Fr. Chad Hatfield

May 7, 2015 Length: 32:26

Adam sits down for coffee with Fr. Chad Hatfield, Chancellor and CEO of St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary. After discussing those who have influenced Fr. Chad, the main topic becomes the lack of missiology in the Orthodox church and how he hopes to change that as the Chancellor of SVOTS.

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Mr. Adam Lowell Roberts: Welcome to Go Forth. I am your host, Adam Lowell Roberts, and today I’m sitting at a coffee shop with the Very Rev. Chad Hatfield, [of] St. Vladimir’s Seminary, and [I’m] excited to be talking with you today.

Very Rev. Fr. Chad Hatfield: Thanks, Adam. It’s good to be here in Tennessee.

Mr. Roberts: And basically there’s so much we can talk about, so I doubt we’re going to get everything in. We do have an agenda I’m glad about, but to get started, just in case someone is new to Ancient Faith Radio, do you mind giving a little bit of biography about yourself?

Fr. Chad: Sure. I’ve been in some form of ordained ministry now for, I guess, 37 years. My wife and I, of course, are multi-generational Episcopalian in our heritage, but we’re actually fourth-generation Orthodox now, having converted to Orthodoxy in late 1993. I had been dean of the Episcopalian cathedral in Kansas and had become close friends with the then-Father Basil Essey, and, well, the rest is history. But we’re fourth generation because my parents became Orthodox, my wife’s mother converted to Orthodoxy, of course our children and our grandchildren—so it didn’t take us long to become fourth generation.

Mr. Roberts: [Laughter] All right. And one of the things I think maybe to start off this conversation… One of the things that I know you’ve helped bring awareness about at the seminary in relation to what this podcast is about and evangelism is missiology. Do you mind talking about what’s been your vision for what you’re trying to do?

Fr. Chad: Sure. Well, my wife and I and our young son Jason, when we were still Anglicans, made the move to South Africa in the early 1980s. I volunteered for the mission field. There was a shortage. I come from an agricultural background; it seemed to be a good fit. And I became absolutely convinced, in our years of service in Africa, that the seminary is the place where either the Church does well or it lays the foundation for troubles ahead. So if you really want to impact the Church in a positive way for the long term, down the road, for the future, I believe that setting is in the seminary.

So my wife and I really prayed and were serious about returning to Africa someday when our children were older to work in a seminary setting. Interestingly enough, after serving in the Antiochian Archdiocese, in a way the Lord answered that prayer, but we were called to St. Herman’s Seminary in Alaska, and I can tell you: about the only thing that Africa and Alaska have in common is they both begin and end in the letter A, but beyond that, there was not a whole lot of things that were in common, except for the people.

Wherever you travel throughout the world—and I’ve traveled extensively—people are searching for the light of Christ. They’re searching for the truth of the Gospel. Sometimes we get that all muddled up with different kinds of messages and we forget the Great Commission, because that’s what we’re in business for. People ask me, “What’s St. Vladimir’s all about?” Actually, St. Vladimir’s is about the business of the Great Commission, and if that’s not the primary reason we exist, then we shouldn’t exist! We do all kinds of auxiliary things, like form people for service in the Church, lay and ordained, outstanding priests, great academic record, all those other kinds of things, but at the heart there has to be missiology. And that’s something I learned from the African experience; it’s something I learned living firsthand in Alaska.

There’s a fascinating thing about missiology. When you type it in, your spell-check will tell you that you have a misspelled word, because—guess what?—it’s fallen out of our vocabulary. So we need to recover what missiology is about. We need to [improve] our understanding of evangelization, what that means. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told when I’ve been doing lenten missions like I’m doing here in St. Ignatius in Franklin, Tennessee, or other places… Someone, well meaning, will come up to me, almost sort of pat my hand, and say, “You know, you need to understand something, Father. In the Orthodox Church we don’t proselytize.” They haven’t heard a thing I’ve said about evangelization!

And I would agree, we don’t proselytize. Somewhere in my files I have a cartoon that shows a crusader with a Muslim on the sands of North Africa with a lance that he’s thrown, and the caption down below said, “Tell me more about the love of your Jesus.” Well, you know, that’s proselytizing: a forceful conversion. But we’re talking about living a life that so reflects the light of Christ that it’s like a moth to a flame: people are attracted to it. We’ve got to overcome this odd thing that we have in Orthodoxy, that, well, we keep it all to ourselves, because that’s in direct contradiction to the Scripture about putting that light under the bushel.

So at St. Vladimir’s Seminary, it’s been my great blessing to introduce missiology as part of the core curriculum. I can tell you that it was not an easy sell for some of my colleagues. I had to explain one thing, and this is a good analogy. If you look back 60 years in a theological seminary, what we would call liturgical theology was also seen as maybe not really belonging in a seminary because isn’t that about how you swing the censer and how many times you cross yourself and what you kiss that is sort of the mechanics? But great theologians, like our former dean, Alexander Schmemann, awakened Orthodoxy to the fact that this is liturgical theology. It’s not just the how-tos; it’s who and what we are, and it defines how we actually carry out the mission of the Church, how we fulfill the Great Commission.

That was 60 years ago. Lo and behold, now missiology is sort of in the same place. Sometimes people think, “Well, that’s just something you do like learning to walk or ride a bike. That’s not something that you teach. It’s not something that you can actually transfer to someone.” But I disagree with that, so it’s now part of our core curriculum. It’s being woven in, and eventually we will be doing a separate MA degree in missiology, which I envision for people who already have been several years in the mission field, either foreign mission or domestic mission, and they can come back and kind of theologize this in preparation for moving out in another area, taking the skills they’ve learned, and now they can refine it theologically and apply it in a better way.

Mr. Roberts: I think that leads to something I like to talk to all of my guests about. You have an interesting influence on the future of the Church, and you’re seeing how those who have maybe been around longer or been in their Christian struggle longer can help us and mentor us in our path. Who has, in your past, in your earlier days when you were trying to figure all this out… What did the evangelism of you look like?

Fr. Chad: Well, I can tell you that when I was twelve years old—of course, still an Episcopalian—my parish priest then actually sat and recorded a conversation with me that I’d had earlier [in which] I told him I felt called to the priesthood. I was twelve. I can honestly say, now that I’m 61, I can’t think of a time at which I deviated from that. I certainly switched horses and changed teams, so to speak, but that, again, was not a denial; it was seeking the fulfillment of what I felt called to then, and I would say actually that having good priests around me as a child was a very significant part of evangelization. It made Christianity look real; it made it look healthy.

Mr. Roberts: Were there any specific aspects or traits about them that you can remember that… What were they doing that made that impression?

Fr. Chad: I think the fact that they were honest, open, caring, and genuine. That’s one of the things that I find off-putting about Christianity: it’s what I call religion americana, that sort of saccharine-sweet presentation of Christianity or some kind of prosperity gospel thing. It’s like the Fuller Brush man or something. That’s not Christianity as I understand it. And Christianity in our day is really beginning to recover the fact that it’s a big sacrifice to become a Christian. It may actually take your life, and we’re living that now. We’re seeing beheadings. We’re seeing people buried alive, burned alive. For what? For the sake of Christ and his Church and the fullness of the Gospel.

Mr. Roberts: That’s interesting to talk about that, because I think what you’re talking about is something that I’ve been revisiting lately a lot, and that’s in Ephesians when it talked about Church leadership, preparing the saints for the work of the ministry, and that we sometimes forget who the “saints” are because it was a lowercase S. That was the laity; those were the people going out and being the bridge to society. So what is St. Vladimir’s doing, and what are you doing there to help our future clergy understand that that’s the role of the Church leadership?

Fr. Chad: We have, of course, at St. Vladimir’s, a long history of both lay and ordained leadership preparation, and that’s important because it’s not a case of being clerical or anti-clerical or any of those things. We’re all part of the body of Christ. We all work like a symphony, and we do need leadership directing the symphony. If not, we have nothing but sour notes, and we get lost. So we need to get our leadership organized at the top, and that is one of the things that you sometimes hear about seminaries in this country. People will say—often to me, because I’m at St. Vladimir’s—“You know, you train really good academics, but maybe not such good pastors.” I’m not sure what that means. Does that mean that a parish priest is supposed to be stupid? I don’t think that being well-educated, well-formed, is a negative for being a good and faithful pastor, or a good and faithful lay leader.

One of the things that I hope to see out of all of our graduates, lay or ordained, is the ability to think out of the box, because we have so many areas that are challenging us, both in the foreign field and in the domestic field, like: how do you bring life to a dead urban community? And why are we abandoning churches that are often quite historic because the neighborhood has changed? These are the kinds of things that we need to address, and often you won’t find that leadership at the top. Somebody at the grassroots level is just going to have to take the risk. It’s one of my favorite sayings from Christos Yannaras, who says that to live an Orthodox Christian life is to be engaged in a series of risk-takings. We need a lot of people out there willing to take a risk.

Mr. Roberts: It’s incredible because with my position now in the Archdiocese, I’m encountering many pastors off the record who don’t want to take a risk. They want to play it safe, stay in maintenance mode, and just keep things things the way they’ve been, and hopefully we can just continue [to] operate in a peaceful… reduce the amount of conflicts in that kind of sense. I don’t even see, personally, how that fits into any role of Christianity for us, because if we’re not constantly expanding our comfort zone and growing, in a sense, towards God, there is no “maintenance mode” in Christianity. Ever. You can’t do it.

Fr. Chad: That’s right.

Mr. Roberts: So if you’re not in maintenance mode, then you’re either growing or you’re experiencing atrophy. It’s one or the other.

Fr. Chad: Our understanding of theosis is incremental progress. Slowly we move forward to that perfect union with our Creator. You know, Adam, listening to what you just said, I was immediately reminded of the fact that we’ve got so many people on autopilot that are in leadership roles that our catechetics within our Orthodox family has really suffered. There are priests who are afraid to preach a full-blooded Gospel—it might offend somebody. They’ll take their check and leave, or they’ll go down the street to some other church, maybe not even an Orthodox Church. Well, if we’re that insecure about the truth of the Gospel that we preach, then we should close down.

We really need to get a firmer foundation of Christian apologetics, basic Christian apologetics, down in our parishes, and that means stronger preaching. It also means this: in terms of Christian education in so many parishes—I see this as I travel across the country in other jurisdictions, multiple jurisdictions—so many places put a serious emphasis on the children for education. Well, I think we need to reverse it, because the adults are playing games while the kids are somehow getting an education. Ought to be reversed. Let our kids play the games and have fun, and let’s have some serious theology presented to our adults.

Mr. Roberts: It’s interesting to talk about that in terms of Church leadership and what we’re trying to teach them and big stuff and maintenance mode. I just spent some time getting to know someone in Alaska who’s now really affecting me deeply in a good way spiritually. The stuff that he kind of challenged me to look at in my own life… His real question that we came away with was: If you’re not a mission-minded people in a mission-minded Church, then can you call yourself Orthodox? And I think that’s what I hear you saying. That’s what he won’t stop preaching at his parish, that if we’re not mission-minded, then what are we doing?

Fr. Chad: Exactly right. The famous Orthodox missiologist, Archbishop Anastasios of Albania, said a church that’s not engaged in mission is simply not the Church. I take that a little step further. I say a Christian not engaged in mission is not a Christian. It’s not an option for us. It’s a dominical charge, from the Lord.

Mr. Roberts: I’ve had an interesting experience that I want you to talk on specifically, because a while back—I don’t know how long ago—there’s a really excellent lecture you gave on the diaconate in terms of the role of the Church. I was reading Fr. Alexander, one of his books, recently, and he was basically—Fr. Alexander Schmemann—he was saying that a parish without a deacon is not the fullest of Orthodoxy. When I look at how many parishes we have who don’t have a deacon, it makes me wonder what’s happening here in America. Can you speak on the role of [the deacon], as much as you want to, but… I could tell in that lecture that you gave that you really did have some passion for the diaconal ministry and what we need to reconnect with. Can you?

Fr. Chad: Oh, absolutely, and I think that’s led to a lot of confusion about the proper role of diakonia. Sometimes people say, “Oh, well, it’s only a liturgical function.” Oh, no, it’s much more than that. We know from Scripture that it was originally a true diaconial ministry, that they were called to serve the orphans and the widows. It’s also true that that’s not an exclusive for the deacons either. When we speak of it liturgically, it’s very hard to not do the liturgy properly if you don’t have all the players. So, yes, we should all have deacons in our parishes, and we should understand that this is a stand-alone order of the Church. It’s not a stepping-stone to the priesthood. It stands on its own merits. But I think that we would be a healthier Church when we put an emphasis on what it means to have these deacons functioning in our communities.

I like some of the models that you see from the 19th century, like, for instance, in China. The late Fr. Peter Gillquist, God rest his soul, once had a conversation with me about how difficult it is to plant Orthodoxy in a community of less than 50,000 people. Well, I understand that. There’s some sterling parishes in communities of less than 50,000 people, but if you actually look at some of the 19th century models, you can see that if the presbyter is stationed somewhere in the middle, we can have all kinds of outreach stations to smaller, rural areas, if we develop a diaconate and they become actually the sort of key person in these smaller communities. Look at the Krindatch study that shows how many counties in the U.S. do not have a single Orthodox presence within them. That’s a shame! Well, that’s one of the ways that we can actually expand our mission here, is by developing the diaconate.

Mr. Roberts: My last two episodes—and this was not planned; it was kind of amazing—were with deacons who had just done a deacon’s Typika with Presanctified for the first time ever. And this is all just in the last few weeks. It was definitely with fear and trembling, but they felt a real connection to those original deacons who were going out and taking the Eucharist to the widows, to the orphans, who couldn’t make it to church, who couldn’t be a part of our visible church and are homebound or different things are keeping them from being able to participate. This role of the deacon I think is larger than we’ve realized over the last few decades.

One thing I’ve been wondering about—and I don’t know if you have an answer on this or not, but I’m asking as much as I can—how did we get disconnected with the diakonia? How did that kind of fall to the wayside?

Fr. Chad: I think we fell into the model from the Latin Church that it was a stepping-stone. It really was not until the 1950s that one saw with Anglicans the restoration of what they call the perpetual diaconate. Then after Vatican II, Rome picked it up with what they call the permanent diaconate. And we fell into that same mode. It just simply became one of the steps of getting to the priesthood, and we forgot diaconal ministry. It’s a little bit like parishes that have abandoned using the prayer for the catechumens because they said, “Well, everybody’s Orthodox.” Well, guess what? They’re not any more, so I think we’d better put the prayer of the catechumens back.

Mr. Roberts: So, looking forward at our horizon in the American Orthodox Church and considering missiology and evangelism, what does your vision look like? What is something… What is over the horizon that we’re looking at in the near future?

Fr. Chad: Well, there’s a little catchy phrase I’m going to inject in here, because it sounds nice, but it says about everything we’re talking about here at this table. A lot of people in this country, Christians, who have missiology but no ecclesiology. In other words, they love the Lord, they have the Lord, but there’s no connection to a church. Well, we also face in Orthodoxy people that have an ecclesiology and no missiology. So it’s not one or the other. We have to recover both, put the pieces together, and use every resource we have for building up the body of Christ in this land.

Someone once asked Alexander Schmemann this question: “What does the Orthodox Church need to experience a revival?” He said, “Nothing. We have everything we need to have a revival, but we need to apply them.” Well, we have all these gifts, these charisms, and that’s what we need to do: start to apply them. I think as the secular pressure grows on us, that’s going to actually cause us to dig a little deeper, stand on firmer ground, and I think that we’ll raise our voice.

Mr. Roberts: I think one of the things that plays right into what you’re talking about and that connection of ecclesiology and missiology, that I didn’t really understand at the beginning of my Orthodox journey, and over the last few years has become insatiable, is that I hope I never stop being re-catechized. It’s something that… you don’t go through catechesis and join the Church and then you’re done, and you read the books that you find interesting. Your catechism goes until the day you die, and I think that’s one of the things maybe we’ve disconnected. What’s your take on that?

Fr. Chad: I’m reminded of the role of the preacher. In Orthodoxy we follow a liturgical cycle, so we’re often presented with the same Scripture readings over and over. For instance, the Gadarene pigs: I don’t know how many times we get it during the year, but it seems like every time you turn around, there are those Gadarene pigs again. But you know what you do as a preacher, you never rehash something that you’ve preached before. It challenges you to dig a little bit deeper, and that’s one of the wondrous things about the Scripture: they are the living, active word of God. There’s always something fresh presented, and that’s the way it needs to be in our lives. If we’re on autopilot, it’s just sort of routine, like living out Groundhog Day over and over and over. It’s wrong. You said it beautifully, Adam: we need to be re-catechized every day.

Mr. Roberts: So in terms of that re-catechism, it’s amazing how many I’m talking to in Church leadership that are saying the same thing to me, that they feel like they need to spend the bulk of their time, starting now and in the near future, on just re-catechizing their existing laity, if nothing else, that we need this return to the basics.

What is the seminary doing? So when I think about that and when I think about our Church leadership hopefully always having that in mind themselves, how do you teach that to our seminarians, that you’re never going to be done catechizing yourself, you’re never going to reach that moment when you don’t need a spiritual father?

Fr. Chad: I figure that 100th Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsey, who, when he was a diocesan bishop, said he used to go into his priests’ libraries; then he could gauge in what year their minds had died by looking at their books. We look at SVS Press. It’s the largest English-language press in the world. We’ve got 465-some publications in print now. I’m constantly meeting people all over the world who say, “My faith was rekindled by picking up an SVS Press book,” “I was introduced to Orthodoxy by reading an SVS Press book.” Books aren’t out of fashion, but there are all kinds of other ways, like a podcast like what we’re doing now. We need to be active in talking and presenting ourselves in a positive way rather than being in retreat somehow, in hiding. We’re not ethnic ghettos any more. We’re very much a part of the American fabric, and so we need to learn how to present our faith in every single medium out there.

St. Innocent the Great, Bishop of Alaska, said that in order to plant Orthodoxy in this land, we need to do three things. We need to recruit local men for training to the priesthood in local seminaries, and we need to teach and preach in the language of the people. You know what? I think that means more than speaking English in America. That means all the various forms of social media, all these things for which we’re just simply way behind in so many areas in the life of the Church.

Mr. Roberts: It’s interesting for you to bring social media into play, because I have a new perspective on social media. I’ve not really enjoyed it myself; I struggle with it. Recently when I was thinking about it, I had a little bit of an epiphany when I was hearing someone say, “When you’re doing evangelism, when you’re doing the work of the Church, you have to go where the people are.” And when you look at how much time Jesus spent with those who really were distant from the good people, the righteous ones that were living, and he would go eat dinner with this sinner or that sinner or go spend time at that person’s house that was a tax collector nobody liked, and if you spend a little bit of time on social media, you’ll see a lot of people saying a lot of things that are inappropriate, and you’ll see a lot of crazy things out there. But if we don’t go to where they are and bring the presence of God with us into social media, then it will be left to its own devices. So I think now we have an obligation as the Orthodox Church to be very present in social media as the Church and be just like Christ was in those dinners and bring that godly presence into social media.

Fr. Chad: I fully agree, and ours is a society that’s searching. If you don’t believe we’re a searching society, go in any major bookstore, look at the section that’s usually titled, “Spirituality”—you know that phrase, drives me crazy in America: “Well, I’m not really religious, but I’m spiritual,” so we call all these things “spiritual”—go look at that section. It’s usually a very long section, and they wouldn’t be selling those books in that bookstore if they weren’t making a profit. So people look for something. They’re searching.

Here’s the second part. Go into that bookstore, find the spirituality section, look at what people are buying, and then look hard for a book on Orthodox Christianity. You’ll rarely find it.

Mr. Roberts: Yeah. I think that’s true. I check our local bookstores from time to time, and it’s difficult to find an Orthodox book there.

The last thing I want to ask you about, really, and then I’ll let you close however you want to close, and I think I’ve heard you talk about this before, but this has really been on my mind as evangelism has become my full-time job, and that’s the atmosphere or the attitude towards Christianity in America. There’s a shift that’s happening that those who are paying attention can feel the breeze has changed, and Christianity might not be so welcome in the near future as it has been in this nation. Some would even say we’ve already become an anti-Christian nation. In terms of missiology and evangelism, how does that play into our future and becoming, possibly, an anti-Christian nation?

Fr. Chad: Adam, 15 years ago I would say that we had become a post-Christian nation. Now I would say that we’ve become an aggressively anti-Christian nation, and it’s not just simply here in America; it’s around the world. We know—the latest statistics show us—that 85% of the people who are martyred for their faith are Christians. That means that just to be a Christian light is going to drop off the scene fairly quickly. I think we will be a smaller portion of the American population, but I think that we will be a far more committed group of Christians.

You know the saying of Cardinal Francis George of Chicago. It’s pretty shocking, but he said he expected to die in office, he expected that his successor would die in prison, and he expected that his successor would be martyred on the streets. That’s not something from the past; that’s someone speaking about our future in this country.

Mr. Roberts: Yeah.

Well, I’ve enjoyed everything you’ve shared today, and I wish I had more time to talk with you, because I think we have a lot of similar thoughts going through our heads as far as the future of the Orthodox Church in America. But I guess what I’d like to do is just give you a moment to kind of touch on anything that you felt like needs to be said before we wrap up.

Fr. Chad: Well, having been a little bit on the dark and gloomy side in my last comments, I’d also say I find great hope in what’s called in the field of missiology the rise of Christianity in the global south. We’re already seeing African missionaries being sent to energize a very dead Christianity in western Europe. We’re beginning to see that in this country as well. So we’re not without hope. You and I both read the book of Revelation; we know how the story ends, but I would just say this: watch the spread of Christianity in areas where it’s been absent, like what we’re seeing in the mountains of Guatemala. Most people aren’t aware of this, but in the western hemisphere, Guatemala is now the country that has the highest percentage of Orthodox Christians living in it. Over 400,000 people have embraced Orthodoxy in just the very, very, very recent times.

We’re seeing the fight for the soul of the African continent between Islam and Christianity. And the Christian leadership that’s coming out of Africa, I think, in the next decade will probably dominate the Christian voice around the world. So times are changing. The range of reach that we have is without bounds. So expect to see big things happening in China. As we know the underground Christian Church is huge, and in other places where we don’t think that there will be much of a Christian presence at all, places like India, where it’s difficult to be a Christian—you can’t evangelize—but we’re seeing a whole renewal happening there as well. Those who are the Untouchables are embracing Christ and raising their heads high.

It’s not going to be all doom and gloom in the future, but it’s going to be a very, very different kind of picture than what we’ve seen in the recent times of Christianity where we’ve been too tied, I think, to the state and to culture.

Mr. Roberts: Well, before we wrap up, since we have talked about missiology so much, do you have either a book or a website you could recommend if someone wants to learn more about it and this is maybe new to them? What’s their next step to kind of learn more about this topic?

Fr. Chad: I’ve already mentioned Archbishop Anastasios of Albania. That’s one place to learn about how you really do effective Orthodox Christian missiology. But if you search on the internet, I’d ask you to connect with a really fine missiologist who’s a South African, Deacon Stephen Hayes. He’s trying to form a global network of people interested in missiology, and you hear people from Japan and all different parts of the world. I’ll repeat that for you. Just Google Deacon Stephen Hayes, H-a-y-e-s, in South Africa, and try to connect with that group that’s trying to form, of global Orthodox missiologists.

Mr. Roberts: Okay. Thank you so much. I really appreciate the coffee and the time together. God bless.

Fr. Chad: It’s a blessing. I hope the lenten journey is for our salvation. Thank you again, Adam.

Mr. Roberts: All right. Thank you.