“Be” the Church; Part 3: Parish Leaders & the Parish

“Serving in a parish deep in the heartland of American Protestantism, where Orthodoxy is a very meagre & rare presence, I often tell my parishioners that our first task as a parish is to actually “be” an Orthodox Church–so that, when someone comes looking for the Orthodox Church, they’ll actually be able to find it. To “be” the Church is the whole of our salvation.” Fr. Stephen Freeman, Glory to God For All Things, http://fatherstephen.wordpress.com/

The Parish leadership is also called to “be” the Church. Leadership in the secular world (military, governmental & business) has evolved into superiors issuing orders with subordinates following. Secular leaders tend to be visionary (a good thing) as well as narcissistic (definitely not a good thing). Seldom does this secular leadership even consider the humanity of its subordinates as their subordinates are just more tools for them to use to accomplish their long-term visions & short-term goals. As leaders of the local parish, it is most important to remember that we are servants 1st & leaders 2nd. We are not on the council/committee because we are better than anyone else. We should not be on the council/committee because we want to self-promote ourselves, boost our egos or confirm our self-worth. We definitely did not earn nor do we merit these positions. Christ led His followers by serving them, even getting on his knees in order to wash their feet (John 13). Sts. Peter & Paul were definitely leaders in the early Church, but they considered themselves to be first & foremost servants of Christ & His Church. In addition to the applications above for individual parish members, may we through God’s grace & with all humility also maintain the vision of Christian servanthood & reject the narcissicism of secular leadership; thus can the parish council “be” the Church.

At the parish level, which includes all parish members as well as the leadership, we can “be” the Church as well; in reality we already “are” the Church. The Holy Scriptures & the writings of the Church Fathers are full of the phrase “the Church of God at/in…” This denotes much more than just having a building in which to gather together, do religious things & thereby feel better about ourselves. As the Church of God, the Body of Christ, we have a base of support, the pillar & ground of the truth, from which we work out our own salvation (individually as well as corporately), enhance our communion with the living God & with each other, receive & give edification in the Faith among many other spiritual benefits & tasks. From this base we are to spread the light of Christ to the world. I find the differences in the understanding of “Church” between West & East best summed up by Fr. Alexander Schmemann: “The Church is not an institution that has mysteries; it is a Mystery that has institutions.” This “Mystery” of the Church is what we are to locally manifest rather than merely another religious institution. Just as the parish leadership needs to be visionary, so does the parish as a whole. We as the Body of Christ need to ensure that we are supporting & promoting the Church. Search for ways to further serve Christ & His Church as you are spiritually led & physically able. Encourage & edify the other parish members, the parish leadership & the priesthood by communicating ideas & concerns with them. Also ask for encouragement & edification from the same. Let everyone know what you are facing & dealing with as you encounter the world. Maintain the unity, love & peace of Christ despite differing opinions on how things might be done.

As an inquirer & catechumen I was acutely aware of “being home” from my very first visit to what is now my local parish; this was long before we had a designated patronal saint. The Church, my new home, was a place of love & safety; furthermore, it still is such a place. I was finally able to begin healing from wounds inflicted by the world, by other “churches” & even by myself. The world & those in it also need that healing we have through the Church of Christ, but we have to manifest that love & safety of Christ to it. Individually & corporately we must “be” the Church.

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