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The Sanctification of Our Parish Life

by His Grace Bishop Thomas

From the very beginning of Our Lord's ministry, when he called the first disciples, Peter and Andrew, the Church has existed both as a community and within a community. In these roles, there are a variety of activities that the parish Church undertakes, both in terms of liturgical services and in charitable work and outreach, both within the parish and out in the larger community as a whole. If any of these are lacking, then the parish has not lived up to the calling of Christ. If there is liturgy without outreach, then we fail, since "faith without works is dead," but if we have outreach without liturgy, we also fail, since "man is not justified by works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ." Therefore, it is necessary for a healthy parish to effectively balance both liturgy and community outreach in order to properly work towards the salvation of each of its members. This requires careful planning and scheduling, as well as the proper delegation of tasks throughout the parish community.

The liturgical life is central to any parish community, as it has been since the days of the Apostles, whom the Book of Acts records as being "daily in one accord in the Temple." It's fair to say, that were it not for the liturgical services, a parish church would cease to be a church, and would simply be a charitable organization or social club. Each of the liturgical activities of the Church has its proper time, most of which will be on the same day every year. Therefore there is no reason why the necessary people for each service, the readers, the chanters, the acolytes, and the prosphora bakers, should not be scheduled many months in advance. This applies just as much for weekday services as it does for Sundays and Feasts; there should never be a time when there is uncertainty as to whether or not there will be the necessary complement of people to perform all the necessary liturgical functions. Further, this does not even necessarily need to be the priest's or deacon's function. It is perfectly possible for each of the divisions, the chanters, the acolytes, and the bakers, to create their own schedules, in conjunction with the clergy.

Schedules and planning are also required for non-liturgical functions, such as charitable and educational outreach ministries, including the catechesis of children and adults. Further, there are many ministries that are commonly regarded as the provenance of the clergy that could just as easily be undertaken by groups of pious laypeople. Lay ministry teams could be organized for the tasks of visiting the sick, the shut-in, and prisoners, in conjunction with regular clerical visitations, as well as providing support for charitable works to support the poor and hungry. After all, when Christ says to those on His right hand, "I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me," He wasn't simply speaking to the priests and deacons, but to every Christian believer. However, if such activities are to be undertaken with any sort of consistency and regularity, they must be carefully scheduled with a similar attention to that given to the liturgical services.

All activities undertaken, both liturgical and non-liturgical, ought to be put together into a single master schedule, so as to ensure that no one ends up "double-booked." If feasible, a parish might want to undertake a semi-annual parish leadership retreat, where the schedule of the various parish ministry teams could be laid out for the next six months. The heads of each of the ministry teams could present their proposed schedule, including events and requested people, which then could be cross checked against the other ministries and the individuals' personal schedule in order to make each timetable work. This way, each schedule will mesh like the cogs of a machine, allowing the cycle of liturgical and charitable service to function smoothly.

Parishes do not grow by accident. They become vibrant through prayer and hard work. An indispensable part of that hard work is planning and scheduling, as well as encouraging others to become involved. It has always been my experience that parishioners will eagerly volunteer for parish work when they see others doing so. This can help to relieve the burden on the core group who, in many parishes, end up doing almost everything. Through baptism, we are all called to evangelize and make Christ present in the parish and the surrounding community. This becomes part of the parish charism through proper planning, preaching, and evangelization. Sadly, we as Orthodox Christians have not always embraced this evangelical imperative. Too often, we've been content in offering weekend services and not moved beyond this insular and isolationist model. If we are to fulfill our God-appointed task to "preach the Gospel to every creature" then we must have a combination of devout prayer and charitable Christian outreach, each at its proper time. As King Solomon reminds us, "To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven."