Charting Our Course Forward (Part 3)
This week’s excerpt from my Pastoral Address is the third and final part of my presentation to the 2020 General Assembly of our parish. In this section, we turn from examining our past as a way to chart our course forward, and begin the hard work of planning for an exciting future. My hope is that it lays out a common vision from which we can plot our course into a future of growth in our parish community. As always, I invite any and all questions and am open to discussing any of these issues further.
So that covers from where we’ve come and where we are. Proverbs 20:12 tells us “The hearing ear and the seeing eye, the Lord has made them both.” This tells that seeing things as they are and having the blessing to hear what there is to be heard is a gift from God Himself. The year 2020, being coincidentally–and perhaps providentially–the number of perfect “2020 vision,” provides an incentive to our St. Nicholas parish first as it is. As I have shared, knowing from where we have come and we are now are the most important steps to find our way into the future and not become lost in the process. But vision invites us to see much more than what is easily apparent. It invites us to envision where we want to be beyond what is obvious, beyond what is known, beyond what is easy. This is not just a casual desire: knowing where we want to go is just as important as knowing from where we face our future. Another Proverb states this clearly, even if also starkly: “Without a vision, the people perish,” (Proverbs 29:18).
As the Pastor and shepherd placed here by our Metropolitan and Diocesan Bishop, I have been asked from time to time to articulate my vision for the parish, and without fail, my response is that I do not have a vision of my own. While this answer is surprising to some, I quickly follow up by commenting that fortunately for us, Orthodox Christianity–True, Whole and Authentic Christianity–comes with its own vision, which comes directly from our Lord Himself. This vision could be categorized in several ways, but one simple way is in the two Great Commandments our Lord set before us: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these,” (Mark 12:29-31). In this most simple form, these two commandments lay out all that we should be as a parish. To be sure, we must flesh this out and find ways to always be growing in our love of God with all that we are, and to love our neighbors as ourselves–both our fellow parishioners, as well as our neighbors in the world around us. And Jesus’ teaching always focused on helping the needy neighbor, the ones He called “the least of my brethren,” (Matthew 25:40), the care of whom that same chapter says will be the criteria for our salvation or condemnation when we face our Lord, the Righteous Judge, on Judgement Day. Knowing the challenging times we find ourselves with regards to the young leaving the Church, we must make retaining today’s youth and the young to come in the coming generations our highest goal, no matter the sacrifice needed to attain it.
The plans for how we accomplish these defining goals, and the additional needed resources of funds, personnel and volunteer efforts are not known, but what is known is that they are more. Much more. More than what we’ve offered in the past, and more than perhaps we’re ready to give now. Bishop ANTHONY tells his clergy and lay leaders that success in our parishes in this societal climate is going to require a vast increase in investment, mostly in additional clergy and lay staff due to the increase by our parishioners in their need for personal pastoral care. Simply put, he tells us all the time it’s going to take parishes having more priests along with full-time paid youth leaders and other lay ministries to maintain the level of connection current and future generations will require for parishes to survive, let alone thrive. Just as previous generations have done, though, we can face these challenges not simply with fear, but with wide-eyed optimism and dedication, and faith in our good and loving God.
So while I have no need to establish a vision outside of fulfilling the Great Commandments of Christ, it is my responsibility as the shepherd of this flock to choose the right paths to follow which will lead us there. I pledge to you all, with God as my witness, that this is what motivates me in my ministry among you every day. If you are perplexed or confused as to direction and goals that I work for, I invite you into conversation which will allow us to go from confusion to understanding. If I have frustrated or even angered you by the steps I have led us in, I likewise invite you to engage in constructive dialog that can only bring us more understanding and allow us to channel that energy toward the great work that awaits us. And if, by God’s grace, He has involved me in inspiring you to put your resources of time, talent and treasure toward the fulfillment of our united calling, I thank you for the inspiration you are to me, and encourage all of us to be strengthened by the limitless strength our God offers us. I am convinced now, more than ever, that Orthodox Christianity offers all that for which our world is starving for, and dying of thirst. Just as the dedication of prior generations allowed us to enjoy our present blessings, we must join our dedication to theirs and do the same. It’s not a matter of our ability, it’s simply a matter of our willingness. So let’s be willing. Let’s be hopeful. Let’s continue to work hard. Because this work is among the most important things any of us will do in our lives. Our parish can be the oasis we need it to be, a haven and place of restoration and renewal. It can be the oasis for our youth, many of whom don’t currently see all that God offers in the loving embrace of His Church, and instead are lured into the empty promises of the world’s great distractions. And it can be the oasis, even for just some of the thousands of those around us in need as well, offering nourishment and refreshment in a starving and thirsty world. This is the vision for who we can become.