More reflections on the OCL conference

Fr. Peter-Michael Preble offers more thoughts on the recent OCL conference. Fr. Peter writes:

Fr. Peter-Michael Preble

Fr. Peter-Michael Preble

The first point, and I said this in my sermon yesterday, is that I believe the American Orthodox Church is on the cusp of greatness. I think we are standing in the door way of a new something (I can’t seem to find the right word) — generation maybe, era perhaps, explosion…not really sure. I say this because we have some great young leaders emerging in the church. People like Metropolitan Jonah, Fr. Justin Matthews of FOCUS North America and others are injecting new excitement and energy into the American Church.

We are at the threshold of becoming a truly American Church and not just a small immigrant community. I am reminded of the history of the Roman Catholic Church in Boston. The signs used to read “Irish Need Not Apply” Then the church came into her own. The Roman Church under the leadership of visionaries like Richard Cushing of Boston. Cardinal Cushing had a vision for the American Church and built many of the School and Hospitals that the Church in Boston still uses to this day. Cushing was 44 years old when created bishop and was 49 when he became the 3rd Archbishop of Boston. He served the church in that roll for 26 years until his death in 1970. He had a vision to move the church for it’s immigrant roots to a major religious force in America.

Read the entire post on Fr. Peter’s blog.


  1. Fr. Peter simply repeats the familiar refrains. One department of evangelization instead of twelve somehow, in of itself, being a quantum leap. Why? One could argue just as easily that 12 smaller more nimble departments add up to a whole greater than a mash up of departments who will carry their own (ethnic, personal, habitual) agenda into the new committee department.

    Even the assertion of new leadership is overstated. Leaders are only half of the equation. The other side is of course a group of followers. I see only slow, generational change – not a sudden groundswell of unmet need and willingness to change. Sure the younger generation are absorbing positive aspects from the American culture and looking for leadership that reflects these values. Still, there are plenty of the older, foreign generation left. Almost all the Bishops and the influential laity come from this generation.

    Instead of questionable excitement and vacuous “positive thinking” I would like to see honest and sober reflection on this subject…

  2. While I agree that honest sober reflection is absolutely necessary, I can not imagine that 12 evangelism departments will work better than one, given the miniscule amount of money put towards it. In other words, it is not only wasteful, it is unbelievably poor stewardship.

    More bucks are spent on dancing and festivals than on successfully planning evangelism.

    Where your treasure is…

  3. Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

    Christpher, I can see where you can draw the conclusion that you do, but actually the conference was not the same old litany of complaints at all. In fact, I think it was the first of what might become a new direction in Orthodox thinking that may be beneficial to the Church and the larger culture in the long run.

    The conference was framed around the idea that Orthodox unity (and by extension the regeneration of Church and culture) is first a cultural, rather than a political, effort. Yes, the old top-down and bottom-up approach, while accurate in some measure, can’t offer any long-term solution to the jurisdictional muddle. Rather, the focus needs to shift to the inside-out — an engagement of culture rather than mere political maneuvering that pits hierarchy against laity, jurisdiction against jurisdiction, and all the other familiar permutations that have got us nowhere.

    To this end, the conference invited emerging Orthodox leaders. These included people such as Sister Elizabeth Ofstendahl, educator Bryan Smith, lawyer Nick Katich, communicator John Maddex, Fr. Justin Mathews, CEO of FOCUS, and others. They sat on panels, brought their wisdom and experience to bear on thorny issues and tough questions, and while Nirvana was not reached, the relationship between Orthodox unity and defining what it means to be Orthodox in America became increasingly clear. Orthodoxy, instead of hiding in its rarefied confines (ethnic, obscurantist, triumphalist, etc.) must engage culture, not retreat from it, and all the invited guests are doing so with a remarkable degree of intellectual creativity and clarity.

    A major purpose of any conference like this to introduce new ideas into the debate, and also make new friends and acquaintances with people who share the same vision. This was accomplished. In fact, you may see collaborations that hold the potential of offering real substance to the Church two or three years down the road. I am certain that if OCL continues to stress the importance of ideas, that is, to see the work of unity as a culture shaping enterprise, these conferences will grow in both numbers and long term positive influence in the Church.

    Ancient Faith Radio recorded all the sessions and will post them shortly. You will be able to judge for yourself if the conference offered anything beneficial. I take a long term view and thereby conclude that a foundation is being laid that will contribute to unity in ways sorely needed but not evident until relatively recently.

    One other thing, the caliber of the people attending was impressive. These are serious and knowledgeable people who have broken free of strictures I mentioned above. While frustrated with the obscurantism and ignorance that informs too much of Orthodox thinking, they are still convinced (rightfully) that the the Gospel of Jesus Christ as it is understood and comprehended in our Orthodox faith (even if you have to dig twenty feet down to find it sometimes) is the only answer to the calamity facing the Church and culture.

    This is, I think, what informs Fr. Peter’s optimism. I certainly left the conference just as encouraged, and I speak as one who has no patience anymore for the cliche’s, bromides, and sentimentalism (or the appeals to authority that ostensibly justify them) that passes as Orthodox teaching. This conference avoided the familiar dead-ends and instead engaged the serious issues in a serious way. Apart from internet discussion, there aren’t many opportunities to do that, especially face to face.

    • Good report – always good to hear about those who really do seem to get it.

      I was thinking about how many seem to believe that a unified church is like a magical “black box” where in goes all of our shortcomings and out comes all the solutions.

      Taking the current bishops and ways of “being church” right now from all the various jurisdictions and mashing them up won’t get us an American Orthodox Church. Instead it will get us a “Unified Foreign Orthodox Church in America” instead of a Greek church here, an Arab church there. It would of course take care of the canonical irregularity of multi-bishops but that is about it.

      I will be sure to listen in when they get it posted.

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