By Rev. David Cowan
“Inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me” (Matthew 25:40). Who are “the least of these”? Of course, they are persons lacking adequate food, shelter, and clothing. They are the friendless, the sick, the imprisoned and confined. But are the “least of these” only to be found in the settings where we expect to find themin hospitals and homeless shelters, jails and geriatric homes? Or are they also to be found among us, in our communities, our schoolseven beside us, in our parishes? And how is the parish, the local manifestation of the Body of Christ, to fulfill the Lord’s mandate to minister to His brethren, wherever we may encounter them?
These questions were at the heart of the 2007 OCA Parish Ministries Conference, entitled “The Heart Assured: Works of Love in Deed and Truth,” held at Marymount University in Arlington, Virginia, on July 25-28, 2007. More than seventy clergy and lay persons attended the Conference, joined by His Beatitude, Metropolitan HERMAN, Primate of the Orthodox Church in America, and His Eminence, Archbishop SERAPHIM of Ottawa and Canada, who gave the opening Keynote Address. His Eminence reminded us that true works of charity are those done not out of obligation but out of self-emptying love, the same love that Christ has for each of us.
Keynotes provide food for discussion
Ensuring that such “works of love in deed and truth” are accomplished is not merely the province of the priest but of the parish as a whole. Father Andrew Morbey (St. Mary’s Cathedral, Minneapolis, MN) and Mr. John Rybicki (St. Luke Church, McLean, VA) spoke on the need to clarify and respond to the various expectations priests and parishes have of one another. Ms. Nancy Van Dyken (St. Anthony the Great Mission, Bozeman, MT) who runs a non-profit inter-denominational Christian philanthropic organization, brought her considerable creativity and experience to bear in a presentation called “Expanding Our Parish Life; Including Those Too Often Left Out.” She turned our attention to those whose needs may not be obvious but are very realwidows, divorcees, at-risk children and teens, children and adults with learning disabilities, and others.
Breakout groups met to identify needs and to “brainstorm” ministry ideas for these and other groups, such as homebound persons and their caregivers; prisoners; single persons; families with young children; and newcomers and visitors to the parish community. Various workshops addressed these topics, and others shared ideas gleaned from OCA parish communities active in outreach ministries to the hungry and homeless.
Though the Conference’s main emphasis was on ministry in and around the local parish, the event had a broader, international dimension as well. One evening session featured vivid, inspiring, up-to-the minute talks on the essential work of International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC); the Orthodox Christian Fellowship (OCF) “Real Break” program for college students; the Orthodox Christian Mission Center (OCMC); Project Mexico; and Church World Service. Clergy and lay representatives from these organizations discussed practical ways for parishes to contribute to these crucial missionary efforts, both as individual parishes and in collaboration with neighboring Orthodox parishes across jurisdictional lines.
Worship “book-ends” each day
A great deal of instruction, interaction, and inspiration took place in the space of only two and a half long, densely packed days! But the event was not limited to lectures and dialogue. Participants not only learned together and shared meals together; they prayed together: each day was “book-ended” by worship, including Morning Prayers, evening Vespers, a 40-day memorial service for His Eminence, Archbishop KYRILL; a Friday Vespers at St. Nicholas Cathedral in Washington, DC; and a final Divine Liturgy served at St Mary’s Church in Falls Church, VA. Both parishes provided meals and gracious hospitality. The Fellowship of Orthodox Christians in America chapter of St. Mark Church in Bethesda, MD, also hosted a generous welcome reception on the first night of the event.
Beginning and ending each day with corporate prayer gave life to Archbishop Seraphim’s insistence that our “works of love,” when they flow from a heart steeped in humility and the desire to imitate Christ, can assist in not only the material sustenance of those in need but in the salvation of their souls as well. May God grant that much fruit be borne of this Conference!
The audio of the Keynote addresses is available on Ancient Faith Radio, found under “Specials”. www.ancientfaith.com