Posted by: sailingmartha | April 3, 2011

Outreach

I’ve been thinking about how one reaches out to let others know about Orthodoxy. I stumbled upon it by accident, almost, through a Greek Orthodox food festival. I had no idea what it was, and I didn’t know anyone who was Orthodox. I found a couple of ladies on my online message board who were Orthodox and corresponded with them a bit.  Then I looked up an Orthodox parish in my area and started attending, and the rest is history.

I started thinking about my parish this week, and trying to recall if anyone there is a convert besides myself. I couldn’t think of anyone. Everyone there is, to my knowledge, a cradle Orthodox. Which has me thinking about outreach.

Father has talked before about reaching out to the community, but I’m fairly certain that he has only directed his efforts to those who are already Orthodox, and maybe aren’t attending church for whatever reason. I don’t think our parish has done anything to let non-Orthodox know who and what we are. I know from talking with a number of people online, that there are those in other denominations who are dissatisfied with their current church. Some of the reasons are that their denomination doesn’t believe in the Real Presence and treats communion as something purely symbolic; their denomination has women and/or openly homosexual pastors; the teachings are not consistent with Scripture; there is not enough depth; the services are too casual; they are tired of church politics; they are upset with what they feel is a tendency to box women into certain submissive roles.

Here are some words that I’ve heard people speak when they talk about what they are looking for: historical, liturgical, sacramental, traditional, mystical, purposeful, sacred, challenging, beautiful (visually), communal, experiential. I see people seeking for something deeper than what they have now. People are realizing they are unsatisfied with their church life; something is missing. A lot of times they don’t know what it is.

I want to make it a goal to try to reach these people. Orthodoxy has what they are seeking. I want to make our parish more approachable and more present in the community. I have a few ideas to start with…first is that we need to make our website more informational. I’d also like to see us advertise in the newspaper, using some of the key words mentioned above. I would like us to host a get-to-know-you BBQ, with tours of the church, and games for kids, and maybe some printed informational material for them to take home. No pressure, but just to say “hello and welcome, we’re here if you’re interested, and we’d like to know you better”. I would also love for us to have some kind of a soup kitchen or food locker, where we can assist the needy in our community.

I’ll be talking with the other parish council members soon and getting some feedback and ideas from them, and hopefully we can reach out to the larger community. People are looking for the pearl of great price. They may not know it yet, but it is found in Orthodoxy.

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Posted by: sailingmartha | March 31, 2011

Ahh…spring

Spring is here! After several weeks of near-continuous rain and clouds, spring has arrived in no uncertain terms. Yesterday and today have been beautiful – warm temps, sunny skies, flowers blooming, the birds chirping. I put on a  t-shirt, a pair of capris, and sandals today, and we went out to do some work in the volunteer garden we maintain. The pansies we put in a couple of weeks ago are doing well. We put in a few perennials today: a columbine and a cuphea and something else that looks like a forget-me-not but I forget what it’s called (LOL), and some chocolate mint basil that smells heavenly. We had to pull out a few things that didn’t survive the winter, but that’s OK. I’d like to try planting a few strawberries and see how they do. The garden doesn’t get a lot of sun so they might not bear much fruit, but I think it would be fun to try.

I love being able to have my windows open, and let the fresh breezes blow in. The house gets so stuffy through the winter, with the kids’ stinky shoes, the cats’ litter boxes, and the rabbit’s cage. Even though we try to keep things clean around here, it’s inevitable that smells get trapped in our small space. I’m going to enjoy the nice weather for the short period it lasts. Too soon it will be hotter than blazes and the air conditioning will be running 24/7.

Spring also signals iced coffee – yum! I love coffee and probably drink too much of it. Starbucks is my secret addiction. However, I decided to splurge today and order myself a Mr. Coffee Frappe Maker, which looks like a nifty little machine. You put ground coffee in the brewing basket, and put ice, milk, syrup, what-have-you in the blender container, and it brews the coffee and blends it up, all in about 3 minutes. It should be here in a couple of days and I can’t wait to try it. Hopefully it will save me money in the long run.

I also can’t wait to do some day trips. Now that the rain has passed, it’s the perfect time to hit the road and visit some of the towns and attractions near by. I have several ideas in mind already, and hopefully next week we’ll be out exploring. School will have to take a backseat for a bit…the weather’s too precious to be wasted inside over textbooks. Happy trails!

Posted by: sailingmartha | March 29, 2011

Fellowship

I really enjoy the fellowship aspect of our church. We are quite small, on average I’d say there are around 40-50 people in attendance. We have a wide range of ages, from toddlers to senior citizens. Most are cradle Orthodox with a smattering of converts. Almost every Sunday, after Liturgy, we have a coffee hour, which is a chance for everyone to socialize. Different families take turns hosting it. This has been a new experience for me and one which I thoroughly enjoy.

Although it is a little nerve-wracking trying to plan a meal for a large group, keep it within a certain budget, and time the cooking for everything to be ready once Liturgy ends, I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to minister to people in this manner. I’ve gained a lot of confidence in my cooking skills, even though I don’t attempt any gourmet creations. I always get smiles and words of appreciation that let me know people enjoyed the food I provided, and that makes me very happy.

Another reason I like coffee hour at church, is the opportunity for people to meet and mingle. It’s nice to see people hang around to eat and talk, and not rush out the door the minute service is over. I think it gives us a chance to build community and get to know each other on an informal level. The kids have fun showing off their new handheld video games to each other, and often they’ll go outside and shoot some hoops. The adults drink coffee, eat and catch up on the weekly news. It’s a good way for visitors to our church to get to know us a little better, and for us to know them.

We also recently started a new fellowship group for the women of the church, which we call The Sisterhood of the Myrrh-Bearing Women. Our goal is to socialize and have fun, and also to do some fundraising for the needs of the church. We meet every other month for dinner out at a restaurant, and we have door prizes, and talk a little shop. Our immediate goal is to raise enough money with our dues and donations to purchase some new vestments for our pastor.

Our church is not what I would call a seeker-sensitive church, but I hope people who venture in will feel the warmth and fellowship and want to return.

And in reference to my earlier post on parish council, I’m glad to report that things are improving. I was able to talk to Father last week and express my concerns, and he addressed them and I feel confident that the things that bothered me won’t be repeated. We are trying out a lot of new roles at church, and there are some bumps in the road, but I believe things will work out fine if we’re patient and grant each other grace.

Posted by: sailingmartha | March 24, 2011

Parish Council

Do you ever feel you’ve been thrown in the deep end, and you’re having to dogpaddle to stay afloat? I love my parish, I love my priest, and my priest’s family. But at times I have the feeling I’m in over my head.

I’m new to Orthodoxy; I’ve only been a convert for 3 years, and I’m even newer to this parish. My first little mission parish folded, and I came to this one less than 2 years ago. I’m still learning all the ins and outs, and discovering the history. I was asked several months ago to be on the parish council. I had some misgivings at the time, not because I didn’t feel competent, or want to serve, but sometimes ignorance is bliss, know what I mean? Being on parish council means getting involved in all the little behind-the-scenes squabbles. It’s also having to deal with other parishes and the diocese, and all the demands from the bishop. I’m starting to wish I had a listened to that inner voice and said no.

The people on the council are lovely, and devout Christians, and I know they have the best interests of the church at heart. But, some of them have very strong personalities, and they tend to be very vocal about voicing their opinions. I can deal with that, and I’m thankful that our priest is diplomatic in handling them, so that they don’t dominate the whole show. These same people are also very generous in giving of their time, money, and expertise, so I don’t want to offend them. I’m finding out, though, that one of these people has taken advantage of another of our parishioners, and not just once but several times. This other parishioner is one of the nicest, most giving, intelligent, and hard-working people you’d ever want to meet. It’s resulted in some shakeups on the council already, and some hurt feelings. And I’m ticked.

I am a pretty low-key person, and I dislike confrontation. However, I’m also extremely stubborn and spirited. You don’t want to mess with me when I’m ticked off. I’m hurting for this other parishioner and I feel like going on the warpath. Right now, I’m going to let our priest handle it. He’s fully aware of the situation, and I know he’s used to dealing with this particular person. I’ve been mostly quiet at meetings. I have my opinions and I share them, but I will usually let the others debate. I think it’s important for us to have consensus and not be argumentative or pushy. It’s just that I know I can turn argumentative and pushy when I feel I’m being bulldozed, or when someone is being run roughshod over. I don’t want to gossip behind people’s backs but I need to figure out how I’m going to deal with this person. If other people on the council are going to be bowing to him, then it’s going to be problematic. Stay tuned for the continuing saga, and pray for me.

Posted by: sailingmartha | March 23, 2011

Almsgiving

Another topic that has been percolating around in my mind for some time is almsgiving. First of all, I apologize for talking about this in a personal manner, since the last thing I want to do is draw attention to myself. I’m curious to know other people’s philosophies about almsgiving. At our parish, our priest talks about it a lot. He stresses the idea of giving to people on an individual basis, not necessarily to charitable institutions.

I like that idea, and it’s one I’ve always espoused. It’s harder in practice then in theory though. I don’t know about your area, but around here we have a lot of panhandlers (for lack of a better term). I can’t really go anywhere in my city without being asked for money. Now, I will usually try to help out. If I’ve got some cash on me, I will give the person something. I’ve also tried variations on this theme. If I’m near a fast food place, I may swing through and pick up a meal for them, or if I have food in my car, I may offer it.

Sometimes I’m pretty sure I’ve been scammed. You know, the people at the gas station that tell me they’re out of gas, and can I give them some money to get some. Then when I offer to pay for gas for them, all of a sudden, they don’t need it. The people who need formula for their baby, and then you see them heading into a liquor store.

Then there are the naysayers, the ones who insist that you should never give to someone asking you for money. There are institutions and charities to help them. They should be working and earning money. They’re just going to use it to support their drug and alcohol habit.

I feel like charities can only do so much. Their dollars only go so far. I have nothing against giving to charities, and in fact, I frequently do. But there is something tangible about helping an individual in need. I think it’s what Jesus would have us do. The economy has messed with a lot of people’s lives. I happen to be fortunate to have my drugs legally prescribed and dispensed, and covered by my health insurance. Suppose I didn’t? I’m pretty sure I’d be drinking out of a bottle in a paper bag myself.

Sometimes I feel helpless. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed. All I can try to do is be like the man picking up starfish and throwing them back into the water, knowing that he’s making a difference to that particular starfish.

Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing, some people have entertained angels without knowing it. Heb. 13:2

Posted by: sailingmartha | March 23, 2011

My first post

Hi, and welcome to my blog. I hope to be chatting about whatever’s on my mind. Some of my thoughts may be deep, but I’ll warn you that most will probably not be.

Here’s an issue that has come up recently and I’m struggling with it: tithing. A little background…I am Orthodox Christian, a convert from the Catholic church. Tithing was never a topic when I was growing up. It wasn’t even in my vocabulary. Catholics threw a dollar (or maybe a handful of change) in the collection basket when it passed by. I heard a few sermons over the years on stewardship – giving of our time, talents, and treasure (money). But no one really specified an amount to our giving or asked us to commit to anything financially.

As an adult in the Catholic church, we occasionally were asked to pledge a certain amount of money towards a specific goal, such as remodeling the Cathedral. But weekly church giving still consisted of tossing in a few dollars or writing a check when I happened to think of it. Later, with the advent of new technology, the idea of setting up an automatic payment plan using a bank withdrawal was touted, probably in a feeble attempt to get people to give more consistently. And that’s pretty much where it remains today.

On to the Orthodox parish that I now attend. First of all there are the collection baskets passed around each Sunday. So far, so familiar. But I was surprised by the pledge forms in the vestibule, asking us to pledge a certain amount for the year and specify how we would be paying it. Whoa. They want me to commit a certain amount?! They even gave us a minimum dollar amount we were supposed to pledge. Here’s where my issues start.

Not with asking for money for the church. I’m happy to support the church. I know it has financial needs, the same as everyone, and we all need to pitch in and provide for it. My first issue is a more personal one, coming from my own “insecurity”, maybe. I’m a frugal person. Our family’s financial status has been precarious at times. We work really hard, or at least my husband does, in order for me to be able to stay home and homeschool our kids. We live a very minimal lifestyle: thrift store shopping, driving old cars, no cable, rarely eating out. It’s been very difficult at times to stay afloat, especially when my husband was furloughed several days a month from his job.

I have issues with making financial commitments that I’m afraid I may not be able to follow through with. I also have an issue when I hear people say that tithing should just be an automatic part of your lifestyle. “Just make adjustments to your budget, you’ll be able to live on 90% of what you make.” ” God will provide.” I’ve heard these words many times, but they don’t reflect my reality. Maybe it’s because I don’t trust God enough. I hope that’s not it, but I don’t know.

I recently took on the positions of vice president and recording secretary on our parish’s council. Last Saturday, several of us on the council traveled to a workshop where the topic of financial giving, specifically tithing, was discussed. The leader of the workshop believes that all Orthodox parishes should rely on tithing and proportional giving for all their financial needs. Not dues, not pledges, not fundraising, not large donations from wealthy parishioners. A number of parishes in the deanery are already at that point. We were told that our parish should move towards the model of complete tithing by all the parishioners. It seemed from my observations, that most or all those present agreed.

I don’t know where I stand. On one hand, I agree that definitely the parishioners at our church should be more involved and more committed to financially supporting the church. Our church has been severely under-funded for a number of years. It has improved greatly in the last couple of years, but still has a long way to go.

But, I believe that strict tithing is not necessarily the way to get there. The concerns I have:

1) Parishioners may feel that they have to “pay” in order to be church members, and in order to receive the mysteries (sacraments). Even though this may not be true in a strict sense, it can come across that way. And, in fact, non-pledging members are not considered members in good standing at our parish.

2) Tithing is inherently unfair to people on the lower end of the financial spectrum. People making $1000 a month will have a much harder time living on 90% of their income, than someone making $10,000 a month.

3) Tithing is unfair to larger families. A family making $50,000 a year is going to have a harder time living on 90% of their income, than an individual living on $50,000 a year.

4) What about someone who is in dire financial straits, and is possibly receiving (or eligible for) financial assistance, such as welfare, food stamps, child care subsidies, etc? Are they expected to tithe as well, and on what? Should people tithe when they are relying on others to meet their financial needs?

5) What about someone is already making great financial sacrifices, such as supporting family members in need, or giving to another charitable cause? Are they still required to tithe to the church?

6) People may feel that their time and talents don’t count. It’s hard if you’re someone who donates hours and hours of your time and expertise, only to be told that it’s financial contributions that matter.

7) Conversely, people who tithe may think they’ve “done their bit” and nothing else is required. As long as they’ve paid, it doesn’t matter if they show up or participate in the church.

So, I’m not clear where I stand. I believe in sacrifice, I believe in supporting the church, I believe in giving generously. I know I’m coming at the idea of tithing from a “foreign” perspective. I hope I have the courage to bring up some of these issues when our parish council meets next. I’d love to hear your perspective.

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