Saint Andrew House here was the site of the first Orthodox Church in America Mission School April 20-24, 2015.
As reported earlier, funding for the gathering was made possible through a bequest to the OCA for use in the areas of mission and evangelism.
Twenty-six participants—13 clergy and 13 lay leaders representing nearly every OCA diocese—attended, in addition to faculty members headed by Archpriest Eric G. Tosi, OCA Secretary, who organized and facilitated the event. Classes were taught by a number of clergy instructors with years of collective experience in mission ministry.
Father Eric opened the week with presentations on creating a vision of mission ministry and building a community, drawing on his personal experience as a mission priest in years past, while Archpriest David Rucker, a seasoned missionary in Central America, Alaska and elsewhere, offered a detailed presentation on the Theology of Mission. He drew upon numerous resources and shared some of his experiences in the mission field, emphasizing the centrality of not only become “fishers of men,” but the importance of “knowing one’s fish.”
Building upon these themes, the second day opened with classes taught by Priest John Parker, Chair of the OCA’s Department of Evangelization, and Archpriests Daniel Kovalak, Williamsport, PA, and John Reeves, State College, PA. Father Parker emphasized the importance of evaluating mission communities, sharing examples from his own mission ministry. Father Daniel reviewed a number of principles crucial in mission management, while Father Reeves spoke delved into the critical area of stewardship and finance, based on his years of experience in this field.
His Eminence, Archbishop Nathaniel and His Eminence, Archbishop Michael, engaged participants in nightly roundtable discussions which offered opportunities for free-ranging questions and reflections.
Wednesday’s program opened with a presentation by Father Reeves on the various challenges faced by mission clergy and their communities, after which Archpriest Dr. Steven Voytovich, Dean of Saint Tikhon’s Seminary, spoke in detail of the importance of understanding the elements that make up a healthy parish community. In a second presentation, Father Parker shared insights into the centrality of catechesis in sharing the faith with others.
Archpriest Timothy Hojnicki, Mechanicsburg, PA, opened Thursday’s sessions with a presentation in which he used the mission he serves—Holy Apostles—as a “case study” in Church planting. His media presentation was complimented by a similar “case study” in which Archpriest John Pierce, Tacoma, WA, highlighted mission principles in his experience of revitalizing the historic 100-plus year old community he serves. The central theme of their presentations was that every community—whether a newly planted one or a “seasoned” one in need of revitalization—is, ultimately, a mission community.
The week concluded with a “hands-on” session by Archpriest John Matusiak, Wheaton, IL, who challenged participants to draft realistic and achievable approaches to developing and expanding mission ministries in their respective situations. Emphasizing the importance of evaluating “what is God calling us to do right here, right now, in the circumstances in which we find ourselves, with those whom God has sent us, and with the resources at our disposal,” he invited participants to share their plans for the future. A wide variety of “customized” plans were presented by the participants.
In the closing session, Archbishop Michael and Father Eric presented certificates to all participants, challenging them to share all that they had learned during the week upon their return to their respective parishes.
Reactions from participants were positive across the board.
“It was a truly incredible week, and I returned home energized,” said Matushka Catherine Vitko, McLean, VA. “Father Mark Koczak and I have laid out a plan for the next six months for missions in our Diocese of Washginton, and I plan to offer a workshop in our parish. I realized when I got home how positive and energetic all the participants were—a true joy.”
Father Mark added that “the fellowship was outstanding, and the school offered good information and super stories about missions in the Church today.”
Archpriest Antonio Perdomo, McAllen, TX, observed that “whether we worship at a small or new mission or at a church established many years ago, every member of the Church is called to be a ‘missionary’ because Christ’s commission to “go and tell the world” is intended for everyone. This means that each person is called to become ‘apostolic’ because each Christian ‘is sent’ and becomes a witness, challenged to share the Good News of Christ to the world.”
“The school gathered a diverse group able to worship and share fellowship in a focused and unencumbered setting,” said John Peskey, Helena, MT. “The information that was shared received immediate, positive and constructive feedback, which was invaluable. The week was truly far reaching and joyous, and I hope that this will be the first of many such opportunities.”
Priest David Bozeman, Waxahachie, TX, who attended with his mission parish’s choir director, Reader Daniel Homiak, found “the OCA Mission School to be incredibly rich and inspiring. The information was applicable and the instructors had real experience that was helpful, motivating, and timely.” He said that he came to the school “hoping to find a ‘system’ or ‘program’ for Church growth, but I quickly found that what I really needed was to learn how to be resourceful, using what we have here and now creatively…. Having the two of us from the same mission participate enabled us to compare notes and formulate a real plan for our mission.” Father David was quick to add that “having clergy and lay leaders from across the OCA was helpful in broadening my perspective, especially when I heard about missions in situations that are totally unlike our own. It was a pleasant surprise to see something conceived and carried out in such a rewarding way.”
“In reflecting on the past week and the participants, the single greatest thing I can add is to simply quote 2 Corinthians 8:23: ‘And as for our brothers, they are messengers of the churches, the glory of Christ,’” said Priest Steven Hoskings, Clinton, CT. “The program was certainly engrossing and intense with regards to content. What made it manageable, entertaining and enlightening was the sharing, discussion and interactions of the participants.”
Priest Joel Weir, Crawfordsville, IN, wasted no time in “getting out the word” amongst his parishioners at Saint Stephen Church upon his return. “I sent an initial message to my parish Tuesday morning to ‘get the ball rolling’ on our local application of the Mission School, which I found to be very informative, practical, and inspiring. I’m looking forward to sharing what I learned and seeing where our local conversations take us.”
The instructors were equally enthusiastic in their evaluation.
“It was exciting to be involved with this worthy project, to be apart of its inception, and then to see it come together in an organized and well done fashion a year later,” said Father Hojnicki. “It gives me great hope to see so many working for the building up of the church and enjoying fellowship with one another all the while. I am thankful to the Holy Synod for allowing this to happen and for being able to participate. May God continue to bless our efforts!”
According to Father Pierce, “One encounters many good ideas in life that when actualized fall short of the vision. This Mission School, on the other hand, proved to be a meaningful and exciting exchange of lessons and examples to further the Apostolic ministry of ‘expanding the Mission.’ I am encouraged about its potential and the impact it will have on our Church in the years to come.”
A photo gallery of the week is available on the OCA web site and Facebook page.