The most difficult transitions for people serving on Church Community Councils are reaching understandings about their place in the Church Community and the place of the Church Community in the Greek Orthodox Church. Greek Orthodox Christians who have the honor and privilege of serving the Church of Christ through service on Church Community Councils hold a special trust that involves both understandings. These matters are the foundations for the Council’s support of the Priest in his role as the Bishop’s representative to the Parish and for the continuation of the Faith.
In the second instance, the place of the Church Community in the Greek Orthodox Church, the Council’s role is to educate themselves and the community that the Church Community Parish exists as one branch of a tree with heavenly roots; that the Church Community cannot live without getting sustenance from and giving support to the tree, that is the Church on earth, nor without the roots that are the Holy Trinity. Seminaries, missions, bishops are all earthly instruments for the Faith, giving context to the ongoing life of the Parish. The Church Community cannot thrive without them and vice-versa.
These foundations are very different from where we usually start, thinking about the administration of the Church Community in business terms and in the pressures of the short-term. But we do need to meet payrolls, pay utility bills, mortgages and other expenses. How, then, can we connect the temporal with the spiritual and with the conservation of the Faith? Here are some ways:
First, understand and promote the office of the Priest as the Church Community’s tie to the Apostles and, thereby, to Christ; If a Council sees the Priest as an employee and not as the Church Community’s spiritual leader, then the temptation is to forget who the Priest is and what he represents. Taking the long view of the Church Community as a community of faith and the Priest as its shepherd can create a different context for relationships with the Priest.
Second, take to heart the duty to preserve the Church and her sacramental life as the principal responsibility of the Council; Church Community Council members who do not prepare and present themselves regularly for the sacraments, who appear only at Sunday Divine Liturgy and not for special Holy Services, who do not visit parishioners in need, reinforce the “business” perception of the council; Church Community Council agendas must include issues of the spirit and the Holy Sacraments through the leadership of the Priest.
Third, make a sincere attempt to see the Church Community in the context of the Holy Metropolis, and the Ecumenical Patriarchate; Attend Metropolis conferences and translate your Church Community’s financial Metropolis fair share support to support for the continuity of the Church. The local Church Community may see itself as an island, but that is an incorrect view. We take for granted the continuity that is delivered to the Church Community by the institutions of the Church. We also take for granted the availability of Church Communities when we or our loved ones move or attend college away from home. The network of Church Communities that exist in Canada is testimony to the faith of the people, but it is also a consequence of the work of the international, national and metropolitan structures of the Church.
Fourth, if only in a small way, put direct support for local, national and international ministries into the ongoing budget of the Church Community; Yes, the Metropolis budget supports missions, but if stewardship support to the Church Community goes only for regular expenses, then the Church Community loses sight of one of its principal Christian obligations. Especially during Lenten seasons, Church Community focus should include service to the needy. The Council can help the Priest create this focus. Certainly the work of the Philoptochos sets a Christian model for the Church Communities and Church as a whole.
Fifth, remember that it is our obligation to present our best to the Church. As Church Community Council members, we have the duty to act as Greek Orthodox Christians in our dealing with fellow Council members and with the Church Community at large. We become larger than ourselves when we take the oath of office, and expectations for the character of our service are high.
Service on the Church Community Council is indeed a lay ministry. If we accept that premise, then we must see that service in a larger context than administration. When we look only at administrative service, we are tempted to see the spiritual base of the Church in administrative terms and seek to preserve the wrong inheritance. We are admonished to take the long view of the continuation of the Faith and see our service in the context of the spiritual life of the people.
Next Church Council General Meeting – TBA