A Church Tour During The Parish Festival Or Fair
By John Zarras
It may at first seem strange to contemplate conducting church tours during the annual parish festival or fair. Most parishes look to the festival or fair as a fund raising event or, at best, as a means of promoting fellowship of the parish membership. It can, however, be the initial means of introducing witness to the membership. Why and how? Depending on the parish, its size, and the size of the community or city in which it is located, hundreds and sometimes thousands of non- Orthodox are drawn to the festival or fair. Such tours can also be offered during Fish Fries, food sales, bazaars - any church event of several hours duration to which the community is invited. It is not often that the parish can have the opportunity to share knowledge of the Orthodox faith with so many people.
Many visitors to the festival might welcome the occasion to see the church and hear something about the nature and meaning of Orthodox worship. I have personally participated and organized such church tours at Greek Orthodox parishes in New York and Connecticut. The suggestions presented herein should serve as ideas that can be expanded or adapted to the individual strengths and unique characteristics of individual parishes.
Organizing the Tour
1. Establish a subcommittee of the festival or fair committee. Draw upon parish members who have a good basic knowledge of the faith and who generally participate in the sacramental and spiritual life of the parish.
2. Have the Subcommittee meet with the priest for a few sessions to solidify the information they will offer as tour guides.
It might include:
- Identifying any unique Orthodox characteristics of the church structure, architecture or furnishings. Examples include a church dome, extensive iconography, different iconography media such as mosaics, shape of the church.
- Researching the parish’s history and identifying it within the community; when and how the parish was established.
- In the absence of unique parish characteristics, or in addition to them, reviewing the characteristics of the church building that are held in common with all Orthodox churches.
division of church into narthex, nave and sanctuary
altar table and items on it
table of oblation
3. Preparing or adapting a pamphlet that summarizes the beliefs and background of the Orthodox Church and specific parish history, to be distributed during the tour.
Drawing upon both the unique parish characteristics and the general Orthodox characteristics of the church building, prepare a specific plan for the tour. Utilize the visible characteristics of the church as a means of conveying the theology of the Orthodox Church in a very natural way. The entire tour including general introduction should be limited to approximately 20 minutes.
An example of a successful tour conducted in a 14th century style cruciform-shaped church with a high dome, decorated with extensive iconography included the following:
1. Introduction of the parish and of the Orthodox Church. (Given by tour guide to visitors seated in front pews - 5 minutes duration.)
Who are the Orthodox?
Apostolic Church from the Eastern root.
Goal of Orthodox Christian life and worship
To establish communion with God.
To spread the Good News
Examples of successful Orthodox.
Saints (Brief reason for their veneration.)
The Church Building Areas - Narthex, Nave, Sanctuary
2. A walk around the Church pointing out the unique and standard characteristics (10 minutes). Visitors should be encouraged to view the icons closely.
Tour guides should explain:
The unique teaching characteristics of various icons, i.e. the Nativity icon, the Resurrection icon.
The standard characteristics of the icon screen.
Why we venerate icons.
Why we light candles before them.
3. Summary, questions and expression of thank you to visitors (5 minutes). A summary might include how the Orthodox Church utilizes all the senses for helping us establish communication with God. (Especially helpful to the disabled.) To assist in bringing this point out, the Church can be periodically sensed. In addition, a low background level of church music will help convey the spirituality of Orthodox worship. The summary can also include the mention of any services or activities offered by the church that members of the community can avail themselves of, i.e. food pantry for the needy, Bible study, aerobics class.
What to Expect
A great deal of interest in our church in general from the majority of visitors.
Many questions that deal with the specifics of worship, services, etc. (usually can be answered by most church-attending Orthodox.)
Many, many comments on the beauty of the church and the significance of church worship.
A few visitors may leave prior to completion of the tour.
A few visitors will be deeply touched to such an extent that they will want to come back; they will visit the priest, they will request materials from which they can learn more. (Requires follow-up.)
The tour visitors will often express their positive feelings about the tour to parishioners working at the festival. This is uplifting to the parishioners who are then more encouraged and more inclined to share their faith with others.
The role of tour guide is here a real opportunity to witness to our Faith, to be an “evangelist” - spreader of the Good News - in a very natural and non-threatening way. As the tour guide walks through the church, pointing out and explaining the icons and artifacts, the reverence, the faith, the zeal expressed unselfeonsciously show forth. The visitor is witness not just to what he sees and hears, but to the effect this has on the guide.
If conducted with care and thought, the opportunity to share the Orthodox Christian message will be rewarding to visitors, the guide and the parish as well.