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Weaving Adult Education Into the Fabric of the Parish

Orthodox Institute 2015 - Adult Education: Building on the Foundation of Faith

This year’s conference offered courses that emphasized the importance of theological and spiritual training for adults. Keynote speakers included Kevin Allen, Fr. Timothy Baclig, and Michelle Moujaes. Held at Antiochian Village in Ligonier, Pennsylvania, from November 5-8.

November 2015

Weaving Adult Education Into the Fabric of the Parish

Gerry Clonaris, the Adult Religious Education Ministry Chairman at St. Nektarios Orthodox Church in Charlotte, North Carolina

November 7, 2015 Length: 1:30:40

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Dr. Anton Vrame: Gerry Clonaris: he’s an Archon of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. An “Archon” just means “leader.” It’s an honorary title that he has. [He] serves as the chairman for the Religious Education Department for the Greek Orthodox [Archdiocese]. He’s the chair of the committee for my Archdiocese that actually oversees my work. So he’s sort of my boss… Sort of. [Laughter] But also for the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Atlanta and his home parish of St. Nektarios. He retired as senior vice president of G.C. Murphy in 1979 and started GBC Marketline, an import company, which he continues to operate as the owner and CEO. He has conducted numerous workshops on organizational training and, as well as presenting effective parish adult religious education at the course I get to teach in religious education at Holy Cross School of Theology. Kind of how all that works, right? It’s no degrees of separation in this world.

As I said, Gerry’s been a teacher of catechisms for 37 years. He’s been a choir director for 30. He’s a graduate of La Salle University in Philadelphia. He has his wife Helen with three children. And how many grandchildren?

Mr. Gerry Clonaris: Two and a half.

Dr. Vrame: Two and a half grandchildren. I don’t know how you get a half a grandchild…

Mr. Gerry Clonaris: Stepchild.

Dr. Vrame: Stepchild. Two and a half grandchildren. So I’m really happy that Gerry’s going to share the work that they’re doing with you today, and I’m going to turn it over to him. Good to have you here. [Applause]

Mr. Gerry Clonaris: Thank you. I love doing this. I love working in the Church. I love talking, presenting programs that we work on. But this one in particular is one of my favorites. It’s one of my favorites because there’s a lot of implication for it, a lot of direction for it. It’s a commandment from Christ himself, so I take it very, very seriously. This is the program that I showed at the seminary recently, but actually it’s been more embellished now. Every time I look at it, I change it. I add more, and it grows, you know. What I think you’re going to see now is the best version of it. So you have copies of the slide presentation. There are going to be some slides missing, and at the end of the program you’ll see my… actually, you have it there. You have my email address. If you want, I’ll be glad to send you the whole PowerPoint program so that you can use it back in your churches. Okay? But you’ll have enough to go on there to keep some really good notes.

This program that I’m going to talk about is one that we’ve been doing for nine years now. Actually, we even started it… I did it in a church prior to St. Nektarios, which is only ten years old. Prior to that I was at Holy Trinity, and we established this same program at Holy Trinity, but each year, like I say, it progressed and got better and better. You’ve been hearing for a day and a half now about the need for this, and that’s what you’re discussing in other classes, but there are just a couple points, if I could, before we get into the presentation itself. Parishioners want it.

There was a survey done, the SWOT [strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats] report. It was about ten years ago, and it was conducted by Tony’s predecessor, Dr. Frank Marangos, Fr. Rev. Frank Marangos, who put it together on behalf of the Archdiocese. I was the committee chair at that time. It went out to all the parishes in the Greek Orthodox [Archdiocese] with several issues to take a look at, to take a survey and to get a feeling of how everybody felt and what were their greatest fears, what were the greatest opportunities, and what were the greatest weaknesses. There were listings there: was it a financial structure of parishes, was it any clergy-referenced area of need of attention, was it the youth?

Number one was the lack of awareness of religious education, which shocked and floored everybody. The greatest opportunity, number one: religious education for adults. This is ten years ago, and we’re growing more and more. I’m just so happy with this whole workshop, because this whole idea here is so important. There are a couple more reasons why I feel it is so strong. It’s our mission. We have a commandment to do this. Christ says, “Go out and make disciples of all nations.” I like to look at this—I do this in my Sunday school class—I say to them, my students, when we talk about the Ten Commandments and it says, “Honor the sabbath.” We have to honor the sabbath by not doing certain things which implies that on the other days we are doing certain things: we are working on the other days and so forth. Sometimes we don’t look at the implication of some of the commandments that are given to us.

It’s the same thing with this. It says, “Go out and teach. Go out and spread the word to everyone,” which implies people must learn. People must grow. Christ was a master planner himself. He set up a magnificent organization to take his word forth through all the ages. It’s amazing how these principles, to this day, are just so pertinent that the element we’re talking about today—adult religious education—is really a commandment from our Lord.

This is the line that sometimes surprises people, but it’s the best way to teach our children. I’ve got 38 years as a Sunday school teacher. Best classes I’ve had, best year’s I’ve had, is when I involve the parents. That’s the first thing I do. I start right from the beginning of the year in my Sunday school class, the very first day, and I have a parents’ meeting afterwards, and I make sure I get everybody. I go three, four weeks, and I have to get to the fifth week, I get in my car and I go to that person’s house—I did that one time—and bring them to church so they all hear the program and understand what the education is that we’re presenting to everybody.

We’re going to go through now some things. Where you see me putting highlights in yellow, that’s your indication that that’s the firm point in that area. My background, as you heard from Tony, was in retailing, in the business world. I was in the corporate world with Sears Roebuck, and then G.C. Murphy Company. What you’re going to see from me is how to build a program with a business element to it. I’ve organized many of these structures at Sears and at G.C. Murphy. I was a buyer of leather handbags at Sears Roebuck, and that involved a great deal of organization: planning, timing, promoting. I took all those principles, all those principles, and then put them into an organizational program that His Eminence Metropolitan Alexios in Atlanta asked me to do an organizational workshop for the priests there. So reviewing scriptural references, I found that everything I was doing in business that worked, there was a scriptural reference in the New Testament. So I turned everything over to the New Testament concept, and I even have a manual, and that’s what I do in my organizational workshops. I literally quote scriptural references, but the foundation of what I’ve done is what I’ve learned through business. All I know is: it works. So I’m going to stick to it for now and I’m going to present it to you. This is the only slide that doesn’t turn up properly.

The ten principles used at St. Nektarios. Number 1—and it’s random order. I’m just listing different things, and we’re going to cover each one of these separately, so I’m just going to list them right now. You have them in your sheet there. “Designate a marketer and promote.” “Promote” you’ll hear maybe 300 times today from me. “Designate a marketer”: ensure you have a strong, supportive bookstore. There are actually really supportive reasons for everything I’m listing here, so I’m going to cover each one of these in detail. “Update your program.” “Have a companion manual.” “Update your program every year.” “Make it a first-class, enjoyable presentation.” “Make it available 24/7.” “Don’t underestimate any opportunity to teach.” And: “Plan a program, not an event.” There it is. You got it? That’s the whole thing, okay? That’s all you need to do. All right. Let’s take it one at a time.

Eliminate all excuses—because that’s all we have, excuses. And in sales and business, I learned that excuses are opportunities and really are a willingness to participate, a willingness on a customer’s part to buy your product. They say, “Well, I really don’t want it… I can’t buy it right now.” If we identify the excuses, a good salesman will come back and eliminate those excuses, and that’s what we need to do in this program.

There are excuses that you know of all the time. “I have to cook for my family.” Okay, so have meals prepared. That’s what we started with our program, and we always have food. Christ did most of his ministry over food. If you think about it, the Eucharist itself is the divine meal. It’s all right there. We like what Christ does, so we’re going to do that. So we offer food as often as we can at every meal. Bishop Gregory once said that we’re the “eatin’-est” community that he’s ever seen. [Laughter] We enjoy that, though.

“I had no one to watch the kids.” All right, you heard Tony in the other section; Tony had mentioned that: babysitters. There are ways of handling that. That’s no excuse. That’s an easy one to handle.

“I was not available.” So, make the program available. If they’re not available at the times you have it, make it available at the times you have it, and you’re going to see how we do that.

So excuses are just opportunities to make your program better. It’s almost like a survey, in other words. They’re telling you: here are some ways that you can improve upon your program. We listen to excuses all the time.

Have handouts—I believe in handouts. You can see the Orthodox Institute here believes in handouts. I’m going to say this later, but it won’t hurt to say it again now. What is our focus in this program? Is it to have your folks, your parishioners to sit in on a session with you? If that’s what it is, then you’ve programmed your program to fail. That’s my belief, because I’ve seen it happen. That is not the intent. The teaching device is the tool. Your focus is continual education, is it not? One class is not going to do anything to anybody. Maybe a little bit, but if you don’t whet the appetite, if you don’t have a plan for continual education, then you’re just entertaining people for 45 minutes, an hour, two hours. Continual education is what we want to focus on, so we want to plan a program, not an event.

Those are my two main things in my educational process. We don’t plan an event. A dance event or whatever, you do it one time, you enjoy it, fine. We’re planning programs, building up on a solid base. They add a personal quality to your program—back to handouts. They add a personal quality. I see people writing down. We’ve been doing that all week, or the last two days, rather. I love that, because I know that someone’s taking note of something, but the main thing is—I think most of you know this—is that when you start writing something down, it’s an improvement that immediately sets in. There are all sorts of figures of how much people comprehend and accept verbally, visually, and the number one is the confirmation of writing it down. Plus, what’s our focus? Continual education. When you write it down, you’re going to take it home. So you extend the education to the home as well.

So we believe in handouts. I always have a handout. We’ll talk more about that soon. They promote note-taking, which of course we just discussed, and they focus attention on the material itself. I always have handouts. You know another thing to, it adds a professional quality to your presentation, to your program itself, rather than just being… There are some times when your fathers may just want a comfortable gathering. That’s understandable. That’s an easy format, and that has a place in all this. But even there, when our father does those types of sessions, he always has a handout, because he gives everybody a manual like you have, too, to accumulate these things. So we’re big believers in material because they extend the learning process, and that’s our goal; that’s our main goal.

Have a marketing plan—now, of course, that’s a business term, and that’s my background, business. Marketing plan implies that you have a marketer, and having a marketer isn’t a frightening thing, and we’ll hit that in one second. No business would go into any program—and remember, we’re plannning programs, all right?—no business would go into a program without a marketer, well, marketing plan. Every business has a marketing plan, and within each business marketing plan, each department of that business has a marketing plan, and it goes on down. You have to have something down. You’re not fishing. We’re not just throwing the line out there, seeing what we’re going to catch. We’re actually defining an area. We have to have a target, a goal, so we have to have a marketer. The marketer does more than just promote the material that we have.

If no marketer is available… When I did interviews to hire a marketer, those are the two areas I would look for: are they responsible and creative? Creativity is a God-sent thing that he’s given us, and I really believe that everybody’s creative. I really, really believe that, because that’s one of the things I hear all the time when I try to build a committee: “Well, I’m not creative. I know you like creative people; I’m not creative.” I absolutely don’t buy that, because everybody’s creative. Everybody creates, express their creativity in different ways, but everybody’s creative.

The big key is the responsible area: finding the people who have the time and are going to be responsible, because, in doing this type of a program, that’s one of the main important areas. A responsibility to the program, a responsibility to follow through, a responsibility of organization—things that we’re going to cover today. Just find somebody that you trust, you believe in, or you. Maybe it’s you, and you become the promoter. Everywhere I’ve seen a program fail, it’s because they didn’t apply… they didn’t have this aspect. Somebody left the church who did it. No one was there to follow up. It’s a very strong and important element.

I want you to understand what this says: Do sessions as opposed to a continuous program. See, the reason is, if you market your information and you tell everybody it’s a continuous program, building up, one thing on the other, they miss they first one or they miss one and they say, “Well, that’s it. I’ll get it next time he brings it around.” No, each thing has to stand on its own. You and I know we’re building a continuous program. We are building a continuous program, but when you promote it’s got to be: Here’s what he’s going to discuss today. Here’s the whole thing. From here to there, whatever part of the history, theology, whatever. Make it stand on its own, but you plan a continual, continuous effort, program.

This is probably the biggest thing that we did at St. Nektarios. We decided, after we really reevaluated our program and came out with what you’re seeing now, which was eight years ago, that we needed something more than the missal to say, “We’re going to start religious education,” or “Fr. Steve is going to have a class Tuesday night.” If you’re looking for a continual educational program of adult religious education, forget it; that’s not it. You won’t get it. We have, just like a regular business would do, we send out advertising. We market. We have a big kick-off event. Walmart was very good at that with their employees. They’d have big kick-off events just to get their employees excited. Sears does that; all major retailers do that. I’m sure, if you think through some of the businesses that you know, they all do big heavy promotion among their people, and that’s what we do. We have a kick-off.

At first, we did it in the church, and I personally hate speaking in the church. I just feel… That’s the place of the fathers, and I don’t like making announcements or anything at the end of church. The other thing is, everybody wants to get out of there at that point. They don’t want to listen about religious education. But if I give them a meal back at the coffee hour… And we did that this year, going back to one of Christ’s principles. I have coffee hour: we had a meal. We offered a free breakfast, sponsored by the adult religious education department. Just come and sit down. They sat down at the tables, we put the food in front of them, and I went up and grabbed the microphone. And I had a ball! I showed them the whole program, and what did it do? I’m not exaggerating. Fr. Steve and I do a Tuesday night thing and a Wednesday night thing. Last year we just did Tuesday night, and we both did it alternately. We were averaging 20 people or so. Now we went to Tuesday and Wednesday, and we tripled our attendance, in part, I believe, because of the kick-off. Got everybody excited about the program, and it really, really had an impact.

So we do this twice a year. Once is not enough. Once is good for the fall, but after Christmas, they need another shot, so you do it again in January. You kick off your spring season, and we’re already planned with that. We’ve got that in our notes and everything and in the schedule, so we’ll do it two times. But there are other areas: your missal, your newsletter, your—what’s that? TV monitor. That’s another new thing that we did. Went down to Costco, bought a $200 46” TV, put it on the wall. Fr. Seraphim hooked up the computer thing, and we type in “education class, Tuesday night, Fr. Steve speaking on this,” and it would just keep… Just like at the hotels where it announces all the schedule. Did that: $200! That’s all it cost us. So when Fr. Steve saw that, he got so excited. “We need one on that wall, we need one on this wall, we’ve got a wall over here…” All of a sudden, it’s up to a thousand dollars, but we’re going to do it, because it works. People stand there. I see them Sunday as they’re having coffee, and they go and look and see who’s speaking and what’s the topic and so forth. A very, very great way to promote and market your plan. Of course, the spring-fall kick-off program we spoke about.

So what are we doing here? What do I mean by marketing? It’s that you’ve got to find ways to keep the program in front of people, in front of your parishioners. Keep it in front of them at all times. We have what we do on Wednesdays, we send out an email to the entire community, announcing what’s coming up the next couple of days, because by Wednesday we figure everybody’s slowing down now. They’re all pumped up after church. They’ve got their communion, and they’re feeling good. Monday, they’re great, they start the week, and then Tuesday some things start to hit them, so we give them another shot on Wednesday, just to remind them: Hey, tonight you’ve got Gerry talking on this subject, Thursday… We’ve got a program almost every day. We’ve got a 24/7 program—which we’re going to come to. You find your own ways. You all have them. But keep the program in front of people: you keep it alive. As soon as you stop promoting it, it fizzles out. We even send notes out to everybody on what they missed, which helps.

Again, what’s our focus? Continual education. You’ve got to have a bookstore. Otherwise, again, you’re just planning an event for entertainment. That’s all it’s going to be. You’ve got to have a bookstore. Now, a bookstore doesn’t have to be the library… Beautiful bookstore, wonderful bookstore here, with really good books. I went through it. I’ve already got two I’m going to buy. Our library started out with enough books that you would put out on just a table. It was just a table you put out on Sundays. We have a whole store now. It’s grown to that. Our store is about half the size here. It’s just books and icons and so forth. It becomes very successful for you. You’ll find people going in there, shopping for gifts and so forth, and we promote ideas for gifts from the bookstore, from nameday gifts if you’re a godmother or godfather or so forth. The bookstore really focuses everybody’s thought process at least on religious education. I recommend it entirely. People see it; it’s visual, and it’s a great marketing tool alone. You want to encourage people to go out and read on the subjects. That’s why they do that here. You should see: they’ve got that booklist. That’s a wonderful, wonderful thing. Again, I’ve zeroed into a couple of things that I’m going to read myself. It’s really one of the best things you can do for your parishioners.

The presentation is the form to entice the attendees to seek more knowledge. The bookstore is the real learning process. Once you get to a bookstore process, a successful bookstore process, then that’s your key that you’re doing well. If you’re interesting the people to read… And Tony made a comment today: there are some people that you just can’t do that to. There’s just some people that are just going to want a little presentation, just something interesting to talk about, and every community has that. But the majority really, really—at least the ones that I’m getting—want more. Sometimes they don’t even realize they want more, and what I do in my classes [is] I bring those books in. Whatever subject matter I’m talking about, I have the book there. And I say to them: “A lot of the information came from this book, and I take orders.” And I always get orders that way. I’m not trying to extend sales and profit-wise or anything like that. We have our books at virtually a non-profit. It’s just an important area.

I don’t think I have to go into this too long. You have your manual. You see the benefits of it. You have it right there. We give everybody a manual. Everybody who’s part of the department of education and does a session has to do a write-up and a schedule, and that goes in the manual with some interesting tidbits from Fr. Steve Dalber, our protopresbyter, and a few other things that we put in there. You may not think it works. It’s amazing how this year we were one week late. The person who was responsible for it got rushed out to the hospital the week of the presentation, so we had to get people to finish it up. It took a little bit longer this time. Boy, did I hear it. “Where’s my manual!”

I’ve got volume one, volume two, volume three, volume four. We put volume one, volume two on the books. “I’ve got to have volume nine! Where is it?” You’d be amazed at the interest in it, number one, but, number two, it’s a learning device: continual information. It’s there. I refer to mine all the time. When I did this presentation, there was something I wanted to get out of it, and I went back to volume three because I remember I had talked about it at this point, and I found my information there. You’ll all find a need at some point to use it. I like the word “companion” manual. It travels with her, the whole thing. That’s what we call it, and that’s how we do it. Yes, sir.

Q1: Could you give us a summary of what is in the different parts of the manual?

Mr. Clonaris: Yeah, I’m going to show you. I’ll get to that. Okay? It’s coming up.

There’s a great philosophy in business that if you plan exactly what you did last year, the best you can expect is last year’s results. It actually goes the other way. Eventually, it’s going to go into a direction that you won’t like. You start losing. You lose. The law of diminishing returns. God created this world in motion. That was God’s activity. The whole aspect of creation, it’s in motion. We are in motion; we’re constantly evolving. If we’re not moving forward, we’re actually moving backwards. So your program has to understand that. If you’re doing the same program that you’ve always done and you can’t understand why people aren’t coming, that’s why people aren’t coming. People’s minds are moving; they’re growing. Everything is in motion in this world, and your program has to be in motion. The way you do that is to come up with at least one new thing every year. You’ll see the results because your attendance will build up through the year.

When we first did this program, the very first class I had had three people. Fr. Steve had ten. More people will go to the priest, and that was fine. I was thrilled with that. Christ only needed two people, so I had three. I was thrilled with three, and we did it. The next year I had four. I went home and told the wife, “I had a 25% improvement!” [Laughter] I didn’t tell her figures. I let her decide what that meant, but I was thrilled with it. We stood there, three to four, for several years. It took years for people to understand that we were serious, and that’s an element that we need to communicate in putting together a program like this, that this is going to be here. This is not something that we’re doing this year: “Let’s try it, an adult program.” Meh. This is part of our church. This is part of our system. Again, this is a commandment by Christ, and you have to convey that to your people, that this is here, and you are the ones that are going to miss if you’re not part of it. It’s that enthusiasm that will get you over that hump, and once you get over the hump, then it starts going like gangbusters, and it starts really multiplying and exploding like it did for us this year. I’m jumping ahead of other events, and I’ll get to that. But we add one new element every year, at least one. Yes?

Q2: What do you mean by “element”?

Mr. Clonaris: Well, it’s the best word I could figure out at that time. I mean, one new addition, one new program, one new concept. Something different to announce to the people.

Q3: Can you give an example?

Mr. Clonaris: This year we went to two nights. This year: “For those of you who can’t come Tuesday night, okay, so we’re going to do it Tuesday and Wednesday night.” We added the TV monitor: “And if you can’t remember, just look on Sunday. We’ve got our monitor out there.” Anything that can give us a handle to go out and excite the people about that’s new and different, and generally it should be involving in educational things and not necessarily in marketing things. Anything to add. And you will, like any good business will do, you winnow out the things that aren’t working. Only, we don’t winnow out the things that aren’t working. Fr. Steve has a great philosophy, and I love it. Once we establish a program, we don’t give up on it. We just keep working at it. Sometimes, it just takes time.

I guarantee you, most people, if they were in our church, if they were present in the community of St. Nektarios, they could’ve fired me the first three years. (I don’t get paid for this. This is voluntary.) But they would have gotten rid of me because of the numbers. They would not have budgeted the money that I was putting in for it because of the numbers. It took two, three years to really get the program and the thought process to people, that this is part of their daily lives. But now, like I say—I hate to use the word “automatic,” too, because we still, every year, first thing we do at the end of the year, we review where we went, we review how we got there, we review the results, and then we say: how do we get it one step better? Another way of saying this is: Raise the bar every year, just one level even. It doesn’t have to be major, but raise it every year. It’s also good for your committee, your group, because it just focuses you on continually thinking. If you want continual education, you have to have continual organization, continual thought process for it.

Keep with the times—when I’m working with Tony now [on] something I have great interest in, and that’s the teacher certification program. It’s almost done. As a matter of fact, they’re working with the Antiochian folks to put this together, a combination with the Greek Orthodox and the Antiochian. I’m really excited about it, because we’ve really updated it. For example, in those days when we first put it together, no one knew what a website was and no one knew what a [cell] phone was, let alone a smart phone. I mean, all these things have come to the times. When we’re sitting and discussing this, Tony says, “Jeez, people aren’t taking part of it.” I said, “Well, it’s really not on a website. We don’t have a [website].” There was no requirement for the website back then. We have to keep with the times, and make your program keep with the times. That’s why the monitor. That was one of our steps in keeping with the times. It’s programmed from the office. She just types in the message each week; it’s out there. By wifi, it’s there. So keep your program with the times. That’s how you keep people excited. Yes, sir.

Q4: Can you go back? Can you say what the updated programming is?

Mr. Clonaris: All right. It is two-thirds done. Right now it’s been presented. Tony just spoke to me yesterday that he did discuss it with an Antiochian group, and they’ve got things put together. We want it out before the Archdiocese Clergy-Laity in Nashville, which is next July. We want to present it at that and announce that it’s out and going. If we can get it done sooner than that… It does take a while to get things through the Archdiocese, but…

Q4: Is there a beta version ready? Are you looking for beta testing? [Laughter]

Mr. Clonaris: Well, we could talk to Tony about that.

Q4: Yeah, because we need it in our parish. We’ve been talking about it. The board was saying, “Something’s better than nothing.” I’m familiar with the current one that we’re all reading. I just think if we had half those books, we’d be better off. So I’m just looking… Anyway.

Mr. Clonaris: Okay. Good, great. We’ll talk about it. I’m excited about it, too, and I won’t stop talking about that. I’ve got a program here. Let’s see. There’s that phrase. That’s not on your sheets, if you want to write that down. I don’t think that’s on your sheet. That’s a very important thing to understand. And remember, it really is a diminishing return. If we’re not moving forward, we’re moving backward. If your program’s not moving forward, it’s a diminishing return; you’re moving backwards. So you’ve got to keep with the times, keep it fresh, keep new ideas flowing.

Make it a first-class and enjoyable program—how do you do that? because some people just can’t make things enjoyable. Some people are didactic, and we understand that. We have scholars that are scholarly, and when you go to an institution, a school, that’s okay because you’ve got students and they’re learning. But for your parishioners, that’s hard. You don’t want to make it a hard thing. You want it an easy thing. You’ve got to identify your audience. Is it a beginning group or an advanced group? That’s the next level that we’re going now. We’re going into different segments, levels of education. We’re at that point that we’re looking at. Houston has done that. So that’s going to be… Actually, by next year we’ll be at three different levels of education.

Just right now, for your first go-round at this or whatever, you just have to make sure that it has something enjoyable. I tell everybody, every time I make a presentation on something like the material stuff like this, educational stuff, I always say: Please, don’t walk out that door unless you take one thing from this class with you, because I’ll guarantee you, I’ve got a hundred of those things in the material I’m giving you. I can say the same thing with you now. I know that there’s people sitting out there saying, “Well, I’ve done this. We’ve tried that one time before.” I know you’re there, because that’s the first thing I hear every time: “We’ve done this before. It doesn’t work.” No, it probably worked, but what was the failure? You didn’t have continual education. They didn’t focus on what we’re supposed to be doing, on what the goal is. And they didn’t promote. I guarantee you that was the failure.

When you get people into that room, you make them interested in the program. You’ve got to have that, you’ve got to review that with your instructors. That’s an important element here. I just can’t stress that enough. And the way to do this, again, is to do it my way. Make sure you don’t walk out that door [without] something that you’ve learned today. That forces me to make sure there’s something in there that you all didn’t learn before and that this is brand-new for you today. It has a two-sided thing. It’s a great thought process for your planning and in your organization, but you’ve got to make it a first-class program. If it’s not fun, no one will come. You’ve got to make them want to come. You’ve got to make it enjoyable.

I really believe that. I don’t care what it is. Do you know, for 38 years now I’ve been teaching Sunday school, the same subject, and I have very strong attendance in my classes. At St. Nektarios, I have the highest attendance, and I teach the ninth and tenth graders. What do I teach them? If I put down the title of what I’m teaching, they wouldn’t come: the Nicene Creed. That’s what I teach, the Nicene Creed. Think about it: to a young child, how boring would that be? “The Nicene Creed. Is that the thing I say, the Pater Imon?” No, it’s not the Pater Imon. The Nicene Creed. They want no part of that. So I don’t call it that. I call it the history of our faith, the history of our Church. Two parts: one year I do the history of the Church; the next year I do the history of the faith.

What I’m doing now, I’m doing it in my adult classes. I’m doing the history of the Church and the history of the faith, and I’m pushing it to my parents, my Sunday school parents: “If you want to keep up with your kids, come to the class, because what I’m going to teach them on Sunday, I’m going to cover with you the Wednesday before.” So I’ve got parents coming to my Wednesday night classes so that they can keep up with the kids, because I really put a lot of pressure on the parents to review things with their kids. Again, why? Continual education. Forcing it outside the Sunday school. Ask them any question—except, don’t ask them, “How was your class today?” [Laughter] That stops the conversation right there. Ask them something: “I heard he was talking about…” And they know what I’m going to talk about because I send them an email before the class. I send an email to the parents—this is what I’m covering—so that they can ask questions and say, “What was this fill-oh-kwee? What’s that? I’ve never heard of that.” Give them questions to ask.

I’m starting to go off on my tangents, but that’s an important element to take anything—I don’t care what the subject matter is—and just make it interesting. And the way you find it being interesting is if it’s interesting to you. If you find it interesting… That was our theme this year for our festival of faith, which I’m going to cover in a minute. We had all our speakers pick a subject matter from a book that they liked—from a book that they liked. Fr. Steve picked the Bible. Okay that was… [Laughter] So he wanted to do the New Testament, and he did, but he did a great job. Like I said, he always gets the biggest classes, and he did.

But we brought a speaker from Fordham University, a doctor a professor, Aristotle Papanikolaou—I don’t know if you’re familiar with him. You know what book he talked about, or he referenced to it—it wasn’t a presentation on a book, but he drew from, references from the book—was Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, with parts from The Brothers Karamazov. I thought: How interesting, that the head of theology at Fordham University would come—everyone else is pulling all these spiritual books and everything; some I saw in the store here today—and he picked Dostoyevsky. But I went out and bought it. I never read it, so I went out and got it. It’s all Orthodox! There’s Orthodox throughout, because he was Russian Orthodox. It’s just a wonderful, wonderful book.

You can make anything interesting. Like I say, find it in yourself. When you read it—I went through my program before I presented it to you, and I said, “I can get excited about this.” If I can get excited about the material, then you’re right on. You have to have an enthusiasm; you have to feel that excitement, because if you don’t have it, if you don’t feel it, you can’t communicate it. And if you want them to come back, you have to communicate to them. So get excited! And if you are one of those few that are just strictly didactic, there’s somebody really enthusiastic in your community who has a knowledge base or whatever: work with them. Get them to do parts of it with you. Share. Become a team. Lots of ways of doing this and making it a super program. It must be interesting, illuminating, and enjoyable to succeed.

What’s next? Make it available 24/7. How do we do that? We’ve got websites now! We’ve got smart phones and iPads that everybody travels with. I go overseas all the time, and I’m taking my iPad, my phone; I’ve got it here and upstairs in my room. We put programs on there. We film all our classes. Now, we just started that this year. Actually, I’m not being honest with you. We actually going to begin the filming part in January, but we have everything in place now. It took a while to get it in place, but they have so much now, it makes it so easy. GoPro? GoPro is a simple thing. These are not expensive tools. This is not like getting CBS to come and film it. [Laughter] This is simple stuff, folks, that even I understand it. Film it, and then don’t… We can broadcast live.

We are going to broadcast some of our events live from our church. On YouTube, we’re going to do it, December 12, believe it or not, we’re going to do a thing with Opera Carolina. It’s going to come in and talk or do a concert on Christmas carols, and some of the hymns they’re going to sing in Greek. What’s that got to do with education? Well, we’re going to do presentations on the Church, with all the people in there, about Christmas and so forth. We always, even [at] Christmas parties, we talk about the Church. It’s adult religious education. Yes, sir.

Q5: Do you have any objections about people being filmed, because we’re kicking around that idea, and the first thing that came up was people would clam up if people would be on film.

Mr. Clonaris: The speakers, you’re talking about?

Q5: Well, we’re trying to make our adult [education]—we have it on Sundays—we’re trying to make it available to the teachers, other fellow teachers who can’t come because they’re teaching. So we talked about filming the class, the adult class.

Mr. Clonaris: What time does my class end? Does anybody have it right there? I’m looking at my clock, my watch…

A1: You have one hour. It ends at 2:15.

Mr. Clonaris: 2:15. One hour. Good. So we’ve got time for questions-and-answers, and I’m not finished yet.

Q5: I can hold on.

Mr. Clonaris: No, no! I just wanted to know, because I’m looking at my watch: Oh, it’s five of two, but I forgot what time I’m supposed to finish. So, not good thought process here.

No, as a matter of fact, chances are, if you’ve got enthusiastic people, they’re going to like being filmed. They’re not going to back away from it. It’s the quiet types that maybe don’t want to do it, and if they don’t… We haven’t run across that yet. Actually, we’re all excited because we’re going to build a library with this. We’re going to maintain it. We’re going to show it often, going down the road. Who knows what’s going to happen. We’ve got Ancient Faith Radio sitting here. There might be something in the plans once we start doing this. Who knows? Yes, sir.

A2: To your point, I worked in production for many years: when you use a stationary camera or a stationary microphone, people will begin to speak and forget it’s there. So if you just don’t fuss with it, set it up, refocus it, walk away, you won’t have any issues after that.

Mr. Clonaris: That’s a good point. That’s an excellent point. That’s very good. But that’s how you do 24/7. Like I started to say, we don’t film or video anything, we don’t present it the night we’re doing it other than this special program that we’ll do. That’s because we want people to come to the class. We want them to get into that habit. But we’ll show it later, and that affords those who saw it, who maybe missed some things, want to see it again, or it’ll capture an [audience], or word’ll spread out: “Gee, you hear what this guy was talking about the other night? You’ve got to hear it. It’s going to be on the website at some point.”

Plus we’re starting a program where we’re just having daily scriptural references. We do a thing in our Wednesday thing where we mention the networks that are available now, like Ancient Faith Radio. We give them the websites, to the app aspects so they can get it downloaded. If you go anywhere in the world, you can sit down [with] your iPad and you can participate in our educational program. That’s one way to make it available. Promote your bookstore: people read at all times of the day. That’s making it 24/7. Record your sessions.

And we’re ready to go and do: Don’t underestimate any opportunity to teach or promote. We have to be creative to get people excited about these things. We don’t want… We had a really good session before, that was presented, where it showed how the class structure evolved. Didn’t you do that? No. It was the session before, with Tony. That was you, right? Yeah, that’s what I thought. You had a jacket on before. [Laughter] That’s what I’m going to do when I’m finished, too. But it was a very good explanation on how the classroom format established, and here we are today in the same classroom format with our Sunday school and so forth.

You have to look… We do have to be creative? How many times have I said that word today? We just have to be creative. It’s right there in front of us sometimes. It’s right there in front of us, and we don’t see it, and we’re afraid to see it; we’re afraid to try it, because that sounds stupid. Get the parents to come to Sunday school to participate in their program? Put things on the wall? How far are we going to stretch this? As far as it takes. Go, and don’t underestimate anything. I can rattle off a hundred things before… How about during Liturgy? When is the number-one gathering of all the people in our communities? Liturgy, right? That’s when you get the most people, during Liturgy. Father does the sermon. Well, we change. We’re trying to find the right mix here.

We’ve done sessions before Liturgy, and what happened was we didn’t get the whole masses, but it’s amazing how, each week, we built up the numbers. Fr. Chiganos—I don’t know if you people know him from Chicago—used to do this very process. That’s where I got the thought process. He had classes before—he didn’t call them classes, but in the church there. He would call it, “Awaken to God.” Beautiful. What a great name: “Awaken to God.” And he would do a ten-minute thing on “Awaken to God.” We did “15 for Faith.” I’m big on the initials, the letters: “fifteen,” “faith,” and so forth: “Festival of Faith.” I feel that they’re catchy.

So we did “15 for Faith,” put a lot of effort on behalf of our priest, because it does take extra preparatory work, but that worked well, and we noticed we used to have about seven, eight there for Orthros, but by the time we got to the end of… or the beginning of the Liturgy with this program, we were in the 100-area. So people would come. You’re saying, “Hey, look, we’re just talking about 15 minutes earlier. It’s nothing major. If you can come 15 minutes earlier, then you’ll learn something about your Church, and it would be something not covered in the sermon or anything. It would be an educational interest. We find that after services, again, people are ready to go home or they’re ready to go to the coffee hour, so they don’t like that.

But at your coffee hour—and I just gave you the example of what we did—you don’t want to do it as often, but I isolated instances like the one that I told you, but how about the marketing? You can do your marketing there, and that’s what we do. That’s what we do the most of. On the wall we have a table set up at all times with all information on our programs. We have handouts there. We have the companion manual there. We focus on the coffee hour with promoting efforts, not as much as teaching, didactic efforts.

But you’ve got missals, you’ve got your church bulletin, or even the walls. There’s a lot of areas that you can think outside, and Sunday school is not only a great place to start, but an important one as well, like I’ve said. I get the kids learning better and I get interest from the parents. It’s what I call a grand-slam win. If you incorporate that in your program… And all it takes, this one, is sending out a notice to your parents that you’re going to have a meeting following the class this Sunday. “I’m sure you think religious education for your young is very, very important, so I’m sure you’ll be there.” And I get them; they come. They come. They see that you’re genuine and interested in their child’s development; they’ll come. But there’s a lot of opportunities out there. Each year we think of new ones. Update your program every year; add one new element—I covered a lot of this.

Don’t be afraid to think outside the box—in retailing, we called everything a box. We opened businesses “in a box.” “We’ve got to go find a new box”: that’s a store. A box was always in our thinking, too. There’s so much, the conservative aspect is within the box, and the creative aspect is outside the box. There’s creativity inside, too, but there’s so many things out there that we haven’t discovered, that we haven’t thought through. Like I say, if you are following along so far and you’re buying into some of these things, and one of the principles was to add something every year, that’s thinking outside the box to me, because normally we don’t do that; we just stroll along on the roller coaster. We don’t want to do that; we want to think outside the box.

Keep up with the times, we discussed that. There’s that phrase, in case… I don’t think it was written, there, but that’s one of my important areas for developing a continual program, for it to succeed. Plan a program, not an event.

Cover different times of the days—we have sunrise, we’ve got a sunrise Scripture study; we have daytime Paraklesis on Tuesday. I’m going to show you our plan in a minute. We have it all across the board. We cover every area of possibility for everyone, so that everybody can be part of our program. We plan different formats. Fr. Steve is a sit-around-a-table discusser type of guy. I’m this type: presenter. I stand in front, I’ve got my PowerPoint, I present; I encourage discussion, of course, but we’re two different types of speakers. Some people want to sit back, relax, and be part of a discussion; some people want to learn some different areas, want to go to different places, and that’s me. So we have those type of speakers; we have all different types.

We use different aids. Fr. Steve never does presentations like this; Fr. Seraphim doesn’t. I’m really the only one that goes into the PowerPoint. For me it’s great because it keeps me on track. I keep looking to see, because I forget where I’m at a lot, so that’s where I’m at so that’s how I know. I like it; I’m surrounded by it so I don’t lose my train of thought. Visual, audio—those are modern things, and we just have to keep with the times. We mentioned this: everything must be interesting, companion manual—I think I’ve covered most of this along the way—pick one theme.

This is interesting, see. I’ve always said this. Like I say, this whole slide presentation I put together several years ago originally, but it’s changed so much for you today. I’ve updated it. Initially I said, “A theme is always good.” In retail sales and everything, they have a theme. You have your Easter sales and your holidays, in July. They always come up with a theme to catch your eye. And themes are good in religious education, but we did it one year, and we said everybody’s going to focus on this core theme, and what happened was that we had one continuous program instead of the segmented things that we wanted.

The theme can be something that you plan. In other words, we can sit and say, “We’re going to do the history of the Church,” but there are different aspects of the history of the Church. It’s not just “the history of the Church.” There’s so many things. So: “Fr. Seraphim, why don’t you just cover the effects, maybe, of the history of the Church, which opens the door to so many theological aspects that you could include. Gerry, you’re going to stick to the history because that’s all you know; you don’t know all this theological stuff, so you stay away from that and concentrate on the historical or organizational stuff.”

So we would segment ourselves into the areas so that each of the areas would be different. We want it all different, but just for your planning, it’s good. And if you want to try some years to do a theme, just be real careful if you do a theme that you don’t get a repeating type concept program to everybody. You’re going to lose people rather quickly. I’ll tell you, this last theme that we did with the book—I’m going to get to that in a minute—this thing was a grand-slam. So the goal of your religious ed program is to promote an interest in continual religious education. Super, super point.

What is the main reason for failure? Actually, I’ve covered it. A failure to understand your goal and a failure for you to promote. What is our goal? Our goal is—which I’ve already said, so we don’t need that here any more.

Here’s our program. I’m going to show you what we do as of this year. On Sunday, we have “15 for Faith,” and what Father does now is he tells a little bit of the history, but then he says what’s going to be happening this week, to cover it. He says, “On Tuesday night, I’m going to go from this theme”—now here’s where a theme comes in—“I’m going to go from this theme that I talked to you about tonight, and I’m going to embellish it on Tuesday night.” So he whet the appetite of everybody there, and he got the word out to the masses. If they didn’t hear it, when they go back to the coffee hour, it’s going to be on the wall on our computer sign. It’s in the missal. That’s what he does perforce, right when we get up to the doxology; before we chant the doxology, we break for 15 minutes. He does this and then we sing the doxology, and we’ve usually got a packed church by that point.

Tuesday morning is our Paraklesis followed by discussion. That’s the one I was telling you about on Tuesday, where Father does have a discussion group. This is Father… We’re fortunate. We have three priests and two deacons. The one priest just handles the hymn ministry, just the music ministry. We have the protopresbyter and his assistant priest and two [deacons]. We’re blessed to have people who do many different aspects here. That’s Tuesday. Tuesday evening are the presentations, and Wednesdays. So we’ve gone to Tuesday-Wednesday. We were so afraid of doing that because we thought we’d lose the numbers, and we didn’t lose the numbers—we increased the numbers. Yes, sir.

Q6: Do you serve meals on Tuesday and Wednesday?

Mr. Clonaris: We used to serve the meals on the Wednesday. Actually, I’m sorry, on the Tuesday. We did the Wednesday and people got tired of fish, so we went to [Tuesday] so we could do hamburger. We decided to go to the two-night thing to see how it would work, and we do a heavy snack there. We have the coffee and everything. We start a little bit later. We used to start at six with a dinner, six-thirty with a presentation. Now we go to seven. We built enough base to get away from the meal for this one, and we were testing it out, and so far it’s better. We haven’t lost anybody, and we’ve increased. So the answer: No, we stopped it, and this is the first year we didn’t do it.

Thursday, sunrise: that’s before breakfast Bible study. That’s a 24/7 directed group. This is the special one: quarterly speaker series. Four times a year—that’s why we call it quarterly [Laughter]—we bring in a speaker. It could be anything. In this case, we just had our Professor Papanikolaou; that was part of our speaker series. The next one is going to be in December, as I told you, it’s actually Opera Carolina. That’s part of our speaker series; it’s under that budget that we fund that. For those of you that say, “Where do you get the money for this? We don’t have that kind of finances,” put a basket out. It’s amazing. I don’t need a budget. The basket collects more than the budget.

We had this Festival of Faith. We had five speakers and a meal, a lunch, and we collected $700 in the basket. It paid for everybody; it paid for everything. A basket is just to say: if you care to, if you believe in and want to see your religious educational program… The thing we put is: “All proceeds go to the religious education program.” It works. So we bring in somebody noteworthy, and we’re very fond of Fordham University. There are two great speakers there: Dr. Aristotle Papanikolaou and Professor George Demacopoulos. They’re [both] good authors, [have] written excellent books. Professor George is a historian. Professor Aristotle—we call him “Telly,” because that’s what he tells us to call him, “Telly”—he’s in theology. He’s organizing an institute of learning out there at Fordham University. Wonderful, down-to-earth people, wonderful people to have in your community. We just give them an honorarium; they don’t charge, but we pay their expenses and give them an honorarium. They love going out to parishes and doing programs for you.

So that’s what our quarterly series is, and then our annual Festival of Faith. Let me get to our Festival of Faith. That’s Dr. Papanikolaou, and that one was two years ago. I’m going to pass something around now, because it has the current Festival of Faith. This is one of the marketing things we pass out at our kick-off, at our stand when the people come back and I was talking to everybody. We had it on the table next to their breakfast. There was one for everybody there. It’s the whole program. In case you’re interested… Let me just take something out of this side.

The Festival of Faith, when you think about it now… When I first proposed this thought, I’ve been involved with festivals with the church. I did the Hellenic Dance Festival. That was the one thing that the bishop gave me to organize. How many Greek festivals do you have? “Festival” is a common word in our culture, so we thought if we can have a festival on dancing and a festival, Yia Sou and baklava and everything, why can’t we have a festival on learning our faith? So we came up with the Festival of Faith thought process. Then we said we’re going to invite everybody in on a Saturday and just teach them different subjects. Do you know what a snow job I had to do to get people to buy into that? The thought process at first was, “They’re not going to come.”

We had 91 show up at this Festival of Faith. This is our second one. What it was: we took… we advertised it, we marketed it as a program for those who can’t make it on Saturday night—remember I said one of the rules was make sure it’s available to everybody?—we did it on a Saturday: they can’t come on a Tuesday, they can’t come on a Wednesday, they want to sleep at night, so they don’t want to listen to the website. We had to find something for them, and we did with this program. We did surveys afterwards, and this is a grand slam. This event really is a blockbuster. It really works well. If you organize it, promote it properly, you will get the people. You make it fun. You don’t put them in one room and present to them continually for one room. You don’t do that. They get tired, they’ll fall asleep. The speaker will probably fall asleep. It’s not the most conducive way to do it. You do it like we’re doing here.

I call them vignettes. I like to do vignettes on things, little venue-shops, differently. That’s what you do in marketing. We do a segment over here, and people get some interest there. “Oh, there’s something over there.” They go over there and they get an interest in it. That’s what you do with the education. You pick a theme. Here’s where you pick a theme. Here’s where you can pick a theme, and our theme this year was the favorite book, the favorite source of information you’ve had, you’ve been exposed to. I did Engleman’s spiritual [book] about the Orthodox perspective of end times. It’s up in the bookstore here. Best book I’ve read on that subject; I’m just fascinated by it. Yes, sir.

Q7: So when you do the Festival of Faith, how much marketing did you do outside your church, and how many Protestants and other potential inquirers did you get?

Mr. Clonaris: We’ve not been successful at that yet, at that aspect yet. I don’t know why. We’ve got to do a better promotion effort. We brought in the priest, the new priest from Holy Trinity parish, the protopresbyter, to do one of the sessions. We thought that would help our sister parish come. We didn’t get hardly anybody. All the 91 were all from our church this year. It’s something that we’re going to continue to do, though. We have five parishes within two hours of our parish, so we’re going to continue to market it. Again, evidently, they’re just not indoctrinated with the philosophy or understanding of adult religious education. Our people have been exposed to it. This is our second one. It took us seven years to get to do one of these. I don’t know if this’ll work the first time. Was it that we continually heard about this information and then we all come out with this: “Hey, look what we’re going to do this time!”

Whatever it is, it worked last year: we had 75; this year we had 91. Already they’re talking about next year. It’s a great, great way of getting people. 45 minute sessions, 15 minutes. They were allowed to speak for 15 minutes in different rooms. We had coffee down there like they have here. We did three sessions. When they were done, we invited everybody for lunch. And make sure you get a good cook, like they have here! [Laughter] Very important, I’m serious. If you don’t have good food… If you don’t do good food, they’re not going to come. I’m telling you, if the word gets out… We advertise, you know: John Paroulis’s famous pastitsio. We put that on our bulletin board. He’s cooking today for our pastitsio event. Something that won’t take away. Maybe I’m not saying that it’ll add, but it won’t take away from your program, because sometimes it does. Another way we make sure everybody stays: we put the guest speaker last. He spoke after the dinner, and that way he could answer as many questions without worrying about time, because he could go as long as he could.

So this actually works, folks. It actually works. We’ve got… It just works, and I think the success of it, again, is that it’s multi-faceted. It’s not just sit down in a hall. The only time we go to the hall is to begin with to get their instructions and then they come and eat the lunch and then Telly presents to everybody. We want our keynote speaker to speak to everybody, like they do here. It ends by 3:30, they all go home, and looking for next year.

Let me go back now. This is our planning calendar. This is how we plan. Everything I told you now, this is how we put it into operation. In July, we meet for the coming year. That’s what the kick-off is for us. July is when we plan the year. August, that’s where we pick our ideas, our concepts, how we’re going to do this. I do this with [what] I call the “executive body” of the religious ed program: Fr. Steve… We always feel our priest is prominent in the direction of the religious education; that’s his responsibility. We sit with him; he gives his thoughts. He may say, “Look, I really wanted to go into this direction this year for this type of education.” Okay, we will build the program to meet that. August is [when] we invite the whole committee—the marketing people, the people that are going to put the companion manual book together—to say, “Here’s the plan. What are your thoughts?”

They add some thoughts, too, because, you know, you want a good plan, you want a good program, then you pick a good committee and make sure they have ownership in the program. That’s a big fundamental in business, too. If you want a program to succeed and you put somebody in charge or to work on that program, you’ve got to make them feel like they have an ownership. Then they take a personal interest in it, and they’re not going to see it fail, and they’re going to get more involved in it. It is a very, very strong axiom in business and in any type of organizational endeavor, I think. If you’re not doing that, you’re missing a key element. If it’s parish council, whatever it is, you make sure everybody’s involved, that they have their own responsibilities to do, and you’ll find that you’ll be successful.

So we start off our week, kick-off presentation in the fall, second week, and then we start the programs the third week. We go through short sessions, again. We don’t want to get people tired of the subject, so we’ll go six weeks. I’m going eight weeks; I’m doing the history of the Church. I need more weeks, so I took an extra two weeks, but I’m stopping November 18, and we’re very careful about that. We’re very careful about time on these programs. If we say it ends at 8:15, you walk out the door at 8:15. You stop at 8:15. Biggest complaint we used to get was, “Aw, man, this guy’s got diarrhea of the mouth. He just goes on and on and on! Stop talking!” We get so much of that. And it’s because we get enthusiastic about the program, and it’s understandable, but they have kids at home, there’s duties and so forth. What we do is we say: Let’s keep it to a minimal… Whatever the time is, 8:15, whatever. That’s our time: 7:00 to 8:15.

Then in December we’ll go into a three-week session on the Advent season. This year, the quarterly, that Opera Carolina event is part of that for us. Then we’ll do a kick-off again the third week of January. Last week of January we’ll start our spring sessions. It’ll be six weeks this year that we go into, because it’ll fall over into March. March-April we start going into our Pascha. Pascha is where we start doing the whole program on the presentation of the final days of Christ, of Christ’s ministry. Here’s a date that we do—do I have it down here? Yeah, Palm Sunday at five o’clock. How many of you would have thought that at five o’clock on Palm Sunday is a good time for adult religious education? I mean, you probably wouldn’t? How many people would have sat there and thought, “Let’s do that”? Think outside the box.

We did that, and what we do is we present the last hours of Christ. We do his last moments. We give an explanation, a background of the whole ministry of Christ, as far as that final week. We start with Palm Sunday, and we take the people back to that period. We talk, we do a presentation on it, we do a visual thing. It’s two hours before the service starts, before the Bridegroom Service that evening; we do it. Actually, we stop 15 minutes before and have refreshments, then they go into the church. You increase attendance at church, and you can check our parish on this fact I’m going to tell you, but I get… Last year I had 80, the year before the highest I’ve gotten is about 110, and I’ve done it every year, the same presentation. People come back; the same people come back again. And I say the same thing. All presenters know that every time they do things twice—now, I’m going to do this tomorrow; I’ll say something I didn’t say today. You always, there’s just so much to communicate, and you always have something new and exciting to discuss. I always add information when we do this, but it works. Again, think outside the box. You’d be surprised for what works for religious education. Yes, sir.

Q8: So can you go into a little bit of detail about what you for what you call the kick-off presentation? When do you have it, how long does it last, and what kind of things do you do to kick off?

Mr. Clonaris: Sure. I have the breakfast. It’s announced in church first. Father will do the announcements. “Today’s coffee hour is sponsored by the religious education, and it’s a breakfast. Free breakfast. Come, sit down, and we will serve you.” So they come, and when they get in there, that leaflet is on their tables. So now they’ve got the whole program in front of them. Then I do a slide presentation which I have on here and I could show you if you want. Very short, though; it’s six slides, nothing… You’ve got a short time span here. Let them know what’s out there, what’s new, and we move from there. I’ve got time yet? Still got time for more questions. It’s a short, 10-15 minutes at the most.

Q8: So it’s just a summary of all of the different options?

Mr. Clonaris: Yes.

Q8: So you’re basically featuring what you’re having in the program, right?

Mr. Clonaris: Yes, and we have a table out there, where we have the companion manual. Then we’ll make an announcement that those who go and register now—we like to get them to register, get an email, a name, just so we can follow through with emails to everybody. We give them a free manual. And we sometimes put out a donation box and say, “If you care to donate toward the ministry, we accept that,” and we actually get enough money to pay for the manuals. That’s it. It’s just… It’s a high wash. It’s just putting it out there in front of them, just telling them it’s here, telling them what’s new, and getting them a little excited, enthusiastic about the program.

Final: Things to remember. Size doesn’t matter. Christ only needed two; we’re at three. I’ve embellished this one. It’s in your notes, but I’ve added some. This is one of the things that I left out and shouldn’t have left out. Best thoughts for planning any program can be found in biblical Scriptures. I’m just rehashing a lot of the things here that we talked about, but these are the important things to me in putting this program together.

Please give your program time to develop. Don’t give up on it; stay at it. Keep working it. If you’ve got three people, you’ve succeeded. Don’t look at numbers, because you want the numbers to grow. You just cannot, after how many years that we learned this morning that people were talking about religious education… What was the one figure you talked about that somebody brought up, back, way back in ancient times, about the… who was it who was talking about religious education?

A3: First Sunday school.

Mr. Clonaris: 1700? But there was somebody in the Scripture. Was it Old Testament that you referred to?

A4: It was Deuteronomy, when they’d just left Egypt.

Mr. Clonaris: That’s how long they’ve been talking about the need for education. You expect you’re going to change it overnight? It’s going to take a couple times, maybe two nights, three nights? Give it time. Don’t panic. It’ll happen. If you’re doing the right things, it’ll happen. And it doesn’t hurt… I know we all do this, but we always, we always ask for the intervention of the Lord first. I don’t care what it is—some meeting, a thought process, whatever it is. He doesn’t need to know this. It’s good for us, but we remind everybody that this is what he wants. This is what you wanted, so give us the insight, give us the guidance. Guide our words, guide our thoughts, bring us together. It’s amazing how the thought process… how things flow.

Always update. Don’t be afraid to try new things. Stay on time. Keep your A.R.E. in front of your parishioners. Beware of the great pitfall—oh, you’re going to get that. If you don’t have a program, somebody, I guarantee you, it’s going to happen. That’s my favorite proverb. That’s what I just said now: Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and his plans will succeed. That’s a very strong guarantee; I buy into that.

I’ll open it up to questions, and I know the first question is: “Well, I only have a parish that has four people in it. We’re very small and we can’t do this and we can’t do that.” Again, I just go back to the Scripture: “Where two or more are gathered in my name, there I will be.” You can do this with any amount. Maybe not this whole program, but we didn’t start with this program. This is our program today. I didn’t show you the program that we started with which was just the Tuesday night. Tuesday night was our first, of all those things, all we did at first was Tuesday night. And I had three people in that class, Tuesday night. So you’ve got plenty of time. Build on it. Make that presentation to those three people the best presentation they’ve ever had. That’s all you have to do. So then you’ll guarantee you’ll have them again next year.

Can I answer any questions now? And a last thing, and I want to get your question. That’s my information. If you want the PowerPoint, I’ll be glad to send it to you if you send me an email, so you’ll have it in your notes. It’s in there. And Tony and I are always available to come out and do anything to help you with it as far as presentations or anything like that. We’re there for you for that.

Q9: You said you were going to tell us what’s in the companion manual.

Mr. Clonaris: Yes. Everything I just covered in this. That’s our companion manual. We have a section, a divider, for each one of these sections.

Q9: Is this a promotional tool basically, or is it actually like a study guide for all the contents that you’re going to be doing?

Mr. Clonaris: We put—each presenter writes a format of… Number one, it’s used to promote, yes. We feel that, again, if we give them that manual, they’ll put things in it. It’ll inspire them to bring that manual, and they do do that, but then [they take] it home, [it] becomes a reference for continual education. We have a divider for each section. There’s a one-page write-up by the presenter for each section, talking about it. Fr. Steve starts out in the beginning section with some additional information, and it’s educational. We try to make it stand on its own, just like everything else. We try to make the manual itself stand on its own, if nobody wants to add things to it, but it’s not a detailed thing. It’s not detailed, but we expect the parishioner to detail it with everything that we’re going to hand out. Each presenter will have a handout sheet. Each presenter presents something, and that’s where we want them to put it, so we always put holes into it. Yes, ma’am.

Q10: I want to thank you, first of all, because the reminding of “Don’t give up; don’t give up,” and I think so many times we fall into that trap of “Well, we tried that,” and then we feel that it’s not valid any more, because we tried it and it didn’t work. So I thank you for that.

We had a program, and now I’m going to go home and I’m going to find it again. We struggle with—and I hope it’s not just… Everyone comes to church late. The late thing drives us crazy, so we wanted to figure out how we could get people to church on time, and we figure it has to start with the parents, because kids can’t get themselves to church on time. So we started a program and we made a little card and it had a little bird carrying a Bible, flying across a lake because our church is on the lake. And we called it: “The early bird catches the Word.”

Mr. Clonaris: Oh, gosh. Wow.

Q10: So the kids, when they came for church for this little talk—

Mr. Clonaris: I’m going to use that.

Q10: —could get a little stamp on their card, and when they got ten stamps, they got a little cross or a little icon magnet.

Mr. Clonaris: Very nice.

Q10: But what happened is, the parents were bringing the kids, because they wanted to get to church to get their word, to get their bird.

Mr. Clonaris: That’s great.

Q10: And Father would give a little sermon. And you know, we all learn from the children’s sermons, right? We all think, “Oh, that’s a children’s sermon,” but we all learn something in those children’s sermons. And we lost the assistant priest who was doing that, and then Father was just so busy. It was just another thing we didn’t want to put him on. I’m going to resurrect that, because you have that little “15 minutes of faith.” That’s just a bit… It’s perfect.

Mr. Clonaris: I’m surprised at what it did for the attendance, to start attendance with.

Q10: Yeah, people came to church early. They were already in the seat for “Blessed is the kingdom…”

Mr. Clonaris: Yeah. That’s… Can I use that? “The early bird catches the Word”?

Q10: Yeah.

Mr. Clonaris: I want to use that. Beautiful. What parish are you from?

Q10: St. Mary’s, Minneapolis.

Mr. Clonaris: I give you credit for it. Wonderful. See that? Look at that. There’s a million of these things out there. I mean, it’s out there. You’ve got that ability; God gave you that ability. You’re all creative people. Just focus on it. There were some other hands?

Q11: How many families are in your parish?

Mr. Clonaris: We started with 52, nine years ago. We have 750 today. [Gasps from audience] Now, the program’s been around for nine years, so when we started the program we had about 150 families, and we went through an explosion. We have Russian Orthodox, Antiochian Orthodox… We have many, many, because there aren’t that many churches in our area. We have Arab, we have Palestinians. I don’t know if many of you are familiar or aware that in [the Sinai] that the Bedouins that protect St. Catherine’s Church that are the workers there and actually protected it—that’s why it’s never been [attacked]; it’s been there since the fourth century, and they credit the Bedouins who have looked after it all these years and protected it—are Greek Orthodox.

The greatest thing I’ve ever done—I thought—my greatest experience was I climbed Mt. Sinai, which you do at night, and it was one of these Bedouin shepherds, a camel-herder, actually. You can ride a camel up, but we walked. I wanted to walk all the way up to the top. And I had one of our fellows from our church with me. He was a convert, so he didn’t speak Greek, but the whole time up the Bedouin was speaking Greek to me, all the way up in beautiful, flowing Greek. I translated. It was kind of ironic that I’m speaking to an Arab.

We have that element in our church, too. We have many, many… We’re very disseminated in different ethnic backgrounds, whereas Holy Trinity, the first church in Charlotte, is 90% Greek.

Q11: So I take it that you’re the only English-speaking because of the diverse cultural…?

Mr. Clonaris: Yes. Anything repeated is in Greek, but if it’s not repeated—sung, chanted, or said one time—it’s generally done in English. Of course, Father does do a segment where he goes into the Greek.

Q11: We’re probably 80% English, 20% Greek.

Mr. Clonaris: Yeah, that’s about where we are.

Q11: Of course, we have our Greek older ones who would want it to be the other way.

C1: Language of the people, baby. It’s America.

Mr. Clonaris: I went too fast. I’ve got 15 minutes yet. Yes?

Q12: I’m curious how you started. We just started last year. We picked a theme and a book, and it was like 30 teaching Sundays, so we picked 30 self-contained lessons from that book that we carried through this year. So that’s our thing. Like you said, that represents our program, not how we started. I don’t know if that’s a good way to start. So I’m just curious at how you started nine years ago.

Mr. Clonaris: Yeah, I did the… sort of what I’m doing now. I do this every four years, because we have a great influx of converts. We started… The very first one we did at Holy Trinity, when we did it the first time there, we did it like we were doing this: four sessions, and that parish had 1400 members. That first year, we averaged 250 people at this, this program. Then we had the split in the church—not a split—where a new church opened up, and it drew from that, so the numbers went down, because most of the ones that were coming were the doctors, the professors, the English-speaking, the converts. They’re the ones that were moving out into the new church, and it left the ethnic base; they weren’t as interested. So the numbers did go down, but it’s still maintained. We still maintain the program.

I did the history of the Church. We had several subjects. At St. Nektarios, we did it more focused. We just did Fr. Steve covering one area and me covering… Again, him theology, me history. But we did it the same night. We did Tuesday night. That was our first start. And we found people were getting upset at us, because: “I want to hear Gerry, but I feel like I’ve got to go hear Father first.” And the same thing: “We’re here for you, but I really want to hear what Father was saying, too.” So, within a three-year period, we went to alternating, where he would talk, I would talk, and then we started adding things. We started to promote better and we started to grow. Once my number went from three to five, I said, “Well, time to really explode now. We’re really moving!” [Laughter]

But, you know, every time we did something new and promote it, we just grew and grew. It was slow growth, but right now it’s just wonderful. That’s how it was. We just did it separately, and this year we went to the two-night, which turned out to be the right thing. You all have your own formula. You probably don’t even know yet until you get into it, but something will work. It took us a while: “What is our formula?” That’s why you don’t give up. You just change it, update it, modernize it, think it through. But they all want it. Remember the SWOT report. Remember they all said they want religious education, that we’re missing. They’re afraid of the fact that we’re not that well-prepared with our adult religious education. So it’s out there. Were you raising your hand? Just stretching? You all need to stretch? Then stretch.

Q13: Do you carry it through the summer? Our numbers have been the same. We didn’t even say anything over the summer, and along about August we kicked off again, and it took a while to kind of get back in gear.

Mr. Clonaris: Well, that’s funny. We experience the opposite. The numbers go down in the summer, no matter what it is. As a matter of fact, after Easter—Sunday school, everything. Plus the fact, then, that people… You need to stop sometimes. It’s better to do concentrated efforts and do it right, do a strong, concentrated effort than to dilute it and to spread it out.

Q13: So we ended it. So we went from September, from this year in September, and because Pascha’s late, we’re ending it April 17. What I’m saying is then, last year, we didn’t do any promotional, and I think that hurt the initial number, and then it might come back up. So I was wondering: do you continue to promote over the summer or kind of just let everybody have a break?

Mr. Clonaris: No. Everybody goes away. No, we don’t. But I’ll tell you a way to extend it a little bit more that worked out well with us. Again, surprising thought here. We did our last speaker series in June; last week of May, first week June. That’s probably the worst time. Everybody’s getting ready to go to Greece or whatever, proms, all this stuff. [Laughter] But we had 80 people the last time we did our guest speaker. That’s another one I didn’t mention, another great name: Fr. Pentiuc from the seminary, Holy Cross. He is the professor, the dean of the Old Testament there. Boy! Boy, did he hit it out of the park. Are you familiar with him at all? No? You were shaking your head; I thought maybe you knew him. Magnificent speaker! Very down-to-earth man, very respected in the Church, the Greek Archdiocese, and very willing to come out and give you a talk. What he talks about on the Old Testament is the influence, the impact of the Old Testament on us today, which is something we don’t think about. We focus on Christ, which is what we’re supposed to do, but there’s great teachings that he points out that he’s teaching the seminarians there. They’re the ones who are going to teach us eventually. So it’s an important enough subject up there. It’s fascinating, I’m telling you. Those three speakers cover every area that you can think of enjoyably. Nobody’s going to get bored by any of them, and, as a matter of fact, it’s the opposite: you’re going to leave them hungry. And they’ll spend the night and they’ll do something for your Sunday school; they’ll do something for your teachers. Each one did a workshop for our teachers the next day, and all the teachers went. They didn’t come for the night of the presentation; they elected to come there, but they got the same talk basically, but focused differently, focused to the needs of teaching. Great, great way: two-day event. Very cheap, very financially easy to handle, and it’s something that’s going to go well with everybody. Yes, ma’am.

Q14: I’d just like the name of the other priests that you mentioned. Fr. George, you said?

Mr. Clonaris: Professor George—he’s not a priest—Professor George Demacopoulos. Demacopoulos. It’s Aristotle: Professor Aristotle Papanikolaou; Professor George Demacopoulos; and Fr. Eugen Pentiuc, P-e-n-t[-i]-u-c. Pentiuc.

Thank you so much for coming. I hope it helps. [Applause]


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