This year’s conference offered courses on the persons and early writings that shaped the vision of the Church, on the issues of the first centuries, on the Eucharist, and finally on how the Church is living the vision now. The keynote speaker was His Eminence Metropolitan Savas of Pittsburgh, and the featured presenter was Alexi Krindatch, the Research Coordinator with the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of North and Central America. Held at Antiochian Village in Ligonier, PA, from Oct. 31 - Nov. 3, 2013.
Mr. Joseph Kormos: Thank you for the nice welcome. I’m trying to organize… I won’t stand behind here because I can’t stand in one place. This will be a little bit different kind of session than the two I’ve attended thus far, because it’s more of a presentation. I am always amazed at particularly priests who are capable of giving very good sermons without any props. Being a kind of corporate-type, I’ve learned about PowerPoint and death by PowerPoint, and it’s a kind of a crutch that I use to keep me sort of on-target and from rambling too much.
Let me just, first of all, say thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you. First of all for your time. Obviously, you chose to come here. I realize that I’m the only thing that stands between you and dinner, but if I get done sooner, you don’t get to dinner sooner, so let’s just kind of all live with one another for a certain amount of time.
Thank you also for your past labors, because, obviously, this is not a group of people that just sort of wandered in here, late for Communion. You’re people who work hard. I think many of you are Church school educators, others do other things, but you all are dedicated laborers in the vineyard of Christ, probably mostly within your parish. So thank you in advance for that, or in arrears perhaps.
Thank you in advance maybe for considering your willingness to consider some new ideas. I don’t know if what I have to say will be old-hat to you. I don’t know if it’ll be new. I don’t know if it’ll be cutting-edge. I don’t know if I’ll get someone’s nose out of joint. Usually all those things happen a little bit along the way, but if we only leave with something that reaffirms our ideas, then probably we haven’t learned something here. So that’s the first thing.
You’ve heard about me. Valerie already said this. Maybe the other thing is—she mentioned 40 workshops. I’d forgotten I’d put that in there. I think essentially the only really good reason to listen to me… Oh, and I have been an Orthodox Christian all my life, and I have paid attention. I am not a seminary graduate. I don’t have a theological education. I will admit… My wife says it’s important about me to admit that I have a degree in engineering. She seems to think that I act like an engineer, whatever that is, and it’s not a good thing, apparently, in her mind, some of the time.
Probably the only real reason to listen to me is that I’ve been able—I’ve been lucky enough—to visit over 70 Orthodox parishes in the last six or seven years. Now, some of them were for weddings. Some of them were for vespers. Some of them were for Divine Liturgy, and that was it; nobody knew that I was anybody, because I’m not anybody. But many of them—about 40 of them—were for workshops in which we had some degree of interaction. I will tell you in advance that almost all of my perspective is from the OCA. I’m in the Orthodox Church in America. Those of you familiar… Are there other OCA people here or not? Some are. Okay. I won’t go into all that right now, but I’ve gotten around. I’ve paid attention as a secular consultant in a sort of secular world. I learned a little bit about observing and trying to figure out if a business, if an organization, where their weak spot was. How to sort of snoop around without being annoying. So that may be a skill, or at least it’s one of my less-bad qualities.
Who should be here? Well, we’re here. Whoever we are, we’re here. Often we have clergy, parish council members, ministry leaders, concerned parishioners. Let me just tell you where we’re going to go with this. There’s seven or eight things on here, and, hopefully… We’re supposed to be done by ten minutes to five, I believe. I’m going to try to get you through a number of things. We don’t have a huge group here, so we can stop and answer questions as they arise, but I have a pretty full deck of stuff here now.
These slides are accomplished, they’re a subset of what you’ll get on the little disk-thing. Basically, Valerie mentioned webinars—I think we all know what a webinar is by now, I hope: it’s an online presentation; there can be interaction. I can’t tell you the exact URL, but you can get there from the Archdiocese of Pennsylvania – OCA website of the Parish Development Ministry. There are three webinars that cover this, three one-hour webinars that I gave last summer, very well attended; we had over 100 people for many of them, and not everyone fell asleep, apparently. Some people said they got it. If you’re interested in sharing this with others, there are some ways to do that now. It’s three hours to get through what we’re going to go through in about an hour and a half, and it’s a different deal.
Background: we’re in the middle of that. I’ll try to talk a little bit about this question of healthy parishes, and most of what we’re talking about here is the renewal of parishes. Now that doesn’t really say that in the title. I think there is some applicability, and in fact I could hit the next thing… Why don’t I just hit this a number of times? I think it applies—hopefully you can all see it; I’m in the way a little bit here. It applies in a variety of ways, to a variety of parish situations. Primarily, I’m trying to deal with parishes that I would say are in peril: deep decline. In the Orthodox Church in America, we have many of them. I imagine in your jurisdiction you have some of these characteristics as well. A lot of what I have to say I think applies to parishes that are on a plateau, that are sort of treading water—things don’t look bad, but we haven’t been going anywhere for a while…
Q1: When you say “decline,” you mean membership?
Mr. Kormos: Primarily as experienced by numbers, but, of course, there are qualities that go with that, as you well know, and we’ll talk about some of those qualities. I’ll talk about that in the next slide. Let me get back over here.
I’m going to talk a little bit about this problem of renewal, what the situation is. I’ll offer a few insights that I’ve sort of learned along the way. I’m going to ask you to indicate what you see as some various sources of… If we wanted to learn about a healthy parish, where would we look? I’m going to ask you that question a little bit later. I’ll tell you I’ve put together sort of a “cheat sheet” list of some qualities of healthy Orthodox parishes as I see them. Much of this will be opinion. Alexei Krindatch, you’ll be talking this evening, right?
Mr. Alexei Krindatch: I hope so.
Mr. Kormos: I hope so, too! We’ve met one another, and I’ve sat in some of his lectures as well. He’ll speaking not just from opinion; he’ll be speaking from data, as a true statement. Mostly I’m giving you opinion, a few pieces of data. There is a model that we have put together of these qualities, that is available, that can be used, as Valerie said, as an assessment tool. I’ll briefly introduce that to you, and if I don’t overtalk, we’ll be able to do a little workshop exercise together, a case study that I call “Fix This Parish.”
I actually call it “Parish Impossible.” Have you seen “Restaurant Impossible”? I’d never seen that. My mother, 97 years old, said, “You know, I watched this show called ‘Restaurant Impossible.’ It’s pretty good. This chef comes in and he takes over this restaurant and he tells them what to do and everything turns around and it becomes wonderful and it starts filling it up and everybody likes it, and then he comes back three months later and they went back to the old way.” Have you ever seen this show? I mean, that’s kind of what happens in many ways. He comes back to see how it’s going, and: “Well, we didn’t really… We went back to the old menu. We’re still using frozen things.” So it kind of fits very well with “Parish Impossible.” Hopefully we’ll get to that and have a little bit of fun with it.
All right, so what are the situations of decline other than just numbers? Hopefully you can see these, because I was thinking I would have more screen room, but I can’t get enough row space. Declining worship attendance, falling membership, lost youth, minimalist stewardship and discipleship, new members rarely become active, visitors come once but do not return, fading fellowship, many clubs but few real Christian ministries, members in name only, an aging parish. This could be another way of measuring a parish in decline is sort of your median age or something like that. And I already said declining worship attendance.
I won’t necessarily ask you to declare where you are on this scale, whether you’re in a parish in peril, in deep decline, in plateau, or whether you’re still growing and want to sustain that growth, but I think these things apply to many of these [situations]. The imperative—again, sorry; I could maybe move this back, but then you won’t be able to see. I feel like it’s a tough gig here.
I usually show this, again, from the Orthodox Church in America; I often precede it or have some statistics afterward. We have a problem. Houston, we have a problem. And here [it] is, again, talking specifically about numbers. These are OCA parishes. Some of them you can recognize, maybe, because some are famous OCA parishes, so if you’re in the OCA you’ll know some of them. But those are the numbers that I think… 20-year, it says a 20-year numerical decline. We’re going from 405 to 189, 301 to 105, 200 down to 19. Is that right? Yeah, it is. No, that’s correct. No, this is of the wrong picture. 492 down to 200. So this is: Houston, we have a problem.
One might say, and I think Alexei kind of gave me the foundation for that: is this all about numbers? Well, no. No. The point… This is not a session or seminar, as it always gets called, about “parish growth” or at least numerical growth. The fundamental thing to remember, though, is—and I’m not best at quoting Scripture—“Paul planted, Apollos watered, and God provided the increase.” So this is about doing the things that can cause us to grow. Of course, numerical growth is not a bad thing. We’ve heard, I think in every session I’ve been in, from last night to this morning, maybe not this afternoon; people talked about Acts 2:42-47. So this is usually one of my big things that I share with people, and you’ve already heard it ten or eleven times already. But I will remind you [of] Acts 2:47: “And the Lord added to their number daily.”
One quick quip I often add, and because many times when I give this kind of session someone grumbles about the focus on numbers, “They’re always focused on numbers because that means money” and this and that, I’ll just point out that someone in Acts—Luke, or whoever—was counting. Someone was counting. They observed some numbers. In the early Church, the subtheme or the theme of what we’re talking about, evangelistic growth, I’ll simply say, was necessary or we would not be here today, if the Church had not grown. We would be the least important blip on the screen of past religions had the Church not grown. We would be the least important book or story. People would be writing books about this movement that would be dusty on library shelves; no one would pay any attention—had the Church not grown. We would have been an insignificant historical footnote and, oh, by the way, let’s be honest here: nothing, and I mean, there are maybe some things that can compare, but it’s very hard to buoy the spirits of a parish any more clearly, rapidly, and consistently than with numerical growth. It implies that we’re doing something right here. So numbers are not unimportant; it’s not only about numbers.
Here’s a few things we’ve gone through, a few things that I’ve learned. I’ve shortened up some of these parts, and when you get the slides, there’ll be more information there.
Myths or truths about building vibrant parishes. “Only new parishes can be vibrant.” “Only parishes in the suburbs can be vibrant.” “A new priest is required for renewal.” “You need a new, beautiful building.” And the silver bullet is—Are they true or are they false?
Mr. Kormos: Okay, you’re a good group. Not every group gets this immediately, but I won’t go into that. Obviously, these are false, but there is a certain degree of truth to them. The thing I’ll probably say a number of times is that if I could figure out how to do this—I do not yet have any good examples of old parishes that were large, that fell off a little bit and then were able to turn themselves around and got back going. In almost every case of turnarounds, they waited until almost the end. So what I always tell people—I think it’ll show up on a subsequent slide, but I’m there at the moment in my head—is that the view of the gallows clarifies the mind.
In parish renewal, I wish I could come up with a way that we could learn to renew and rethink and revise ourselves and our behaviors and our life in Christ before... I was speaking to some people from a Greek parish. Well, the parish has 900 members. The number one thing facing [them], and they could give examples of many of the things I just gave you that flashed on the screen, of symptoms. Well, they’re going to have a very, very, very hard time in that parish thinking about renewal and changing the way they are, because they’ve still got 900 people. It’s not till you get down to 15 that the view of the gallows is very clear, and then everybody’s very willing to bargain. Really? We have to pray? Then we’re willing to bargain, because people love their parish. People love their parish, but they don’t want to always work for it.
Myths. These will come to you later on the CD. There is, first of all, no known parish vaccine, a parish vibrancy vaccine. If there was a pill I could give you, I’d gladly do it, because I do not want to see parishes that are not living a life in Christ and bringing fruit to the world and new persons to Christ. It is true that you will need to—and these are obvious—learn new skills, do additional work, probably give more money to the parish, think differently, and give up some sacred cows.
Now if I were in a parish—because we’re talking to people from different parishes, so we can’t bite down on this in quite the same way—we’d stop and we’d talk a little bit about that. But all right. That’s point number one, observation number one that I’ve learned that I try to share with people.
Number two is: no matter what is going on, we don’t achieve some sort of renewed vibrancy in a parish in a brief period of time. It will be a long-term effort. Those parishes that I showed pictures of before, they didn’t drop, they didn’t decline in membership in two years. It isn’t like a bomb went off. They did that over a 20-year period, and they probably just didn’t have any more data back further than 20 years. It probably would have been going on much longer. We didn’t get in this position in three years, so you’re not going to change it in three years.
This is some of the bad news with this, is that everybody wants to look for change in growth patterns in one year. I just started working with the Archdiocese of Western Pennsylvania. We’ll have our diocesan assembly tomorrow, and they’re going to be disappointed that their census didn’t change. They hired this guy to do these workshops and help them out and whatever. I told them from the beginning, “You’re not going to see numbers in any discernible period of time. You start to see glimmers of hope in one or two years.”
You see pictures of membership history. This is some information here that is probably more than we want to spend time with on this slide right now. Why is that, though, really? Old habits die slowly. It takes a long time because it isn’t just one thing. There isn’t one thing wrong with the parish. Now, there may be one thing that is more constraining than another thing, and that’s kind of the point of the second-to-last item there, the model, so to speak, is to get us to focus on working on one thing at a time.
Because it’s not just one thing; these limitations and challenges are not independent. They’re mutually reinforcing, and I use the example here—you may or may not be able to see it from where you are—of stewardship, meaning stewardship. It shouldn’t really mean money to us, but so often, that’s what it devolves to.
If we’re interested in increasing the personal stewardship financially to a parish, yes, we can talk about practices, we can talk about pledge programs, we can talk about sermons, we could talk about teaching, but there’s a whole bunch of other things that get involved with that. You have to have good financial practice in the parish. You have to teach some new ideas. You have to have landing places for new people when they arrive in the parish, so that they don’t go: “Now what?” You have to have probably new ministries for people who have gifts that are there that maybe have been suppressed by poor thinking either on the part of the priest or the laypeople for many years.
You have to have places for them to blossom and bring forth fruit. It isn’t just figuring out a better way to ask for money. You have to have a whole bunch of this, really, about five or six things just associated with stewardship, that have to change. They can’t all change at once. That’s just to change stewardship, and then you have other things. You can’t work out everything. Eventually, you need to address many things, and it’s not a one-person show.
The better news, I believe, is that while it takes a long time and there is no pill we can give you to do this, I firmly believe, though here in western Pennsylvania I have to say are really challenging this belief—they’re right on the edge—any parish can become more vibrant. I use the word “healthy.” When we first started doing this we called it the “Parish Health Ministry.” Everybody thought I was coming to give blood pressure screenings. So you get the idea. We generally use the word “vibrancy.” “Development”—that sounds like money. There’s no perfect word for this. I think, frankly, “parish health,” once we redefine it as not being physical, medical health, is a good one.
Any parish can become more healthy. Fr. Hopko, in some addresses I’ve seen—and I’ve pulled this off of some of his quotes—[says] any parish can become more healthy. All that is required is that its members, beginning with its leaders, be firmly resolved to have it so. So that sounds easy; it isn’t, of course, easy, because everyone wants to look for a silver bullet, and they don’t know what, really, this all means.
There are some examples on the other end, going the other direction. Today I meant to ask you, when I showed you pictures of the ones going from 405 to 120… There’s a commonality… The commonality’s important. The one thing I was going to ask you was what are the common characteristics of those four pictures in the previous one, and the answer I usually try to get from you is that the sun was shining on all those four parishes that were in decline. It always seems like the sun is shining, even in those parishes. Well, here you’ll see that some of these were not taken in bright sunshine. Here are some parishes. Now, you’ll notice that the gainers are not gaining as fast as the losers were losing. That’s the fundamental thing. I usually show some statistics from the Diocese of the Midwest, and it showed that about 40% of the parishes were growing, and 10% were staying the same, and the others were going down. I don’t quite remember what the numbers were, but those going down were going down at a much faster rate than those going up. You had a question.
Q2: I was wondering if the parishes before which over a long period of time declined… Is this a shorter period of time?
Mr. Kormos: That’s a good question. Yes, it is, actually. I can’t say… This is not the complete story. I wish I had some great examples. There are some that have gone from zero to whatever. There’s a story for kind of every one of these.
This is what the priest calls “a stub parish.” They hadn’t had a priest for a long time, two-three years, maybe longer. He arrived. It’s a very small building. I can say where it is, because it’s a very nice parish. St. Paul, Minnesota. They’ve gone in about 15 years from about 12 to a hundred. Wonderful parish! Really, really, really nice. Now, that is an example, I said, where a new priest arrived. He told me—I kind of tried to get their story a little bit better; I don’t have the time to go through it. He said, “I got there. A Ukrainian woman took me outside, and she was showing me something that was wrong that we had to fix, the cross on the outside of the parish or whatever. And she said, ‘We need to do this. What else are you going to do here?’ She said something like, ‘How are you going to do this, Father? You’re not going to turn this place around just by preaching the Gospel, you know.’ ” He probably was smart enough and nice enough not to say anything back to her, but that’s basically what they did.
Nothing I have to tell you in terms of ideas were necessarily used by these parishes, but some of what they used has been appropriated by me as examples of things that can be done. These are both inner-city parishes. They stayed, they had a theology of place, they saw that this is where God put them. Both of these are a wonderful story in terms of reaching out to a neighborhood that is not like them, does not look like them.
This is a parish, a very, very old parish, had shrunk to probably less than 85. This is in Kansas City. This one did move to the suburbs, build a beautiful building, and they’re just growing hand over fist. Yes, you can move to the suburbs and that can be nice, too.
This one I can claim to have had a little bit of help with. This is Canton, Ohio. It is a parish that had many, many, many difficult situations, but had been well-formed, had many very good people, and they’re seeing in the last three years from 46 to 85, having reached out to a local university. They got a couple converts. Converts beget converts. They brought other people. They had a decent choir. They had a church that’s not too big, so 46 people didn’t look silly in there, but 85 looks better. So they’re doing not perfectly, and every one of these has their own struggles still, so it’s not yet an easy thing, but nonetheless, some parishes can become more healthy, and back to the negative story, yes, parishes die.
This is not exactly an example of a parish that died. Even here there’s a little bit of hope. This is St. Michael’s OCA parish in St. Louis, and I know there’s a very flourishing Anthiochian parish in the suburbs in St. Louis. This is an inner-city parish that went down to the day I was… Usually I tell this story, but I don’t want to get too far into stories. The day I was there, I went with the late Archbishop Job, in part because [it] wasn’t sustainable at this particular parish, and there had been, through poor management through the diocese, a mission parish of all converts that was established four miles away. Not even four miles away, like five, ten blocks away, in a little storefront.
So my job—this was the first thing I did when I was working in the Diocese of the Midwest—was to help them conclude that maybe they’d be stronger together than apart. In fact, we were successful at that, but the first day I was there—I’m used to fairly vibrant liturgy. I said, “Father, do you have a choir?” This was Saturday. He said, “Well, no, it’s the lady that sings.” Her name was Mary, of course. She said she’s on oxygen. Mary was the choir, and we brought the people from the other parish, that was Christ the Good Shepherd. They came to this church, so there was 12 of them and 15 of the others, and they had a sort of a cantor, and he was singing one style of Russian chant and Mary was singing another. I thought I’d try to help, but I [didn’t] know what they were doing. It was a hierarchal Liturgy, and it was just… Well, it was dreadful. I mean, it was dreadful.
Anyway, we go downstairs and we get people together, and I’m trying to get them to come up with the idea. I’m maybe talking. It’s a quality that I have. I was going to send somebody over there to see if I was disturbing them. We go downstairs and we’re talking and I’m trying to get them to come up with the idea that, maybe we’re here so close, maybe we ought to… When finally some elderly lady from this parish, who were all, of course, Slavic, had been Orthodox, born into the faith, whatever, said, “You know, I think there’s something here, because, you know what? The choir today was beautiful.”
I thought, well, Joe, you doofus. I mean, here you are. “The choir was beautiful.” Now they’re not exactly burning the house down, but they’re alive today. I’m not sure if I included the picture. Maybe it comes up later. They, today, are the local… They house the FOCUS (Fellowship of Orthodox Christians United to Serve) in St. Louis. It happens out of their basement. The day I was there, it was a perpetual rummage sale. The church smelled like a perpetual rummage sale, because there was all this junk there.
They’re figuring out ways to get along, so now there’re, like, 30 people. To start out there were 24; [now] there are 30. They got a grant from the Diocese of the Midwest, they built a little garden alongside, here. They hated the neighborhood; they were afraid of the neighbors because, of course, they looked different, whatever. Now they have a little garden, a little prayer garden, that they opened the fence… They don’t have the fence keeping people out any more, and the neighbors are invited to come in and sit down and pray and relax. So there’s this kind of a different point of view going on there.
Typical decline pattern. I’ll try to pick this up a little bit. We see, as I said, for the Greek parish that has 900 people, everything will seem fine. They don’t have 900 people apparently in church, in fact, far fewer. Everything seems fine, and then we’re in a state of denial, because we don’t really want to think that something poor could go to our parish. What do we do once we see something going badly and it becomes part of coffee hour conversation or email strings or whatever? We have to look out and do what? We have to assign blame. And to whom does the blame get assigned?
Audience: The priest.
Mr. Kormos: The priest. Thank you. Usually I get it could be a choir director. The priest. Yes, it is the priest that gets assigned the blame and, of course, because he knows that, often the priest is a party to not facing facts and not digging into this, because this isn’t going to be a fun conversation. “You’re our employee, Father. Why aren’t you out beating the bushes, getting some new people? Why aren’t you visiting more people in the hospital?” etc.
Then what we try to do then is what? We try to attract replacements. So we have a parish in—I won’t say where—a prominent parish. It’s in the Diocese of the Midwest in the OCA. They’re down 400, down to 120, so their big thing was: “We need to call up all the people. So many people used to come, and we need to have a little survey of why they stopped coming, and then we need to go talk to them. And then we’ll see… And then I know somebody…” So what the idea is is that we’re not really about bringing people to Christ; we’re trying to create a parish that hasn’t been and never was, probably. We’re trying to attract replacements just like us, because then it wouldn’t be uncomfortable. We could go back to the way we were. Apparently we don’t think that through that well, but we think there will be another 100 replacements we can find.
Once you try that, and that doesn’t work, because it doesn’t work… I always tell people: skip that step. People are attracted to stay home for the New York Times or NFL Today or whatever it is for some reason, and you ain’t gonna change it. Something about this parish they didn’t like—it may not be your fault; it may be their fault—but you ain’t gonna change their opinion just by going to talk to them, because they’re not going to even be open to you, because it may even have been you that caused them to leave; I don’t know.
What happens then is that we do what? We grab an answer. “I think if we just had more Bible studies on Wednesday morning?” Someone else says, “No, we need to work on stewardship. We need people to give more money.” “No, we need to change the way we sing.” “No, we need to…” Right? We grab an answer. Some of those answers might be useful. Some of them might be okay.
Mr. Kormos: Oh, yes, but don’t get me started on that. Personally, I would be the first to argue for that, but okay.
Grabbing an answer does not cause consensus, so the point is, again, as we’ve already said, we didn’t get in this predicament even in probably 10 years. We didn’t get in this predicament in one year, so we can’t get out of it in one year. And we can’t do 10 things, because there’s fewer of us today than there were. So we’ve got to work on one thing. Again, that’s the point of this model.
Of course, when that doesn’t work, because we didn’t really decide to work on one thing, we’ve gone to work on nothing, more people jump ship, because they get even further… “It’s not nourishing me” or “There’s nobody here any more; there must be something wrong.” They jump ship. We turn further inward, and that changes, and the cycle starts anew. We’re not able to think about working on this problem. We’re just doing this.
Denial, a major factor. Yes, that was the first key area. We’re back here to this St. Michael’s in St. Louis. I love this one. Here is the declining numbers that went on from 1988. Out here, 1970, was 285. As I said, the day I was there it was 14. I found in 1995 a report from the priest to the diocesan assembly, to the bishop, essentially, and here’s what it says: All is going well at St. Michael’s. All is going well at St. Michael’s!? All? What? What are you talking about? “All is going well at St. Michael’s. We’ve put some new burglar-proof windows in…” All was not going well at St. Michael’s.
Here’s another thing I would like you to write down that I think is from C.S. Lewis: No matter what size parish you’re in, no matter what the situation, the greatest danger is the illusion that all is well.
Q3: I was going to ask how much of that decline was just demographics, in terms of people in the community moving away.
Mr. Kormos: I’m sure some was, but this particular church, way out in the Illinois suburbs there was another parish. But it was essentially for the OCA, anyway, and there was a couple brief parishes, but it was a great OCA parish. It was the only game in town; it was the only church in St. Louis. Yeah, probably people died. Yeah, many people die; there’s no question about that. Nobody closed the mill. It isn’t like what we have here. The mine didn’t close. This is a church that—I don’t know what the traffic count is—is sitting on the edge of an expressway. I don’t know how many hundreds of thousands drive by there every week or every day. It’s a little bit… It doesn’t look that… It’s a little tarnished and tired-looking, but it isn’t hard to get to by car. It may be, in rush hour, if you’re going to go to daily vespers or something. I imagine it was a very long time since people lived in the neighborhood, just given the quality of the neighborhood.
I mentioned they have this garden now. So one thing you can do, wherever you’re from—I’m trying to get the Archdiocese of Western Pennsylvania to understand this—is that you can give little grants to parishes to do something, because one of the problems is that in doing things is that the first problem that comes up when you’re in decline: you don’t have any money. You’ve got less money that you used to, and we’re not going to do that. There’s a bunch of businessmen running the show.
We gave grants of up to $2,000, some up to $3,000 to parishes for a project. It couldn’t be for the roof—obviously it doesn’t go very far for a roof anyway. It couldn’t be for a new door, to fix the steps, none of that stuff. It had to be a new ministry or an expanded ministry. They got a grant and they basically created this little garden, a prayer garden, an urban garden. The garden welcomes neighbors and then becomes the regional headquarters of FOCUS. So that’s a kind of a nice story. I mean, it’s not a great story. You’re probably not going to go in and go: “Wow, what a great parish!” when you walk in.
Rut-cycle. One of the fundamental problems that we have is that parishes are in ruts. We keep doing the same thing over and over. You could write this one down: When you don’t know what to do, you do what you know. There’s a sort of a need for fresh ideas here. Here is the quality of ruttedness in parish life that I see in too many parishes in the OCA, probably in wherever you’re from as well.
This is the parish which is pretty healthy, actually, that I grew up in. This is what I grew up in, in the faith. Sunday Liturgy, lots of clubs (clubs and ministries). I gave a workshop in a parish similar, and I used the word “ministry,” and somebody said, “What is that? Is that like a club? What is that?” So here’s the mindset we’re dealing with. Youth camps, bake sales and fundraising (and I won’t even go there to get started on that), banquets and anniversaries. We’re great at that at this particular parish that I grew up in. You couldn’t possibly give a better banquet or do anything like that; they are wonderful. But that is an assumption of insularity. We have nothing to do with anyone else, for Slavs: naš, ours. They were for ours. I already said: ministries unknown. The parish mission is forgotten and never known. There is no “What is our purpose here? What, really, are we trying to do other than to serve ours?” And, again, the fallacy that all is well.
You probably can’t see these faces superimposed here, but this is my grandfather. This is my uncle, my great-uncle. I received a wonderful heritage from my family. I don’t want to see that parish… The parish is actually doing pretty well, but it’s because of their location and whatever. Too many other parishes are not in that situation. So we’re stuck in the past, on ourselves, and low expectations. I’m not going to go through this one with too much information.
I always suggest—these are the eight or ten things I’ve learned—seek a new paradigm. And that’s not easy, because what we think of the church is a Sunday Liturgy, banquets, bowling… Fr. Stephen Freeman, when he converted from Anglicanism to Orthodoxy, he told his Anglican bishop that he was becoming Orthodox. The bishop said, “Well, I hope you like to bowl,” as if that was the only thing that Orthodox ever did, was to go bowling.
We have to stop talking about the way it was in the good old days, and, instead, look for a different model of an Orthodox parish that’s based in holiness, sacraments, service, and apostolic zeal. Put away your former life, clothe yourself with a new self according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness—and that’s the only way out, unfortunately. Not “unfortunately”! It’s “fortunately”! I didn’t say that. It is unfortunate to the eyes of many, though, because it’s work and it’s not as much fun as banquets. I mean, we’re good at a banquet in some of these parishes; some of them are not.
Here’s another quick point. I always say one of the key things you have to learn how to do is to ask good questions. How long do you want your parish to live? That’s my number-one question. Guaranteed. I went to a parish in Detroit. Somebody asked me, “Does your wife ever come along when you do things?” No, she never does. One time she happened to be with me for a very brief session I did after church. It was relatively old people. Afterwards I got in the car and I said, “Do you think I made any impact in any way with these folks?” She said, “Not really. I don’t think they were really interested or listening, except for when you asked the question: How long do you want your parish to live?” They all looked up from their bagels and said, like I could have been the choir director: Forever.
What is the purpose of this parish? What do we value? Another great one: this is at a Ukrainian parish in Canada. I had them going down a list of things, and I said, “Who owns this parish?” and you can almost always get: “We do!” Then, of course, you can stop there. Sometimes, I would admit, it’s easier for me to ask these questions—I’ll be gone in a day or so—than it is for the priest or whatever. Do you want your parish to grow and why? Do we need to change and can we change? Those are some. There are more in the other things I’ve sent to you.
We’ve gone through my insights. Let’s get to a situation… Let’s see here. Where are we in terms of time. We have an hour. Yeah, let’s take three minutes. Write down on a piece of paper as many attributes as you can of a healthy parish. Just write something down. We’ll see what things we come up with quickly. We won’t have time to work this through, but sometimes it’s fun. We’ve probably given you a few hints already in the negatives. Two or three qualities or characteristics of a vibrant Orthodox parish. For those of you listening on the recording, I would turn it off so you don’t have to listen to nothing, but I don’t know how to do that and I surely would not have turned it on correctly again. We have a group working diligently to answer that relatively simple question, but important question.
Let’s call a halt to that. If you’re still writing, that’s okay. Who has a few qualities that they want to offer [of a] vibrant Orthodox parish. Yes! What’s your name?
Mr. Kormos: Kathleen. I’ll probably forget that the next time you raise your hand, but I’ll try [to remember].
Kathleen: Openness to new members.
Mr. Kormos: Openness to new members. That’s great. Got it. Who’s got another one?
A1: A good priest.
Mr. Kormos: A good priest, okay, sure. That’s true. A good priest. I mean, we could unpack that a little bit. There’s a lot of things to do there. Yes?
A2: People who are there because they are followers of Christ and want to grow in their faith rather than routine recreation, cultural groups.
Mr. Kormos: Yes, want to grow in faith. Orthodox by choice, how about that?
A2: Actively seeking the faith.
Mr. Kormos: I’ll say “thirsty.” Who’s got some other things? Who needed me to tell you this? You’re doing great.
A3: Worship at Liturgy is the heart.
Mr. Kormos: Yes. Worship is at the center.
A4: Strong organizations in the church.
Mr. Kormos: Strong organization? I’ll just say “structure.” How’s “structure” sound? A sort of sense of putting all of our various ministries and things together in a way that works. Is that okay, “structure”? At least, that’s what I think you’re saying. If you’re not, then tell me something else.
A4: [Inaudible] Organizations.
Mr. Kormos: Sense of small groups
A4: The organizations in the church, meaning the teen groups and the women’s society.
Mr. Kormos: I’ll add to that. “Groups.” This won’t be in your handout, so you’ll have to try to read my writing and write it down.
A5: I was going to say: a loving community with a low level of gossip.
Mr. Kormos: Hah!
Audience member: Is that a real thing?
Mr. Kormos: There’s the engineer-thing that my wife says… High love-to-gossip ratio. It’s a high ratio of those two things. Yes, Kathleen?
Kathleen: Outreach to community.
Mr. Kormos: Oh, yes, outreach to community.
A6: I have two for you. One is to openness to changes.
Mr. Kormos: Openness to change. Great. This is my list of things we’re doing. I guess we can erase the things that… Openness to change. You are very correct.
A6: The second one is plenty of volunteers, because in any congregation you have some people who do everything. A sign of vitality.
Mr. Kormos: Yes, I think so. There are some that bristle at the word “volunteer” in the sense that… Well, I won’t even go into that. Yes, quickly, and then I’ll…
A7: Would you say spiritual accountability?
Mr. Kormos: Spiritual accountability, well, we got close over here, but spiritual accountability, sure. Accountability.
I think, if I’m not mistaken, the next slide gives us a… Uh-oh. Why is this not moving? Healthy parish. So I asked a group of priests from our diocese once to create a little list like this, and let’s see. Pardon me. So I asked the opposite question, because I can use a big word, too: apophatic, right? We’re talking about the opposite. What’s the opposite of a vibrant parish, and that one was relatively easy. Then I thought we might be able to learn something, but I didn’t ask you this question. But here’s the thing: they came up with—I’m not going to read them all to you—fear of change, judging, risk-averse.
This is one that always pops out at me: Healthy parishes take Christ-centered risks. Most of us, many of us inherited a building from our forefathers. We’re fat, dumb, and happy in a lot of parishes. We didn’t have to put anything on the line. We didn’t have to take any risk, and now we sit like the single-talent steward who buries things, because—I always liked this—“You are an hard master, and I knew you would judge me harshly, so I just buried it.”
Traditionalism, preferring Orthodoxy to Christ. We’re great at that. I won’t even go into the examples of it, but: liturgically disengaged, liturgically unprepared, competitive to our protectors, clingy, self-righteous. You can come up; you’ll see these when you get the stuff on the CD.
Now, that, what we did there, is one source of understanding health parishes, and I think it’s sort of our common sense and our experience. I think we did a great job. Now if I said to you: Think about other places we could look if we really got into this whole question of “What does a healthy parish look like and feel like?” Where would we look? What are some places we would look? I don’t have any room to write them down, but…
Mr. Kormos: Hoh! Usually it gets me five minutes to get somebody to say that. I didn’t expect that in this group. Yeah, Scripture would be one. Some others?
A9: Church history.
Mr. Kormos: History. I would say the early Church. I’ll tell you a few things, at least from my perspective, about that. Yes?
A10: Copying other people that are doing something well.
Mr. Kormos: Yeah, other parishes. Maybe—I know this is crazy, but maybe—we could learn something from non-Orthodox. I should have said “turn off the thing” first, but it’s a concept here. There may be, in this country, some things that Protestants and Catholics have figured out that work that we… We’ve been here how many years? It depends on how you want to calculate it. Old parishes are at a hundred years around this area. In the first 80 years, we were mostly being held to ourselves, so we didn’t have… We were playing by different ground rules. In trying to figure this out for 10, 15, 20 years, maybe it’s something that people who’ve been here for 100, 200 years have found. Other sources? Yes?
A11: I would suggest that there’s already a tradition of that, Orthodox churches have taken without any kind of critical way of thinking, things from Roman Catholicism… and just put it in and said, “Okay, this is us now.”
Mr. Kormos: Probably any of these sources, even scriptural in some ways, we have to be a little bit critical when we’re talking about it. Any other thoughts? I have a whole long list; I’ve thought about this. Alexei, you should be saying, “Surveys,” because that’s one of the answers that I’m looking for. I think this source of what is a healthy parish is dated information that people have looked at, and he’s done this par excellence.
Well, here’s the ones that I’ve come up with, and I’ll share a few of these with you: the Cross, the Liturgy, creeds, Scripture, the early Church. Looking more practically: other parishes, your priest and bishop. Get this: Your priest might actually know something. It’s a concept, here. A bishop may actually have some things that go on. For those in the Orthodox Church in America, there are some wonderful writings and some pieces of information from All-American Councils and other documents, and I’m sure other jurisdictions have these as well, that talk about healthy parishes. Other Christian traditions, surveys, insights on groups… By this I mean there are certain qualities that churches have, that they share with other sorts of groups. We behave in a group in a particular way, and it’s not completely different [from] the PTA or your work team at work. It’s not completely different, so we could learn a bit from that. Then I put down here: law and business. There are things about businesses that can be adopted into healthy church behaviors. There’s things about the law… There’s a concept that maybe we don’t want to break the law if we’re in a church. So understanding what laws apply to us and how they apply is useful and helpful.
So let’s just talk a little bit about this, and I think I’m sort of, in a sense, preaching here to the choir, because I have people here that are maybe better-versed than I in some of these things. But what do I mean by the Cross as a symbol, as a teaching tool for a vibrant parish? Well, here’s a point, and I have stolen this from my own priest, who is excellent: We have two dimensions in the cross. One is a vertical dimension. We get that, pretty much. We hear about that, that it’s our job in this community to personally and corporately know God and seek his kingdom.
But we also, then, have another dimension, and the rays go out horizontally, and they don’t stop at the edges of our church. They don’t stop at the walls. So another dimension of our parish is to share God’s love with others and bring others to him. If we’re looking for some kind of take-away from this—“What did you learn?” A guy talked a long time about healthy parishes. One thing I wrote down is that a simple model is the cross. We are together working to find God, know God, and come to him, and yet we have a responsibility to one another that does not end with us. So we talk about charity and outreach, so that’s a model. It’s a nice visual. Somebody talked about visual learners.
The Liturgy: Did anyone mention the Liturgy? I guess somebody did, yes. There are probably many examples, and there are probably many better examples than I have come up with, but the one that occurred to me one night, somewhere in my 62nd year of listening to Liturgies, one evening at vespers: the priest said—I don’t know how many times we say it in vespers; I don’t know how many times we say it in the Divine Liturgy; next time I give this workshop, I’m going to count them ahead of time so I have that answer—“Let us commend ourselves and each other and all our lives unto Christ our God.”
We heard it this morning, and of course it just rolls over, because we hear it all the time. It’s a formula. First of all, a formula for a vibrant parish is what? It starts with ourselves commending, taking ourselves and committing ourselves. And I think Valerie wrote a very nice thing about this word, “commend,” and I use the word, “commit,” and I think she did something better than the word “commit,” but I can’t do justice to it. Commending ourselves and each other. That, to me, talks about setting examples for others, that it starts with me and others see what I do in the parish, and it also applies to me. I may be reading something into this, that in commending others, we are asked to encourage others, and encourage others to do more. John, I see in you some gifts that we need, that the world needs, that this parish needs, that could be so helpful. I really want to encourage you to see if there’s a way… I know we’re busy… But that, to me, is commending ourselves and each other.
Another source might be the Fathers. And I’m sure there’s many better sources. I’m not an expert on the Fathers. One that always comes to mind is St. Cyprian of Carthage: “One Christian is no Christian.” This is a fundamental model of why we have a parish, I think. Now, there are many much better theological descriptions of what goes on at Sunday morning and at other forms of worship, but one Christian is no Christian. So this is another sort of source of how we begin looking at this.
The Creed. Now, I may be using these words in some slightly different ways, but I think… I’m going to visit a parish on Sunday that is in a very, very small town in southwestern Pennsylvania that was a mining town; everybody’s left. There’s not much left there. But I offered to visit; they want me to come. Usually I talk after church a little bit. I’m thinking, “What am I going to say? I don’t really know what to say. I think maybe I’ll say these things.” So here’s four qualities of a good parish: one—now, I’m not sure that this is exactly what it meant at the time that the Fathers were creating the Creed, or the Ecumenical Council—but in one parish, we have oneness of mind, oneness of spirit, oneness of vision and direction, and that implied that we have somewhere we’re going, and we can figure out a way to be open to change so that if I’m facing this way and you’re facing that way, that we’re all starting to face the same way. One.
Number two—I’ve sort of talked about it already—is that there in a good and healthy Orthodox parish, there is nothing that goes on that is not holy. Of course, there are many things that go on that are not holy in too many parishes, but this is a thing we have to remember, and this is, I guess, something that has been, not drilled into me, but absorbed into my pores from my parish priest, who basically refuses to talk about anything other than something that is holy, to do anything other than what is holy, and sometimes that kind of bothers me, because “Father, we need to get some money for this or that” or “We need to sell something.” No. In a good parish… And I’ll talk a little bit about some parishes we used to pull this model together, and none of them are perfect, but they all had many very good qualities, and the thing that is fundamental is they seek to limit the secular, the day-to-day, to push that out like bad weeds, and to make room for holiness.
Let me digress a little bit quickly here. We have had a very nice parish north of Detroit, OCA parish, relatively new. It’s not bad. They’ve got a beautiful new building. But they were kind of feeling the post-building let-down: “We built this building. It’s five years later. Is that all there is? We think we’re going to be able to able to pay for it. It’s not going to go into receivership. We’re okay, here.” It’s like: “Is that all there is?” One of the things they did with coming to some of the workshops—not the things I said… We did a workshop for urban parish ministries. They came, and they learned and they saw our parish in Columbus. Usually I show at this time a video that comes from our parish in Columbus, but we don’t have speakers and it wouldn’t work for you.
It’s a beautiful thing. They have this wonderful ministry to the inner-city. They came and they observed it. We had the workshop right during the time when they were feeding people from the neighborhood. They went home, and they’ve really established a new spirit. The interesting thing was: in the annual report from the parish council president, it said, “We used to talk about how many fundraisers we had, but now we spend more time helping the poor and putting together, sharing food with the poor and doing other things.” It was like a complete transformation in the point of view of what went on. Not complete, because there’s a fair amount in this parish to begin with, but it’s a very significant [one]. Holiness.
Catholic. I’m probably… This is a bad group, because you’re pretty smart, but I can always usually get the wrong answer to this. What does the word “catholic” mean?
Mr. Kormos: Thank you, Kathleen, but does anyone have another? Technically, I’m told, it means “fullness” and, more accurately, did you say “of the whole”? Of the wholeness. Of the whole. So it seems to me… The term “universal” has kind of been foisted on us by our friends who celebrate Pascha on the wrong dates most of the time. “Fullness.” Here’s what Fr. Schmemann says. I think it’s page 92 or something of the book On the Liturgy. This is important: Every parish, everything that the Church is called on to do, this is a unique quality of Orthodox thinking: is that every parish, we don’t have the right to say, “We’re going to do this. We’re just going to worship. We’re just going to work on the poor. We’re just going to teach.”
All of the qualities—and we’ll talk about some of these other things in a little bit—must be provided and experienced and delivered through an Orthodox parish. To me that means essentially fullness. We have this fullness—and I may be expropriating the term in a slightly unusual way—it also means “of the whole.” It means that we are not by ourselves. Though there’s a parish four miles down the road in another little mining town, we’re not supposed to forget about them. Though there are parishes from other jurisdictions, we are part of something bigger, and that is part of what people convert to when they come to Orthodoxy. They’re tired of being free agents where there is no center of what it is we believe. But if that’s the case, then we have to be a part of something, and it can’t be just the Fr. Stephen Orthodox Church, as good as Fr. Stephen is. So we have to be a part of something.
Then, finally: apostolic. We have to be out, sharing our faith, looking to make it grow, finding people that come to the Church.
A source of Scripture. Everything I’ve been into thus far has talked about Acts 2:42-47, so I’m not going to take you through that one again. You heard that last night. If you were in this room this morning you heard it again. I already mentioned it again, “And the Lord added to their number daily.” This is a relatively perfect—and I won’t go through it again; His Eminence talked a lot about this last night—depiction. If you need a list of things that Orthodox parishes should be doing: we worship, we give outreach to the poor, we come together in fellowship, we love one another, etc.
Another wonderful source. You don’t need Joe Kormos to give you a model. It’s there. I see another good place to look is Colossians 3:12-16. I didn’t put it up here.
Now we’re talking here, we’re in a session on the early Church, so here is another place one might look. This is a book, not by an Orthodox person. Again, sorry, those of you listening on the tape. The book is Evangelism in the Early Church by Michael Green. Has anyone read it? I thought it was pretty good. There were places I kind of got lost in it. Here are some things that Green says, and I was particularly interested in [the fact that] he’s dealing with the question of: How did the early Church grow? What actions did they take? What was their fundamental premise? How did they look at things? Some interesting things he says, and some of this is things we cannot be.
The early Church knew that their lives would come under close scrutiny by others so that unless the Christian ethic marked their communities as a new race, there would have been no good proclaiming the Christian story. Now, you heard that I had something in my past life about marketing. I’m here to tell you that the one most important quality to a product to make it sell or an offering to make it sell is it has to be unique. There has to be a clear difference between what is today and what this is offering. It seems to me they understood that. They had to stand out in some very good and positive way.
Put another way—I just love this one, and this applies as much to us today; this is in kind of the epilogue, the ending of the book—he says we have to outshine the best that unbelief can muster. The New York Times and the couch on Sunday morning ain’t that bad in some ways. We have to be offering something. We have to be able to explain why we’re here and what we’re getting from it, and it can’t be boring. If it’s boring, we’ve got to fix that for ourselves.
Likewise, he says, the Church today has to not be an introverted society of respectful people bent on self-preservation. Now, is that not a fairly accurate description of many of us as we think about renewing our parishes? There’s some pretty good people here, respectful people bent on self-preservation: We don’t care about you. We just need you to come in here so that we have more people to whatever.
Here’s some things from Green that I think are important. Some of them have been said by others today. What were some of the elements of early Christian communities that made such an impression on the world? Here they are: their fellowship, their joy, their transformed character, and their power, hopefully still upright.
Under fellowship, it wasn’t just coffee hour. That was part of it, because we hear they came together to break bread; they had fellowship. But the unique thing was that they were a society for rich and poor. They distinguished themselves in that early world. They were for slaves and aristocrats. They gave special consideration for the lowly, sick, and needy, and they funded themselves on voluntary proportional contributions. So Green is a historian. We could take what he says with a grain of salt, but I think it seemed pretty accurate.
Their joy. What does that mean? So we’re not talking about happy-clappy liturgy here necessarily. This new faith did not make them miserable. Though it was difficult, though it required much of them, they were not miserable. Jesus promises joy as a permanent possession to the Church that can’t be taken away. They came to understand this. We can say, “Okay, well, they were much closer to his presence than we are.” We get all that.
Their transformed character. They were different. It has to somehow shine through for our parish.
Chastity, hatred of cruelty, holy living, and Christ-likeness of life. These were not things that were standard stuff that went on. This was their, in marketing terms—I’m sure they were marketing; they weren’t selling, but they understood persuasiveness—these were among their dramatic differences, their power. The sheer power of the name Jesus healed, and was done by directing prayer to the Lord, and no sophisticated training was needed. Of course, there were leaders—we get that—but it wasn’t like… Anybody could do it. Everyone’s prayers that came from the heart, that had some understanding, were valid.
Another quick point from Green about their motivation: Their motivation was three-fold. These are good. This is a great formula for stewardship, by the way: Gratitude, an overwhelming appreciation for the love of God experienced through Jesus; responsibility to share the message of God’s love; and concern for the well-being of the unevangelized, a lively awareness of the peril of those without Christ. Few of us operate on that plane, I have to say. It’s hard for me to think of the world in that way.
It was not the kind of motivations that most of us see, which is growth for the sake of growth. This is true of many converts. “I made this decision to come into this thing, and I’m looking for some other people to kind of verify my decision, make me feel good about this.” Not saving our parish. It’s not just increasing attendance. It’s not having more people around to pay the bills. That wasn’t what drove them. That wasn’t what they offered. And it wasn’t to help me get a ride to church. All these motivations we have.
Surveys. Alexei will talk, I think, about some of the things he’s had. This was a simpler survey of what we did in 2002 in the OCA, that we simply found parishes that self-reported themselves as growing. They could use their own definition of what that meant; we didn’t give them a definition. They tended to say their strengths were worship, welcoming, working well together, including all generations, and stewardship. You’ve got many of these on your list here, and more.
And those parishes that were shrinking, they were very good at surviving. “You know what? We’re survivors here. Here’s what we do here: we survive, by gosh.” Fundraising. You can insert your own favorite ethnic food here. In the OCA it would be cabbage rolls, barbequed chicken, pierogies. I love pierogies, but, come on. Their strength was the ladies’ altar society. I won’t go there. Keeping the church up and running. And I love the last one: “starring in Slavonic.” So that’s what was in 2002, what we learned.
Quickly, because I want to get us to the point of getting to do this thing: traits of vibrant parishes. As I did these workshops and as I did the webinars, some of these things I’ve gone through in person with you kind of work nicely because we can play off one another and I can see if you’re listening or falling asleep or whatever. At a webinar you can’t tell that too terribly much, and I thought, “I need to get a little more concrete.” So I tried to come up with a list of qualities, and what happens is that people like the list of qualities so much, they don’t look at any of the other stuff. They just go down the list: “Well, you know, we’re pretty good at most of these things. Here’s one: let’s work on that.” That’s as much thought process as goes into things.
So first of all, the thing I’ll say is that whether you’re a healthy or not-healthy parish, there [is] a whole bunch of stuff that goes into that: your culture, your mission, your personality, the economy, the neighborhood, demographics, facilities, the priest, the history, your values and assumptions. All those things are part of this. I’m going to talk more about practices, identifiable things.
I think I titled this 21 Observable Traits. So this is like: if you went on Sunday, you could observe these, or maybe some of you have to go for a month, and then go to coffee hour, but you could pretty much get the picture on most of these pretty quickly. This is not… You’ve got a lot of them already. This is Joe’s experience and Joe’s opinion; this is nothing more.
Care-filled, decent music that is participative. Tepid music… Whatever kind of music you use, that’s your own thing, but weak participation in music is a loser.
An emphasis on more than Sunday.
Decent preaching. I worked on what the adjective should be there. It’s not perfect preaching, it’s not amazing preaching, but it can’t be bad preaching. Very rarely do I go into a church that ends up feeling and being relatively vibrant where the sermon on Sunday was a complete downer. It just didn’t work.
A sense of lenten discipline and fasting. We’re Orthodox. We do some things that others don’t do. By misappropriating other people’s practices or non-practices, so to speak, we’ve unlearned some of these things. Serious fasting, particularly during Great Lent, but hearing about other lents, in a relatively aggressive way, is a quality that I often find.
Updated liturgical practice. Usually somebody says, “What do you mean by this?” Then I get myself in trouble. I have a particular bent and a particular orientation from our parish in the OCA. I will say I showed you a picture of Holy Trinity in St. Paul, Minnesota, that went from 10 to 100, or whatever it was, and they said, “What are you going to do here, Father? Preach the Gospel?” You remember that one? One of the things he said that one of the fundamental buoys of his parish is when they started to do baptismal Liturgies: Sunday Liturgies where baptisms were done and could be shared by the community as a communal event on Sunday. Priest prays aloud, English. I have a list of 21 things, but I don’t want to share it, because you can get yourself in trouble here, but it’s pretty clear. If we’re stuck in yesteryear liturgically, it ain’t a good sign.
Active teaching and education. Many of you are involved in education, so you should like this. It’s absolutely something that becomes obvious.
Related to that, I’ll say emails and blogs. I heard some of the people that were in the room talking beforehand about how they deal with their teachers, and they’re using webinars and they’re using other kinds of technology. I will say I don’t find good parishes today wherein the priest does not use at least email and some other kind of thing like that to communicate with people more than Sunday morning.
In my parish, it may be a little much, but I get corporate emails, four or five, from my priest every week. We get Monday morning meditation; if you weren’t in church, you’ll hear the sermon again. We get Tuesday’s theological thoughts. Thursday, something else. We get fragments for Friday. You know what I’ll say? There’s only a couple clergy in here. When he started doing this about ten years ago, prior to that I think he experienced a certain “What do you do all day, Father?” You know how we all hear that? I bet he doesn’t hear that ever any more, because it’s more like, “Father, back off on the email! I can’t consume all this teaching!” If in your parish there is not some reinforcement of the fact that Christ is in our midst and we have a role to play more than Sunday morning through some kind of communication—and you’re not going to do it by mail—email, blogs, Facebook, we’ll get to some of the other stuff in a second…
Get this: We pay the priest a living wage. I won’t even go any further on that.
This may become a point of debate, but, again, it’s my opinion. It is very rare, and I know in reading some of the things from Alexei, you found some differences, I think, on this point, but I will say that I cannot find a parish with a good future that has a predominant ethnic group.
Q4: What about the GOA parishes?
Mr. Kormos: What kind of parish?
Q4: GOA parishes. Greek. That’s a very strong statement. There are vibrant parishes which are in the GOA.
Mr. Kormos: Okay, there probably are, but that may well be. Again, I go back to the 900-person Greek parish that one point I have about it is that people who are new to it are very concerned about it.
The fundamental mechanism—and I’ll defend my statement; you can have the right to disagree, but we won’t debate it forever here—is that a predominant ethnic group becomes a mechanism for keeping people out that are not like us. What I hear from many: I go to a Ukrainian parish, a year ago in Toronto. They’re fourth-generation Canadians. Everyone talks Ukrainian at the coffee hour, so the church is a reason for practicing Ukrainian. Yeah, it’s a strong statement, and I’m trying to make strong statements.
In general, they’ve taken ethnic labels off the sign, off the website, off the name. Now, just taking that off is not going to turn a parish around, and it’s going to create a whole bunch of problems, but I’m happy to say that in the Diocese of the Midwest in the OCA, there is no longer any parish that refers to itself—other than maybe some founding documents from 1818—as Russian Orthodox any more. There are no signs that I’m aware of that say “Russian Orthodox.” There are no websites that say that; there are no bulletins that say that—to my knowledge. Yes?
C1: I actually grew up in St. George in Little Falls, New Jersey, and on the building it says “Syrian Orthodox.”
Mr. Kormos: Oh, sure.
C1: It’s always been like that, and it is predominantly Arabic people, whether it’s Lebanese or Syrian, and they do speak mostly Arabic, but because of the generations that have been coming, there is more English, and it’s changed a lot.
Mr. Kormos: The cornerstone of the parish I grew up in says “St. Michael’s Russian Orthodox Greek-Catholic Church.” Whatever. We can’t debate that too far here, particularly in this group. It’s my opinion, and I think I can back it up. It’s better to get there sooner than later in my opinion. Let’s go on.
A charitable budget line-item. We talked about that last night with His Eminence.
Q5: Do you find any churches that have managed to raise all of those…
Mr. Kormos: There’s probably no church I know that does all of these, and I have some more that come up.
Q5: I mean, you see failing non-ethnic churches. You see failing American churches where everything is English, and everybody’s tried whatever it is. I’m sorry. I know there was a first priest in this country in the GOA that spoke nothing but English in his church. His parish went from 50 to 650 in ten years, $40,000 budget or whatever, terrific priest, great priest. But at the same time, they didn’t deny it. They still said, “You know what? 60% of us are Greek. We still have a Greek school. We teach ancient Greek; we teach modern Greek. We have a Greek dance group. We have this; we have that. But if you’re Albanian, what can we do to engage you? Or if you’re Russian.” My church has six flags with all the ethnic variabilities.
Mr. Kormos: Is that not what I’m saying? I won’t go any further with this, because it would take forever, and none of us will change. I won’t change your opinion. It’s my opinion. They gave me the puck, so to speak.
Charitable budget line-item. It’s not that all charity comes from us personally. We as a corporate group give money to charity, and there is a sense of some neighborhood charity. It’s not all giving it back to people via money in the old country. We take our time. We reach out to people that don’t look and feel and smell like us. And that is a fundamental difference that I see.
Let me just quickly say: I don’t know any parish that does all of these things, and maybe the point… I said I wasn’t going to talk about it or come back to it. There is not any one of these things that, if you do it, is enough. There are plenty of churches that are, I think, probably too stuck in their ethnicity, but trying to change that isn’t the right thing to do first.
Presence of many converts.
A good website, and maybe Facebook.
The ability to make people feel welcome.
I don’t know how many of you still have “dues” in your parishes. Another strong statement: Of the parishes I’ve encountered, and I haven’t encountered every one, and most of them are in the OCA, so there’s a particular sense there: any parish that continues to try to fund itself on the basis of dues, as in “everybody pays this much, and then on top of that you can give whatever you want” (that’s what I’m defining as dues), can’t possibly live for longer than 15 years. That is a losing proposition. That transition has to be made. You will see people in good parishes that actually tithe, and, in good parishes, you will hear the word. Generally we’re afraid of the word. It’s very Protestant. You’ll see a high median donation, not average donation. If you’re going to look at donations, you need to look at median. What is the 50th percentile donation? How many people are above this and how many people are below this—that’s a median.
A parish council that does more than does bills, budgets, and buildings. For me personally, the formula for a parish council is that it’s co-responsible, with, under the guidance of the priest, for the total mission of the parish. More than bills, budgets, and buildings. Overseeing, administrate, vision. Then they get rid of some jobs.
Finally I put down here: an attractive sign.
I wasn’t completely happy with that list. I made another one, and I don’t think we have time to go through this. This is probably more spiritually thorough, because after I presented this on a webinar, I thought it’s a little bit too concrete in some ways. So I came up with 13 other ones.
You will see a sense of spiritual thirst. That means they’re similar to some things you’ve said here.
People that are able to answer questions about their faith.
A sense of Eucharistic community, that the Eucharist extends beyond the Liturgy into something more.
A sense that we come to recognize gifts and talents. The epistle that we heard this morning: we all have different gifts and we all have things to give, and that is taught and missioned.
The ability to dialogue. The ability to change. The ability to talk openly with one another.
Openness to new ideas.
A sense that we’re focused forward and not rooted in the past. You can pick that up easily in a parish bulletin, parish website. Are we able to talk about where we’re going and what we want to be and what we want to be like?
A sense of multiplication. Very few parishes… Fr. Stephen Freeman, who was across the way at the previous session… I happened to be in Knoxville, Tennessee, a couple of weeks ago. I went to his parish. They’re talking about planting. It’s not a huge parish, only been around for 15 years. Talking about planting other parishes, multiplying themselves, moving to other parts of Knoxville to plant other Orthodox parishes. This is a sense that we don’t have in far too many parishes. We’re contracting, and we have to be here for ourselves. Of course, when you’re contracting, it’s hard to think of something else.
College connection. I already mentioned risk-taking. And a sense of excellence, which we rarely see in too many parishes.
So the question then becomes: how do we tie all this stuff together? This probably got a little tedious for you. One of the things we did formerly in the Diocese of the Midwest is I brought together a set of priests from parishes that were doing not too badly. We called it the Parish Health Summit, and this is what was going on with the other parishes in the diocese, and this is what was going on with the parishes that were in attendance. Now, they were not growing by leaps and bounds. At least, decliners were beating the growers.
But nonetheless we sat and we talked for a couple days, and we talked about what’s going on. What are we doing? What are we trying to do? What do you sing in your parish? What are your challenges? What’s going on? And we came up with this model of eight things—I won’t go through the details of all of them—each of which has subsets of things. Number one is a Gospel-centered vision. Number two is Bible-centered worship. Number three is shared leadership. Four: open communication. Five: a sense of authentic community. Six: serious Christian formation. Seven: active service. Eight: a willingness and attention to spread the Gospel.
Then we talked about: what does this really mean? And we put this into a model. I have somewhere in here that model. You can access it online. This is a hard-copy version of it that has a set of detailed questions that you can explore. You can do it with a parish council. You can do it with an adult education group. You can actually then have a conversation about what does it mean in our parish to be a healthy, vibrant parish. In the opinion not of Joe Kormos. This is not my opinion. I pulled it together. This is the opinion of 14 priests, because they then all looked at it, reviewed it. It’s not perfect, but it’s not bad, either. It’s a tool that allows you, essentially, to assess in this way.
Think of your parish as a barrel. The staves on the barrel are of different heights, so if you want to hold more water in the barrel—if that’s goodness, if that’s becoming more vibrant—then we need to find the shortest stave. So that’s the idea, is to find out where are we pointing. And we give you a method to sort of evaluate a bunch of things and a little score sheet. This is an example of how you might do it. These are some of the questions.
This is a subset of the first segment. It says: As a parish we clearly understand our reason for existence is to serve the living God and to share our love with others. A parish is not a club or a cultural center. It’s not a museum, self-absorbed, or passive. An atmosphere of striving and humbly offering our best to God pervades the community. A sense of effort, energy, and journey is apparent. We’re not just surviving. And it goes on.
So there’s some reasonably hard-hitting… Some of them are high-level; some of them are highly concrete: things that you can talk about and evaluate your parish on, and at least get to the point where, as I said before, we’re not grabbing an answer. That’s the key point of this thing: that in a relatively short period of time, we can have some dialogue and some discussion that enables us to say, “Okay. Enough of us think that this is the weak place. We’re going to all work on this for the next 6, 12, 18 months. We’re going to figure out some things to do about that. We’re going to try.” And at least there’s a sense of hoping there. Yes, Father?
Q6: Looking through this, what you’ve done, I was wondering if there was an optimum size. You talked about multiplying…
Mr. Kormos: Yes, well, I’ll give you an opinion, and my opinion is not from an Orthodox source. My opinion is from an experience in seeing things. Have you ever read the book The Tipping Point? He mentions in there an optimum size for groups, and he mentions even certain Protestant groups that have a tendency to subdivide when they get to a particular size. Personally, I think that it becomes very hard to sustain life as a very good parish, living a life in Christ with community, more than 200 adults.
C2: That is a typical answer. One of the studies we did a couple of years ago, we looked at proportion of people for wherever they are based, and we controlled for the fact that different jurisdictions had different traditions, you know, that way. We controlled for it. But then we just looked at simply how do we relate for the size of the factions? There was a relatively dramatic drop in [the] percent of people who attend.
Once a parish reaches 160-170, and then, interestingly enough, if you look you can Google it, because there is the so-called Dunbar Law. It’s spelled D-u-n-b-a-r. It applies to corporate studies. Bottom line is: after this 140, 150, 160, people stop to recognize each other, so up to 140, to 160, you’re still family. You more or less know everyone. You know a bunch. Once it’s above, it’s already a corporation. Accordingly, that brings down your church attendance. Now, we cannot suggest, you have these Greek parishes with a thousand families: I’m not going to suggest to break them. They have more resources, more church services. But just as a general rule.
Mr. Kormos: That’s about what I’m saying. I would have said 175. Probably you have to have a certain level of stewardship. You have to have enough money to sustain things essentially. It’s essentially a parochial version of Seven Degrees of Kevin Bacon, or whatever that thing is. That’s the essential point of some of this, is that beyond that, once you get beyond this size, there are too many… You can’t have enough relationships to be close and have this sense of real koinonia with real people.
C3: It really struck me when I read The Tipping Point, because what I’ve thought for quite some time is the image in John’s Gospel, where Peter drags the net after the Resurrection. There’s 153 large fish in the net, and the net doesn’t break. I wonder if that is the image of an optimum size of the parish for the one Peter, so the pastor has 153 adults; goes beyond that, the net’s going to break.
C2: That’s what we are trying to achieve. I mean, I just did some work for a Greek organization, a cathedral in Houston. They have about a thousand households. They have three full-time employed clergy. They have full, up to grade K school, for all-day school
C4: And it’s one of the best schools in Houston.
C2: Now, it is a big community. It operates differently. They have more resources. They wouldn’t be able to do…
C3: I would say there’s more than one Peter there. There’s a number of pastors.
Mr. Kormos: Of course, there’s way too many parishes who don’t have the sense that, well, they might have 800 people… The parish I grew up in, they just got a second priest. They’re up to 250, 300 people. They have issues like [my mother, 97, said], “Fr. Proslovsky, when it was just him, we used to have 1100 people. Why do we need two priests now?” I wanted to say—I didn’t say it to her—“Mom, how did that work out?” Of course, when they were at 1100, they had families of seven, so it was a different number of families…
C2: Maybe he was celibate.
Mr. Kormos: No, he wasn’t celibate. My point being: you have to be willing to make the investment and to appreciate. We have a parish, a very successful parish in the OCA in Chicago, and their rule of thumb is for every 100 people, another clergy. That’s not easily done for everybody. Yes?
Q7: Wouldn’t it be cool to have to plant a church when it got to be about 150?
Mr. Kormos: Yes! But there’s some risk. My parish is about 220 people, including 80 children. We don’t have enough room for things. What is the default position if you’re going to engage somebody? We need to build a bigger church, buy some land, build a church. I’m thinking, “Are there other ways to do this?” We’re not going to get to the case study. I’m sorry. We don’t have time.
As Orthodox, we’re asked to do things more than on Sunday morning, right? So now if you have a city of a million, and you have one church or you have two churches, what have you done? You’ve kind of cut the average drive time in half, right? So the probably you might get somebody to come to a Bible study or you might get somebody to come… There are other things at work here, schedule or commitment, or all the other things. But I think two parishes of 150 are better than one of 300. Yes, you can argue with me. You can do other things. I’ll stand by it.
C4: If you want to have a school, if you want to have an old-age home, if you want to have a place where it’s a whole world…
Mr. Kormos: Those parishes could share those things.
C4: Annunciation Church in Houston has an entire world that you’re involved with. The parishioners there, it’s like a city.
Q8: But do people get invited into that?
C4: Sure! They keep building and building.
Q8: But are they building on their own resources?
Q9: Any converts?
C4: Tons of converts. A wonderful school system.
Mr. Kormos: I wonder if that’s also part of their culture.
C2: The parish remains fairly Greek. There are some exceptions, and they’re very cosmopolitan and savvy in those terms. This is not exactly the case; they’re not totally closed, but still proportion of converts is relatively low. A person who recently joins the parish sort of complains that they didn’t feel unwelcome, but that it takes a relatively long time to fit into the parish. It’s not an ideal parish. They have a lovely parish…
Mr. Kormos: To argue the opposite point against what I’m going… I’ve done surveys for parishes that are 80 people. Number one thing: if you ask an Orthodox parish, or at least an OCA parish, “What’s your number-one good quality?” They always say, “You know what? We’re friendly.” But if you ask people who are new to the parish what they encounter in the parish: “Well, it’s kind of tough coming in.” I didn’t finish my question. 80% of parishes in 2002 said an important quality was that they were very friendly. Take that at face-value, it’s not good enough, because it included many dying parishes and some very vibrant parishes. So being friendly isn’t good enough, and friendly is only really evaluated by the people who are trying to make new friends.
So we had some good discussion here. I didn’t get to the case study. It would have been fun, but you’re not without… Oh, and I never passed out these things, because I didn’t want to give you the answers to my stuff!