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10.12.07

News From Around the OCA

Diocese of Western Pennsylvania

The Diocese of Western PA will hold its assembly on Saturday, October 13th at St. Andrew's Church in Mingo Junction, Ohio according to an announcement on the diocese's new website at www.ocawpa.org
The meeting, to be held under the chairmanship of Metropolitan Herman, locum tenens of the Diocese since the recent falling asleep of Archbishop Kyrill,

will consider several resolutions regarding diocesan life, assessments, and the current crisis of the OCA. The texts of the proposed resolutions were not available before the meeting.

Diocese of New England Assembly

The 44th New England Diocesan Assembly will convene on October 26-27, 2007, hosted by Sts Peter & Paul Orthodox Church in Meriden, CT. The current crisis of the OCA is at the top of the agenda of the meeting, when following Bishop Nikon's opening report, Metropolitan Council members Fr. Mark Sherman and Dn. John Zarras will report, followed by a "Discussion on the Current Problems in the OCA". The Metropolitan Council position, currently held by Fr. Mark Sherman, will be filled for a three year term as well.

Withholding will certainly be a topic in the discussion at the Assembly. Last year the New England Assembly adopted the following "Statement" suggesting withholding was a real option:

"We the Diocese of New England are deeply saddened and concerned by the scandal affecting our Church. We acknowledge that such financial scandal and attendant leadership crisis are intolerable. In addition, we believe that significant legal risks to the Church, including this Diocese, will result from continued failure to take decisive action. To remedy the situation, we urge the immediate compliance with the Statutes of the OCA and all applicable Federal and State law and full fiscal transparency and compliance with Generally Accepted Accounting principles and rules of corporate and fiduciary behavior. We further urge expeditious action by the Metropolitan Council to resolve the crisis and protect Church assets. Absent such actions, we resolve that the Diocesan Council of the Diocese of New England, subject to the consent of it's Bishop, acting at it's next Special or regular meeting, act to consider all appropriate remedies required to protect Church assets, including the placing in Escrow of all assessments pending satisfactory resolution of the matter. Finally, we urge any and all appropriate parallel and or supplementary action by the Holy Synod, all in order to protect the property, spiritual values and good name of our Church in this time of crisis, and urge the full and complete co-operation of the Holy Synod and the Metropolitan Council in resolving these matters."

The Minutes of that earlier meeting where the above "Statement" was adopted are even more revealing:

"National church financial crisis has become for many an all-consuming concern for the clergy and faithful of our church. A good deal of truthful and less-than-truthful information is now widely available, tearing at the very fabric of our church. Questions that have been raised have yet to be fully answered. Questions of procedures, mismanagement, and other concerns remain open. Proskauer Rose law firm gave preliminary report. The limited report could not be shared at this time, though the Metropolitan Council and Holy Synod will be receiving this information in a meeting to be held in December. Other dioceses have issued resolutions expressing concern about this ongoing crisis and we need to as well. Trinity of bishop, priest, and laity need to be reflected locally, and at diocesan and national church levels. No decision has been made to withhold the assessments from our diocese. With information from a well-informed attorney, with consensus from lawyers at national church level, we should continue to send assessments. However, if crisis remains unresolved and we continue to send assessments, we could be seen as duplicitous to the financial issues/concerns."

(The Statement and the full minutes may be found on the Diocesean website at www.dneoca.org)

As the questions in the Minutes and in the Statement raised have yet to be fully answered, even a year later, and as the crisis has not been resolved, but has only deepened in the past three weeks with the resignation of the Special Commission, the threat of New England joining the Archdiocese of the Midwest in withholding its assessments is not idle. In anticipation of such a move, those overseeing the 2008 budget for Syosset have created three different budget scenarios - depending on whether the Midwest continues withholding or releases its escrowed monies, or whether New England joins the Midwest in withholding.

Metropolitan Council Meeting, Synod of Bishops Meeting

Syosset's current financial woes are on full display in the preparatory materials for the Metropolitan Council and Synod of Bishops meetings scheduled for October 16-17 in Syosset. For example, the Department of Evangelism reports:

"The Mission Appeal fell dramatically short in 2007. As of last report, it only collected $35,000 which is again below the last appeal (around $65,000) and well short of the goal of $115,000. Despite the shortfall and with the return of loaned funds, the department recommends continuing at the current level of five missions on the grant....."

The report concludes on a very serious note, pointing out the problem is not only money:

"It is fully understood that the current 'crisis' in the OCA has taken its toll on the Department's work. Much of it has stalled due to the lack of funds and the reorganization. Requests have been tabled often and communication has been difficult. But in order for us to put the best 'face' forward for the upcoming AAC, there must be some changes. This includes Departmental meetings and prioritization. There needs to be funds available for work to be done and the Department needs to have access to them. One of the clearest messages at the last AAC was a focus on evangelism. While some strides have been made, in reality very little concrete items have been accomplished. .....

Another point has to do with accountability. Over the past years, budgets were submitted and it was very difficult to receive feedback either in spending or charges that were put on the Department's budget. Any request that I made was often deflected or not answered in full. In the end, expenses were charged which were not approved by myself or the Department. This made an unrealistic budget in which I had no way of accounting. Requests have been made throughout the Summer for accounting of not only the Department's budget but also the Mission Appeal. Only some were answered satisfactorily. It is very difficult for this Department to present a prioritized budget when we have no idea what was spent or even available. The Department wants to cooperate fully with the Central Church and supports their work, but there must be accountability and transparency from both sides. Otherwise it is a fake budget with no goals. The basic axiom that the vision drives the budget not the other way around is the way this Department desires to operate and has been unable to work. We again ask for help and support in this regard."

In an announcement last week, Syosset suspended all "episcopal and departmental stipends, together with most departmental expenses, through the end of 2007 in an attempt to maintain a balanced budget."

• National On-Line Petition

The national petition asking Metropolitan Herman to resign reached over 1,000 names earlier this week.
You can read the petition here.

And finally, a personal reflection on the petition:

Started three weeks ago by a discussion group at St. Mark's parish in Bethesda MD, the petition has been debated widely in parishes throughout the land. Some see it as an attack on the hierarchy or hierarchical principles, an attempt to reduce the Church to a "democracy". That, of course, is absurd. Those who suggest such things are fighting battles that ended long ago. The petition was not launched with the idea that Metropolitan Herman could be "forced" to resign. (As Archbishop Job explained to the Midwest Assembly when it passed its own resolution calling for the Metropolitan to "step down", no body has "authority" to force the Metropolitan to do so - least of all a petition.) As Metropolitan, Herman must come to that realization for himself, that in the present circumstances to do so would be "for the good of the Church".

The petition is, however, a grass-roots attempt to begin to change the dominant culture of fear that operates in the OCA. Every time someone signs the petition the culture of fear is weakened, one name at a time. This is the power of the petition. It has no statutory power, its power is manifested in its very powerlessness. It has only the power of people speaking truth to power, of finding the courage to express what they think, to speak what is in their heart, and believing that the Church is a community where that should, and must, be allowed to take place. That is its authority.

More than 1,000 people have been so empowered in the past 21 days. They may be marginalized in a parish whose priest does not allow free discussion to take place; they may be priests signing anonymously because their Bishop does not allow free expression in his Diocese. But they now know, in ever greater numbers, they are not alone. They are no longer prisoners of the culture of fear. "Free men and women" are rising up across the OCA - not just in the Midwest. No matter when, or whether, Metropolitan Herman resigns, the victory is theirs already; and the entire OCA is stronger for it.

- Mark Stokoe

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