His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon, addressed the Chancellors and Treasurers of the Dioceses of the Orthodox Church in America at their fifth annual meeting at the Chancery here on Tuesday, January 19, 2016.
The gathering—specifically held to review the common work of the dioceses and to discuss the implementation of the new finance plan and revised Statute—opened with the celebration of the Divine Liturgy in Saint Sergius Chapel, after which His Beatitude, Metropolitan Tikhon welcomed those in attendance.
“As I have said in previous meetings, I believe that this is one of the most important gatherings of the year, since it allows for a parallel interaction to what takes place biannually in our Holy Synod meetings,” Metropolitan Tikhon said in his opening address. “While the bishops, of course, have the oversight of every aspect of the life of their dioceses, I think it is very helpful for those who assist the bishops in that common administrative work to have the opportunity for sharing and learning, and thereby strengthening the bond of unity between us. This gathering has also been a forum for the accomplishment of very specific tasks as witnessed by the last five years of discussion within this group in order to arrive at a positive resolution to the challenge laid down at the 18th All-American Council in Atlanta.
“I believe that one difference with the Council is that the specific actions that were taken were both monumental in themselves and pave the way for significant development in the Orthodox Church in America, not only over the next triennium, but beyond,” Metropolitan Tikhon continued. “The overwhelming adoption by the delegates of the Statute Revision and the resolution on Church Funding were watershed moments and testimony to the excellent and sometimes agonizing preparatory work of His Eminence, Archbishop Nathaniel and the members of the Statute Revision Task Force on the one hand, and our Treasurer, Melanie Ringa, and those who worked with her and the Metropolitan Council Finance Committee—especially those who are gathered here today, the diocesan Chancellors and Treasurers—on the other. I think all of the Chancellors and Treasurers know that tortuous path that has been taken to arrive at the resolution adopted in Atlanta, and you likewise are aware of the complexity of the resolution. But I think we are all aware that this complexity is simply a reflection of the complex and varied situations that are found in our dioceses.”
Metropolitan Tikhon concluded by explaining the “four pillars” of the Church’s work he presented in Atlanta—specifically spiritual life, stewardship, missions and evangelism, and external relations.
In addition to offering updates on their respective dioceses, the Chancellors and Treasurers heard a number of reports.
- Archpriest John Jillions, Chancellor, spoke on the vision of the OCA, the work of the ORSMA, the recently reactivated Pastoral Life Department, and issues related to the funding and mission of the seminaries. He emphasized the need for parishes and dioceses to consider funding for our seminaries when developing their budgets.
- Archpriest Eric G. Tosi, Secretary, spoke on a variety of administrative matters, including 501c(3) status and Group Exemption procedures, annual diocesan reporting to the OCA, and general insurance issues.
- Treasurer Melanie Ringa spoke about the new finance plan and its implementation in the dioceses.
- Raymond Boyd spoke about the role that the Stewards of the OCA plays in supporting the work of the Departments and Planting Grants, all of which had been funded by the operating budget in prior years. In 2014, the Stewards of the OCA contributed $31,421.00, while in 2015, donations totaled $53,911.00.
- Priest Nathan Preston, Administrator of the Pastoral Life Department, spoke on initiatives from the Holy Synod for the department, which include a revision of the clergy compensation guidelines, clergy handbook, support for clergy wives, clergy health, pastoral response to sexual identity issues, and related matters affecting parish life in today’s society.
- John Della Monica, President of the Orthodox Church Capital Improvement Fund [OCCIF], reported on OCCIF’s work as a 501c(3) organization created to provide financial assistance to Orthodox parishes, missions, and other institutions in the US for the purchase and construction and/or refinancing of real estate and associated improvements. He indicated OCCIF’s willingness to accept invitations to meet with diocesan councils and/or assemblies to discuss how this program can benefit their parishes.
- Judge E.R. Lanier, General Counsel of the OCA, spoke on various legal matters and stressed the importance of bringing diocesan and parish by-laws into conformity with the new OCA Statute. He also provided an update with regard to steps the OCA is taking in policy development pursuant to the US Supreme Court decision regarding same-sex marriage and the OCA’s participation in amicus briefs filed in the US Supreme Court in cases touching on moral issues of concern to the OCA, and the future possibility of private insurance coverage for lawsuits growing out of public doctrinal, moral and religious expressions of faith.
- Matushka Mary Buletza Breton, Treasurer of the Diocese of New York and New Jersey and OCA Pension Board member, spoke with regard to the OCA Pension Plan, noting that participation is mandatory for all clergy and encouraged for all lay employees of parishes of the parishes, dioceses and institutions of the Church. She emphasized the excellent benefits the plan provides.
- Diocesan representatives shared their experience in transitioning to the formula developed by the Finance Resolution adopted at the 18th All-American Council. A dramatic and positive shift towards proportional giving has been witnessed in most dioceses, with the Dioceses of the South and West assessing their parishes on a proportional basis. Other dioceses have made significant strides in this regard and are developing plans to move to a proportional system within the next one to three years.
“The interaction and exchange of ideas, policies and procedures among the treasurers was overwhelming,” said Ms. Ringa. “These accomplished, dedicated servants have developed a camaraderie that benefits their own dioceses and the entire Church.”
Also participating in the meeting were His Eminence, Archbishop Benjamin of San Francisco and the West [DOW]; Mary Caetta, DOW Treasurer; Archpriest Matthew Tate, representing Archpriest Ian McKinnon, DOW Chancellor; Archpriest John Dresko, OCA Finance Committee Chair; Archpriest Marcus Burch and Milos Konjevich, Chancellor and Treasurer respectively of the Diocese of the South; Archpriest Joseph Lickwar, Chancellor of the Diocese of New York and New Jersey [NY/NJ]; Archpriest David Cowan, NY/NJ Assistant Chancellor; Archpriest John Kreta and John Skrobat, Chancellor and Treasurer respectively of the Diocese of New England; Priests Raymond Martin Browne and Ignatius Gauvain, Chancellor and Treasurer respectively of the Diocese of Eastern Pennsylvania; Archpriest Gregory Safchuk, representing Priest John Vitko, Chancellor of the Diocese of Washington [DOW], and Lisa Mikhalevsky, DOW Treasurer; and Archpriest Don Freude, Chancellor of the Bulgarian Diocese.