were treated, politely being told 'It is none of your concern' was a slap in the face. I needed that slap. Some said it was too difficult to fight City Hall. But that slap, against me and the Diocese, it was that episode, at the beginning of this crisis, that inspired Wheeler to write his 'Call for Accountability'. A certain person said, 'You people in the Midwest, - it's all your fault'. And I responded 'You are damn right it is.'
These Town Hall meetings are so important. The whole world is looking at us. We could give a blue- print for the world on how to solve difficulties. We are experiencing conciliarty. That is a good thing. In Cleveland at least three people said, 'I am only a lay person but....' and I responded the laity are a royal priesthood. We are all part of that royal priesthood. We have different roles. What we are doing tonight, though, is the work of the whole Church. It is an exciting time. Yes, it has been difficult. But it is all worthwhile. I thank you for support, prayers and love."
The meeting concluded shortly before 9:30 PM.
The next Town Hall will be held tomorrow, July 31st, at St. John the Forerunner Church in Indianapolis, IN.
- Mark Stokoe compiled this story from notes provided by several participants. Our thanks to all who shared their time and efforts.