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CantonArchbishop Melchisedek and Bishop Paul with Forum participants.

Fifty-four individuals representing parishes from five dioceses of the Orthodox Church in America, as well as the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, the Serbian Orthodox Church and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA, participated in the Small Parish Forum at Holy Assumption Church here July 14-16, 2016.

Jointly sponsored by the Orthodox Church in America’s Archdiocese of Western Pennsylvania and the Diocese of the Midwest, the Forum—the third in a series initiated in 2014—had as its theme “The Small Parish: Possibilities and Opporunities in Worshipping, Caring, Teaching and Sharing.”  The program was facilitated by Joseph Kormos, Parish Development Ministry Leader for the Archdiocese of Western Pennsylvania.

CantonFormal presentations were well received.

His Eminence, Archbishop Melchisedek of Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania and His Grace, Bishop Paul of Chicago and the Midwest welcomed the participants and offered their insights throughout the three-day gathering.  Archpriest Eric G. Tosi, OCA Secretary, delivered the keynote address, titled “The Critical Role of the Small Parish: The Apostolic Work.”  He also offered a workshop titled “The Evangelizing Parish.”

Among the other presenters were

CantonParticipants had ample time to engage in informal sharing of ideas.

  • Priest Justin Patterson, Rector of Saint Athanasius Church, Nicholasville, KY, who offered insights about youth and education in his presentation titled “The Eight Person Sunday School and Four Person Youth Group: Making Things Work When You’re Small.”
  • Priest Daniel Mathewson, Rector of Saints Peter and Paul Church, Edinboro/Crossingville, PA, who encouraged participants to look beyond their walls during an interactive session titled “Inside Out, Outside In: Seven Keys to Understanding Your Parish Neighborhood.”
  • Archpriest Peter Baktis, Rector of the Mother of God, Joy of All Who Sorrow Mission, Princeton, NJ, who moderated a panel discussion titled “The Tentmaker” that took a serious look at the positives and challenges of bi-vocational clergy in small parishes.
  • Archpriest Marc Vranes, Rector of Holy Trinity Church, Willimantic, CT, shared renewal efforts in his small heritage parish.  A similar presentation was offered via live remote link by Priest Jonathan Bannon, Rector of Christ the Saviour Church [ACROD], Rockford, IL.
  • Benedict Sheehan, Music Director at Saint Tikhon’s Monastery and Seminary, offered sessions titled ‘Singing in Small Ensembles: Tips from the Field” and “With One Heart and One Mouth: Building Beautiful Church Music in a Small Parish.”

Mr. Kormos also facilitated a number of workshops on related themes.

CantonWorking in small groups, Forum participants developed strategies for outreach in smaller parishes.

“Joe Kormos used a photo of a Great Dane and a Chihuahua to make a point about large and small churches,” said Bishop Paul as he reflected upon the Forum’s content.  “One is not ‘right’ and the other ‘wrong;’ one is not better than the other.  They are just different.  This made an impact on me in light of my recent visit to Russia (the Great Dane Church) and some statistics Father Eric Tosi shared at the Forum on the OCA (the Chihuahua Church)….  For those of us who are baby boomers and have grown up in Great Dane churches, could we be falling into the trap of trying to help Chihuahua churches using Great Dane methodology?

“A perfect example of this is in the area of Church school programs,” Bishop Paul continued.  “I grew up in a parish that had a youth population of 200-plus kids.  We had classes for K to 12th grade averaging about 20 to 25 students each.  Even in our larger OCA churches today, we are nowhere near being able to match that past reality.  Yet I think we are still affected by this past classroom methodology in organizing Church school programs in our small parishes today.”