|September 2017||Download the latest edition of spirit|
Breathing New Life
How do we keep our children and young people from leaving the church? How do we increase Sunday attendance? How do we attract new members? How do we get more people involved in Festival and other volunteer efforts? These and many similar questions I hear all the time from many sources - not only in our community but in the church at large. They are serious questions.
Apathy and consumer mentality are widespread in most church communities, including our own. We live in a society where people are trained to desire products. So the church itself becomes the source and purveyor of a product. And yet the church - as Jesus and the apostles understood it - is not a supplier, but a product! It is the product of people experiencing the gift of divine life and sharing that life with others. The church comes into being when and where people share the love of Jesus and the joy of the Holy Spirit. The church as an institution, as a supplier, can indeed exist and survive for 2,000 years. But the church as the living, breathing body of Christ comes into being as a gift.
When is the church a gift? When it is not seen as a supplier of religious needs to consumers of religion. When the church is not turned into the protection of an ethnic identity! When is the church a gift? When the doors of our hearts and minds are wide open to receive everything God puts before us. When our first and foremost desire is to live by the Beatitudes of Jesus, those beatitudes we sing at Liturgy many Sundays of the year: Blessed are the poor in spirit...the meek...the peacemakers...those who mourn...the pure in heart...who hunger and thirst for righteousness/justice...the merciful...the persecuted.
Why am I referring to the church as a gift? Because I believe we, the church that meets to worship at the corner of Park & Pleasant Streets, are a gift. About 28 years ago, I together with you began witnessing a transformation of our church... Today, as the world around us turns increasingly to hatred and exclusion, we the church that meets on the corner of Park & Pleasant Streets, are a beacon of light. In the best Orthodox tradition we are a church that manifests unity and diversity, unity in diversity, diversity in unity. And that, dear friends, is a gift straight from the hand of God. We didn't seek it, we didn't plan for it, we didn't appoint a steering committee to research it. No, none of that. It came, and has been coming for many years now, straight from the hand of God.
Despite the real concerns which the questions represent, I prefer to focus on the gift. The gift came into clear focus at a recent meeting after Liturgy. I was deeply moved by the creative ideas that were offered and the positive energy that filled the room. As a result of that meeting we are taking our first steps toward leaping out of our limitations and embracing the wide horizons of God's leadership in our lives, and being the gift of Christ's beatitude people.
The Beatitudes (Matthew 5:2-12) are not only statements about us. They are also invitations to see others the way God sees them. Blessed are the poor...the hungry...those who weep (Luke 6:20-21). If God calls them blessed, shouldn't we want to be somehow part of their lives, and they of ours?
I have made bold announcements in the past which have not come to fruition because they depended too much on me, and I'm not always able to carry out what I promise. Though I'm making no bold announcement - yet - about what will result from this meeting, and the meetings that follow(ed) it, I'm much more confident that results will follow; because it's a team effort and it will guide our church community to new horizons. We are about to breathe new life into the church that meets at the corner of Park & Pleasant Streets!
Fr. Constantine Sarantidis