The Seventh Council was the first to meet in the summer, as all All-American Councils have since. Assembled in Philadelphia, PA on August 22-26, 1983, it was centered on the theme “CHURCH GROWTH.” To facilitate deliberations on this topic, comprehensive study papers on the various aspects of the subject were sent out to council participants in advance. An extensive forum on the matter was also held just before the council’s formal opening. In order to focus attention on the theme during the various plenary sessions of the council, a multimedia presentation was shown, George Gallup (poll director) delivered an address, and a panel discussion with the participation of all delegates was held. Because of the multifaceted study of the theme by the council, it was decided to establish formal church growth programs at all levels of Church life.
As at preceding councils, numerous resolutions on social issues were passed along with many others addressing various aspects of the Church’s ministries. Topics never before addressed by conciliar resolutions included: campus ministry, senior citizens, clergy wives, clergy compensation, military chaplaincies and the distribution of books to local public libraries.
In addition to plenary sessions, council meetings were also held in commission, committee and hearing formats. The hearings, a first time occurrence, gave council participants the opportunity to learn more about the work of the church’s various departments. A major new feature at this council was the presence of women as delegates for the first time.
The council paid special tribute to Fr. Alexander Schmemann who was terminally ill. As clergy vice-chairman of numerous councils, he had skillfully orchestrated conciliar work for three decades and had been one of the main architects of autocephaly for the Orthodox Church in America. Fr. Alexander was present at the opening session of the council and was appreciatively acknowledged by being designated honorary vice-chairman of the Seventh All-American Council. Fr. Alexander Schmemann would in fact depart this life on December 13, 1983.
The council also gratefully remembered Metropolitan IRENEY, retired Primate of the Orthodox Church in America, who had fallen asleep in the Lord in March 1981.
The council of 1983 plunged the Church further into addressing key social issues. By reflecting on all aspects of its theme more thoroughly than any previous council had, the Seventh Council began to direct the Church in dealing with problems of her growth on which the future of the Orthodox Church in America ultimately depends.
Written by Alexis Liberovsky
OCA Archivist, Director of the Department of History and Archives.