A wide variety of issues facing the Orthodox Church in America were reviewed by members of the Metropolitan Council at their regular spring session held at the OCA Chancery Monday, March 31 through Wednesday, April 2, 2008.
In his opening address, His Beatitude, Metropolitan Herman related the work of the council to the celebration of the third Sunday of Great Lent, dedicated to the Holy Cross.
“We will discuss issues that are challenging and difficult,” Metropolitan Herman said. “We must look at these as part of the Cross of service that we chose to take up in our positions of Church leadership.”
He added that on March 31, the repose of Saint Innocent of Moscow, Enlightener of the Aleuts and Apostle to the Americas is celebrated, noting how “Saint Innocent continues to guide us through the stormy seas of life unto the blessed way into the Kingdom of God.”
“The eyes of many look to the leadership of the Orthodox Church in America at this time,” Metropolitan Herman observed. “Some look expecting to see failure, fault and ‘business as usual.’ Others look hopefully, giving us the opportunity to demonstrate the sincerity of our desire to turn a corner in our Church’s life. It is our actions that will show the sincerity and authenticity of our efforts.”
In his closing remarks, Metropolitan Herman mourned the newly departed Archpriest Eugene Vansuch, former executive director of the Fellowship of Orthodox Stewards, who had fallen asleep in the Lord one week earlier, calling him “a tireless worker in the Lord’s Vineyard as a pastor, an educator, and an administrator [whose] efforts demonstrated that he was indeed a wise and faithful steward of His God-given talents.” In response, council members chanted “Memory Eternal” in Father Eugene’s memory.
The full text of Metropolitan Herman’s address may be read here.
THE CURRENT STATE OF THE ORTHODOX CHURCH IN AMERICA
In lengthy plenary sessions and a two-hour executive session, Metropolitan Council members discussed at length the crises the OCA continues to face. While much attention was given to the Diocese of Alaska, council members affirmed that the Alaskan situation was but a part of a larger struggle the Church is facing at this time. Although there were divergent and opposing views on other aspects of the OCA’s crises, council members were of one mind in their concerns related to the Diocese of Alaska.
In response, council members passed a motion supporting Archpriest Alexander Garklavs, OCA Chancellor, “for the obvious sensitivity and rapport he exhibited in dealing with the people of the Church in Alaska, and his heartfelt letter to the clergy in Alaska following the decision last week of the Holy Synod to release Bishop Nikolai from his leave of absence.” Father Alexander recently had returned from a week-long visit to Alaska, during which he met with numerous individuals including the majority of the diocese’s clergy.
In further action, council members drafted a statement on the situation in Alaska, addressed to the Holy Synod of Bishops, the complete text of which reads as follows.
“After long and heartfelt discussion during our meeting March 31 to April 2, 2008, the Metropolitan Council recognizes that the current crisis in Alaska is a source of paralyzing dysfunction in our whole Church. This problem requires careful investigation and consideration of fact, and we fully understand that the competency to take such action rests with the Holy Synod, to bring it to a decisive outcome without delay.
“Taking account of the anxieties, fears, and pain of the Orthodox faithful of Alaska, and the deep concern expressed by all the faithful of the Orthodox Church in America, the Metropolitan Council is profoundly disappointed by the Holy Synod’s decision to lift the leave of absence of His Grace, Bishop Nikolai before a proper solution has been determined, and respectfully asks our hierarchs - in faith, hope, and love - to immediately reverse this decision.”
In a related matter, council members passed a motion to provide financial assistance to help Alaskan clergy who wish to meet with His Eminence, Archbishop Nathaniel of Detroit and the Romanian Episcopate and His Grace, Bishop Tikhon of Philadelphia and Eastern Pennsylvania, who are in Alaska to further investigate the situation on behalf of the Holy Synod.
In his report, Priest Michael Tassos, OCA Treasurer, stated that in 2007 revenues exceeded budget by $133,787.00, while expenses fell below the $149,214.00 budgeted for the year. Despite an anticipated budgeted loss of $68,050.00 for 2007, the OCA actually ended the year with a surplus of $612,648.00, which included the $384,496.00 realized from the sale of Church-owned property on Martin Drive, Syosset, NY. The 2007 surplus was used primarily to reduce the outstanding debt to the Honesdale National Bank and to pay off outstanding bills accumulated through the year.
In further reviewing the financial records for the first two months of 2008, Father Michael reported that expenses are under budget by over $32,000.00.
Father Michael explained the changes implemented by the chancery’s finance office to increase accuracy and efficiency. He also recommended that the certified public accounting firm of Weiser LLP be engaged to audit the OCA’s books and records for the year ending December 31, 2007. His recommendation was endorsed by the Metropolitan Council.
At the conclusion of his report, Father Michael shared with council members his need to return to California for a time to tend to personal matters. Metropolitan Council members offered their support to Father Michael, approving his request to continue working as Treasurer while in California, and expressed their hope that he would return to the Chancery as soon as possible.
In related financial matters, council members approved the disbursement of a number of restricted funds for their stated purposes. They also decided to begin making payments to the 9/11 Emergency Fund by approving a payment of $25,000.00 for 2008 of the $176,000.00 outstanding which have yet to be unaccounted for.
In a discussion of the OCA pension plan, Archpriest Michael Westerberg, pension board group leader, reported that the plan has been submitted for an IRS Determination of its compliance to tax laws. He noted that, while mandatory, determinations are periodically done on a voluntary basis as part of IRS regulations. A letter from the IRS was sent to pension plan members informing them of this process.
MINISTRIES AND COMMUNICATIONS.
Archpriest Andrew Jarmus, Director of Ministries and Communications, updated council members on the activities of the OCA’s ministry departments. He stated that departmental activities, which had been effectively frozen during the second half of 2007, have been normalized, and that he will continue to review the departments’ ongoing progress and work.
Father Andrew outlined proposed changes aimed at improving communications. He presented a revised protocol detailing communications between OCA chancery personnel and Metropolitan Council members, which was approved.
LEGAL ISSUES AND ETHICS COMMITTEE.
Metropolitan Council members were updated on a number of current legal matters.
Attorney John Ward, who represents the Church in the lawsuit filed against the OCA by Mrs. Elizabeth Kondratick, updated council members on the status of the suit.
In January 2008, an ad hoc legal committee was formed to work on the Kondratick lawsuit with the central administration. The Metropolitan Council has now formed a standing legal committee to work with the OCA’s administration in such matters.
Council members also heard a report from Mr. Gregory Nescott on the search for general legal counsel for the OCA. Mr. Nescott reported that the search committee unanimously recommended Mr. Thaddeus Wojcik of the law firm Eaton & Van Winkle LLP. A member of the OCA, Mr. Wojcik has extensive experience in not-for-profit law, corporate governance, and compliance with best practices guidelines. Members of the Metropolitan Council endorsed the recommendation to engage Mr. Wojcik as general legal counsel, pending approval by the Holy Synod of Bishops.
Council members approved the draft procedure for the work of the OCA’s ethics committee, which was presented by the Rev. Mark Sherman, committee chair. Father Mark also presented a report on the issue of the appointment and release of Mr. Paul Bodnar as OCA secretary. Council members expressed their gratitude to ethic committee members for their work.
In a report on the work of the Organizational Task Force, Mrs. Carol Wetmore noted that, while the members of the new administrative team are fully engaged in their duties, the Task Force continues to function primarily in a consultative role. One outstanding Task Force responsibility was the development of a human resources policy manual, a draft of which was circulated among the council members. The draft is being reviewed by a labor attorney.
Metropolitan Council members were also presented with and endorsed a candidate for the position of OCA secretary. An announcement of the candidate’s name and appointment will be forthcoming.
The Very Rev. Alexander Garklavs reported on preparations for the 15th All-American Council, slated to be held in Pittsburgh, PA November 10 - 13, 2008. He stated that, in response to the desire to engage in dialogue with the wider membership of the Church regarding the AAC, a consultation will be held with Preconciliar Commission members and six invited participants on April 7, 2008. Also reviewed was a proposal for procedures to be observed in submitting resolutions for the AAC.
Father Michael Tassos noted that the preliminary budget for All-American Council expenses totals $195,038.00
Council members also reviewed the proposed AAC agenda and offered some recommendations for amendments that will be referred to the Preconciliar Commission. It was also recommended that follow-up reports on the three key initiatives highlighted at the 14th AAC in 2005—Orthodox unity, missions, and Christian education—be included in the AAC agenda.
Metropolitan Council members discussed a number of issues related to strategic planning, including the pursuit of administrative unity with North America’s Orthodox jurisdictions, the role of the various levels of Church governance in the life of the Church, and the function and location of the OCA chancery. It was agreed that, while strategic planning is crucial for the OCA, further discussions are not conducive at present. However, council members will formulate a process for developing a strategic plan, with the goal of initiating this process at the 15th All-American Council.
A committee was formed to evaluate the costs associated with locating the OCA Chancery in Oyster Bay Cove, NY. Another committee was formed to examine areas of cooperative ministry with North America’s Orthodox jurisdictions.
The minutes of the 2008 Spring Meeting of the Metropolitan Council will be posted on the OCA web site shortly.
The Metropolitan Council will meet again in the summer of 2008.