Missions at the Heart of Local Parish Ministry
By Kenneth Kidd.
Source: May 14th, 2013
“Church is a reality of the love of God for this world. It is not man’s response, and it is not self-centered, but precisely a missionary community whose purpose is not salvation from, but salvation of, the world.” Fr. Alexander Schmemann.
Many Orthodox parishes across the country, both large and small alike, recognize that missions, while a vital aspect in our personal walks with Christ, is also central to the ministries and life of the local parish. Many years ago during a visit to St. Anne Orthodox Church (OCA) in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, I remember being immediately struck by missions as I walked through the front door of the church. Not only was there a bulletin board promoting missions opportunities available through the OCMC, along with prayer cards for long-term missionaries, but information and opportunities from our sister agencies, including IOCC and OCF. Likewise, it was practically impossible for me to hang up my coat because scattered across the floor were bins and barrels collecting food, clothes, and other items for local community ministries. Among these bins was a large box collecting Bibles to be sent to mission priests served through OCMC ministries, which prompted my visit. I left Oak Ridge inspired by the vision and connection that this small Appalachian Mountains mission parish felt with their brothers and sisters not only in their community, but throughout the world!
Through my work at the OCMC, it has been a blessing to serve, as well as learn from, many small parishes who are building beautiful missions ministries. I recently got to know Fr. Andrew Harrison, priest of St. Luke Orthodox Church (OCA), in Palos Hills, Illinois.
This small parish in suburban Chicago has cultivated numerous opportunities for the faithful to participate in missions both internationally as well as in their own community, and he sees the two as complementing each other. OCMC ministries have regularly benefited from its members serving on mission teams as well as from an endowment this parish has grown that matches parishioner gifts, and in turn, doubles it! Fr. Andrew offered the following reflection on why missions is so important in parish life:
Fr. Andrew Harrison, St. Luke Orthodox Church (OCA), Palos Hills, Illinois
“Inspired by the missionary saints who first established the Orthodox Church in Alaska and the call ‘to preach the gospel to all nations,’ St. Luke parish was founded with the mission statement to become an 'Icon of an American Orthodox Church.' In order to fulfill this vision, the founding members conceived the mission as having two prongs: mission in North America and mission internationally.
"The faithful of St. Luke have a beautiful presence here in our community. Over the years, they have cultivated local ministries that include: monthly prayer service and fellowship at a home for mentally-challenged adults; annually hosting an ecumenical memorial service for September 11th; weekly hosting of homeless women and children as part of a network of local churches; offering meeting space for three self-help groups; and making available an open air public shrine so anyone can pray and light a candle 24 hours a day. A monthly offering is taken to help a variety of charitable causes and this amount collected is matched by an endowment fund.
"Missions beyond our community began at St. Luke with Project Mexico, and have since grown to also include work on Native American reservations through Young Orthodox Christian American Missions Association. Through OCMC, short-term mission team members have been sent for teaching in India, two youth camps in Romania, church construction and medical mission in Tanzania, and serving at the Hogar Raphael Orphanage in Guatemala. This year, six individuals are preparing to serve in Alaska as part of an OCMC team!
"One may ask, has all this missionary activity added numbers to the congregation? The answer to this question is 'slightly'. Our parish of 80 families has replaced those who move on and has added a few new members each year. The purpose of this missionary activity is not to gain new members. The Lord will send them if His work is being done. The purpose is to fulfill the grand commission of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ calls all Christians to this task. People who join St. Luke parish are expected to heed the call. Christ said, 'The fields are ripe for harvest but the laborers are few.' To be a member of St. Luke parish, it is expected that a member will take on some ministry. All ministries have but one purpose, to fulfill the grand commission: from parish council president to candle stand cleaner. The grand commission includes making disciples. If all members continue to fulfill their ministry, then they are becoming disciples and will eventually join the mission field.”
Another community that I have come to know is Holy Cross Antiochian Orthodox Church in Yakima, Washington. For many years now, Holy Cross has offered a generous monthly stewardship offering to the OCMC. Fr. Joseph Copeland, priest at Holy Cross, offered the following reflection on why missions stewardship is important:
Fr. Joseph Copeland, Holy Cross Antiochian Orthodox Church, Yakima, Washington
“In 1987 our little group of 75 folks was received into the communion of the Orthodox Church through the loving kindness of His Eminence Metropolitan Philip of the Antiochian Orthodox Church. We are now about 300 souls and have planted, participated in planting, and are planting other missions in our area. If we believe that the Orthodox Church is the True Church established by Jesus Christ according to the Apostolic witness, that the Church is the sacramental reality of Christ’s Kingdom on Earth, and that it is in that sacramental reality that we are joined to Christ and participate in His eternal life, then it is our greatest calling and privilege to labor for the planting of that Church all around us and throughout the world! That is why we are so glad to support the work of OCMC with our small offering each month. May God bless it and the work of OCMC.”
Parishes are discovering the joy that results from a holistic approach that touches both the local community as well as around the world. The witness offered by those who serve and/or support international missions inspires and encourages those serving the local community and vice versa. The OCMC remains a resource for international missions for all Orthodox faithful as you consider your response to Christ’s Great Commission to “make disciples of all nations,” whether as an individual, within your family, or as part of your local parish. We are able to offer a variety of resources for your Bible Study, Sunday School, Youth Group, as well as your family!
To brainstorm and discuss opportunities to further engage yourself and/or your parish community or group in the work of international missions, or to begin the process of building an international missions program, please give Kenneth Kidd, Annual Gifts Officer, a call or an e-mail at 904-829-5132, ext. 161, or at firstname.lastname@example.org