Last Sunday, Orthodox parishes throughout the country installed their 2007 parish council. Knowing that parish council meetings have given rise over the years to lots of hurt feelings and misunderstandings, many priests and laypersons wonder about the appropriateness or efficacy of running an Orthodox community using an organization that can resemble simultaneously a corporate board of directors and a mahjong club. Isn't there a model that's more Biblical and Traditional?
Maybe ... probably ... who knows?
Until something better comes along, this is our system of Church management in the United States and it would serve all of us, clergy and laity alike, to make this structure function in a way that bears spiritual fruit. It goes without saying that edifying, rewarding, and fulfilling parish council meetings become possible only when the folks sitting around the table are living the life of the Church: regular worship and sacramental participation; a commitment to prayer, fasting, and sacrificial giving; and a life free of scandal. With this type of parish council in place, here are four little words that will fill every church board meeting with the love of Christ and the presence of the Holy Spirit.
"What do you think?"
When we append this short question to any declarative sentence -- with sincerity and without sarcasm -- good things happen. We confess publicly that we are not the "smartest person in the room." We inform those around us that we value their opinions and ideas (and, by extension their personhood). Most importantly these words of humility make it possible for the power of Christ to be manifest -- when we humble ourselves, Christ can be present.
Here's how it works.
Last year I came to a meeting of our executive committee, frustrated with the pettiness surrounding the memorial prayers offered at the Sunday Liturgy. Some people were upset that more than one name was remembered during the memorial service. Their attitude could be summed up like this: "I paid someone to make this kolyva (boiled wheat used in this rite), it's for my family and my family only!"
After explaining the background, I told my officers, "I'm thinking about doing what another parish does and offering all of the prayers after the distribution of antidoron (the blessed bread offered at the end of the liturgy). That way, we can do multiple services, one after the other, and whoever wants to stay can stay. What do you think?"
After a few moments of discussion, one of the officers proposed the following: "Let's tell people that if they are unwilling to share their loved one's memorial service with other members of the parish, then the prayers will be offered after everyone else has left the church. If they allow other names to be included, then we'll do it during Liturgy like always. Is that OK with you, Father?"
"Are you kidding? It's brilliant! Inspired! Thanks."
This policy has served our parish splendidly ever since. It is the direct result of those four little words.
After discussing the use of "What do you think?" with other clergy and laity, many have suggested these four little words would work wonders in all Church meetings. Perhaps, but this is for others to consider. In the meantime, I use them at every meeting in which I attend as pastor. This short question promises so many rewards to ordained and lay church leaders who ask it. It might just take your parish council to that place of mutual respect that you've always dreamed about.
What do you think?
Rev. Aris P. Metrakos is the pastor of Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Columbia, South Carolina. He is frequent retreat leader and speaker for both teens and adults. Prior to attending seminary, Fr. Aris was an aviator for the US Navy. He travels annually to Romania to help the Romanian Orthodox Church establish ministries for Romanian youth. You can contact Fr. Aris at FrMetrakos@orthodoxytoday.org.