Interview with Fr. Chad Hatfield
Fr. John Parker · April 25, 2013
Fr. John Parker interviews Fr. Chad Hatfield, Chancellor of St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary, about missions and evangelism.
Fr. John Parker: This is Fr. John Parker, the chair of the Department of Evangelization of the Orthodox Church in America. It’s a chilly and grey day in the holy city of Charleston, South Carolina, but it is made brighter because I’m sitting with my friend, Fr. Chad Hatfield, who is the chancellor of St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in Crestwood, New York. With him I’ve worked for a number of years now on a variety of evangelism-related projects in our church. It’s good to have you here today, Fr. Chad.
Fr. Chad Hatfield: Fr. John, it’s good to be back in Charleston with you. It is the holy city; I noticed in this month’s American Airlines magazine, they have a feature on Charleston, and it’s all about its churches and holy sites.
Fr. John: Yes. Well, there are two reasons why Charleston is called the holy city, traditionally. One is rather tongue-in-cheek these days, and that’s because there hasn’t been a lot of working on the roads around here, so every street is filled with pot holes, especially downtown; but the other is because Charleston has been—well, really is—one of the earliest and freest places in the United States of America with respect to religious freedom.
Yesterday Fr. Chad and I had a chance to get on a ferry boat and go to Fort Sumter together, and from Fr. Sumter we could look on the skyline of the peninsula of Charleston, which is dotted with dozens of church steeples, many of them even from the seventeenth century. So, holy city indeed.
Fr. Chad and I have been talking a lot about evangelism, evangelization, this particular topic and work in our Orthodox Church in America, but of course across the broader spectrum of Orthodoxy in our country, on our continent, but first, before we dive into the topic in that way, it’s good to talk about you a little, Fr. Chad, because I know that you are not only a missionary in spirit but that you have had quite a remarkable life with your dear Matushka Thekla in missionary work yourselves, whether that was in South Africa, Alaska, a number of church-plants. Tell us a little bit about your missionary zeal and the missionary nature of your person and family.
Fr. Chad: In one of the recent thank-you letters to donors to St. Vladimir’s Seminary I actually bounced off of what it was like for us leaving our first parish, which was in Denver, Colorado, for our assignment in South Africa. It was a difficult process, getting that assignment, but I felt quite strongly at that point in the early 1980s that South Africa was in desperate need of clergy. There was a clergy shortage, and there was one area that I thought I could make a real contribution to, which was in Zululand. The reason for that is I have a Kansas farm-boy background. It seemed to be a nice combination because of the emphasis on cattle and the agrarian life in Zululand, so after a lot of back-and-forth, the Hatfield family went off to South Africa. Most people who knew us well thought we were absolutely crazy; we were out of our minds. Why would we be doing such a thing? It was still the battle days of apartheid.
But since then I’ve captured a phrase from—not a theologian, but someone who’s a philosopher—it was Christos Yannaris, who is known to most of the listeners. He once said that to lead an Orthodox Christian life is to engage oneself in a series of risk-takings, and I have always appreciated that phrase, and I found that the Lord blesses those of us who are willing to take those risks, so we moved out of that comfortable setting to South Africa.
We landed in Pretoria after doing pre-missionary trailing in Selly Oak in England, and, much to my surprise, the bishop changed plans. We never made it to Zululand. He said to me, “Oh, I actually need you here.” So I ended up teaching at the diocesan school for girls, which was a very pleasant experience for me. I was the only male teacher in an all-girls’ school, and beginning a church from scratch in an area where one had not existed before.
Fr. John: Remarkable!
Fr. Chad: It also gave me a chance to bounce into what was called our link parish, a massive area outside of Pretoria, hidden behind the hills as most of the townships are even to this day, about 65,000 people living in shipping crates, cardboard boxes, tin shanties, so there was that level; one of my first experiences apart from Native American reservations, which I was also familiar with, growing up near Chilocco Indian School in Oklahoma. Then that fed in, not only my interest in evangelism and missionary work, but what it is we’re doing right and what it is we’re doing wrong in addressing issues of poverty.
Then, of course, eventually the time came when the South African government just did not renew my residency permit, so we came back after five years to the U.S. I did an additional, S.T.M. degree at Nashotah House and sort of slowly fed back into American parish life, which I found a rather difficult transition, because we arrived back in the U.S. in the middle of the famous Coke-Pepsi wars, and having sort of extracted ourselves from the intensity of South African apartheid, we not only thought Americans were kind of silly in what they thought was important in life, but this sort of abundance—just going through a supermarket almost threw us into shock because there was so much to choose from.
There was a point where I think that Thekla and I were somewhat serious about returning to Africa when our sons were through university and on their own, but we wanted to go back in a seminary setting because, for me—I believed it then, and I believe it today—that’s where the action is, and that’s where you make the greatest impact on the future of the Church. I’ve been able to kind of collect my experiences in over 35 years of ordained ministry, and I get to develop the missiological component at St. Vladimir’s, in addition to being the chancellor and CEO.
Fr. John: Well, before we get to your teaching about missions and evangelism at St. Vladimir’s, tell us first about—at least in brief—the middle step between your movement between an eventual arrival in the Orthodox Church and then you spent some time also as the dean at St. Herman’s Seminary in Alaska. Clearly that is a cross-cultural experience at a minimum, but certainly missionary also. Tell us a little bit about that.
Fr. Chad: I think it may be an important piece of the puzzle. I grew up in an Anglo-Catholic tradition. Every Anglo-Catholic who was serious about their faith knew that the vocation of Anglo-Catholics was to convert the Episcopal Church to right thinking. In Anglo-Catholicism we saw ourselves not as some denomination but as part of the Catholic Church, and that’s really the mindset with which I grew up. It was the mindset which drew me to the priesthood in the first place.
Orthodoxy was not foreign to me. As we know from our Orthodox history in this country, it was not unusual for Orthodox families to attach themselves to Episcopalian parishes when there was no Orthodox Church around. There were at least three, maybe four, Orthodox families in the parish church I grew up in in southern Kansas. Actually, people who knew me even from my teen years would say things like, “You have an East wind blowing through your head.”
Fr. John: Oh, my. I’ve never heard that one.
Fr. Chad: Because my attraction to the Eastern Church, to Orthodoxy, manifested itself fairly early. I really felt that I needed to bloom where I had been planted, and I did my best to do so. I was part of the sort of resistance movement to try and hold the line as Anglicanism slipped further and further away from what we would understand as apostolic teaching and Catholic ecclesiology. I had become the dean of the cathedral in Salina, Kansas, and in that position I had become acquainted with an archimandrite, Basil (Essey), now His Grace Bishop Basil of the Diocese of Wichita and Mid-America. Our oldest son was at the University of Kansas, and he was a Slavic language and human biology major—interesting combination.
Fr. John: Remarkable, indeed.
Fr. Chad: He had his interest there. My wife had been studying iconography, and she once said to me, “It’s kind of like being a kid standing outside the candy store. You see all the goodies, but you can’t go in.”
After sort of encountering Fr. Basil, now Bishop Basil, a very nice friendship developed there. I had him preach at the cathedral in Salina. In due course, it was time to do…
Fr. John: That would probably be one of those steps of risk you were describing earlier.
Fr. Chad: It was a step of risk, for sure! But, you know, it bore fruit. Eventually we took that other risk. We embraced Orthodoxy, full-fledged, which means you have to sell a car, you’ve got to go to a smaller house, you lose insurance and benefits, all those kinds of things, but you just don’t count the cost. You know that this is the pearl of great price, and you’re going to take it.
Fr. John: Indeed.
Fr. Chad: So we made that move and we were able to start an Antiochian mission in Salina, Kansas. Interestingly enough, Metropolitan Philip did not give us the name that we requested for our church. In fact, he said that if Orthodoxy would survive in a place like Salina, it needed not one patron saint or two or three, but the entire company of heaven, so he gave us the name of All Saints. I was good to a promise I made to him, that we wouldn’t just sit idle; that we would found other Orthodox communities in Kansas, and we did so. We founded St. Mary Magdalene Mission in Manhattan, where the Kansas State University is located. All Saints and St. Mary Magdalene, of course, are still both going.
Fr. John: Beautiful.
Fr. Chad: In a sense, the Lord answered a prayer about seminary, only we didn’t go back to Africa; we went to Alaska. The only thing that Africa and Alaska have in common is they both begin and end in the letter A. Beyond that, there’s not much in common, but we had very happy years at St. Herman’s Seminary. I was released to the OCA, because that was part of being the dean of an OCA cathedral. There are certain responsibilities that you need to be part of that ecclesial body.
So I had a hybrid Orthodox background. We keep a tie with St. Herman’s Seminary, because St. Vladimir’s and St. Herman’s have a very long and very interesting history together.
Fr. John: Right, of course. Well, Father, from there it was now, what, seven years? Seven or eight years ago that you came to St. Vladimir’s Seminary.
Fr. Chad: Yes, seven, in our second term.
Fr. John: And in that time now, it’s important to say, of course, how does one separate Fr. Chad Hatfield from chancellor from professor? It’s not easy, because you’re you, and you’re sort of three-in-one and one-in-three, but today we’re talking specifically about evangelism, missionary work, and so forth. Tell us, if you will, a little bit about the curriculum that you are developing at the seminary, and particularly about the teaching that you’re doing on missiology. What is missiology? What do you see in the students at St. Vladimir’s in terms of missionary zeal, particularly domestic missionary zeal, that is, to really continue to reach out, plant churches, and evangelize our nation and our continent?
Fr. Chad: I spent 16 years as a member of the Orthodox Christian Mission Center board, six of those as the vice president, so early on I had a good exposure to the kind of foreign missionary component in Orthodoxy and the enormous challenges to get that right. You talk about foreign missions; I have an enormous concern that we sort of can theologize it, we can write heart-wrenching articles about it, yet it’s almost impossible—I would say it is impossible, so far—for us to get above 25 long-term missionaries in the field. And that’s multi-jurisdictional; that’s so-called pan-Orthodoxy. There’s something wrong with that, because an independent church can sometimes support up to 20 missionaries in one mission field by themselves.
Fr. John: Right. On the one hand, we congratulate the OCMC on its incredible advances in the last I don’t know how many years, because I’ve only been on the scene for a decade, but really it’s come an incredible, long way, but, like you say, here we are sitting in Mount Pleasant, 200 yards up the street from my house is a local Baptist church, and that Baptist church, no doubt, supports at least two dozen foreign missionaries just from their church.
Fr. Chad: From their church, and, you see, that’s the challenge. I think the root of it is our own dividedness in Orthodoxy. We don’t speak with one voice, and, yes, we’ve made some progress over the years. You look at the canonical assembly of Orthodox bishops, those kinds of things, but we’re still pretty ham-fisted.
We don’t seem to have even what is in fact a legacy of ours. When you study the life of St. Innocent of Alaska, he was organized. He understood the formation of a missionary society that was effective. He did not hesitate to teach and preach that it’s not the czar who’s going to send the shekels or the…
Fr. John: Rubles!
Fr. Chad: Or the rubles to support the foreign missionaries. All of us have to be involved in it. In a way, when an Evangelical converts to Orthodoxy, one of the common questions is, “Okay, here’s my tithe. What do I do with my missionary offering?” Above and beyond the ten percent! A lot of Orthodox priests look perplexed. They’re not quite sure what to do with that. That should be as natural to us as walking. It’s the great quote of Archbishop Anastasios of Albania that a church not engaged in mission is simply not the Church. I’d take that a step further, which is a Christian not engaged in mission is simply not a Christian.
Fr. John: One of my dearest friends, T.J. Foltz—I mentioned this on an earlier podcast. T.J. was a great mentor to me when I was a youth minister in the Episcopal Church, and he expressed his opinion, which is a beautiful opinion, I would say; it should be a maxim for our life as Christians. He said most of us, especially in our country, we spend the whole childhood of our children, “When you go to college…, when you go to college…, when you go to college…” From the day that they’re old enough to listen, and from the day that they’re in kindergarten, we talk about “When you go to college…, when you graduate and you go to do this and that and study…” we plant in their minds all those years when they go to college, so that when they’re 15, 16, 17, 18, there’s no doubt in their mind; it’s as natural as walking that they’re going to college.
He suggested: why don’t we take the same approach with respect to evangelism and missionary work with our own teens, not only in our own families, but in our own parishes? “When you grow up and you’re a missionary…, when you grow up and plant a church…, when you grow up and found the first mission in a city that’s never had one…” so that by the time our children get to college, it’s just a part of their DNA, and it’s as natural as signing up for Biology 101 that they’re going to be involved in missionary work.
Fr. Chad: So at St. Vladimir’s, before my arrival, when Fr. John Behr and I took over in kind of the new form of governance in 2007, the seminary had gone through a kind of self-study, and it had launched something called the good pastor program that put a deeper emphasis on the practical side of the formation of priests and others to serve the Church. That’s kind of evolved and morphed in different ways, but part of this, it’s clear and it’s being engaged and implemented at St. Vladimir’s, that we make missiology not just simply an elective, an offering from time to time, but it becomes part of the core curriculum, and eventually we would like to be the Orthodox school which is offering a degree in missiology.
Fr. John: Wonderful.
Fr. Chad: Which has a focus, not only on foreign mission, but also on domestic mission. And missiology in itself is kind of peculiar. When you type it in, your spell-check will tell you that it’s misspelled. Missiology, of course, is the study and implementation of mission, and it’s an evangelization as well, church-planting, but it’s not part of our normal lingo in this culture, even within the life of the Church. I’ve often given presentations, Fr. John, in parishes, and people—well-meaning people—will come up to me afterwards. They kind of pat my hand in a kind of paternalistic way to assure me that as a convert who came from the outside, I really need to understand that in the Orthodox Church we don’t evangelize.
Fr. John: Mercy!
Fr. Chad: Now what they’re really saying to me is they’re trying to give me some kind of message what we would call proselytizing, but, again, to quote Archbishop Anastasios, if we aren’t evangelizing, we aren’t doing our job, because the Great Commission has been given to all of us, not just to a portion.
Fr. John: Fr. Chad, maybe for one second—because it’s an important question, actually—could you make a distinction for us between evangelizing and proselytizing?
Fr. Chad: I can. In my files in my office, I have a cartoon that I cut out several years ago that shows a Muslim lying flat on his back in the sands of North Africa, and a Crusader has a lance at his throat, and the caption down below says, “Tell me more about the love of this Jesus.” That’s proselytizing, where you actually force a person to embrace Christianity. Evangelization—and there are different ways of understanding evangelization, because we live in the West, and in the West, as we know, Christianity has become a religion of the head. For us, it is a religion of the heart. I don’t want to oversimplify evangelization. We do, as St. Innocent certainly showed us, we need to have our act together. We need to have a plan. We need to know how to fund it and how to implement it. But it really does come down to that saying that’s sort of well-worn, of St. Seraphim of Sarov: Acquire the Holy Spirit, and thousands around you will be saved. It is that sense of personal sanctity that people should be able to encounter in any Orthodox Christian that draws them to the light of Christ.
Fr. John: Yes. You know, it also reminds me, I think perhaps a tangent to this that’s worth noting today. I was speaking with Fr. David Rucker recently who, with his wonderful wife, Matushka Roseanne, [is] preparing to go to Guatemala to be missionaries back in the field, and Fr. David reminded me—it’s completely apropos of your visit to us this weekend, giving a retreat on discipleship at Holy Ascension—that is, our Lord Jesus Christ called us to make disciples and not converts. We might just for the sake of this argument say he called us to make disciples, not proselytes, but in a certain sense there’s a relationship there, and the point is that to become a disciple is to become a student of Jesus and to follow his ways, whereas to become a convert could mean any number of things, including just knowing how to make the sign of the Cross the right way and on which days we don’t eat X, Y, or Z.
Fr. Chad: That’s true, Fr. John. That’s true. I agree with that.
Fr. John: So at the seminary, tell us more about the preparation that you’re giving to students for missionary work, and then let’s take some time to talk really practically speaking about what you see that we’re doing well in North America and where you see we could improve and how to do that.
Fr. Chad: Maybe very simply this semester I’ve offered a course that was titled, “Mission Planting,” which is important and “Urban Parish Revitalization.” The mission-planting side, designing that course was easy enough. I like to point out to people the Alexei Krindatch study and atlas that’s been published, and there are several other resources available to us through the Assembly of Bishops. This is an honest picture, I think, of the Orthodox scene in this country, and that makes us just slightly less than 1% of the U.S. population. 90% of American counties have absolutely zero Orthodox presence in them. So it isn’t that we don’t have not only an enormous challenge, but the kind of response we need to be giving, because we’re almost invisible on the American scene.
Fr. John: If I can interject one second, Father; I remember reading that study. Our listeners can visit probably any number of places, but if you go to oca.org and type in Krindatch, K-r-i-n-d-a-t-c-h, is it? you’ll find that study copied there in PDF format, but there’s a map in the middle of that study that shows the United States broken down in little squares, by county, and then each county has a color according to the number of Orthodox Christians who are in that place. I think maroon is high concentration, so, of course, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, certain parts of Florida, California, very dark colors. The majority of the map is white, and white means less than 500 or zero. My interpretation of that map is just that quote from the Scriptures: the fields are white for the harvest. Our national map is white; that means there’s next to no Orthodox Christians in America, so we have plenty of places to go, plenty of work to be doing to make disciples.
Fr. Chad: Plenty of work, and so many opportunities. In this class, the second half, which was urban revitalization, that was challenging, because I had to work really hard to find some models that have been successful, or even where there’s an interest. This is more than just sort of focusing on specialized ministries to Hispanics, African-Americans, other groups that are kind of concentrated in urban areas now. It’s simply bigger than that, although that’s an area in which we’re not doing very well either.
I can look back and give my own opinions; these are my own opinions. There was certainly a burst of energy in the 1980s about Orthodoxy reaching beyond its normal ethnic enclaves, Orthodoxy sort of energizing itself to be prepared to offer a sort of different expression of Christianity than has normally been experienced especially in the West, places like North America. I think that that energy has just simply gone.
You combine that with the collapse of Communism, beginning in the late 1980s and early 1990s. We have been presented in the last 20 years an enormous opportunity for growth. Our mother patriarchates, the regions of the world that are dominated by Orthodoxy, have become free for the most part, except for those that are still under Islamic domination, and there is an enormous searching happening in our culture for an authentic religious expression, whatever that happens to be.
People who think that America is an overly secularized country are just dead wrong. We’re a very religious country. Go into any Barnes & Noble’s and go into the section labeled “Spirituality,” and you’ll see it’s a very long aisle, and every kind of imaginable religious expression is found there…
Fr. John: Except…
Fr. Chad: ...and then try to find something on Orthodox Christianity.
Fr. John: Exactly.
Fr. Chad: Now remember, we have SVS Press at St. Vladimir’s Seminary, which is the largest publishing company of Orthodoxy in the English language, but it’s difficult for us to move into that niche, into that market. So people are hungry for what we have, and, unfortunately, I think we’ve taken steps backwards from where we were, say, in the late ‘80s, when the Evangelicals came into the Archdiocese, and other expressions, certainly coming out of the Anglican tradition…
Fr. John: Why is that if I might interrupt? Is it because there is a weariness? What would be the reasons? Did we grow tired? Did we not find the “advances” that we expected would happen at the pace we expected? Was it a lack of support? What are some of the underlying factors that have retrograded us or slowed us down?
Fr. Chad: Fr. John, I think that any time that there is a movement that brings holiness, sanctity, salvation to people, we know in our tradition, from the Desert Fathers, the devil never sleeps. It’s very easy to create divisions, and I think that lines of division were created. I am so weary of talking about cradles and converts. That just simply shouldn’t be. However you’re received into the Church, either through baptism or through chrismation, when the chrism is dry, you’re not a convert; you’re Orthodox. We need to stop thinking in those kind of categories and boxes, because it’s very detrimental.
If you want to see something impressive, go to catholicscomehome.org. It is incredibly professional, so well done, but you know what? As an Orthodox Christian, I have to say: that should be us. That should be the Orthodox Church, bringing her lost sheep home in the pattern of St. Raphael, shepherd to the lost sheep. That should be us reaching out to people to say: This is the Church of the apostles. Yet I know Orthodox Christians who are shy about even reciting the Synodikon on Orthodoxy Sunday because, “Well, that sounds triumphalistic” or “That’s not ecumenical” or “It’s not sensitive enough.” Goodness sakes! Can we not actually proclaim with some zeal: “This is what we have held and believe, for two thousand years. Come and join us if you want to be part of the Christian Church founded by Jesus Christ in 33 A.D., which has preserved the faith in its wholeness, without addition or dimunition, all of those things.” We’ve lost that sense of confidence and boldness, and we need to regain it.
Fr. John, this is my opinion. You and I live in America. America is a consumer society. There is a reason why McDonald’s doesn’t wrap its burgers in Burger King wrappers: because they are distinctively different. They’re both hamburgers, but they’re different. I think that the Orthodox, in a certain sense, have begun, ever so slowly, to finally gain some confidence in our own identity. I think when Georges Florovsky said in the 1920s, “We need to free ourselves from Western captivity,” he wasn’t just thinking about theological modes of expression. It’s a confidence in expressing how we understand the faith, how we live out our faith, what is an Orthodox engagement in spiritual warfare, all those things which are really quite unique to Orthodoxy, but also even the externals.
Let’s face it. There was a long period in our Orthodox Christian history when we sort of looked enviously at other traditions, because they seemed to have arrived, and we would try to emulate them. “Get away from the look of the old country and keep your head low lest you get hit for being some kind of strange-looking immigrant.” Well, let me tell you: I think that one of the things that’s happened in that kind of cross-pollenization of the last 20 years is people coming from different Christian traditions [in] which they feel the faith was abandoned, the rug was pulled out from under them, every time they went to a church meeting there was a new doctrine or the old one had been banished, we’ve come and attached ourselves to what we believe is the Church, and we’re certainly confident in our understanding of American culture as well. So we understand that to look and feel Orthodox is to our advantage, not to our disadvantage.
Why do I want to be mistaken as an Episcopal priest through my external attire? I don’t, but when I’m traveling around the world and I’m in my anderi and my cassock, I get all kind of conversation from people, and I’ve seen a shift. People used to ask, “What are you?” Now they ask more sophisticated questions, like, “Are you Greek or Russian?” That still means we’ve got a long ways to go, but we’ve got to stop imitating other churches.
Christian education is a perfect example of that. Orthodox Christians have been trying to model the education of our children on Protestant church school models for too darn long. We need to find our own way to educate our people in a tradition, because talk to the Protestants: every single denomination will tell you they’re failing in Christian education. And we can’t afford that. When we’re less than one percent of the population, we can’t afford to lose a generation or two, and we’ve already lost too many of them, because, again, we haven’t followed the model that St. Innocent gave us. We don’t teach and preach in the language of the people.
We’ve become preservation centers of something. It’s not unusual to encounter a person who was born in the Orthodox Church and when you talk to them, they say, “When I went off to college I became a whatever, because, quite frankly, I never understood what was going on at Saint Whatever” that they grew up in. Even if they spoke the home language, let’s face it: if you’re speaking Russian at home and you’re hearing Old Church Slavonic in the church you grew up in, you’re not comprehending that.
Fr. John: Maybe even that comes back to the issue of making disciples rather than making converts, but in this case it’s not converts from outside. It’s that we’ve made even of ourselves converts rather than disciples, people who know the externals of things, but who do not understand the fundamental underpinnings of those externals and why those are so vital, that is, how to follow Jesus Christ through fasting, through signs of the Cross, through prostrations, through the Jesus Prayer and so forth.
Fr. Chad: The tried-and-true methods to salvation, which is part of the package that you get when you embrace Orthodoxy. But those lines of division we were talking about earlier, Fr. John, even the signs out in front of our churches. I’ll tell you one of my favorite stories. I have a friend who, his church sign outside said, “St. George Antiochian Church,” and a very pleasant man encountered the priest and said, “Can you maybe explain something to me?” and he said, “What’s that?” and he says, “What’s an Anti-Ochian?” And the priest looked a little bit puzzled and he said, “I don’t know what you mean.” And he said, “Well, your church sign out front says that your church is ‘Anti-Ochian,’ and I don’t know what that is.”
You see? What are we doing in our advertizing? It’s just much better for all of us to drop the ethnic association and identify ourselves as Orthodox Christian churches. So at least we’ll look like we’re one church in this country, and get rid of those lines of division.
Fr. John: But your point would be, very basically in addition to the unity of our Church in that kind of way, simply to say that even something as simple as a church sign is an evangelistic tool for us in North America.
Fr. Chad: Absolutely.
Fr. John: A. Have one, have a sign. B. Have a sign which is easily interpretable. That is, one looks at it and says, “Oh, I know what this is.”
Fr. Chad: I’ll give you an example. Again, people get all hung up on externals. Externals are important if they’re used right. If they become an obsession and that becomes your religion, then it’s wrong. When I was covering the OCF at Kansas State University, we had our rented space at one corner of the campus, and at the complete opposite was Aggieville, where everybody goes for coffee and, well, other things, depending on the time of day. When I was there, I would always, in my cassock, walk across the campus. I had a diagonal walk. I can tell you: never once was I not stopped and had a conversation because of what I was wearing, and I never sat alone when I went for coffee, and we were able to build up a community that was really like the United Nations. I found Bulgarians and Romanians and a Kenyan, all these people who didn’t know Orthodoxy was around, but the minute they identified a priest, they knew: “Oh, something’s up here.”
I was pumping gas once in Manhattan, Kansas—in a cassock, because I was going back and forth—and a man said to me, “You’re obviously an Orthodox priest.” I said, “Yes,” and he said, “Where is your church?” And I said, “We’re starting a mission right here.” His wife got out of the car, burst out laughing, came and shook my hand, and she said, “I’ve been married to him for over 20 years. I ask him why he doesn’t go to church, and he always tells me, ‘Because my church isn’t here.’ ” And she looked at him and she says, “Gig’s up! As soon as there’s a church, you’re going to services!”
Fr. John: Nice.
Fr. Chad: Now, I have to say, that man was not like, you know, salt of the earth, every weekend he was there, but he was reattached to his faith and engaged us at a certain level.
Fr. John: So, once again, just a week or two ago, when I was speaking with Fr. James Bozeman, our mutual friend, with whom we had supper last night, new pastor at St. James Church in Buford, we discussed about how some of the principles of Orthodox Christianity that we inherited. In the early 1900s, St. Tikhon was very clear about what clergy should wear in those days, that we should dress as the clergy of the day in order that we might make some inroads with the clergy in that time, but as you’re suggesting, Father, and as the case now, that day may have come and gone and just our attire A. can serve as a pointer or a sign for those Orthodox Christians who don’t know we’re even around…
Fr. Chad: That’s right.
Fr. John: Fr. James Bozeman has certainly determined this and seen this to be true in Buford, where, in Buford, South Carolina, in the history of Buford, 300 years, there’s never ever been an Orthodox church of any kind ever, so for him to walk into the post office and someone to say, “I’ve been praying for an Orthodox church in Buford for 30 years,” and now she knows there’s one because she saw a priest in a cassock—that’s a beautiful thing. In that sense, it’s a chaplaincy to those who are Orthodox and don’t know we’re around, and it’s a missionary or evangelistic effort for those who recognize: “It’s Christian but it doesn’t look like anything I know; maybe I should ask him about something.”
Fr. Chad: Exactly, and you mentioned St. Tikhon. What an incredible model and intercessor he is for us, because when he was our Archbishop of America, he understood himself to be the Archbishop of America, not just a tiny Orthodox population. He carried himself, he conducted himself as if he were in that position of leadership, and he was confident. When people criticized him for his outreach, especially to Episcopalians, to Anglicans, he had a response where he said, “If you’re confident in your Orthodoxy, you’re free to extend the hand of friendship, but when you’re insecure, that’s when you hold back.”
Fr. John: Wow. Well, we have a long legacy that we have inherited from St. Tikhon and his missionary efforts, although, from the time of St. Tikhon when, as a Russian bishop, he was our hierarch for every Orthodox Christian on the North American continent, whether Greek or Slavic or from wherever, including Native American Alaskans and others who were Orthodox Christians, we’re in almost the opposite situation now, but the missionary call to us remains the same, Fr. Chad. So where are we in your view? Give us an example or two of areas where our evangelistic efforts are bearing fruit and maybe an example or two of areas where we have serious work to do. We don’t need to be discouraged, because Christ is with us and shapes us and energizes us to go out, but where we do need to pay some very serious attention.
Fr. Chad: You and I both grew up in the Anglican tradition. There’s nothing secret about the fact that the Anglican Communion, in particular areas like Canada, the U.S., New Zealand, have really fallen apart. The numbers of the membership have plummeted. So many of their people have been looking for the exit sign. I would say that Rome has done a good job of providing avenues and throwing life-lines, making sure that those searching people know, well, there is a safe harbor to come into in the storm. We Orthodox have been so reticent to do that. I know the famous statement that came out of England in 1992 which was a moment in Church of England history where there was a real shake-up. People were saying, “I’m out of here. The last line drawn in the sand has been crossed.”
A comment was made by a person in Orthodox leadership which certainly doesn’t come from the tradition of the book of Acts in which he said, “Well, the Orthodox Church just isn’t prepared to deal with large numbers of converts.” What a crazy thing to be saying! Let’s take that risk. Let’s go back to Yannaras. Sometimes he’s very sloppy. You and I are part of an effort to reach out to traditional Anglicans and to pick up really what was a fascinating nearly 400-year dialogue and exchange between Anglicans, as they sort of searched for their Catholic identity and would sort of have these stops and engagements with Orthodox Christians. It’s a fascinating history, and that’s one of the things we hope to record in the dialogue that we’ve reconstituted between the Orthodox Church in America and the Anglican Church in North America.
But I’m puzzled by the fact that, in the Orthodox world, it is this tiny little effort that you and I are involved in which is the one really friendly expression and outreach to traditional Anglicans. And that’s peculiar. We need to be able to say, “Yes, this house is open and friendly and willing to talk to you.” Again, it’s not like we’re going out to snag people with a hook and bring them into Orthodoxy. It’s just to be friendly and engaging.
You know, the discussion that we’ve had in our committee on the filioque, in which you were a key player, it has really borne fruit. The ACNA is now prepared to say, “When we produce our new prayer book, to drop the filioque.” No other exchange has actually accomplished that. There’ve been agreements that these in principle should happen, but to actually drop it out of the prayer books in one of the Anglican provinces hasn’t been done yet.
Other areas where you asked me where we’re not succeeding. I get around. It’s part of my job. So I’m in different jurisdictions, different regions of the country, almost every weekend. It’s kind of rare for me to be at the altar at St. Vladimir’s. I’m looking in some regions, particularly like the Northeast. The average age is 70 and above in so many of the communities. That ought to be setting off alarms all over the place. I had Bishop Michael of the OCA Diocese of New York and New Jersey speak to my class about his vision for that diocese, and he has one. But, again, the problems are simply resources. It’s kind of like the priest who goes into his new parish and he’s told by the parish council that “Christian education is a priority in our parish!” and then you look at the budget, and they have $500 budgeted for Church school for the year… That’s the real priority for them. In other words, it’s low. They’re saying one thing, but in reality it’s something else.
We have to make evangelism a priority. We have to really invest in church growth and giving our churches some vision and hope, and that’s where we really need all of our bishops on board. I’m really anxious and ready for the day in which our bishops are singing with one chorus, like a symphony, that all of them are pushing and driving us to say, “Orthodox Christianity is such a precious gift that we possess, we can’t hide it any longer and we, the bishops, will actually lead the Church in raising our profile.” And in raising our profile in our culture… because, let’s face it, Fr. John, culture is so significant. Culture trumps religion; culture trumps politics. It trumps everything. When you look at where our culture is and where it is moving, in a very rapid direction, it’s often completely contrary to what this Church teaches.
Fr. John: Amen.
Fr. Chad: And there are too many people in the Orthodox communities that are reticent to raise our voice. I think in some sense the Orthodox Church have been given a slot that maybe we don’t deserve. What I mean by that is we are such a tiny portion of the American population, and yet, when we do raise our voices, say, at the March for Life, we’ve been given a great courtesy at the last two years. The Orthodox bishops stand with the Roman Catholic bishops, to open that March for Life. Well, that’s really significant.
Fr. John: On the stage in front of a half a million or more people.
Fr. Chad: Exactly, but then people see the Orthodox Church is a pro-life Church, and that’s important for people who are looking for the exit sign in their traditions that have abandoned basic Christian morality and teaching, biblical standards.
Fr. John: Right. Well, give us an example, Fr. Chad, of an area—and again, you travel all the time, every week, here and there, all across North America—give us a good example. Give us a beacon to hold onto, where you see whether in a specific place or in a specific category where the work that we’re doing and attempting to do is good, bright, and encouraging.
Fr. Chad: Well, there are a lot of bright lights that are out there. It’s something that I think that can be lost in a kind of—I don’t know how you’d describe this, but I think there’s a kind of Orthodox ethos that tends to be dark and gloomy.
Fr. John: Yes.
Fr. Chad: We seem to have been conditioned, somehow, to be sort of poor and pitiful. But maybe the brightest light that I see is we’re now beginning, I think, to bear fruit with the various pan-Orthodox gatherings of young people that have been happening over the last several decades. They form friendships, alliances, and they’re coming into maturity on their own. They’re carrying with them that sense of “We’re tired of the old divisions that kept us divided. We recognize that we can’t bear that luxury any longer.” So I’m seeing amongst the sort of 35-and-under some really top talent, and they’re not hesitating to take their places of leadership in some areas. We need to encourage that and make room for them.
Fr. John: Yes, indeed. I think that you mentioned earlier in our conversation the importance in your own view and therefore in your own ministry of seminaries in the evangelistic endeavor in our Church, which is absolutely true. The pastors and musicians of our Church who are being trained at the seminary level to go out into the world absolutely have to have a foundation, not only theologically in this, but they have to be developed in a certain zeal to go out in these ways.
It’s likewise true, maybe we could say the other place where we need to plant our flag firmly is in those college ministries, precisely A. because those college students are banding together already to overcome the differences between our jurisdictions and so forth, but [also] because every kid on every college campus, to quote one of my favorite movies, and perhaps yours, O Brother, Where Art Thou? is: “Lookin’ for answers.” Every one of them! And to capture them at that stage in their life, when they’re already full of energy, already full of excitement and zeal, and when they are looking for answers, well, we’ve got them. We’ve got the answers, so to speak. We have our Lord Jesus Christ and his Church.
Fr. Chad: Right. I think it’s important that we not give them dumbed-down answers, or what I call “Orthodoxy Lite,” because they can get that anywhere.
Fr. John: Well, Fr. Chad, is there a final word you’d like to offer to us as we’re winding down our time together? Give us a word, Father. Here we are.
Fr. Chad: Of course, as we’re recording this, we’re headed for the fifth Sunday of the Great Fast. It’s been a kind of odd year, because Pascha is as late as it possibly can be, so it seemed like we had a very late start in going through the Lenten journey. We’re coming close, and I suppose this is my word to you: Parishes all around the world in this last few days of the Great Fast will be doing the final preparations for catechumens to be received into the Church. I’m so delighted that in so many places, Holy Saturday has really become a day of Christian initiation again, and it’s long, liturgically, and we can talk liturgics sometime, too, but we know they’re the reason for those prophecies on Great and Holy Saturday, because that’s when the baptisms are supposed to be occurring. Unfortunately, in so many places, we just made it a long endurance race for people sitting there, hearing the readings of the prophecies. It’s a time for action, and you’re bringing these people in. At the Presanctified Liturgies, we began to intensify a few days back, praying for those who are preparing for holy illumination.
Fr. John: Indeed.
Fr. Chad: Well, hopefully, we are able as a Church to nurture and encourage a constant flow of catechumens, because they energize all of our communities, but also not to become a place where, once they’re in, they’ve been formally received through the rites of Christian initiation, they become discouraged because they now encounter people who—I don’t know how you say this in an accurate way, but they want to sort of tamp down their enthusiasm, and then say, “You need to mature in your Orthodoxy.” Well, if their definition of maturing in Orthodoxy is to become sort of dead in your tracks and just sort of on auto-pilot, that’s a real tragedy, and we see way too much of that. I just say, “Keep the enthusiasm of the catechumens growing and thriving in our communities, and that’ll benefit all of us.”
Fr. John: Indeed. I’d like to thank Fr. Chad Hatfield for his time and friendship, for his visit to our parish for this discipleship retreat weekend which meant so much to me and my parish specifically, and also for the time that Fr. Chad has given to me to talk about evangelization in North America, this very, very vital topic for our Church life here on the North American continent. I thank Fr. Chad for the work that he does, traveling around the country and being able to bear witness to us about the places where the light of Orthodox Christianity is shining brightly, where he is able to share with us the examples that we can follow, and likewise examples, as we’ve heard a little bit today, where we can learn from our own impoverished experiences.
We also owe a great debt of gratitude to Matushka Thekla whose self-sacrifice of her own time with Fr. Chad has allowed us, my parish, we the listeners, and our wider Church the blessing of his gifts and talents. So we thank you, Mat. Thekla, as well. To our listeners, if you’d like more information about St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary and her work educating the future pastors, musicians, evangelists and leaders of the Church, you can visit the seminary website at http://www.svots.edu or the St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press Bookstore at svspress.com.
This is Fr. John Parker, chair of the Department of Evangelization of the Orthodox Church in America. God grant us a very beautiful and peaceful and Holy Week as we enter the Passion of our Lord, and a bright and glorious Pascha.