President’s address, 87th FOCA National Convention
Sunday, June 30, 2013
Double Tree Hotel, Independence, Ohio
Delivered by Becky Tesar
At a recent convention, His Grace Bishop Michael addressed this audience, speaking of the need for us to “tell our story”. He shared with us his story of personal loss, perseverance and faith. He reminded us that we all have a story, whether it is how we came to the Orthodox Faith or to the Fellowship; and he encouraged us to tell our stories. I’d like to take this opportunity to share with you MY story.
Other than my sister who has a frighteningly good memory for random dates, how many of you can tell me where the 1988 FROC National Basketball Tournament was held? Given enough time, some of you may be able to figure it out, but I can tell you with certainty that it was held in Bridgeport, Connecticut. I know this because it was not only my first basketball tournament, but also the first interaction I had with this vague group of “older kids” at church known as the Jr. ‘R’.
At our parish of Archangel Michael, we have been blessed to have enough youth to have two different youth groups. Our Pre-Teen Club has met on Friday nights for decades. During my childhood, I we started Pre-Teen around 5 or 6 years old and attended until we were 12. We had crafts, gym time to play kickball or dodge ball and it’s also where generations of us learned our Russian folk dances. Most importantly though, it was a chance to just have fun with the friends we had at church.
The Junior R Club at our parish functions much the same way as in other chapters with meetings, outings and of course, preparation to play basketball. However, I, as a 12 year old had only vaguely heard of the Junior R Club and only knew it was something “for the older kids.”
In the spring of 1988 I was 12 years old, my time in Pre-Teen had come to an end and my mom told my sister and me that we were joining the Junior R Club and going to Connecticut on a bus to play basketball. What?? I was a shy, pudgy 12 year old with a vertical leap of 2 inches, had never touched a basketball, and my mother was putting me on a bus with a bunch of high school kids that I didn’t know for a 9 hour trip. I would be staying with a family I didn’t know and, she promised, I’d have the time of my life. Right.
But, my big sister was going, and our good friend Maryann and I got to miss a day of school, so on the bus I got and off to Connecticut we went. And I had the time of my life.
I don’t remember the name of the family we stayed with, just that it was an older couple and their granddaughter was named Tanya. On Saturday evening after the banquet and dance, Tanya’s grandmother gathered us all together in the bedroom we were sharing and opened a box filled with crystal figurines. She told us each to take one as a special remembrance of the weekend. As a typical 12 year old girl, I chose this unicorn.
It has traveled with me from my childhood home to college dorm rooms to my first apartment and now resides on my dresser in the home I currently own. Twenty-five years seems like a long time to hold on to something so small and seemingly insignificant. I don’t know about Maryann who stayed with us that weekend, but I’ve asked my sister about it and while she remembers the trip and the tournament, she doesn’t remember the getting the figurines. It surprises me that I do. I’ve been to many basketball tournaments since then. The Bridgeport Club hosted a great tournament, but most of our chapters and districts host great tournaments. What made this one so special that I would hold on to not only this memory, but also a crystal figurine for 25 years? I am certain it is because this, my first tournament and first experience as a Junior opened a whole new world of friendships with kids that were just like me—kids who went to church on Sunday mornings; kids who celebrated Easter when I did and not weeks earlier; kids who weren’t allowed do dance during Lent; kids who already knew why the cross I wore on my neck had three bars instead of one; kids who eventually became my best friends and have remained so well into adulthood. I certainly don’t think of this story every day, and quite often never give that crystal unicorn a second glance. But every now and then, as I’m looking for something, or just take a moment to sit and relax, it will catch my eye and I smile remembering everything it represents to me.
Several weeks ago, the FOCA Executive Board met with His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon, Fr. Eric Tosi and Fr. John Jillions. As we discussed the Fellowship, our aims, our goals and our struggles, Fr. Jillions asked “Why do people join the FOCA? What do they get out of it?” This was not the first time I’ve been asked to answer that question. In fact, I would bet that most of us have either been asked or have asked that question at some point during our membership. It might come up at a parish meeting, a district convention or a chat with friends and relatives who don’t belong to the organization. Most of us have probably even asked it of ourselves.
I can answer with the tangible things, access to scholarships, a membership card, 4 issues of the OCJ, voting privileges and sports tournaments, but beyond that, what DO we get out of our membership? It’s not an easy question to answer and I believe that’s because we all get something different out of it. Some see membership as an opportunity to join together with Orthodox Christians ministering to the needs of those within our Orthodox faith as well as non-Orthodox charities and causes. Membership allows us to remain good stewards of the talents, resources and finances with which we have each been blessed and affords the network, leadership and resources by which we can use those assets on a larger scale outside of our individual parishes. On a more personal level, but just as significant, some members have found their spouse, some have found surrogate family and some have found life long friendships.
When gathered together as members of a chapter, we bring our parishes together in prayer, fellowship and service. Some of our chapters feed the hungry; some of our chapters raise the funds needed to keep their parishes running. Some of our chapters organize religious retreats or sponsor fellowship events. We may function differently, but when all is said and done, we are a group of good people who have banded together to do good things.
On a National level, it’s no secret that we have differing opinions and visions within our membership in regard to where we are going, what we want to be and what kind of service we want to provide for our Church. It is also no secret that like the Church and like other social and philanthropic organizations we have suffered a decline in membership. We have held on to our traditions and founding ideals for more than 85 years, a tremendous feat for any organization. If we are to survive into the next decade and beyond, we must take a clear, hard look at ourselves and decide what we want to be moving forward. We must set aside personal agendas and fear of change and decide how we can continue to make our national organization function within this ever changing world. If is important to us to continue to do good works, we must find ways to continuously raise funds. If it is important to raise our youth to have Orthodox friends and continue to grow in their faith, we must not neglect the social, camping and sporting events that bring them together to share their faith in fun and fellowship. If it is important to us to pray together we must continue to plan workshops and retreats where we can expand our knowledge of our faith. If it is important to us to belong an organization that brings together friends and family from across the country, in an atmosphere where worshipers of all ages can not only participate in religious services with the Bishops, Archbishops and Metropolitan of our church but also have the opportunity to speak with and interact with those same hierarchs we must act decisively and quickly on a plan to ensure that this organization continues on for the next 12 year old who treasures a crystal unicorn.