Bethlehem Town Hall
Offered Emotion, Tears, Wisdom
Some 80 to 85 persons were present in the meeting hall at St. Nicholas parish in Bethlehem, PA for the OCA Town Hall, the eighth, held Saturday, July 19th. Roughly a quarter of those present were clergy. The Dean of the Philadelphia Deanery stated he was disappointed to see so few of his own clergy present, although a number of priests from the Frackville Deanery and others from New York and New Jersey were present, along with parishioners from each.
At the head table were Bishop Tikhon of Eastern Pennsylvania, Ms. Eugenia Skuby from the Pre-Conciliar Commission, Fr. Andrew Jarmus, OCA Communications Director and Fr. Eric Tosi, the new OCA Secretary. Overall, some 30 statements were made, some extemporaneously, others from prepared notes, with several persons rising to speak on multiple occasions.
One participant described the meeting this way:
"Some of the statements were quite good, some to the point, and others thought-provoking. Several were emotionally intense.
Not all questions received a direct reply, however. One priest alluded to the fact that at the New Jersey Diocesan Assembly last fall, people who asked questions were told they were out of order, and the Treasurer of the Diocese stated that if the truth ever was told, it would destroy the church. So, this priest from New Jersey asked, 'You've promised to release the SIC report, unedited, to the whole church. If you do that, will it destroy the church?' To that question, Fr. Jarmus replied: 'Oops, it's getting late. Time for one more speaker.'"
Another participant provided the following outline of comments from speakers:
#1. The first speaker spoke forcefully about the utter lack of confidence in the OCA and its leaders. He used the Titanic analogy - despite the icebergs, even after the damage was done, everybody was sure it would never sink. Then he recalled that the Navy Admiral in charge at Pearl Harbor, even though he was not entirely at fault, had the "courage and integrity to resign" in order that confidence might be restored.
(Editor's note: Compare this with Fr. Jarmus' description, published today on OCA.org. Fr. Jarmus writes: "Another common theme at the Town Hall meetings has been the great degree of love and respect that participants have for their respective diocesan hierarchs, whom they identify as good pastors willing to reach out and listen to diocesan clergy and faithful."
You can read his summary here.)
#2. A parishioner of St. Nicholas rose to the microphone to say that parishes need guidance from the central church administration about their responsibility to their priests. He stated, with obvious anger, that this parish pays the priest's entire Social Security pension fund, contributions, health and life insurance premiums, gasoline allowance, utilities, etc. Although the question was clearly off-topic, Fr. Andrew Jarmus replied graciously that this was an excellent question, and thanked him for it.
#3. A priest stated that communication needs to be improved. What we get has a possible spin on it, and it is irresponsible to say nothing.
#4. This point was picked up by the next speaker, a widowed Matushka, who lamented that most of our information comes from other sites, not the OCA site.
#5. A member of the Metropolitan Council spoke on the "issue of follow-through."Decisions were made on a number of items at the diocesan levels, but never followed up at the higher level.
#6. A layman from Holy Trinity, Elmira, NYspoke at length, and with great feeling. Converts from Roman Catholicism and the EpiscopalÊChurch they are concerned that the refuge they thought they "had found in Orthodoxy as the place to find God -- and if that is destroyed, what a tragedy!"
"What is the OCA's mission statement?" he asked. There are a lot of good people in this church. It would be a shame if all their efforts through the ages went for naught. Yet, it is not the OCA we are attached to , it is the mission of Christ we're attached to. "Where are our evangelization efforts?" We need to be known, and we need to be known in a good way. Evil prevails when good men do nothing. "The synod of bishops needs to exercise the role of leaders." The laity doesn't have the horsepower to do so.
#7. A choir director alluded to the closing of 40 or more parishes in the local Roman Catholic diocese. "What are the priests doing to attract these people?" He then mentioned Protestant efforts using billboards. "We have a Lehigh Valley brotherhood here -- what are they doing to promote Orthodoxy?"
#8. A member of the OCA Re-organization Committee then spoke: "We talk about ways to invite people to our church...is it our role to put up billboards, or is it our role to set an example of people living in Faith?" We've missed the point when we fall back on worldly things. You are not going to witness Faith until you feel Faith -- only way to do that is if you are involved in prayer. "I would challenge the AAC toward this end."
#9.A priest who had spoken earlier responded: We have added 30 to our parish. It was not done with billboards, it was parish people inviting their friends. "Right now, our church (the OCA) is a hornet's nest." There is no peace here. We need to get back to that peace if we are to continue to grow.
#10. In perhaps the single most dramatic statement of the Town Hall, Fr. Jason Kappanadze of Elmira Heights, NY spoke. "I was one of the first to be silenced three years ago", he said. "My Chancellor said I could talk at the last Diocesan Assembly, so I hope that carries over to today....
Blind power, blind politics. I thought I left that behind when I came to the priesthood at 40. It is destructive of our lives. I used to think it was just money -- then, oh, it's about morals. Now I see it as an utter failure of love. We think love means to tolerate stuff -- no, it means someone stops us when we are going over a cliff. The last 25 years, we have lost this love that saves one another. When we lost that, we lost the very basis of what we were meant to be.
I used to hang around Syosset, I went to all the meetings that didn't accomplish anything. There would be one conversation in the room and another in the hall. Nobody wanted to deal with the truth. We watched our OCA brothers go over the cliff & laughed about it...we would then go into the hall... ah well, boys will be boys.
We lost the ability to love one another. Part of love is to admonish. If you love me and see me going over the cliff you will admonish me. At meetings we just look at each other & nobody says anything. When questions are raised we were told: 'Go take care of your parish...'
I got a phone call from Syosset:'Keep your mouth shut!'
When we see a brother say publicly:
"I'm not afraid of judgement ...'
or see a brother saying:
'They are demons ...'
We keep silent. The leadership of our Church told us to mind our parishes....
Fr. Jason then began speaking of the forthcoming AAC, croaking like a carnival barker: "Come to the ACC, Bring your family, Bring your Kids, Visit the City, Visit the Zoo...Shop Till you drop!" He pleaded to have an AAC where we can speak to each other the Truth, and then deal with it the best we can.
A round of applause swept the hall as he concluded.
A 15 minute break followed.
Fr. Andrew Jarmus restarted the Town Hall with the question: "What would you like to see for the church?"
#11.A professor from St. Tikhon's Seminary, Dr. David Ford, read, amid tears, a written statement about the words of St. Tikhon about the American Church.
(Editor's note: Dr. Ford's essay will be published in a forthcoming issue of St. Tikhon's Journal.) Dr. Ford concluded by thanking Bishop Nikon for arranging these Town Hall meetings, and for encouraging such openness of expression.
#12 A layman then spoke, explaining that he came to the faith not by billboards, but through his travels in Russia, where he saw hard working, pious people. He saw the domes, the icons, the veneration of Mary, all things he had been told to disregard in his early life in Protestantism. Now, he said, "I have come to be part of it."He spoke of his father, who taught him things on the farm as he was growing up: "Be Careful! This can kill you! Pay attention! Wake up and die right." He then explained the last phrase: "If you are going to die, don't let it be for a stupid reason, let it be worth something. Wake up and die right!" Admonish your brother when he needs to hear it, like a man. Your responsibility is to live right. So, too, the OCA.
#13.The next speaker pointed out that a lot of people are aging, and he would like to see the OCA have an Orthodox retirement home at St. Tikhon's -- instead of the museum. "Then we could die right!" He advocated reaching out to those who are in the Synodal church, who do not want to live under the Patriarch of Moscow.
#14. The priest who followed spoke of his vision of an American Church with American priests, using the English language -- based on St. Tikhon's vision and teaching."Let us serve people as the American church."
#15 A question was then asked: "Will the Synod see all this? Will something be coming out from the Synod and its discussions prior to the AAC?"
Fr. Jarmus was quick to respond: "Yes, absolutely!"
Fr. Jarmus said he is going to see that they use this information in preparation for the AAC.
#16. A woman from New York pointed out: "We cannot make plans, we cannot do anything until we find the source of our illness. We must have the answers to +Job's questions. We must face it, and administer a treatment -- in a truthful and honest way. People are hurting, dying in spirit and body." They need this Church to be a Church.
#17. In reply, the member of the OCA's Reorganization Committee spoke again: "We are waiting for a report. We may be discouraged. Identifying people will not solve the problem. Maybe it will make more problems..." Some people are leaving, some are becoming apathetic, some are reveling in the emotion of the moment -- "Oh, this just happened, that was just revealed". All these people need to be dealt with, they have needs that must be addressed."We need to spend more time in prayer, less time in meetings. Get back on track...prayer retreats, prayer meetings, education in Orthodox fundamentals. (We need) a spiritual base to everything we do as we live and breathe."
#18. A young woman from Frackville pointed out there were "few things to do there (in Frackville) so you always went to your church family for support and guidance." Young people need positive mentors - "we found it there -- we need this."
#19. A man from New Jersey stated: "All the addresses today seem to support each other in broad terms, I have a lot to learn, not much to say. I just hope this effort is not just a debating society -- all the problems need to be addressed."
#20. At this point a dialogue ensued:
Fr. Kappanadze: "What's the plan?"
Fr. Jarmus: "That's what we're getting at with these Town Hall meetings."
Fr. Kappanadze: "We did not get at the real problem, did not address the scandal..."
Fr. Jarmus: "Everybody is aware of that."
Fr. Tosi: "The SIC report is due in September. They are writing it now, I can assure you of that. Also.
there will be a joint meeting of the Synod and Council-- those two events will lead us to the AAC."
Fr. Kappanadze: "Do you believe we are going to see the real SIC report?'
Fr. Tosi: "Without a doubt."
#21.A man from New York stood up again and said: "I want to thank Dr. Ford. What he said about St. Tikhon ought to encourage everybody. It is time to stop covering up -- most of us have made the decision for Orthodoxy, but what about my children, and grandchildren? What will be here for them?"
#22. The Dean of Philadelphia Deanery then spoke: "It's well and good that we addressed all this-...the result of all this is that the clergy are demoralized -- only 3 or 4 out of 10 show up at Deanery meetings.They will not cooperate with each other. There is complete bewilderment of the faithful. They've been asking questions for years, but given NO ANSWERS. There is no vision in the OCA.Where there is no vision, the people perish."
"If there is a mission, why have we not been told what it is? People are falling by the wayside -- because they are not getting answers. The failure of the church is not related only to this scandal..."
"When I was in seminary, students got to participate in the AAC as clerks and go-fers - There was a lot of discussion in those days, passionate discussion. Now, it is enforced passivity. Attendees are not invited to argue, not to give opinions. We sit and listen to this report and that speech..."
"....And then there is this stupid banquet we are forced to attend -- no point to it at all -- and a big expense!"
#23. The next clergy speaker, from the Washington-New York Diocese asked: "What about this SIC report?Fr. Eric assures us it will be released. At the last Washington- New York diocesan assembly (in October or November) - we were told we were out of order when we raised questions. This caused a lot of turmoil, a near-riot ensued. In order to quell the uproar, we were told by the Diocesan Treasurer: 'We cannot release this information because it will destroy the church.' (Editor's note: The Diocesan Treasurer the priest referred to was Larry Tosi, brother of Fr. Eric Tosi.) So, can we actually release this report? How can we do it? If it is a complete report, will it destroy the church or not?"
Fr, Jarmus answered: "Oops! It's getting late -- one last speaker, please...!"
#24. Another clergyman arose who stated that he thought this whole discussion is not necessary, for there was no problem. If a bit of money was misappropriated, he opined, well, "anybody who is married, knows that money is often misappropriated in a marriage." He bought a motorcycle once, but because she loves him, his wife forgave him.
All these things going on, he stated, have made him a better priest, and had given him tremendous ideas for sermons. "What would you like to see for the church?" he asked. "This is the church, what we have here."
#25. Fr. David Mahaffey then spoke. Fr. David, a recent widower, is an Auditor of the OCA, and currently under consideration as a candidate to become the OCA Bishop of Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania. Fr. David said:
"I agree with (the Dean). I am disappointed that more of my brothers are not here. There is a misperception we in the EPA diocese are not allowed to speak because the Metropolitan resides here..."
"I have no confidence in anything right now. Not even sure I have made the right choice to be a priest in the OCA. As we have been working at the audits, I see little progress. We are rewarding bad behavior, We are rewarding people who do nothing...."
"I don't see even now accountability in expenditures. I want to see a church where people are held accountable. I want to see people have positions they are qualified for, not that they are in because they gave so much money, or because of who they know, or who they are related to..."
#26.A Matushka rose for the third time and asked: "Where do we go when the SIC Report is finally out?"
Fr. Andrew Jarmus replied: "That is one of the topics the Metropolitan Council, the Synod and the AAC will discuss."
#27. Another Matushka rose and offered a different answer from that of Fr. Jarmus: "It depends on how it is handled. Most of the job we had in raising our children," she pointed out, "was to teach them it 'is all in the attitude'."
"To pretend that dysfunction is not there, just breeds more dysfunction. To change a few names on the letterhead does not change anything basic. When I am among people at my job and at conferences, I am reluctant to admit I am Orthodox, not because of the scandal, but because of the way we have handled the whole thing."
#28. Finally, a woman expressed her deep concern because the priests of our church have been so hurt by what is happening. They take so on much responsibility for others in the commission of their duties that to see them hurt is painful. "We need credible spiritual leadership from our Synod." We people need our shepherds (the priests) - and our shepherds need their shepherds, (the bishops)."
That was the last speaker from the floor.
The correspondent then added:
"I know that several people alluded to that disgraceful resolution the Synod passed at its last meeting, expressing confidence in Met. Herman, and yet it is nowhere in my notes. That may be because each time, I turned around to see Bp. Tikhon's response, and each time, I found him looking down. I would be ashamed, too."
Time having run out, Bishop Tikhon made the following comments:
"Thank you all for sharing. I took notes... I was in Alaska for 11 days with Archbishop. Nathaniel. We have 85 pages of transcripts from those conversations as well."
"There will be a statement from the Synod before the SIC report, before the AAC. "
"We recognize our responsibilities. This is a process, we have to keep doing this continually...."
The Bishop then talked of the church as a "structure with Christ at the bottom, not a top-down thing".
"We have hierarchy, yes, but we are all equal. We all have to live a life of repentance -- and to change our lives."
Following the Bishop's comments, a luncheon was served.
The next two Town Halls will be held this Wednesday, July 23rd in Hartford CT, and on Thursday, July 24th, near Chicago.
Metropolitan Theodosius Ill
In related news, informed sources tell OCANews.org that former Metropolitan Theodosius fell in his home late last week, but was found sometime later by his niece. He was admitted to the hospital, but has since been released and is once again at home in Canonsburg, PA.
- compiled by Mark Stokoe from transcripts provided by several participants. Thanks to all who took notes.